slide show

By James Barausky
Biodynamic Farming and Gardening Consultant
Rocky Mountain Regional BD Apprenticeship Coordinator

We cannot solve our current problems in agriculture with the same thinking that caused these problems. Our recurring dream that science and technology will overcome the environmental, social and economic challenges that our science and technology have brought about is simply not true – not true to the nature of the creation or the Creator or the striving of the human being. We need a new approach that invites our knowledge and our life experience to grow into a perspective, a new point of view that can lead to a real wisdom and relationship with living, ever renewing forces. This is called ‘imagination’ by Albert Einstein, who wrote: “Imagination is more important than knowledge, for knowledge is limited, whereas imagination embraces the entire world.” Here he refers to imagination as the act of creating new images or ideas by combining previous experiences, i.e. creative power. This initial activity of imagination combines accurate observation of phenomena and right listening with our processes of judgment. It implies a moral and ethical judgment so that we can come to insight and wisdom. We are then called to action out of a sense of truth.

Our current situation calls for the need to envision a holistic approach, where synergy and recycling are the guiding principles, where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. The most holistic agriculture imaginable is the biodynamic method. Bios refers to the fact that ‘life engenders more life’ and that we should use the life cycles of nature to optimize the biological activity of our farms and gardens. Dynamic comes from the Greek word dynamikos and means powerful. We want to use the life energies of nature in such a way that they bring about a dynamic wellspring of life forces that are the source of renewal for soil, plants, animals and people. The motto of biodynamic farming is “life engenders life.” Our task as farmers is to guide and encourage the healthy unfolding of life.

The destruction of soil in our country is a well-known and well-documented fact. As early as 1940, Dr. Ehrenfried Pfeiffer wrote “The Earth’s Face and Human Destiny”. Wendell Berry’s “The Unsettling of America, Culture and Agriculture” is another valuable resource for understanding the current situation in agriculture. The aim of this article is to explore alternative strategies and to grasp the concepts and the benefits of the biodynamic approach. In biodynamic management the soil is treated as the basis for our life on the planet. Its living and health-giving properties are encouraged and enhanced through the careful use of cropping systems, prepared composts and timely cultivations. The aim is to create conditions where the plants will thrive and find what they need to flourish in a living soil.

The plant is utterly dependent on its environment – it is a true expression of both its origins and its environment (genotype and phenotype). And if allowed to fully express its character and characteristics within its environment, it is a balanced plant, and contains the highest nutritional value. It is our job to ensure that we have a program of soil management that makes the cultivated plants vibrant and truly alive. By restoring to the soil a balanced system of functions we can create conditions for the highest quality of food. First, we need to imagine it and then take the necessary steps to create viable working models for the future. We should see ourselves as pioneers for healing ourselves and the planet through our farms and gardens.

By establishing the greatest possible diversity of herbs, grasses, legumes, grains, fruits, vegetables, flowers, bee forages, bushes, hedges and trees, we trigger a synergistic effect throughout our farms, orchards and gardens. We create conditions of intense biological interrelations and mutual support.

When we consider the farm to be an organism, with organs of fields, pastures, forests, wetlands, riparian areas, arable crops, animals, insects, fungi and microorganisms in harmony and reciprocal support, then we lift the level of fertility to the highest level. We encourage nature to work on a higher vibrational plane. This is the meaning of the Farm as an Individuality, which approaches a closed system, a place where inputs are minimized, where elemental beings can rejoice and true healing can be practiced. The farm can become a place of renewal and in fact a new source of restorative energies.

Likewise, the highest food quality comes about when we take into account both the earthly and starry influences. The plants grow between the Earth and the Sun. Other heavenly bodies also have an influence. The Moon. Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn are all part of the plants’ environment as they live outside under the starry skies. Every plant is an image of some cosmic constellation. The ancient adage states: ‘as above so below’. Yet this saying can only come into reality through our human intentions and the conscious timing of our activities.

“If we see how the stars work in plants, we free ourselves from the limits of outer appearance.” -Rudolf Steiner

We are certainly more than what we eat. We are also what we breath and see and experience and dream, but what we take in as food forms an essential part of our activity and it will either stimulate us or burden us. Thus, the point of departure for the biodynamic approach to agriculture is the plant and the striving for the highest quality for human nutrition.

The practical consequences of the biodynamic approach lead to the following principles:

Whole Farm Ecological Units – From bedrock geology to the development of specific soil types in an area, from the climate to the particular site, we must see that each farm or garden has a unique situation and a set of conditions. The natural history and culture of an area is the frame and the canvas on which the farm is created. We are the painters and landscape artists.

Appropriate Production Methods – In choosing cultivars, we strive to put the right plants in the right place at the right time. The plants are our palette of colors and represent the brush strokes of nature for any given region.

Diversity and Biodiversity – We involve as many plant species and interrelations as possible so that mutual support, co-operative co-existence and natural balancing become daily events. We use the borders between cropland and meadows, fields and forests, orchard and garden to create synergy. Crop rotations, catch crops, and green manuring are essential on most biodynamic farms. Our arrangement of color on the canvas creates the composition of the painting.

Proper Soil Management – The soil acts like a diaphragm by breathing in the light, warmth and moisture, and exhaling the plants. It must be a balanced system that can hold and develop living metabolic processes for fertility. We are growing soil for future generations, so we want it to be deep-breathing, full-hearted and rich in humus. The painting seems to grow out of two dimensions into three or four!

Biomass and Compost – Nutrients must be held within a closed system, recyled and made available to the soil and plants in the most appropriate forms. In order to establish a system of balanced functions in the soil and keep as many resources within the biological unit as possible, biodynamic farms make their own compost on site.

Communities of Farm Animals – The cow, when it is allowed to be incorporated in a farm organism, is the primary animal that guarantees the building of long term soil fertility. When one builds a group of all the domestic animals – cow, horse, sheep or goat, pig, poultry – then there is a heightened life within the farm and a good group of helpers who process and recycle farm products and nutrients to support the health of the farm landscape. The work with animals also creates a rhythm and a harmony in time.

Biologically Integrated Disease, Pest and Weed Control Management – Healthy soil produces healthy plants, which are less prone to insect problems or disease. This system itself can become self-regulating to a certain degree. Our interventions can be seen to support health instead of removing the pest or curing the disease.

Timing is Important – When one sees that plants are attuned to solar, lunar and planetary rhythms, then one can optimize actions in accord with these conditions. By noticing the subtleties of Nature we can encourage her to express herself. Therefore, planting calendars are often incorporated in the method of biodynamics. Full moon, new moon, ascending and descending nodes, apogee and perigee, eclipses and oppositions and conjunctions are some of the events that have traditionally been incorporated in these calendars. There is also evidence that the sideral zodiac plays an important part in plant growth. The biodynamic grower consciously seeks to engage the influences of the cosmos, the sun’s light and warmth, the fertility forces of the moon, and subtle planetary aspects.

Above and beyond sound organic practices, biodynamics is able to strengthen life forces and stimulate enzyme, hormone and trace mineral processes with the help of special preparations. Biodynamics awakens the plants and farm animals to their archetypal story and their future evolution. These methods have been researched and practiced for over eighty years in farms and gardens, orchards and vineyards all over the world. Growing numbers of doctors and therapists are urging their patients to include biodynamic produce in their diets because of the healing and nutritional benefits. Growing numbers of chefs are seeking food that has real flavor, has keeping quality and is alive. Biodynamic methods, when consistently practiced, guarantee the highest quality products. The certification has been established and is carried by the Demeter Associatioin, initially in Germany but now worldwide.

When we consider healing, we are dealing with the intention ‘to make whole’ that which is ill. In Biodynamics we address this issue of healing:
• by maintaining soils that have a balanced regulatory function, active soil life and sufficient humus;
• by creating on-farm composting and nutrient recycling;
• by panting and tending in harmony with the sun and moon rhythms and directing our attention to the stars;
• by using herbal teas, silica sprays, and biodynamic preparations to assist in plant growth;
• by conscious respect and gratitude for the work of the elemental beings;
• by keeping our animals pastured in the open air, free to move and able to express their instincts;
• by creating farms, gardens and ranches that invite people of all ages to actively participate in growing and caring for the earth.

“Humanity has two choices: to learn from the whole of nature and the whole of the cosmos, or to allow nature and human life to degenerate and die off”. These words of Rudolf Steiner stress the importance of this new approach and just what is at stake. Consider Albert Einstein’s comment after the development of the atomic bomb”….the release of atom power has changed everything except our way of thinking…. the solution to this problem lies in the heart of mankind. If I had only known, I should have become a watchmaker.”Perhaps today we should add: “or have become a biodynamic farmer.”