The Biodynamic Farm: Developing a holistic organism
Originally published in German in 2004, The Biodynamic Farm is a small but practical book that argues for a holistic method of farming: the farm as a living organism. Based on many years personal experience as a biodynamic farmer, Karl-Ernest Osthaus provides detailed information about the ideal numbers of livestock and other practical advice to achieve a healthy, balanced and sustainable farm.
The book starts with an outline of biodynamic principles which seek “an approach to the Earth that not only incorporates the ethos of organics but an all-embracing attempt to understand the widest and most intimate connections of nature.” Perhaps quite surprising for readers who are new to the theories and practices of biodynamics is the emphasis on the spiritual: “In order to heal the Earth, farmers of the future have to be in accord with this other world, so that the development of mankind, which occurs in the realm of the spiritual and the soul, is possible.”
Fundamental to the heart of the biodynamic approach to farming is the health and vitality of the soil. Osthaus sees a direct parallel in the moral decline of modern industrial society to the loss of humus and soil degeneration throughout the world: “recent research has shown that there is a connection between the health of soil on the one hand and the health of plants, animals and human beings on the other – right through to changes in consciousness.”
The use of chemicals, over ploughing (which interferes with soil structure), over fertilising and growing plants for quantity rather than quality all lead to soil degeneration over time – and Osthaus feels this leads to poor food quality, which itself has an effect on our emotions and consciousness.
The importance of hedges and the crucial need for healthy insect life (in particular earthworms) in the farming system are outlined and Osthaus exhorts the farmer to seek the “harmonious interaction of all realms of nature” in order to create a healthy and resistant basis for plant life and thus for animals and humans.”
The chapter on farm animals covers building suitable housing for livestock which, as well as providing suitable shelter should also be in harmony with the landscape. Cattle, sheep, poultry, pigs, ducks, horses and goats and their part in the system is outlined, and at all times Osthaus emphasises that livestock should be bred on farm (or at least locally), and that feed should originate from the farm itself so the animals and the farm become a natural unit: “Nowadays farm animals are pushed away from us, treated as objects, as means of production. A new way of animal husbandry in accord with nature has to be found.”
The management of meadows, pastureland, woodland, wildlife, manure and compost and information on growing grains and harvesting are covered. The biodynamic compost preparations advocated by Rudolph Steiner are covered in some detail, including stinging nettle, camomile, oak bark and yarrow recipes which help “counteract the steadily declining forces of the Earth.”
Although not much more than pocketbook in size, this slim and very practical book is written with great clarity, authority and care. It argues articulately for small-scale farming that works in true harmony with the environment and the wider cosmos: “For Earth and soil are the fundamental basis of our physical existence, and their health is essential for our survival.”
A book not only for farmers interested in biodynamics but for anyone curious to learn about the basic principles of biodynamics.
Review by Sarah Jameson