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Organic vs. Biodynamic Farming: What’s the Difference?

In the realm of sustainable agriculture, two terms frequently make an appearance: organic and biodynamic. While both share a commitment to eco-friendly farming, they differ in philosophy and practices. We’re here to find out what separates the two and answer the burning question: which is better?

The Roots of Organic Farming 

Organic farming is a widely recognised and regulated system that emphasises sustainable practices and the reduction of synthetic inputs. Before the advent of synthetic chemicals and pesticides in the 20th century, traditional agricultural methods were inherently organic. Farmers relied on natural fertilisers like compost and manure, practiced crop rotation, and used natural pest control techniques. The concept of organic farming began to take shape in the 19th century. Visionaries like Sir Albert Howard, often referred to as the "father of modern organic agriculture," conducted research in India and promoted composting, crop rotation, and the importance of healthy soil. 

Here are some key features of organic farming:

Soil Health: Organic farming prioritises soil health, promoting practices like crop rotation and composting to maintain fertile, living soil teeming with beneficial microorganisms.

No Synthetic Chemicals: Organic farming eschews synthetic pesticides, herbicides, and fertilisers. Instead, it relies on natural alternatives and sustainable pest management.

Biodiversity: Organic farms often embrace biodiversity, encouraging the presence of various plants and wildlife to maintain a balanced ecosystem.

Certification: Organic products are subject to strict certification processes to ensure adherence to organic standards.

The History of Biodynamic Farming

Biodynamic farming, on the other hand, carries a number of unusual practices that set it apart from conventional and organic farming. It was developed in the 1920s by Rudolf Steiner – and here’s where it gets a bit mysterious – it combines spiritual and holistic principles with ecological farming. You probably didn’t know this element, after all, it doesn’t have scientific backing – but it does make for an interesting practise! Biodynamic farms and make the most of the rich biodiversity found in natural ecosystems and support the diverse array of plant life contributes to the farm's vitality and resilience, reflecting the farm as a living organism. Not limited to plant diversity, the inclusion of various domestic animal species further enhances the farm's health. Each species, whether feathered or four-legged, brings a unique connection to the land and contributes a special quality of manure. Over time, this diversity in plant and animal life can flourish, initially beginning with a few primary crops and a couple of animal species, even as modest as earthworms or honeybees. As the farm organism matures, more species can harmoniously join the symphony of life, enriching the farm's intricate tapestry.

Here's a glimpse into the world of biodynamic farming: 

Cosmic Harmony: Biodynamic farming incorporates celestial rhythms and lunar cycles into planting and harvesting schedules, following the belief that cosmic forces influence plant growth.

Biodiversity and Self-Sufficiency: Similar to organic farming, biodynamic agriculture fosters biodiversity and strives for self-sufficiency by producing its compost and preparations, including herbal and mineral solutions.

Farm as an Organism: Biodynamic farms are often viewed as holistic organisms, where each element, from plants to animals, plays a vital role in the farm's ecosystem.

Spiritual Connection: Biodynamic farmers often speak of a spiritual connection to the land and a sense of reverence for the Earth's natural processes.

Demeter Certification: The biodynamic movement received official recognition with the establishment of the Demeter International certification organisation in 1928. Demeter certification is a globally recognised standard for biodynamic farming, ensuring that products meet specific criteria and are produced using biodynamic principles.

Is Organic or Biodynamic Farming Better? 

While both organic and biodynamic farming share a commitment to ecological sustainability, the key distinction lies in their underlying philosophies and practices. Organic farming adheres to globally-recognised and regulated standards, while biodynamic farming infuses spiritual and cosmic elements into its approach. When it comes to certification, organic farming is more widely recognised and standardised, and biodynamic farming, while also subject to certification processes, has its unique Demeter certification. So, while it doesn’t feel like an answer, the choice between organic and biodynamic farming is subjective and depends on your values and goals. If you prefer a well-established system with recognised certification standards, organic farming may be the better choice. It's also a practical choice for larger-scale agriculture.

Whether you're enjoying a salad of organically grown greens or savouring a biodynamic wine – or perhaps you’ve found a company that does both – you can rest easy knowing these farming methods prioritise sustainability, soil health, and reduced chemical inputs. While it’s not perfect, it’s a start. If the price tags on these options are making your eyes water, there are ways to reduce the pesticides on the surface of your produce – be sure to do a vinegar and water soak (1 part vinegar, two parts water) for 15 minutes.

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