Thursday, February 5, 2009

Biodynamic: The New Organic?

Benziger Family Winery, Glen Ellen, CA.

Biodynamics, its advocates assert, maximizes the personality of a given plot of earth. Like a homeopathic doctor, a Biodynamic farmer analyzes the land and determines what is out of balance. The aim is to turn the land into a self-sustaining, self-regulating habitat.
-Peg Melnik

Biodynamic is a word that is getting more and more play lately. I first learned about Biodynamic farming practices while I was working at the wine magazine. It was becoming increasingly popular and had a somewhat cult following among certain groups of winemakers and grape growers. The idea that one could reach beyond organic and create an even more eco-friendly growing environment was, and is, appealing to many environmentally-minded farmers.

A mix of alchemy, astrology, and deep ecology, Biodynamic practices were conceived by Rudolf Steiner, a prominent theosophist of the early 1900's. Rudolf Steiner is also well known the founder of the Waldorf schools. Prompted by local farmers concerned with the effects of conventional agriculture on soil quality, Steiner gave a series of eight lectures in 1924 that would become the foundation for the Biodynamic movement.

Since that first series of lectures, the use of Biodynamic practices has flourished worldwide. The Demeter Association of biodynamic farmers was created in 1928, and holds the standards by which biodynamic practices are measured. It's international counterpart, Demeter International, acts as an overarching association providing consistent global standards for Biodynamic practices.

While the efficacy of Biodynamic farms have been questioned when compared to organic or conventional farming methods, those who adhere to its philosophy seem to have an almost religious conviction regarding its worth and merit.

Biodynamic farming methods hold a deep regard for the overall ecological health of a farm. Land is treated as its own ecological niche, allowing all its parts to play a role in the fulfillment of its production. Herbs are homeopathically prepared to facilitate compost preparation, mixtures must be prepared in specific ways and mixed in one direction or another for specified turns, all to create subtle beneficial energy shifts.

Alchemy and astrology play important roles in biodynamic farming, and perhaps this is where people start looking askance. But, as any Farmers Almanac will remind you, most farmers have relied on astrology since the dawn of its beginning. It is perhaps the first true tool used by farmers to mitigate the uncertainty of crop production.

The special focus on the subtleties of plant energies and their environment, including the cosmos, was, and is, very ahead of its time. Although the efficacy of its practices in terms of yield are unclear, perhaps it is the scientific field that has yet to develop the right study by which to measure its efficacy.

1 comment:

Mary Alice said...

Wow. That is so interesting...I've heard of the concept...but I didn't know all of that. Thank you for writing about explained it so well and now I want to know even more.