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Most people who are interested in good food know the typical story about Organic – a reduction of pesticides being a defining aspect of the word, it is also associated with happier animals, happier workers, small farms, and local food systems. While this is certainly true of many organic farms, the word Organic has, in many ways, become diluted and coopted by businesses and farmers who may not believe fully in the ethos, but are happy to capitalize on the profits.
If you are concerned about pesticides, herbicides, fungicide (any -cide, really), and chemical fertilizers being in your food and in your environment, there is no question that choosing USDA Organic is a major step in the right direction. It also tends to create systems that are healthier for farm workers who no longer have to come into direct contact with carcinogens, and healthier animals, who without high doses of antibiotics, can no longer be jammed into small, crowded spaces.
We don’t like to harp on the negatives, but it is true that many Organic products are still grown on farms that treat their workers poorly, on farms that are degrading soil at completely unsustainable rates, and on farms that are run like industrial factories which force nature into submission daily.
Luckily for those of us who believe to our core that the word Organic means much more than simplistic regulations, there is another title available: Biodynamic.
Not necessarily “new”, the term Biodynamic has been around since the early 1920s when Rudolph Steiner began to lecture to farmers who were noticing the first whispers of the dangers of modern agriculture – most noticeably, a reduction in soil quality.
The core of the Biodynamic model requires a holistic view of farming systems, food production, and nutrition from spiritual, ethical, and ecological standpoints. Agricultural systems, from farms to window gardens, should be understood as ecosystems, which include the seeds, the water, the soil, the bugs, the people, among endless other inputs and outputs.
Biodynamic farming system tend to create closed loop systems, in which the soil is amended with manures and fertilizers produced on site by compost heaps and farm animals, the local variety of seeds are saved every year for replanting, animals are fed with grazing on fallow pastures, and pest populations are kept under control by growing polycultures.
Practitioners of Biodynamic farming mimic natural ecosystems by fostering a self-sustaining balance between soil, plant, and animal health. Many also commit to commit to a triple bottom line, where ecological, social, and economic sustainability and success are all equally valued.
One of our favorite farms, Old Field Farm, embodies this attitude in their misssion,
“The goal of the farm is not to maximize production of a given product but to establish an equilibrium between many varied species and to focus on the contribution they make to each other and thus to the overall productivity and health of the farm. Once sustainable balance is achieved the surplus is sold. This means that there are many products but in very limited quantities. We feel that this ensures thehighest quality of products and the best practice of farming.”
Because of this holistic way of dealing with farming, the ethos of Biodynamic practices are also a part of a larger movement that applies to many spheres beyond farming, such as community building, business strategies, and city planning.
If you are interested in finding foods that are Biodynamic, be sure to ask around at your farmers market about the practices of farmers, and ask your grocer to offer foods that are Demeter Certified
More To Learn
And if you are interested in seriously geek-ing out, read this FAO Article