Biodynamic agriculture is often seen as the mystical, lesser-known cousin of organics.
Biodynamic agriculture was developed during the 1920s by Rudolf Steiner. Steiner argued that spirituality lays the foundation for the renewal of agriculture. In particular, he encouraged farmers to develop a personal relationship with plants, animals, soil, and even with manure in order to think more holistically about agriculture. Since then, biodynamic agriculture has been experimented with and implemented by farmers around the world.
Food Tank recently had the pleasure of speaking with Bruno Follador, a geographer, biodynamic researcher, and specialist in biodynamic composting and chromatography. Follador, a native of San Paolo, Brazil, first encountered biodynamics at the age of 18 through anthroposophy, a philosophy that postulates that the spiritual world is objective and can be comprehended by the intellectual. “I had a dissatisfaction of what was being taught to me in school,” Follador says. “[When I was first introduced to anthroposophy,] for the first time, I felt that someone was telling me something meaningful about humanity and the world.”
According to Follador, biodynamic agriculture perceives all aspects of farming as one interrelated whole. More than just a holistic perspective, biodynamics treats the farm as a single dynamic entity. “We aren’t seeing the farm as a living system, but as a living organism, and ultimately as a living individuality,” Follador explains. “Farmers should develop a personal relationship with the farm as a whole.”
“The concept of health is rooted in the concept of wholeness,” Follador ellaborates. He references a particular quote from Wendell Berry, a revolutionary of ecological agriculture, to emphasize his point: “The health of the farm is as apparent to the eye as the health of a person.” According to Follador, rather than focusing on production, biodynamic farmers strive to foster life processes and actively improve the health of the farm. Production will increase as a direct consequence of such practices.
“You need to be in constant conversation with the needs of the farm,” Follador advises. “Pay attention to the wholeness of the farm. You can have a good vegetable garden and forget about the rest of the farm. But, is important to ask, How do the woods and swamp relate to my vegetable garden?”
Follador feels that industrial agriculture has ended this conversation with the land. Even producers with the best intentions still view their land as a means to an income and still view livestock as commodities instead of creatures, he says.
As an expert in composting and soil chromatography (a qualitative method of soil and compost analysis), Follador supports biodynamics’s respect for the earth’s soils. “Soil is the ground of possibility for life to unfold,” he declares. He points out that composting is not just waste management—it is a vital way to heal soils and increase farm resilience. It is also symbolic of the larger life cycles to which biodynamic agriculture urges growers to attend; by taking something once living and allowing it to process, ferment, and decompose, growers can create a new substance that generates life.
Follador believes that during the green revolution, agricultural science became so reductionist that it reached a point where the qualities of organisms no longer mattered. This thinking, he claims, caused scientists and farmers to lose sight of the larger context in which a healthy agricultural reality is imbedded. In his eyes, “Biodynamics is not just an agriculture system—it is looking at the inner development of human beings alongside with nature. It is not just about cultivating food with more nutrients. It requires a whole new way of thinking.”
According to Follador, educating and helping eaters to become conscious of their responsibility in a biodynamic system is one of the best ways to heal the food system. Eaters must not only consider if food is healthy, local, or organic; they must also consider the people who helped produce the food, he says.
“As a city dweller or someone not directly involved [in production], start taking more interest in who the farmer is!” he suggests. “A friend of mine is a farmer and she participated in a food event with chefs and farmers. People clapped for the farmers, but screamed for the chefs. She said that things will change only when the screams are for the farmers, too.”
Follador reminds us, “Biodynamics is a form of agriculture that goes beyond the cultivation of pesticide-free crops: it has to do with inner development. It is a service to the Earth and to humanity.”