What is Biodynamic Agriculture?

I spend most weekends at farmers markets and craft fairs. Many of my loyal customers ask me about our growing practices. When I'm explaining that we are a Biodynamic farm they look at me confused and ask: What is Biodynamic Agriculture? Here is our best try at explaining Biodynamic agriculture.

Biodynamic (or in its full original name – Biological Dynamic) agriculture is the first comprehensive system of what we now call organic farming. During the early 1920s, a group of farmers noticed a decline in the vitality and quality of seeds, crops, and livestock. After several requests from the farmers, Dr. Rudolf Steiner agreed to provide “a course of lectures containing what there is to be said about agriculture from an anthroposophical point of view” (Steiner, 1924b).

The 8 lectures that constitute the foundation of what is known today as Biodynamic agriculture took place on June 1924. In those lectures and following discussions, Steiner provided an extensive outlook of the natural world where within every physical reality, every chemical bond or process, there is a spiritual activity. He covered topics like the influences of the cosmos and the Earth, the activity of specific chemical elements, the interaction between soil, plants and animals and much more.

Due to the esoteric nature of those lectures, Steiner knew that without tangible proofs, his ideas will be rejected by the general public. He advised the audience to keep what they heard to themselves: “... the lectures should be considered first of all as hints, which for the present should not be spoken of outside this circle, but looked upon as the foundation for experiments and thus gradually brought into a form suitable for publication”. The task of developing the “hints” into practical methods, and conducting experiments to prove that these methods works, was entrusted upon a newly formed “Experimental Circle” of farmers. “... the ‘Experimental Circle’ that has been formed will fix the point of time when in its judgment the tests and experiments are far enough advanced to allow these things to be published” (Steiner, lecture VIII).

It took 14 years of extensive experiments carried on at several locations across Europe by many farmers to transform the “hints” given by Rudolf Steiner into a comprehensive agricultural system. The book “Bio-Dynamic Farming and Gardening” by Dr. Ehrenfried Pfeiffer, published in 1938, was the first introduction of Biodynamics to the general public. This was also the first time that the name Bio-Dynamic appeared in publication in this form. A shorthand of Biological-Dynamic (Activity or power of living organisms), the name indicate that this form of agriculture works with the energies which create and maintain life.

Biodynamics unique practices stem from 3 main principles:

  • “A farm is true to its essential nature if it is conceived as a kind of individual entity in itself - a self-contained individuality.” (Lecture II)
  • “… we must include a far wider horizon in our studies of the life of plant and animal, and of the Earth itself. We must extend our view to the whole Cosmos.” (Lecture I)
  • Sustainability is not enough - the role of the farmer is to heal and rejuvenate the soil and the farm ecosystem.

As a biodynamic farm, we strive to produce everything the farm needs from within the farm itself. As a living organism or self-contained individuality, the farm consists of different interdependent organs – soil, plants, animals, atmosphere, wetlands, woods, etc. Each organ has a role within the organism and the right balance need to be kept between the organs. For example, too many animals will require importing of feed and will generate amounts of manure that will contaminate the soil and water. Not enough animals will create fertility problems due to a shortage of manure.

Any fertility brought to the farm from the outside is regarded as a medicine for a sick organism. While it is wise to take a medicine when you are sick, if you become dependent on this medicine, it becomes a chronic disease which usually causes other illnesses. In the context of the farm, bringing in soil amendment in order to fix soil deficiencies need to be complemented by practices like crop rotation, cover crops and application of compost to maintain appropriate levels of minerals and avoid continuing application of amendments. In our farm, we make our own compost from chicken manure, goats manure and plant remains. The mature compost is applied on the vegetable and herbs beds.

Biodynamics brings an additional dimension to agriculture by recognizing that life on earth is a reflection of the cosmos. To understand how plants grow and how animals develop on earth, we must take into account influences from the whole universe. The Biodynamic planting calendar is one application of this approach. Based on many years of detailed experiments, the planting calendar takes into account the relative position of the Sun, Earth, Moon and the astronomical constellation to indicate the best days for planting, cultivating and harvesting specific crops.

A distinguishing feature of biodynamic farming, and maybe its “crown jewel”, is the use of the biodynamic preparations. Made from different medicinal plants, fermented in a specific sheath and prepared in specific timing, the biodynamic preparations are used to stimulate biological activity in the soil as well as growth and ripening of plants. The preparations can be viewed as homeopathic medicine for the soil and plants. It is made from natural substances that have been potentized by nature herself.

The “horn manure” preparation is used as a spray to promote root growth, humus formation, and a balanced plants growth. The “horn silica” preparation is used as a foliar spray to enhance the plant's capacity to assimilate light, support plants maturation process and enhance taste and quality. The six compost preparations are used to improve the quality and life forces of the finished compost. To learn more about the Biodynamic preparations, please visit the Biodynamic association website.

In the current evolution stage of planet Earth, even without the harmful effects of human activities of our time, it is necessary to use practices that heal and rejuvenate the declining vitality of the natural world. We practice biodynamic because we strive to grow food that nourishes and heal the human body and supports the development of the human soul. We are inspired to produce food that is full of vitality. Food that is medicine.