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 is 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 new approach is required to safeguard the future. Human beings are responsible for the degradation of our natural world through economically-driven 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 to support the earth’s health.
Biodynamics as a radical practice
Biodynamics is a radical approach to agriculture, both 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 and the starting place on any farm or garden that seeks to switch to biodynamics. 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 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. This includes how we package and transport food products. All parts of the supply chain and its effects must be considered, including how they influence fields such as medicine and education,
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.
Principles and practices of biodynamics
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 to see the wholeness inherent in the world of nature and understand see it with new and enlivened eyes. Modern technology, research and traditional knowledge come together to form an fruitful method of care and management that addresses the unique needs, environment and conditions of each environment and location.
You can learn more about Goethean Science here (external American site), watch this video or find a book about it here.
So how do I find out about workshops on biodynamic agriculture?
You don’t need 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. There are very experienced biodynamic farmers and gardens facilitating workshops around the country.
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.
Biodynamics2024 is aiming to see biodynamics as the farming method of choice in Australia by 2024. It was established by Hamish Mackay in 2009 to contribute to an expanding global biodynamic AgriCultural movement that draws on both natural science and spiritual science. Biodynamics2024’s primary purpose is to educate and communicate the biodynamic approach. Hamish collaborates with Charlie Arnott to offer introductory workshops across the country. Listen to what other people have to say about their workshops or you can sign up for this online introduction to biodynamics here.
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 about upcoming workshops. Here is a short report on one of their gatherings.
Biodynamics associations in Australia
Biodynamic Agriculture Australia Ltd is a not-for-profit organisation that promotes the development of the biodynamic method in Australia. Their website has a range of educational how-to videos on biodynamic methods and preparations, as well as a workshop program and shop.
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.
Useful guides and readings
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.
The future needs more active farmers and gardeners who consciously create an attitude of responsibility within themselves so that they become guardians of the soil and true friends of nature.
Excerpt from Heinz Grotzke’s, “The Future After the First 50 Years,” from Biodynamic Magazine #112, Fall 1974.
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.