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What is biodynamic farming?

Founded in 1924, Biodynamic farming is the oldest 'green' farming movement, and forerunner of organics. All biodynamic farmers and growers practice organic methods of cultivation, are against genetic modification (GM), and share its ideals, but there are important differences. Biodynamics has metaphysical and spiritual roots that organics does not. Biodynamics thus embraces the mystery of all life processes, including the subtle and energetic realities that are not necessarily easy to measure or justify using current scientific methods.

The essence
Whereas other forms of sustainable agriculture are primarily concerned with producing food sustainably, biodynamic farming aspires to be transformative and seeks to maximize health and vitality. It thus constantly strives to embrace all life's processes, to understand them better, and to improve the way we farm through an ongoing dialogue with Nature. For biodynamics, farming is not a means to maximum production, but an ongoing dialogue with Nature. We consider the land we steward to be an ecological web of biodiversity; our role is to nurture this and help it reach its full potential, whilst balancing the needs of farming and growing with those of the natural world.
Self-sustaining
In biodynamic agriculture each farm or holding has its own identity, and is a self-sustaining organism in its own right, where its diverse activities and habitats strengthen and balance each other. The goal therefore for any biodynamic farm is thus to minimise external inputs; not stretch the land beyond its natural capacity; and for human activity to put back more than is taken out. The aim is resilience and regeneration.
Regenerative
Organic and sustainable farming systems aim to sustain nature and agriculture. In contrast, biodynamics is regenerative and transformative - it seeks to maximize health and vitality of soils, crops, and livestock, and through this human health, and to transform agriculture in a spiritual and holistic way.
Harmony
Biodynamic agriculture supports and nurtures natural processes and recognises their interdependence. The aim of a biodynamic farmer is not simply to maximize production at any cost, but to work like the conductor of an orchestra, allowing each element of the farm to both to thrive individually and to work in harmony with the others.
How do I know?
Look out for the Demeter trademark logo (named for the ancient Greek goddess of agriculture, fertility and abundance), which is the legal guarantee to consumers that food has been produced to international biodynamic standards. These standards meet and exceed EU organic standards. The Demeter brand enjoys unique worldwide recognition, representing organic integrity and vitality, it is the organic brand of choice in Europe. The rigour of the standards and quality of the food is fiercely upheld by each member of Demeter International.
Where?
Biodynamics is a worldwide movement, practiced on every continent. There are currently more than 5000 farms worldwide on over 180,000 hectares in 54 countries. The UK is experiencing renewed interest in biodynamics, and more farms converting to Demeter (biodynamic) status every year. Currently there are 98 certified biodynamic enterprises (farmers and growers; vineyards; market gardens; processors and traders), though the total number of holdings practicing biodynamic methods is greater, especially among smallholders.
History
Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925) was an Austrian philosopher, scientist and social reformer who sought to extend scientific research beyond the existing parameters of natural science and investigate the non-physical, spiritual realities of life. The name given to this new branch of science and philosophy was 'anthroposophy', a Greek word meaning 'human wisdom’, from the Greek 'anthro' (human) and 'sophia' (wisdom of man'). Steiner inspired new approaches to medicine, education, the arts, social reform and economics as well as agriculture. His agricultural lectures, given in 1924 to a group of over a 100 farmers and landowners, gave novel insights and suggestions on how to regenerate and improve agriculture, which led to the foundation of the biodynamic movement, and lie at the heart of its ethos and farming practices. Research in biodynamic practice has been ongoing ever since.

Biodynamic methods

All biodynamic farmers and growers practice organic methods of production, and share very similar certification standards. Both also share similar aims and ideals, but biodynamics has metaphysical and spiritual roots that organics does not.

It is this that makes biodynamics distinctively different in both its approach to agriculture, and its farming practices.

There are some farming methods that are specific to biodynamic agriculture, some of these are detailed below:

Cows have horns
Dehorning cattle is forbidden in biodynamic (Demeter) standards; cows that are born with horns keep their horns and are encouraged to lead a naturally healthy lifestyle. Read more about why this is important here
Natural remedies
The use of biodynamic herbal and mineral preparations to improve the health and vitality of soil, compost and crops is unique to biodynamic farming. To find out more, click here. Biodynamic preparations are uniquely fermented natural remedies that play a pivotal role in successful biodynamic production. There are 9 remedies in total, all with different properties, characteristics, and uses, please see below for more detail. They are often made by biodynamic practitioners, but can be bought ready made from our online shop, and which include instructions on how to use them. They are inexpensive and available to everyone to try. In some areas it is also possible to join a local group, who make and share them to use in their own gardens.
Sowing and planting calendar
Though not obligatory, a biodynamic astronomical calendar is often consulted to help assess optimum times for sowing, planting etc. To find out more, click here.
The use of antibiotics
In common with organic farming, the use of antibiotics is strictly regulated, and routine and prophylactic use of antibiotics is prohibited. This is in stark contrast to conventional industrialized and intensive farming systems, where routine and overuse of antibiotics is now acknowledged to significantly contribute to the widespread antimicrobial resistance that increasingly threatens human health. Our approach goes further. We believe that domesticated animals, are sentient beings, who deserve our respect and the best health and welfare care possible. We achieve this through humane management practices which mirror natural rhythms: constant observation, and careful selection of appropriate breeds, feeds and shelter form the basis of biodynamic husbandry. Organic, homeopathic, herbal extracts, and other natural remedies are used in preference to antibiotics. However, in justified cases of illness, and where deemed necessary to prevent suffering, antibiotics are permitted. As a safeguard to human health, withdrawal times for animals receiving antibiotics are three times that of conventional farming before the animal is allowed into the food chain. The health and vitality of our stock is, and always will be, paramount . We believe our approach ensures maximum health and well- being for our livestock, borne out by the daily experience of biodynamic farmers. Mitigating the use for the need of antibiotics, thus keeping their use to a minimum, benefits the well- being of our animals, and helps ensure their efficacy for future generations.

Biodynamic preparations

Biodynamic preparations are uniquely fermented natural remedies and play a pivotal role in successful biodynamic farming and growing. There are 9 preparations in total, all with different properties, characteristics, and uses.

They are used to encourage humus forming processes in the soil; enliven and increase the microbial soil population; vitalise plant growth; and to harmonise life processes with that of its immediate and more distant surroundings. Their effects are primarily subtle and qualitative but profoundly important There are two main types:

An overview of the biodynamic spray preparations:

The Spray Preparations

An overview of the herbal compost preparations:

The Compost Preparations

Worldwide case study of biodynamic preparation making

Biodynamic Preparations Research

Policies and Positions

Genetic Modification
The biodynamic movement is adamantly opposed to genetic modification (GM) in agriculture, gardening, and in food processing. Demeter standards forbids the use of any GM organisms and ingredients, including animal feeds; and also forbid cyto and protoplasm fusion techniques for seed production.
Bees
The biodynamic approach to keeping bee colonies differs fundamentally from conventional beekeeping, and is based on respecting their natural lifestyles. We call this ‘bee-centred' approach Natural Beekeeping - which, as practiced by the Natural Beekeeping Trust - is a much more sustainable alternative. It is practiced in several countries, including the UK. Our bees are in crisis and we have to find a more humane way to go forward where bees come first. Read more about natural bee keeping the biodynamic way: Biodynamic Bee Keeping.
Seeds
Seeds beget life. In biodynamics they are held in the same high regard as soils. However, the last 60 years has seen developments which threaten the future existence and viability of the kind of seeds - open pollinated seeds - that have sustained mankind since the first agricultural revolution around 10,000 BC
The use of antibiotics in biodynamic farming
In common with organic farming, the use of antibiotics is strictly regulated, and routine and prophylactic use of antibiotics is prohibited. This is in stark contrast to conventional industrialized and intensive farming systems, where routine and overuse of antibiotics is now acknowledged to significantly contribute to the widespread antimicrobial resistance that increasingly threatens human health. Our approach goes further. We believe that domesticated animals, are sentient beings, who deserve our respect and the best health and welfare care possible. We achieve this through humane management practices which mirror natural rhythms: constant observation, and careful selection of appropriate breeds, feeds and shelter form the basis of biodynamic husbandry. Organic, homeopathic, herbal extracts, and other natural remedies are used in preference to antibiotics. However, in justified cases of illness, and where deemed necessary to prevent suffering, antibiotics are permitted. As a safeguard to human health, withdrawal times for animals receiving antibiotics are 3 times that of conventional farming before the animal is allowed into the food chain. The health and vitality of our stock is, and always will be, paramount . We believe our approach ensures maximum health and well- being for our livestock, borne out by the daily experience of biodynamic farmers. Mitigating the use for the need of antibiotics, thus keeping their use to a minimum, benefits the well- being of our animals, and helps ensure their efficacy for future generations. To read the latest developments on the dangers of the widespread overuse of antibiotics in farming click here.
Is biodynamic food better for me?
Scientific research into the health benefits of organic food - which applies to biodynamic food as well - is well documented; for the latest on this, click here. In addition, repeated experiments for many years by people who grow and eat biodynamic food, and by biodynamic research establishments, confirms biodynamics regularly produces high quality nutrient-rich foods, that keep fresh longer, store better, and have greater vitality. Anecdotal evidence suggests that eating biodynamic food reduces allergic reactions and contributes to improved general health; and that milk from horned cattle is more digestible. Biodynamic farmers report that their livestock are more fertile, robust and healthy. During the BSE crisis no cases of BSE was reported.
Biodynamics and being a vegetarian / vegan
Today many people are vegetarian or vegan and they are so for a variety of reasons. For most, the reason is a striving to live by the highest principles and wanting to live in harmony with nature and the environment. Aware that animal manure as well as some animal parts, such as cow horns, are used in making the biodynamic preparations, they are keen to find out more to ensure that eating biodynamic produce doesn’t compromise their principles. Read more on this issue here

Research

Rudolf Steiner’s lectures began 90 years of research which continues today, and is practised worldwide across different climate zones. The result is an impressive body of hands on practical, as well as scientific research, into every aspect of biodynamics. Click to learn more...

The future: beyond biodynamic

Biodynamics is constantly evolving. The development of the quantum sciences is providing a new generation of biodynamic thinkers and farmers with a powerful tool to better understand the complex web of connectivity between man, earth and beyond, and opens up new exciting possibilities for the agriculture of the future. Hugh Lovel, one of the foremost thinkers of the biodynamics, gives a glimpse:-

Biodynamic agriculture crosses scientific disciplines and expands the frontiers of science into realms where life processes and consciousness are generated. At one time this would have been dismissed as imponderable, mystical or, perhaps, delusional. Nonetheless the use of biodynamic methods - especially the biodynamic preparations - keeps increasing since biodynamics gets quality results.....

From Quantum Agriculture, Biodynamics and Beyond, Hugh Lovel,

To read more click here.

Biodynamic wine

More and more of the world’s best winemakers are converting to biodynamic methods in their vineyards. So much so, that currently there are over 600 Demeter certified biodynamic vineyards. These include over 250 in France and Italy, 75 in Germany, over 40 in Switzerland, 49 in New Zealand, and even as far as Brazil, which boasts 2 biodynamic vineyards. The UK currently has 7 vineyards including the aware winning Sedlescombe, East Sussex, Ancre Hills in Monouthshire & Albury, in Surrey p>

The reason is that winemakers interested in producing top quality wines, all share the same mission and ultimate challenge: to create wines that express what the French call terroir - a unique sense of place or ‘somewhereness’.

It is only when a wine expresses its terroir - the heart and soul - of its land and captures that magical and elusive sense of place that it becomes truly individual and truly great. One other essential ingredient is required: that of the deep connection between the winemaker and his/her grapes, a connection which goes far beyond its methods of production. As winemakers are discovering, biodynamic methods achieve all this and more.

A more in-depth look at biodynamic grape growing:

The Basics of Biodynamic Viticulture