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Beyond Sustainability: The Regenerative Promise of Biodynamics - Biodynamics Predates the Organic Movement

Author // Lisa Reagan

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Beyond Sustainability: The Regenerative Promise of Biodynamics
Biodynamics Predates the Organic Movement
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A workshop class at the Josephine Porter Institute for Applied Biodynamics in Woolwine, Virginia. Students are digging up a preparation that has been buried in the earth for a few years.

Biodynamics Predates the Organic Movement

Unlike chemical and some organic fertilizers that are often grown, mined and shipped long distances, killing the sustainability of the system, the nine Biodynamic preparations can be made on-farm with naturally occurring plant and animal materials combined in specific recipes in certain seasons of the year. The concentrated forces within the preparations are used to organize the chaotic elements within the compost piles, and sprayed directly onto the soil and plants. When the process is complete, the resulting preparations are medicines for the Earth that draw new life forces from the cosmos. Effects of the preparations have been verified scientifically.

“When Newsweek and Time magazine call, trying to explain it to them is fascinating,” said Jim Fullmer, the director of Demeter USA, in a phone interview. “The media leave behind the description of the preps. You can’t put it into sound bites and get a point across. It is more about an inner feeling than an intellectual thought. How do you express that to someone who hasn’t even given it a thought?”

But scientists and farmers alike are now forced to give the future fertility of the living Earth’s soil deep consideration since:

  • Only about 42 to 84 years’ worth of topsoil remains worldwide.

  • Current agricultural practices destroy approximately 6 pounds of soil for each pound of food produced.

  • Conventional agricultural practices deplete the soil 18 to 80 times more rapidly than nature can build it.

  • Even organic farming depletes the soil 17 to 70 times faster than nature builds it by importing organic matter and minerals from other soils, which thereby become increasingly depleted.

  • 57 million tons of topsoil is lost every day.

  • In the past 100 years, one-third of the topsoil of American farms has been lost.

According to Peter Tompkins and Christopher Bird in their book Secrets of the Soil: New Solutions for Restoring Our Planet, the fairy-tale promises of chemical agribusiness were spawned in the middle of the last century when the father of chemical agriculture, Justus von Liebig, “mistakenly deduced from the ashes of a plant he had burnt that what nourished plants was nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium—the NPK of today’s chemical agriculture…. That the secret to fertilizing soil lay in organic excreta, not chemical, Liebig only concluded ten years later. Too late. By that time, the chemical companies were off to such a profitable start there was no stopping them in their headlong race to destroy the soil and all that it supports.”

With the current international attention on climatechange issues, including the extensive planetary damage of agribusiness and the industrialization of organic agriculture, Fullmer says, “It is now that Biodynamics is starting to come into reality, and we have to get ready. Humanity is only evolving, and I think we are evolving to the point where we can grasp this stuff: that we are not the center of the universe and that the planets and stars, that all of it is interconnected.

“We’re seeing a lot of interest because people are starting to wake up,” he continues. “If you have a kinship with agriculture, Biodynamics is a natural progression. A lot of cultures in ancient times did this—followed the stars and planets and using homeopathic remedies. This is not a new thing; it is an ancient thing. When Rudolf Steiner created Biodynamics he was pulling on the peasant wisdom from his part of the world. Biodynamics is a modern incarnation with the ancient.”

Biodynamics predates the “organic” movement— named and popularized in the 1940s by publisher J.I. Rodale in the United States. Today, “‘organic’ is now dead as a meaningful synonym for the highest quality food,” states Eliot Coleman, author of The New Organic Grower, who blames the industrialization of the organic movement on its inability to stay true to its origins.

“The transition of ‘organic’ from small farm to bigtime is now upon us,” says Coleman. “Although getting toxic chemicals out of agriculture is an improvement we can all applaud, it only removes the negatives. The positive focus, enhancing the biological quality of the food produced, is nowhere to be seen. The new standards are based on what not to do rather than what to do.”


The Regenerative Promise of Biodynamics

According to the Demeter Association, in day-to-day practice, Biodynamic farming involves managing a farm as an individual and living organism. A concise model of a living organism ideal would be a wilderness forest. In such a system, there is a high degree of self-sufficiency in all of the realms of biological survival. Fertility and food arise out of the recycling of the organic material the system generates. Avoidance of pests is based on biological vigor and its intrinsic biological and genetic diversity. Water is efficiently cycled through the system. “While agriculture immediately takes nature to a state that is one step removed from wilderness, the wisdom of humanity that steers its course can, to a large degree, mimic these ancient principles of sustainability, based on a careful observation of nature as a whole,” states the Demeter website.

With a philosophy broad enough to provide a context of the Earth as a living entity, with plants being influenced by forces deep within the Earth, as well as the movements of planets in the heavens, broader and truer questions can emerge, such as: “Can the Earth heal itself, or has the waning of the Earth’s vitality gone too far for this?”

Sherry Wildfeuer, editor of the Stella Natura Biodynamic Agriculture Planting Guide and Calendar, poses this question and answers, “Organic agriculture rightly wants to halt the devastation caused by humans; however, organic agriculture has no cure for the ailing Earth. From this the following question arises: What was the original source of vitality, and is it available now?

“Biodynamics is a science of life forces, a recognition of the basic principles at work in nature, and an approach to agriculture that takes these principles into account to bring about balance and healing,” Wildfuer continues. “In a very real way, then, Biodynamics is an ongoing path of knowledge rather than an assemblage of methods and techniques.”

Patrick Holden, former president of the U.K. Soil Association, advocates an integration of the macrocosmic context that Biodynamic practices can bring to farmer, farm and the humanity they feed. “If we do not bring in this deeper dimension of inner work and of the harmonious development of human beings who are recognized to be more than mere material organisms, if the organic movement does not embrace the ideas and impulses of the Biodynamic movement and remain open to them, I think there is a very serious risk that all the energy and all the ideas…will be lost and the opposite will take hold,” writes Holden. “The industrialization of farming, including the industrialization of organic farming, compromises public and cultural health. This problem is with us now, and we have to do something about it.”

Fullmer and Courtney both agree that if “those who have ears to hear” will do so in the coming years of planetwide shifting, Biodynamics could provide the missing, integrating context that would allow humanity to tote the industrial agriculture model, and the disconnected human consciousness that spawned it, to the cosmic compost pile. It is there, beyond our microcosmic view of the Earth and romantic ideas of farming, that we will find new seeds of sustainability.


Pathways Issue 34 CoverThis article appeared in Pathways to Family Wellness magazine, Issue #34.

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