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What is Biodynamic Farming?

Mary McMahon
Updated Jun 04, 2024
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Biodynamic farming is a farming technique similar to organic agriculture, although it integrates more of a spiritual aspect, and has been formally organized far longer than the organic movement has. The main idea behind biodynamic farming is that the Earth is a living, interconnected organism, and that farmers should work with, harness, and encourage it. The roots of biodynamic farming can be found in Rudolf Steiner, an Austrian social philosopher who was widely admired at the turn of the twentieth century. In a series of lectures in the 1920s, Steiner laid out the foundations for biodynamic farming, concerned about the direction that commercial agriculture was taking. Although biodynamics has not been widely embraced, it is practiced at farms of varying size all over the world, and biodynamic farms can be officially certified through chapters of Demeter International, an ecological association.

The idea behind biodynamic farming is anthroposophy, the idea that people can reach a state of spirituality through discipline and learning. Steiner saw a profound disconnect between the earth and the people who live on it, and proposed a series of principles for farmers to follow. Many of these principles are familiar to organic farmers: the use of cover crops to protect the soil, for example, or the idea that farms should have a low ecological impact. Biodynamic farming also values composting, using natural fertilizers such as manure and herbal teas, and living in harmony with the earth.

However, biodynamic farming also has a whiff of alchemy about it. Farmers use one of eight biodynamic preparations to condition the soil, along with compost and mulch. These preparations include plant, animal, and mineral ingredients, and are prepared in specific ways, often in accordance with the cycles of the moon. Some of the more well known biodynamic preparations include horn manure, cow horns filled with cow manure and buried in fields to condition the soil, along with yarrow blossoms, picked at full bloom and buried at the margins of fields, and plant derived sprays to resist fungus. Invasive weeds are ritually burned and scattered at certain periods of the moon, while preparations made from the ashes of animal pests are used to resist infestation.

The idea that the farm should be a self contained organism is also an important tenet of biodynamic farming. A biodynamically framed farm functions like a microcosm. Sheep and chickens, for example, are used to eat weeds and fertilize, while compost made from leftover plant material is scattered on the fields to renew the soil. Seeds for new crops are harvested from the crops of the year before, and all the materials for enriching the soil come from the farm. This reduces the economic cost of biodynamic farming, and also minimizes the ecological footprint of the farm.

Crops from certified biodynamic farms, especially commodities like wine, tend to fetch a higher price than conventional and organic counterparts, and can sometimes be difficult to obtain. Specialty stores may have packaged biodynamic goods, but for produce, it is best to go directly to the farm. Many community supported agriculture cooperatives are organized around biodynamic farming principles, and some biodynamic farms bring their crops to farmers' markets or make them available for sale at the farm itself. Most biodynamic farmers also enjoy giving tours of the land under their care to people who are interested.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a All Things Nature researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By KoiwiGal — On Oct 01, 2014

@Ana1234 - Biodynamic farming isn't all that popular these days. There has been quite a lot of research showing that it's no more effective than comparable organic farming techniques and that the mystical element doesn't increase yields or improve soil quality.

I like the sentiment behind it, but using outdated and pointless farming techniques isn't good for farmers. They are busy enough as it is.

By Ana1234 — On Sep 30, 2014

@pleonasm - I'm sure Steiner was serious about these applications even if he was guessing. He didn't believe that he was guessing, because he thought that there was power in crystals and the moon and so forth, so it made sense to try and combine these powers in a harmony.

And biodynamic farming practices are still used in quite a few places. They weren't established to get money out of people or anything. They were an experiment in making the world a better place.

I actually think the problem with a lot of the techniques and philosophies that Rudolph Steiner left behind is that they have become dogma rather than an ongoing quest for improvement where it is needed.

By pleonasm — On Sep 30, 2014

The mother of my best friend in high school was very into biodynamic farming. At first I thought it sounded amazing, as I was a fairly impressionable teenager, but eventually I realized that, while some of it was based around solid science and it was usually practiced with real earnestness, most of it was just guesswork and conjecture with no basis in reality.

I mean, I don't see why they thought Steiner was such an amazing expert at farming that he managed to come up with these obscure techniques in the first place. I guess if the parts that did work managed to work well, they would obscure the fact that the mystical parts were nonsense.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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