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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.