Biodynamics

"Biodynamic farming is gaining converts. But is it healthy or just hyped?

"Eighty years have passed since Rudolph Steiner, the Austrian philosopher, gave the eight lectures that would form the basis of biodynamic farming. The agricultural movement has spread around the world. In Germany there are 1,331 biodynamic farms, in Canada about 30, in New Zealand 42, in Switzerland 215, in Italy 250 and in the UK 122.

"Biodynamic food is beginning to penetrate the mainstream marketplace, albeit slowly. It is also gaining a reputation for exceptional quality.

"So what is a biodynamic farm? It must be seen as a whole living organism within the context of both the planet and the cosmos, with no chemicals used on the animals or soil, just homeopathic medicine, the preparations (seven recipes handed out by Steiner) or the compost of the plants and animals on the farm. A biodynamic farm, therefore, must be as self-sustaining as possible. A mixture of animals and crops is preferred, and planting and harvesting are to take into consideration the moon's orbit and the constellations of the stars. The soild, the earthworms, the microbial activity beneath the surface--these are the most vital aspects of the farm, because from healthy soil comes healthy food, and from healthy food comes healthy minds...

"Quackery or scientifically grounded? There are three particular aspects of the biodynamic technique that lead most scientists and farmers to continue to reject it. The most attractively bonkers aspect of biodynamic farming is planting by the moon and stars...

"Moon-gardeners and biodynamic farmers claim the practice is based on thousands of years of observation by cultures as diverse as the Sumerians, Mayans, Chinese, Romans and ancient Greeks...

"The second problematic area is Steiner's preparations, of which the most famous is "Preparation 500": manure stuffed into a cow horn, then buried under ground throughout winter before being mixed into water stirred first clockwise and then anticlockwise for exactly one hour before being sprayed over the earth. The other preparations involve ground silica for foliage, and the administration of herbal preparations that include yarrow, camomile and dandelion to the all-important compost heap. In 1993 research carried out in New Zealand by Professor John Reganold of Washington State University and published in Science concluded that biodynamic compost was indeed of better quality than compost from conventional farms. In 2002 a Swiss paper on organic farming from FiBL ("probably the most highly regarded purely organic farming-focused research institution in Europe," says Dr. Carlo Leifert, head of the EU's largest investigation into organic farming), published by Science magazine, concluded that biodynamically tended soil showed higher biodiversity and higher levels of microbial activity than conventionally or organically farmed soil...

""In order to understand biodynamic farming, there has to be a paradigm shift," explains Ton Baars, newly appointed professor of Biodynamics at Kassel University in Germany. "I try to explain to my students that there are forces such as gravity and magnetism which are accepted by conventional science, and these forces we refer to as hard forces. But biodynamics deals with soft forces, life forces, and the problem is to get conventional science to accept these soft forces as well. Biodynamics is a holistic view of the world, and our science also takes this approach"...

"There is, however, one aspect of biodynamic farming that some scientists cite as a possible explanation for the quality of biodynamic food. It is nothing to do with cosmic radiation or cow horns: it is simply the passion the biodynamic farmer feels for his farm. Biodynamic farms are pleasant places to be, with trees and flowers, and dogs and piglets wandering about, and a different smell from a conventional farm. Biodynamic manure has a mild, sweet aroma, unlike the sour-smelling stuff that comes out of intensively farmed herds. "When I visit conventional farms, the farmers never talk to me about the quality of their soil. And I'm a soil scientist," says Reganold. "But when I go to biodynamic farms, the farmers just go on and on about the soil; they can't talk enough about it"" (Bibi van der Zee. "Spirituality from the soil." Guardian Weekly, July 8, 2005: 17).


Colby Glass, MLIS