Farming, HomeFarm

Biodynamic Farming: Beyond Organic

In the 1920s, farmers were practicing what we today might call "organic" farming. Roundup was not yet a gleam in anyone's eye. But the Industrial Revolution was pushing from the factory floors to the fields and producers who were naturally grateful to ease their heavy workload eagerly embraced their day's modern technologies. 

But European farmers concerned with a noticeable decrease in crop yield and quality gathered in a town now within Poland's borders in June of 1924 to hear Rudolf Steiner prescribe an antidote to their ills. Steiner — perhaps best known for devising the Waldorf educational method — gave the first of several "Agriculture Lectures" that counseled farmers to look backwards, not forwards, when seeking to heal their land and increase their harvest.

Steiner proposed that the farm and all of its inhabitants — from the insects to the humans and certainly, its soil and plants — were part of a complete organism and therefore interdependent for optimal health and growth. Return to the lunar cycle for planting, he advised. Let the animals feed the soil that, in turn, feeds them. View your farm as a holistic entity.

We call that Biodynamic® farming. (Interestingly, the term "organic" was derived from Steiner's use of the word "organism.") Biodynamic is organic and then some. While both methods greatly restrict the use of additives not found in nature, Biodynamic farming goes beyond organic in seeking to use cyclical agricultural methods to heal the earth and its inhabitants.

Like organic, Biodynamic farming is subject to rigorous certification to protect both the consumer and the producer. Here in the U.S., the certification entity is Demeter USA. Its co-director, Elizabeth Candelario, is a Healdsburg resident, which closes the loop for us nicely.

Given the dangers of monocropping, wineries have been early Biodynamic adopters. In Sonoma County, Quivira, Littorai, and Benziger wineries are among those that have made the change. 

Our own HomeFarm has long practiced organic and Biodynamic principles and is in the process of becoming certified for both. So does Lou Preston's Preston Farm and Vineyard, which provides produce to SHED, as does Front Porch Farm, already certified Biodynamic. Neither our farm or the others are doing this because it's particularly easy; in fact it's a huge and ongoing challenge to know and care for a piece of land. As Lou Preston says, we do it "to protect the health of the farm and its denizens, ensure the quality and uniqueness of their food products, and provide the basis of a truly sustainable farm system".

In his first Agriculture Lecture, delivered almost exactly 90 years ago, Steiner lamented, "The more intimate influences which are at work in the whole Universe are no longer understood." But perhaps, the further we creep along in the centuries, the better the wisdom of the ages will be understood.

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