Issue 06/24

What is Biodynamic Farming?

Renee Herrnkind

In fact – an organic agriculture without chemicals and poisons, without exploitation of natural resources and without genetic engineering, but with biodynamic breeding of plants and animals, with skillful processing and a focus on animal welfare and sustainability works. As a development community of farmers and gardeners, processors and traders, Demeter is committed to the common goal of remaining a pioneer and setting the highest standards. To mark the anniversary, it is worth taking a look at the history of its origins.

At Whitsun 1924, Rudolf Steiner gives his eight lectures on the prosperity of agriculture at the Koberwitz estate near Breslau. A group of farmers who feels inspired by anthroposophy urged Steiner to do so. They hope that he would provide them with concrete assistance for sustainable agriculture. Farmers are concerned because the quality of food, the fertility of the soil and the health of plants and animals have noticeably declined. These ten days also mark the birth of modern organic farming. Rudolf Steiner's impulse fell on fertile ground. The biodynamic principle of viewing the farm as a closed organism has become the foundation of all organic farming: Only as many animals are kept on the farm as can be fed with home-grown fodder. This means that the animals provide sufficient manure to feed the plants and keep the soil fertile.

The decisive difference to other organic farming methods lies in a broader understanding of agriculture. In 1924, Steiner explains to practitioners that agriculture is connected to the entire universe. Natural rhythms such as the tides play an important role and show that everything is interconnected. Steiner urges the astonished listeners not to simply believe his findings, which are based on supernatural experiences, but to research them and test them in practice. This is exactly what the experienced practitioners begin doing immediately. Just four years later, the group, which formed the experimental network of anthroposophical farmers, chose the name of Demeter, the goddess of fertility, for their products. Even today, it builds a bridge to the spiritual dimension of biodynamic.

Steiner was convinced that food can only attain the quality that enables people to continue to develop if all influencing factors are taken into account during its production: cosmic rhythms, the soil as the plant's digestive organ or the animal's spiritual forces. Inspired by this and drawing on Goethean knowledge of nature, i.e. phenomenological perception, Demeter farmers view their farm as a living, unique organism – a perspective that other holistic practices such as permaculture also cultivate. This ideal goes beyond the image of a closed farm cycle. One organ needs the other. Each part serves the whole. Humans, plants, animals and soil work together. Biodynamic farmers do not only focus on material substances, but also on the formative forces of the universe and rhythmic life processes such as the seasons, the lunar cycle and day and night rhythms. What may sound a little far-fetched in theory turns out to be very down-to-earth in practice. Many visitors perceive a special atmosphere on Demeter farms. This can be achieved through the individual design of the farm organism.

The biodynamic preparations are the heart of the system

All forces are concentrated through the use of so-called biodynamic preparations that are produced in-house. They are the most extraordinary characteristic of biodynamic farming. Their use is obligatory for every Demeter farm. For their production, humans take animal, plant and mineral substances and expose them to natural processes in order to return them to the soil and plants in a modified form. The compost preparations are made from the medicinal plants nettle, yarrow, camomile, oak bark, dandelion and valerian. They are buried in the ground in animal organ casings such as skulls, intestines or bladders for at least six months. They are then added to the manure to create a particularly valuable compost. The spray preparations are filled into cow horns and buried: Horn silica as finely ground quartz and cow dung for the horn manure preparation. After their transformation process in the soil, small quantities of both are then mixed rhythmically in water and sprayed on fields, meadows and plants. The effect of the preparations has been proven many times over: A generally balancing, harmonizing effect and optimal ripening quality have been observed.

Bringing the soil to life

One aim of biodynamic efforts is to revitalize the soil. Food can only grow harmoniously in vital soil. «The farmer nourishes the life of the soil, not the plants», taught Rudolf Steiner, who called the soil an organ of agriculture. Steiner thus set a counterweight to the newly developed industrial nitrogen fertilization. In 2008, Demeter became the first organic association to introduce guidelines for plant breeding and certify biodynamically bred vegetable and grain varieties. The guidelines guarantee the highest food quality, the best flavor and the transmission of good characteristics in plant breeding. As a cultural asset, seeds remain the responsibility of farmers and gardeners and offer alternatives to the seed industry and genetic engineering.

Recognizing the nature of the animal

Demeter is the only organic farming association with compulsory animal keeping on farms. Only in exceptional cases is it possible to cooperate with a Demeter partner, who then supplies the animal manure. Animals, especially cows, play a central role in the individuality of the farm organism. The cows on Demeter farms have horns, and painful dehorning is deliberately not practiced. The fodder for the Demeter animals is produced on the farm itself or purchased from other biodynamic farms. Animal meal, additives and preventative medication such as antibiotics or hormones are prohibited. Each animal radiates a specific quality into its environment and thus shapes life on the farm. It is the animals that bring this special spiritual component that is so appealing to people today.

Actively shaping a future worth living

The initiators of biodynamic farming were aware that they were contributing to sustainable human nutrition and holistic development with this new farming culture. This is still a concern for today's stakeholders. They do not want to see the future as a mere continuation of the past, but want to be open to what lies ahead. It is no wonder that farms are becoming a breeding ground for a new kind of social coexistence in communities, cooperations, solidarity-based forms of agriculture and unusual models: Over ten percent of German Demeter farms are organized as non-profit organizations. People with disabilities are integrated into meaningful work on numerous farms. Demeter is also the only organic association that allows consumers to participate.


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