Agriculture system views farm as an organism encompassing soil, plants, animals, humans, and nature's cycles.
It’s hard to imagine a more idyllic farm than that of Frey Vineyards. The third-generation organic vineyard and farm is nestled on the slopes of the Redwood Valley in northern California amidst mountains, lush forests, and meadows, near the headwaters of the Russian River. Here the Frey family has produced organic wines since 1980.
But nearly 20 years ago, owners Katrina and Jonathan decided to take their organic farm a step further and became biodynamic certified.
“My husband and family, who were growing up on a beautiful piece of wild land, were looking for the agriculture system that would most honor the biodiversity of the land and would be the most productive,” says Katrina.
That system was biodynamic, a form of organic agriculture, but whose philosophy and principles encompass much more than organic practices.
“In biodynamic agriculture, the farm is seen as an organism,” says Appachanda Thimmaiah, Ph.D., associate professor of Department of Sustainable Living at Maharishi University of Management in Fairfield, Iowa, and a director of Demeter USA, which supports the growth of biodynamic agriculture. “You cannot dissect the farm into bits and pieces. It has to be seen from a holistic perspective. There is a connectivity and coherence to all aspects of the farm.”
Biodynamic’s holistic perspective encompasses the farm, soil, crops, animals, humans, and biodiversity and extends to natural cycles such as phases of the moon.
This view of the farm as an organism was first presented by Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner in a series of lectures in 1924. German farmers had requested Steiner’s help after they became concerned about the increasing use of agricultural chemicals. Steiner responded by calling for a spiritual renewal of agriculture. His lectures formed the basis of biodynamic agriculture even though he never used the term.
“It was the first form of agriculture to oppose the use of chemicals,” Dr. Thimmaiah says.
Biodynamic predates organic agriculture. In fact, the term “organic” originated from Steiner’s view of the farm as an organism. J.I. Rodale, American pioneer of sustainable agriculture and founder of Rodale, Inc., made the term “organic” popular in his publications in the 1950s.
The concept of a certification for farms also originated with the pioneers of biodynamic agriculture who established the Demeter Association in 1928 to oversee such a program. The association was named after the Greek goddess of agriculture.
“Biodynamic is the oldest ecological certification in the world,” says Elizabeth Candelario, co-director of Demeter USA.
Today, there are 5000 biodynamic certified farms worldwide comprising more than 370,000 acres. Products produced from those farms include wines such as Frey’s, fruit preserves, juices, pasta, rice, teas, and frozen foods, to name a few.