The label on my eggs quietly reads: “biodynamic”. In my mind I hear the happy clucks of free-range, contented chickens. The label sounds all natural. I know that my eggs are organic, and I know that they are local. But what does biodynamic mean? Biodynamic agriculture begins with organic farming methods. The farmers use no chemical pesticides or fertilizers. However, biodynamic agriculture goes beyond organic. Similar to the permaculture system of farming and gardening, in biodynamic agriculture the soil, plants, and animals on a biodynamic farm become a system all of their own. It’s about the system, not just about the produce. Farm animals are used in judicious proportions, with the animals providing the fertilizer that the farm needs.
Where biodynamic farming strays from the organic and permaculture norms is in the use of anthroposophy, a spiritual practice of the early 1900s. The founder of this philosophy was Rudolf Steiner. Steiner suggested that people could explore the spiritual world in a rational manner, just as people can explore the physical world. He said that people could advance their spiritual development by taking a specific path that involved moral development and meditative exercises to expand their spiritual perceptions. Steiner believed that the use of reason could allow people to understand the universe in a spiritual sense and transcend the need for dogmatic religion.
Soil, plants and chickens seem rather far away from this spiritual view of the world. However, Steiner’s thoughts not only created a spiritual ethic, they created the Waldorf schools and the system of biodynamic agriculture. In the 1920s, Rudolf Steiner gave a series of lectures that inspired a move towards more earth-centered, organic practices. These first steps towards organic agriculture were called biodynamic farming. Today, the spiritual history of biodynamic farming is still present in the use of a sowing calendar that is based on the sun, moon, planets and stars. Herbal preparations are placed on the fields. Those who practice biodynamic agriculture believe in working to heal and balance the earth as a part of their farming practices.
Biodynamic farms are part of a complex web of food choices that await the sustainable consumer. These farms are certified by Demeter, the association for biodynamic farms. While organic agriculture operates on the principle of doing less harm to the earth, the ethics of biodynamic agriculture and permaculture move beyond that, towards the idea that humans can play an important role in healing the earth and balancing its systems. When I look at the eggs in their little, reused container, the message on the box has a whole new depth. While we may not need to agree with the spirituality of biodynamic farming in order to eat scrambled biodynamic eggs, most of us will agree with the principle of leaving the earth as or more whole than when our farming began.