What is Biodynamic Agriculture?
Biodynamics is the one of the best-known daughter movements of Anthroposophy. It is practised worldwide with over 150.000 ha of Demeter-certified biodynamic land. The concept behind biodynamics has inspired many related fields such as landscape work, flow forms, holistic nutrition, food culture, social therapy, bee-keeping and viniculture.
The biodynamic approach to the land is an ethical approach that respects the ecology, culture and traditions of place. It demands a collaboration between humans and nature where both can flourish. But Biodynamics also recognises that sustainability of existing practices on the land is not enough. With climate change and an increasing exhaustion of the world’s natural resources, a different approach that brings regeneration for the future is required. Human beings are responsible for the degradation of our natural world through many practices that are gradually destroying the viability of the land to produce. So we need to reconsider how we design and apply our agricultural systems.
Why do we need Biodynamics?
Biodynamics is a radical approach to agriculture, ethical and holistic, where a farm, vineyard, orchard or garden is viewed as part of a living organism and each activity affects everything else.
Regeneration of the earth is core. The starting place on any farm or garden that seeks to switch to biodynamics is the soil. Then there is balanced integration of human beings with nature, so the social and cultural elements of place are also important. Creating a living context within which human beings, animals and plants can thrive and develop goes beyond sowing and reaping. It must include a respect and understanding of the essential nature of the land, while still producing nutrient dense food, nourishing the soil and finding ways to live in balance with wildlife and climate.
Since agriculture has profound ecological impact on the earth, ecological responsibility is also a core principle of biodynamic, including packaging and transport impacts. All parts of the supply chain and its effects need to be considered, beyond agricultural and food cultivation and into other fields such as medicine and education,
Principles and practices
The model underlying biodynamics is Goethean Science, perhaps the most distinctive methodology associated with Anthroposophy. It is a phenomenological approach to science that observes the qualities of the natural world, rather than measuring them. This allows the researcher, through a rigorous training of the sense perceptions, to see the wholeness inherent in the world of nature and understand life in a way that is ‘modelled after life itself’. In this way, modern technology, research and traditional knowledge come together to form an effective method of care and management that attends to the unique needs, environment and conditions of each location.
The Biodynamic Growing Guide and Astro Calendar are both tools for assisting people in sowing, transplanting, cultivating and harvesting according the seasonal movements of the stars and planets in the Southern Hemisphere.
The guide offers advice on when to work the soil, what kinds of preparations to apply to the garden, when to plant, when to work in the garden, and when to harvest crops. The calendar provides a tool to help people find their interconnectedness with the macrocosmic world in the microcosm of their own garden or farm.
Now in its 33rd year, the calendar brings together astronomy, biodynamics and Rudolf Steiner’s Soul Calendar. In this way, the soul’s journey through the year is accompanied by the growth of the plants and animals. By working with their rhythms, we grow our souls too.
Biodynamics was originally inspired by the Agriculture lectures Rudolf Steiner gave in the 1920s to farmers seeking advice. So the biodynamic agriculture was born and its methods continue to be used in gardens and farms around the world.
To learn more about the foundations of biodynamics, you can order a copy of these lectures and other biodynamic resources from Rudolf Steiner Book Centre
Biodynamicus, an Australian-based initiative supporting the study of the Agriculture Course, provides background material to lectures and supplementary readings from the work of Rudolf Steiner, on themes introduced in the Agriculture Course, arranged by lecture. The site also has links to biodynamic resources world-wide.
Biodynamics as a worldwide practice
The guiding body for this worldwide anthroposophical agriculture movement is located in the Section for Agriculture, based at the Goetheanum in Switzerland. This body sees biodynamic agriculture as having an active contribution to make in these times of major global challenges and, together with their partners, and presents holistic perspectives and solutions. Each year, they have a theme to bring all biodynamic groups in all countries to work together; the current theme of is biodynamic products: The quality of biodynamic products and what they mean for the earth and people. as part of the broader theme of climate, resilience and health.
Who practices biodynamic agriculture?
Anyone can use biodynamics, no matter how small their garden or plot. There are farmers, gardeners and vintners practicing biodynamics around Australia, often with a local group who run workshops and have BD days together. Their members include people with all kinds of different types of farms, vineyards, and gardens. You don’t need a anything more than a small patch of garden to get involved and participate in a range of field days, study groups, workshops, and meetings to learn, participate and share knowledge.
Biodynamic Tasmania is one such dynamic local organisation that meets regularly in both Deloraine and the Huon Valley. participating in biodynamics in a group setting is the best way to learn and get a feel for the ‘how to’ of biodynamic practices as well as the philosophy that underlies those practices.
In Queensland, there is a small but committed group based around Samford Valley, centred around master gardener Rob Birse (pictured left), who regularly meet to work together. Contact branch secretary Janet Bitschine for more information.
Contact your local branch representatives to find out what’s happening in your local area.
Biodynamics associations in Australia
Biodynamic Agriculture Australia Ltd is a not-for-profit organisation that fosters, safeguards and restores the natural environment of our soils through the development and promotion of the biodynamic method. Biodynamic practices continuously renew and replenish soil micro-organisms creating a resilient and healthy eco-system enabling nutrient rich produce on farms and gardens throughout Australia.
In Victoria, Australia Biodynamics Victoria is a non-profit organisation located in Victoria. The organisation aims to motivate and to educate people in the principles and practices of biodynamic farming and agriculture, according to the teachings of Rudolf Steiner.
Fig 1. Image credit: courtesy of Rudolf Steiner Archive
Fig 2. Image credit: The foliage leaves of different wildflowers, in Metamorphosis of plants, by Bockemühl, J. and Suchantke, A., 1995.
Cover photos: courtesy of Brian Keats
Photo credits: photos by permission of the QLD and TAS branches.