Biodynamic Agriculture Alive and Well in Europe
April 16, 2015
The International Biodynamic Conference was held in Dornach, Switzerland this past February 4-7, 2015. Myself, along with more than 900 biodynamic farmers representing thirty-seven different countries, attended the 2015 conference held at the historic Goetheanum. Sponsored by The International Biodynamic Association (IBDA), a worldwide union of national biodynamic associations, the IBDA represents the biodynamic impulse in the service of the biodynamic agriculture and the Demeter movements. Demeter and Demeter-USA being the agencies, which certify farms as biodynamic. The focus of this year’s conference was on animal agriculture, and it was stated that 10% of agricultural land in Europe is being farmed using biodynamic principles.
Those unfamiliar with biodynamic agriculture might ask, “Just what is biodynamic agriculture?” Biodynamic agriculture is a higher form of organic agriculture based on treating a farm as it’s own sustainable organism and by making use of only the soils, animal manure, plants, and produce from that farm entity. By doing so, the idea is that
it will become healthy and productive in and of itself. As Executive Director of Michael Fields Agricultural Insititue, I was attending the conference to learn more about the principles, protocols and passion of those involved with biodynamics. It was an interesting experience and a real learning opportunity for me. I also had the chance to stay on an extra week and visit five biodynamic farms in Switzerland and Germany. Christopher Mann, one of the original founders of Michael Fields Agricultural Institute, was my host and proved a very valuable partner with his contacts and introductions on my behalf.
So what did I learn? Many of the principles of biodynamics are also just good agronomy and many of them reminded me of the way my grandparents farmed the Andrews homestead in Iowa so many, many years ago. More than just the agronomic principles, biodynamics embraces the community as a host organism, so to speak. I had seen this before in Eastern Europe where neighbors relied on neighbors to buy the produce, meat and milk produced locally. It made sense to me, a simpler, truer more authentic form of agriculture supported by the local community. Today’s industrial agriculture society has lost that closeness and along with it the knowledge of where the food comes from and who is producing it. Biodynamic agriculture is slowly taking off in the USA, but it is far behind organic agriculture, just as organics was far behind conventional agriculture thirty years ago. I am sure of one thing, the predominant form of agriculture being used today is not sustainable in the long run. Attending the conference convinced me the work we are doing at the Institute is on the right track as we explore the alternatives. It will be interesting to follow biodynamic agriculture and see where it leads. Perhaps, society will follow and slowly learn again that we are dependent on the farmer just as the farmer is dependent on us.