BIODYNAMICS: MAKING SENSE OF THE PRECIEVED MYSTICISM


Okay. This is very interesting. I have been doing some research into biodynamic farming and I must say I am a bit overwhelmed. I will not be able to go too far into it on this blog but anything I have missed please use the comments to pipe in any info you might have. It has been such a unique project for me that I am continuing beyond this post to gather more information on the subject. But for this post I will try to suss out what I have found and break it down as smoothly as possible. Here we go.

As in my last post I will start with some definitions:

Merriam Webster

“Biodynamic: of or relating to a system of farming that uses only organic materials for fertilizing and soil conditioning.”

This seems pretty straightforward. It actually sounds a lot like organic farming. But check out what Wiki says:

Wikipedia

Biodynamic agriculture
“…a method of organic farming that has its basis in a spiritual world-view (anthroposophy, first propounded by Rudolf Steiner), treats farms as unified and individual organisms,[1] emphasizing balancing the holistic development and interrelationship of the soil, plants, animals as a closed, self-nourishing system.”

Now we are getting somewhere. This sounds like what everyone is freakin’ about.

What is this thing called Biodynamic? What is this thing about moon cycles? Do they dance naked in the moonlight on the wicken Sabbath and toss manure from a horn? Do the don robes and masks and chant to the goddess to strengthen their crop? Or is all this voodoo craziness over blown and it is a great way to farm? Is it just a marketing tool and otherwise a bunch of malarkey (that’s a fun word to use)? Let’s talk it out.

In Europe in the 1920’s farmers where worried about the future health of their crops. There was a glut of artificial fertilizers and pesticides on the market that were being used in agriculture and because there were no known alternatives they watched the soils deteriorate and their livestock weaken.

Enter Austrian philosopher Rudolph Steiner. A group of these concerned farmers approached Steiner who at this time was well known for his interesting ideas of individualism. What do I mean by this? Well I have not fully grasped the biographical details of this unique character but everything he did from creating a form of performing arts (Eurhythmy) to anthroposophical medicine (essentially training the body to heal itself with little outside influence) to biodynamic farming was based on individualism. He was keen on developing methods for various aspects of life that required no outside intervention. This type of thinking peaked the curiosity of this group of desperate farmers and hoped he would bring the inner strength idea to agriculture.

And, oh did he?

In 1924 in Steiner gathered with the farmers in what is now Poland and proceeded to give eight lectures on how to revitalize crops and maintain the health of ones livestock and soils. I have not read all eight lectures but I have browsed what I could. It is pretty intense stuff but on a natural level. Steiner was a bit of a spiritualist so the methods he proposed did have some astrological ingredients in the mix. And this is where the ultimately weird stuff comes in. But before I talk about the wacky nature of these lectures I just want to put something out there. From what I have gathered these lectures seem to be the beginnings of the organic movement and what was suggested are underpinnings of what is done today in organic farming but on a fundamental level.

The idea of biodynamic is to treat your crop or your livestock along with the environment they live in as one organism. Even the farmer his or herself is part of the organism. This is where the individualism comes in. Steiner believed that not only should one treat their farm as a single organism but also that that organism should be self-sustaining. The use of outside aids such as artificial fertilizers and pesticides was unnecessary. His idea was that the farm could fertilize and protect itself with what it naturally already has.

Pretty cool eh? That doesn’t sound so crazy. Using what is available in one’s ecosystem to help maintain the health of soils and livestock sounds pretty organic to me. All sustainable agriculture is based around the idea of renewable resources.

Where it gets a little nutty is when Steiner proposed his ideas for soil preparation, fertilization and fermentation. You’re gonna love this. This what people are talking about when they say biodynamic is voodoo.

He listed nine steps and numbered them 500 to 508. Why he chose the 500’s I am not sure but until I find out this just adds to the wackiness. The first two steps are for fertilization and they involve the infamous cow’s horn.

Step 500 says that one should stuff a cow’s horn with manure and bury it 60cm below the surface in the vineyard (we are talking wine here so I’ll just use that as the crop) in Autumn allowing it to decompose throughout winter to be unearthed in spring.

Step 501 says to stuff crushed quartz into a cow’s horn and bury it spring to be unearthed in autumn. So it looks like there is some definite lag time in the initial prep but if you are patient you can have a mixture ready a season after you decide to go bio.

Bear with me here.

Then you take a small amount of this mixture and add it to larger amount water and stir the mixture whirling it in different directions every second minute. Then take the solution and spray it over your vineyard at a low pressure on an overcast day as to avoid burning your crop.

The rest of the steps involve creating natural fertilizers by stuffing various herbs and flowers into different parts of animals from the small intestines of a cow to the urinary bladder of a Red Deer to the skull of a domesticated animal and burying them underground in certain soil rich conditions as well as at certain moon cycles.

To top it all off pesticides are formed by burning the “problem” and spreading its ashes in the vineyard at a certain planetary alignment. The most interesting one I found was burning the skins of field mice and dispersing the ashes when Venus is in Scorpio to avoid none other than…field mice. The same thing is done with weeds. Burning the seeds of the weed over a wooden fire kindled by the weed itself and spread into the vineyard.

If you are still with me I am about to wrap this up. I promise.

So, yes, there is a bit of alternate thinking when it comes to Biodynamic farming. It is the extreme end of organic but also the beginnings of organic.

I am going to throw this out there and let me know what you think. Organic is like a Grateful Dead fan that listens to the band often, saw a show or two and will always love the band popping the CD in more than occasionally to relive those moments. Biodynamic is the Dead Head that went to hundreds of shows writing down every set list and making Shakedown Street their home forming a lifestyle that lasts beyond the demise of the band.

Basically it is how far you want to take it. Studies have shown that the difference between organic and biodynamic farming are very small. The results of both are quite on par with each other and they are both great for the environment. We can laugh at the biodynamic practice but what it boils down to is sustainability. There is regulation for both approaches but organic seems to be the easiest one for people to understand so it is the most popular one to market.

Biodynamic was proposed in the 1920’s and has trickled throughout the world of wine ever since under the radar but now that we see the planet as a fragile globe this idea is more and more accepted. We have organic and biodynamic wine at the shop and it doesn’t always taste too different but the subtleties are there if you look hard enough. One thing sustainable farming does do is lowers the yields of the vineyard creating more concentrated wines with deeper flavors. We have a biodynamic Pinot Grigio that has this wonderful earthiness and depth to it, which indicate low yields.

There it is. This is how I understand this crazy thing called biodynamic. It has its silly factor (but hey people still go to burning man. You gotta admit that’s a bit silly. Fun but silly) but the fundamentals are great for the environment. Supporting biodynamic and organic wines help our environment and allow winemakers to hand down their legacies to their children or colleagues in good health.

I am going to continue my research on all things green and try to do a sum-up post next week. Until then see ya at the shop! Cheers.

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2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Sistah-K on September 19, 2008 at 4:22 pm

    Interesting stuff!
    I think the problem with labeling one’s wine organic lies not only in the “paperwork”, but also in the total commitment to NEVER use synthetic products in the grape growing process. What happens if the vineyard suddenly becomes infested with a deadly pest? Is the vineyardist going to toss the crop or try to salvage what s/he may with a bit of chemical spray?

    Reply

  2. Posted by Sasha Bobylev on September 19, 2008 at 5:58 pm

    Great stuff. I was going to write about something similar in the near future, so I’ll send you a link when I do. I love the idea of biodynamic vineyard practices, but not as a marketing label – which is what the organic industry is becoming. My other issue with organic winemaking is the stringent restrictions on additions of sulfites (which occur naturally in small amounts and have been used as an additive for hundreds of years to help deter unfriendly oxidation). As a result of this restriction (which, by the way does not exist within the European organic wine guidelines) organic wines in this country have earned a stigma of poor quality. In principle, organic practices are a good idea, but sometimes I feel that the USDA label is just a marketing tool that can be bought with money, paperwork, and to give it credit – good farming practices. True, some or many people enter the organic program with a good conscience and genuine interest in improved farming and production practices, but the term “organic” has turned into a way of getting your product into Whole Foods or whatnot, grasping for the money of the rich and “environmentally concious.” But in all honesty, many small wineries, unregistered with the offical organic programs will have better farming practices than a major organic winery which produces 100,000 cases. Maybe the organic vineyards don’t use pesticides, but they use tractors. The organic label is a set of rules, whereas good farming practices, such as biodynamic ones for example to not require a special label to be recognized. So what am I trying to end this rant with? Knowing, on a personal level, where your wine (or food, for that matter) comes from is a much better way of ensuring that good farming practices are met, not to the standards of a government program, but to yours.

    Reply

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