Biodynamics is not simply a rose colored lens we can attach to our industrial strength production in order to get a better looking agriculture. It is a completely different relationship to images – to use a metaphor. And, in the process of converting to biodynamics, the farm, ranch, vineyard, garden becomes – by and by – a different place. Openness to such fundamental change (over time) is certainly a prerequisite of biodynamic success – as is the concept of closed systems farming (producing all of our own resources). Yet, like closed systems farming, fundamental change can be but an ideal. We cannot achieve it ever, perhaps, but to work in that direction gets us into a different league. “Shoot for the moon to get to the top of the mountain” an old saying goes. Biodynamics not only shoots for the moon, but tries to farm by the moon.
Since its inception in 1924, practitioners have considered biodynamics experimental. The original group of farmers who were trying out the new ideas and practices called themselves the “experimental circle.” And to this day, the biodynamic association in Germany is still called the “research ring” in deferrence to this cautious and humble stance Steiner himself suggested. It is often an incremental approach practically, rather than a sudden, complete transformative overhaul. The initial transformation is in the farmer, not out in the fields. I am often prompted to say: “the only thing that is biodynamic actually, is the farmer.” The ideas behind biodynamics, the biodynamic concepts, are from a very differenct paradigm or set of beliefs that guide action. Thus, it is the conceptual shift as much as anything else, that makes a farmer biodynamic.This shift is a move from believing that nature is a machine, to recognizing that she is a living, breathing, sentient (even conscious) being and then figuring out how to work with her appropriately using holistic, ecological and spiritual approaches. That is biodynamics in a nutshell.
If you beleive you are dealing with a living, breathing, feeling, conscious being it is a completely different relationship, than if you believe you are dealing with a machine, say a tractor. (Mind you tractors have played tricks on me before so that I thought they were alive!) And so it is with biodynamics. We are clear that the Earth and the soil, the vegetation and the animals (from the micro-organisms up through the mamals) are alive, complex and needing the kind of understanding, recognition, analysis, diagnosis and therapy – just a human being would – of course appropriate to their species. We furthermore believe in primarily using methods that are natural, preventative, homeopathic and bio-regionally adapted. In other words, our concept of health is not driven by an analysis of how to supress disease symptoms (even if it means with poisions that have heavy secondary effects), but rather on how to support natural immunity and healthy immo-responsivity through soil fertility, biodiversity, integrated cropping and animal systems and with natural, ecologically integrated pest prevention and management sytsems.
Naturally, once you get into the reality of ecological approaches, you quickly recognize that nature abhores a monoculture. It is an anathama to health. Think: eating only bananas for a week. Thats what a monoculture does to the soil. In biodynamics (as in other ecological approaches), we are trying to feed the soil a balanced and highly varied diet of healthy crops. How is this compatible with viticulture, one of the most obvious monocultures around? It isn’t initially. Again, a conceptual shift needs to take place in the minds of the vineyard managers (and owners) towards becoming farmers, rather than just vineyardists. We farm the entire landscape. Especially – we are farmers of the soil. Our main crop happens to be vines, but we farm the whole soil and we want it to have a healthy diet, so it can be healthy, so it can resist diseases and pests reasonably well and so it can produce the highest possible crop quality. This is the kind of conceptual frame we use.
In the following pages, you will find in the next weeks more of the management framework and practical activities we use to transform a vineyard towards ecological health using biodynamics. Over the last 80 years vintners in France, Italy, Switzerland and Germany – for example – have been using biodynamic principles and practices to greatly enhance their estates health and the quality of their product. I will also provide you with examples of biodynamic viticulture from around the world.
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