I recently had the pleasure of coproducing a short film called "Biodynamic Agriculture: Farming in Service of Life," in partnership with 12 organizations practicing or supporting biodynamic agriculture. Beginning with the tenets of organic farming such as no use of toxic pesticides, herbicides, fungicides and synthetic fertilizers, biodynamics takes farming one step further.1
As the title of the film portrays, biodynamic agriculture is farming in the service of life. It views the whole farm as an organism and leaves the land better than when biodynamic farming began, with lush land and animals big and small.
Biodynamic Agriculture Is Farming in the Service of Life
Biodynamic farming "is not easily understood and flies in the face of certainly the agriculture I had exposed to me as a young farmer," says Rudy Marchesi, a biodynamic farming expert who appears in the film. Marchesi has been termed "Oregon’s beloved biodynamic mentor" and serves as chairman of Demeter Association Inc., a not-for-profit dedicated to healing the planet through agriculture,2 and a film sponsor.3
Other film sponsors include Crofter’s Organic, White Leaf Provisions, Montinore Estate, Bonterra, Frey Vineyards, Truett Hurst Winery, Brooks Wine, Soter Vineyards, Biodynamic Association, Summerfield Waldorf School and Nekoosa Cranberry. Zepher Visuals is also a partner.4
"The moment a farm transitions into biodynamic agriculture, biodiversity improves, the quality of the food improves and also the quality of the life of the farmers," says Appachanda Thimmaiah, an expert on climate smart agriculture, food security, rural poverty reduction and sustainable development and agriculture who also appears in the film.
Thimmaiah, a board director of Demeter, has advised governments, international organizations and agribusiness corporations in India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Italy, Holland, Costa Rica and Bhutan. He developed the National Organic Standards of Bhutan, which empower poor farmers and the nation as they move toward carbon neutrality and producing 100% organic food.5
The Need for Biodynamic Farming Grew Out of World War I
The philosophy of biodynamic farming is simple but radical. According to Rudolph Steiner, widely credited with first conceptualizing the farming philosophy in the 1920s, "You need to stop thinking of your farms as factories and envision them as living organisms — self-contained, self-sustaining, following the cycles of nature, and able to create their own health and vitality out of the living dynamics of the farm."
Many people think of nontoxic and organic farming as a relatively recent phenomenon, but it was first envisioned in the 1920s for a specific reason, says Elizabeth Candelario, former6 managing director for Demeter, which certifies biodynamic farming operations. She says:7
"After World War I, chemical companies got very crafty repurposing nitrogen that had been used to make bombs as fertilizer, and nerve gas as synthetic pesticides. They had stockpiles of these chemicals and realized they had application on farms …
We accept the notion of these synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, and think, 'Huh. Synthetic fertilizer pesticides. It’s nerve gas. It was materials used to make bombs.'"
Industrial agriculture's love affair with nitrogen fertilizer is one of the most widespread and destructive aspects of "modern" farming. When nitrogen-based fertilizers are added to the soil, the amount of sequestered carbon is reduced and the soil microbiome is disrupted — reducing the soil's ability to support plant growth.
The soil's microbiome, like your own, teems with billions of important microbes that are essential to health. As a spokesperson in "Biodynamic Agriculture: Farming in Service of Life" says, if you have healthy soil you can grow anything well.
In addition to its degradation of soil, runoff of nitrogen-based fertilizers is one of the largest contributors to ocean pollution and dead zones where oxygen has been annihilated and marine life cannot live. When the fertilizers break down, ammonia is produced, which combines with fossil fuel combustion to create microparticles in the air.
Nitrogen-based fertilizers are not like the nitrogen naturally found in air, water and soil. They are "reactive," relying on fossil fuel-burning engines for production and contributing to industrial pollution.