Getting the highest nutritional value out of food isn’t the simplest of tasks. In order for crops to grow rich in vital nutrients, specific farming practices need to be employed. While organic farming might be one of the most popular forms of agriculture in the modern age, many believe biodynamic farming is stepping in as the way of the future. Interestingly enough, it is a much older practice than most people realize and its origins can be traced back to…a philosopher?!
Biodynamic Origins & Practices
When you think about agriculture, you might not immediately think about famous philosophers. Still, Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner is the one responsible for laying the groundwork of modern biodynamic agriculture. According to historians, Steiner was approached by farmers looking for assistance with their crops. Steiner, in turn, gave them a series of lectures on sustainability that predominantly focused on removing pesticides and fertilizers from the equation (1).
Steiner, who fancied the esoteric, believed the interconnected nature of the universe played a big part in everything, including farming. By observing how the planets and stars worked together, Steiner felt the same principles could be applied to agricultural endeavors. Many farming practices tend to separate and isolate each aspect of the process, which forces almost everything involved to exist in a vacuum. Conversely, biodynamic approaches rely on various parts working in an integrated manner to produce the best possible results. In short: biodynamic approaches view the entire farm as a single organism with each part operating together for a greater purpose.
The biodynamic process involves a number of steps centering on the preparation of the field where crops will be grown, as well as the compost that will be used to enrich the soil throughout the year. A number of these practices involve the inclusion of specific herbs and plants to the compost, such as yarrow blossoms, chamomile blossoms, dandelion flowers, and more (2). These additions are said to provide important nutrients to the soil, while simultaneously acting as a deterrent to commonplace pests.
These field and compost protocols are what separate biodynamic farming from the more widespread organic farming trends. While organic farming might be all the rage, biodynamic agriculture is actually a precursor to the movement. Without Steiner’s work, the idea of organic farming might never have taken off in the first place. Now, it seems more agriculture specialists are curious to employ Steiner’s biodynamic tactics to boost their farms to the next level and see what benefits come along.
Are Biodynamic Foods Better For You?
While it can be difficult to determine if produce grown in specific conditions can be considered “better” or “worse” than those grown using other methods, some studies aim to elaborate on the details. One bit of research suggests that certain crops grown in a biodynamic way had more positive traits in regard to taste, quality, pure protein proportion, and more (3).
Another interesting revelation about biodynamic farms is that there seems to be a certain level of consistency between yields each season (4). Variation can be problematic in modern times because retailers and consumers alike have come to expect produce that looks a “certain way.” When yields are steady in amount, appearance, and quality, it helps for a farm to remain financially sustainable year after year.
This isn’t to say biodynamic farming is a panacea for all agricultural woes. There are also farmers, academics, and scientists who believe the modern parade of agricultural trends reflects the culture’s current obsession with eating the “right” foods in the “best” way, rather than the most appropriate methods for cultivation on a widespread scale. A large chunk of research states how difficult it can be to truly assess biodynamic and organic farming alike, with many of the results depending heavily on context (5). There are also those who believe Steiner’s methods were too “out there” and do not rely on repeatable, scientific data (6). Despite the need for more in-depth studies with consistent results, biodynamic farming seems to be gaining public attention at a fast pace.
Since it can be difficult to determine exactly how biodynamic farming practices make for better crops, one organization has become the go-to source for all things biodynamic. Demeter International is a not-for-profit company that aims to help farmers stay in accordance with the many principles and processes of biodynamic agriculture. They do this by focusing specifically on the field and compost preparations, the tactics that help to separate biodynamic agriculture from other methods.
When a farm complies with the regulations set forth by Demeter, the farm receives the appropriate certification. This means that companies who source ingredients from these farms can also feature the biodynamic certification on their products. Currently, Demeter is the only international certification board, and the company’s official website has in-depth information on acquiring certifications and how farmers can get started (7).
A wealth of products exist on the market with biodynamic certifications and labels. Everything from teas to herbal supplements are made from ingredients that have been grown using biodynamic agricultural practices. Consumers are most likely to discover biodynamic products on the internet, where it is easier to read about the specific mission and practices of a brand. While biodynamic foods and products are available at a number of grocery stores and larger chains, most consumers do not pore over packag
es in search of the right certifications while in a crowded market. This means your best bet for finding biodynamic options is to search the internet and discover brands that align with your personal values and needs.