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Published March 7, 2008 12:08 AM

Biodynamics: Bringing the Cosmos to the Farm

By Darcy Maulsby

If you’ve heard about the high quality and exceptional flavor of biodynamic food, you may be wondering what makes it different from organic food. While biodynamic farmers follow organic principles, they also incorporate other methods from the soil to the stars.

'Biodynamics is not a magic formula,” says Parker Forsell, the biodynamic program coordinator at Angelic Organics, a community-supported farm near Caledonia, Ill., managed by “Farmer John” Peterson. The farm has used biodynamic methods for 15 years.

“It must include a very good rotation based on soil building and timely applications of livestock manure-based compost. In addition, the use of specific preparations and attention to celestial rhythms help take a well-functioning organic farm to the next level,” Forsell says.

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While biodynamics parallels organics in many ways, its emphasis on life energy sets it apart. Biodynamic producers seek to actively work with the health-giving forces of nature, viewing the farm as a living organism within the context of both the planet and the cosmos. A strong emphasis is placed on keeping the farm as self-sustaining as possible.

To achieve this, a mixture of livestock (especially cattle) and crops is preferred since the animals provide manure to improve the soil, which nourishes the crops which, in turn, feed the livestock. Chemicals are not used on the animals or soil.

Biodynamic farmers take into consideration the moon's orbit and the constellations to determine planting and harvesting times, but they are most interested in the beneficial earthworms and soil-building microbial activity that occur beneath the surface because healthy food comes from healthy soil.

“Just as homeopathic practitioners strive to restore the body to harmony and balance, biodynamic farmers focus on creating a balanced environment for producing high-quality food,” says Dawn Hunter, who operates Aurora Farm south of Fairfield, Iowa, using biodynamic principles. “Everything is interactive.”

The community-supported agriculture movement thriving in the Midwest can trace some of its roots to biodynamic farmers from the East Coast, adds Forsell, although the history of biodynamic agriculture goes back much farther.

Inaugurated in 1924 by Austrian scientist Rudolf Steiner, biodynamic farming is the oldest, non-chemical agricultural movement and pre-dates organic agriculture by approximately 20 years, according to the Biodynamic Farming and Gardening Association.

Since many consumers aren’t familiar with biodynamic agriculture, Hunter always is willing to share information with her customers at the farmers' market in Fairfield, with students from nearby Maharishi University and with others who want to learn.

“I’ve found that biodynamic yields are comparable to organic, and I think the quality of the food will be a step above organic,” says Hunter, who raises flowers, herbs, heirloom tomatoes, a wide variety of vegetables, and fruits and berries on approximately 3 acres of her family’s 75-acre farm.

To explain how biodynamic agriculture varies from organic production, Hunter and Forsell note a number of key points:

  • Biodynamic farms aim to become self-sufficient in composts and manures. Hunter grows many of her own compost crops, including hay and straw. She also incorporates leaf mold piles and comfrey into her composts, which she includes in soil mixes.

    Compost is treated with herb-based preparations. Yarrow, chamomile, stinging nettle, oak, dandelion and valerian form the basis for biodynamic compost preparations, which help regulate the decomposition process. Biodynamic farmers also believe these preparations make nutrients available in the forms needed for healthy plant growth.

    All of Angelic Organics’ compost piles are inoculated with the six compost preparations derived from specially prepared medicinal herbs. “We make most of our biodynamic preparations at the farm,” Forsell notes.

  • Biodynamic farmers strive to improve crop quality using silica powder, quartz-based preparations and other methods. At Angelic Organics, a soil spray applied in the spring and fall and a foliar spray made of quartz crystal provide a homeopathic boost for the plants and soil life of the farm, Forsell says. Hunter sprays a silica powder mix into the air when the crops are growing to help the plants bring in the maximum amount of light for improved growth. She makes some of the preparations she uses, and purchases others through the Virginia-based Josephine Porter Institute for Applied Biodynamics.

    “In the last five years, there has been a strong push in the biodynamic community to promote biodynamic preparations regionally,” adds Hunter. In the fall she often travels to Viroqua, Wis., to help other biodynamic farmers make preparations for winter. Farmers leave specific items buried through the winter and retrieve them in spring.

  • An astronomical calendar is used to determine planting, cultivating and harvesting times. This is a very detailed activity that many farmers apply in different ways, says Forsell, who notes that Angelic Organics plants most of its greenhouse and field crops at specific times to benefit from certain celestial rhythms. Calendars are available through the Biodynamic Farming and Gardening Association that help both beginner and experienced growers take advantage of celestial rhythms.

    Hunter and her business partner, Joy Craig, rely on the Stella Natura Biodynamic Planting Guide and Calendar to determine when to germinate seeds, when to plant, when to compost and when to harvest. “We know the pull of the moon affects the oceans, and it affects the liquid in plants, too,” says Hunter, who adds that farms can be certified biodynamic by the Demeter Association, an international certifying organization.

“Many people hear about the more esoteric aspects of biodynamics without considering all the activities that make up a biodynamic farm,” Forsell says. “The real guiding principle is the idea of working to develop the farm toward a self-sufficient end, where plants, animals and the native landscape function in a unified way.”

Learn more

Angelic Organics will offer eight workshops on biodynamic agriculture and the work of Rudolf Steiner this year at the farm’s Learning Center, including an all-day introductory workshop on biodynamics. All eight workshops will be available as part of the farm's “Healing the Earth” series for $275. The workshops also may be attended individually. For more details, visit www.learngrowconnect.org

For more information on Aurora Farm, call (641) 472-9941 or e-mail farmaurora@lisco.com.

For more information on Angelic Organics, visit www.angelicorganics.com.

For more information on the Biodynamic Farming and Gardening Association, visit www.biodynamics.com.

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