Sherry Wildfeuer (Based on “An Introduction To Biodynamic Agriculture”, originally published in Stella*Natura 1995)
What is Biodynamic agriculture? In seeking an answer let us pose the further question: Can the Earth heal itself, or has the waning of the Earth’s vitality gone too far for this? No matter where our land is located, if we are observant we will see sure signs of illness in trees, in our cultivated plants, in the water, even in the weather. Organic agriculture rightly wants to halt the devastation caused by humans; however, organic agriculture has no cure for the ailing Earth.
From this the following question arises: What was the original source of vitality, and is it available now?
Biodynamics is a science of life-forces, a recognition of the basic principles at work in nature, and an approach to agriculture which takes these principles into account to bring about balance and healing. In a very real way, then, Biodynamics is an ongoing path of knowledge rather than an assemblage of methods and techniques.
Biodynamics is part of the work of Rudolf Steiner, known as anthroposophy – a new approach to science which integrates precise observation of natural phenomena, clear thinking, and knowledge of the spirit. It offers an account of the spiritual history of the Earth as a living being, and describes the evolution of the constitution of humanity and the kingdoms of nature. Some of the basic principles of Biodynamics are:
Just as we need to look at the magnetic field of the whole earth to comprehend the compass, to understand plant life we must expand our view to include all that affects plant growth. No narrow microscopic view will suffice. Plants are utterly open to and formed by influences from the depths of the earth to the heights of the heavens. Therefore ,our considerations in agriculture must range more broadly than is generally assumed to be relevant.
Reading the Book of Nature
Everything in nature reveals something of its essential character in its form and gesture. Careful observations of nature – in shade and full sun, in wet and dry areas, on different soils, will yield a more fluid grasp of the elements. So eventually one learns to read the language of nature. And then one can be creative, bringing new emphasis and balance through specific actions.
Practitioners and experimenters over the last seventy years have added tremendously to the body of knowledge known as Biodynamics.
The light of the sun, moon, planets and stars reaches the plants in regular rhythms. Each contributes to the life, growth and form of the plant. By understanding the gesture and effect of each rhythm, we can time our ground preparation, sowing, cultivating and harvesting to the advantage of the crops we are raising. The Stella Natura calendar which is featured in this catalog offers an introduction to this new study.
Biodynamics recognizes that soil itself can be alive, and this vitality supports and affects the quality and health of the plants that grow in it. Therefore, one of Biodynamics fundamental efforts is to build up stable humus in our soil through composting.
We gain our physical strength from the process of breaking down the food we eat. The more vital our food, the more it stimulates our own activity. Thus, Biodynamic farmers and gardeners aim for quality, and not only quantity.
Chemical agriculture has developed short-cuts to quantity by adding soluble minerals to the soil. The plants take these up via water, thus by-passing their natural ability to seek from the soil what is needed for health, vitality and growth. The result is a deadened soil and artificially stimulated growth.
Biodynamics grows food with a strong connection to a healthy, living soil.
Rudolf Steiner pointed out that a new science of cosmic influences would have to replace old, instinctive wisdom and superstition. Out of his own insight, he introduced what are known as biodynamic preparations.
Naturally occurring plant and animal materials are combined in specific recipes in certain seasons of the year and then placed in compost piles. These preparations bear concentrated forces within them and are used to organize the chaotic elements within the compost piles. When the process is complete, the resulting preparations are medicines for the Earth which draw new life forces from the cosmos.
Two of the preparations are used directly in the field, one on the earth before planting, to stimulate soil life, and one on the leaves of growing plants to enhance their capacity to receive the light. Effects of the preparations have been verified scientifically.
The Farm as the Basic Unit of Agriculture
In his Agriculture course, Rudolf Steiner posed the ideal of the self-contained farm – that there should be just the right number of animals to provide manure for fertility, and these animals should, in turn, be fed from the farm.
We can seek the essential gesture of such a farm also under other circumstances. It has to do with the preservation and recycling of the life-forces with which we are working. Vegetable waste, manure, leaves, food scraps, all contain precious vitality which can be held and put to use for building up the soil if they are handled wisely. Thus, composting is a key activity in Biodynamic work.
The farm is also a teacher, and provides the educational opportunity to imitate natures wise self-sufficiency within a limited area. Some have also successfully created farms through the association of several parcels of non-contiguous land.
Economics Based on Knowledge of the Job
Steiner emphasized the absurdity of agricultural economics determined by people who have never actually raised crops or managed a farm.
A new approach to this situation has been developed which brings about the association of producers and consumers for their mutual benefit. The Community Supported Agriculture movement was born in the Biodynamic movement and is spreading rapidly. Gardens or farms gather around them a circle of supporters who agree in advance to meet the financial needs of the enterprise and its workers, and these supporters each receive a share of the produce as the season progresses. Thus consumers become connected with the real needs of the Earth, the farm and the Community; they rejoice in rich harvests, and remain faithful under adverse circumstances.
Reading and Resource List for Biodynamic Agriculture
Secrets of the Soil by Peter Tompkins and Christopher Bird
Many alternative techniques for natural growing, with a major emphasis on Biodynamics and Appendices on Rudolf Steiner and the Biodynamic preparations.
Culture and Horticulture: A philosophy of Gardening by Wolf Storl
Comprehensive and probing coverage of all aspects of Biodynamics.
[Planting Calendar] Working with Cosmic Rhythms: Inspiration & Practical Advice for Home Gardeners & Professional Growers.
Spiritual Foundations for the Renewal of Agriculture
Rudolf Steiner’s seminal 1924 lectures in the Creeger/Gardner translation, 1994. Difficult and essential. Return to this time after time.
Love and its Meaning in the World Rudolf Steiner
Agriculture as an Art – The Meaning of Man’s Work on the Soil
The Biodnamic Spray Preparations as Sense Organs
Building Stones for Meeting the Challenges
Dying and Becoming – Man’s Path to a New Communion with Nature
Growing Together – Why Should we Bother?
Tomorrow’s Agriculture –Are We Meeting the Challenges
Lectures by Manfred Klett and a few others
Aurora Farm Family Foundation – Seeds, Flower Essences, Land Stewardship Consultation
Josephine Porter Institute – Biodynamic Preparations, all of the above publications
Biodynmic Farming and Gardening Association of America
The legacy association of Biodynamic practitioners and learners; resource for books and conferences Catalyzes regional groups. Robert Karp is the new Executive Director.
Email Discussion Group moderated by Allan Balliett
High volume, quirky, always interesting
Peaceful Valley Farm Supply — Azomite, Cover crops
Lee Valley Tools – Almost the only source for high quality Bulldog-style garden tools
Eric Sloane’s Books on Early America; for old tools and how they were used
Martin Prechtel – “Grief and Praise” CD-Rom
Lilipoh Magazine – “Life, Liberty, Pursuit of Happiness” – Anthroposophy, Waldorf, Biodynamics – quarterly
ATTRA— the latest in sustainable agriculture and organic farming news, events and funding opportunities; in-depth publications on production practices, alternative crop and livestock enterprises, innovative marketing, organic certification, and highlights of local, regional, USDA and other federal sustainable ag activities.