Monday, June 17, 2013

Extremely organic: "biodynamic"

Writing in yesterday's New York Times Magazine, Adam Davidson wondered about the nature of the "biodynamic skin creams" on display at this year's Brooklyn Baby Expo. "Is biodynamic a subset of organic, or something else?" he asked parenthetically.

Adam and I are behind the times, it seems. I had the same question after a recent visit to the Bay Area: The menu at a popular San Francisco restaurant offered a spritzer made from "Seltzer Sisters soda water with Nikolaihof biodynamic elderflower syrup."

I soon discovered that this isn't just West Coast woo-woo. Formaggio Kitchen in Cambridge also stocks the elderflower syrup, made at "the oldest wine estate in Austria," where the Saahs family "still use a wine cellar built by the Romans."
The entire estate is run according to biodynamic principles. As a result, the Saahs plant and harvest according to the moon calendar and use only homeopathic treatments for the grapevines and other plants.
But that summary barely scratches the surface, as the Wikipedia article makes clear. Turns out that biodynamic agriculture is one of the many offspring of the protean social reformer Rudolf Steiner, who's perhaps best known today as the founder of Waldorf education. Whole child, whole farm -- it's the same idea, more or less.

And what does it involve? A winery's website has a nice summary:
[Steiner] espoused the principle that a farm should be considered as an organism or self-contained entity. As far as possible the bio-dynamics of the farm should be in balance and harmony. In practice, this is achieved by avoiding the use of toxic chemicals for controlling pests and the use of artificial fertilizers, balancing farm outputs to inputs, developing sustainable ratios for cultivation, cropping and livestock activities and using on-farm materials for soil enrichment.
These materials include a number of homemade compost enhancers such as recipe no. 502:
Yarrow blossoms (Achillea millefolium) are stuffed into urinary bladders from Red Deer (Cervus elaphus), placed in the sun during summer, buried in earth during winter and retrieved in the spring.
Call it extreme organic farming (because "organic farming on steroids" would just be so wrong!). And though the science (naturally) is contested, I'll gladly concede that a farmer willing to stuff yarrow into deer bladders, bury it, then dig it up again has earned the premium price that "biodynamic" produce surely commands. 


Kay L. Davies said...

Ah, but where does he get the deer bladders? Killing a deer in order to harvest its bladder and fill it with yarrow surely negates all the goodness gained from planting at the proper phase of the moon.

cucaracha said...

I understood that biodynamic went with the phases of the moon. Waxing moon and one plants vegetation one uses with leaves/fruit: like cabbage, lettuce, tomatoes, apples - vines? - waning moon, things with roots : potatoes, carrots, beets. Perhaps I'm wrong?
But definitely, it is a subset of 'organic' - an expression that makes me smile, since all plants by their very nature are 'organic'!