Why do Stockwood Community Benefit Society and Rush Farm think that the biodynamic cultivation system is the best way forward?
Impact on the soil
It is amazing, given how obvious the importance of soil to farming is, that soil is so taken for granted by modern intensive farming practice. Pesticides and year after year of intensive cropping eradicate life in the soil so crops end up being fed chemicals, using soil simply to hold the plant up. Soil devoid of life blows away in the wind, and is incapable of retaining water so fields no longer buffer rainwater causing rivers to flood.
We use biodynamic methods because they nurture and develop the life of the soil. A rich soil biodiversity provides more nutrition to the farm and more resilience against the weather – be it too dry or too wet. A healthy nurtured living soil provides long-term security for the farm and everyone it feeds.
Impact on animal health
The biodynamic farmer is encouraged to treat their livestock with respect and care. Reflecting with gratitude on the part the animals play in the fertility building life-cycles of the farm.
We use biodynamic methods because they are in-tune with our intentions and practice of animal husbandry.
Impact on quality of our food
Biodynamic methods grow stronger and more vital crops that are tastier and more nutritious. The digestive system has to overcome the essential nature of the food we eat, to break it down and make it accessible to us. The more vital the food the harder the digestion works strengthening it, just as exercise improves fitness.
We use biodynamic methods because we want to grow the highest quality food.
Impact on wildlife and the environment
All organic agricultural methods, which biodynamic farming is, are supportive of the environment because they do not involve spraying pesticides that kill and fertilisers that unbalance the eco-system.
The biodynamic farmer is encouraged to develop a heightened consciousness of nature at the farm, of the eco-system, its rhythms and patterns, the habitats and by-ways of the wild life, and the organism of which the farm is part, from the micro-biology of the soil to the eco-cities of the hedgerows and trees.
We use biodynamic methods because they protect and nurture the environment and resonate with our sensitivity and love for nature.
Impact on the farming team
The caring nature of biodynamics includes an ethical approach to the people working on the farm and the customers obtaining food from it.
The processes and patterns of biodynamic practice require a contemplative engagement with the farm and bring a new layer of activities that have their own particular rhythm and planning requirements. Although these patters do need to be learnt, once established they provide a sense of order and security.
It is a relief for many of those that come to work on a biodynamic farm to be allowed to care about their animals and land. Intensive farming monetises the stock and soil, practices are encouraged that take an emotional toll on those required to carry them out.
The biodynamic approach to farming as a business resonates with our desire to treat people fairly and to provide them with work that is meaningful and which generates self-respect.
What is Biodynamic Farming?
There are three main aspects of the biodynamic method:
1) The farm as a farm-organism
2) Biodynamic preparations
3) Cosmic considerations
In this brief outline of biodynamic farming we will look briefly at each of these in turn.
The farm as farm-organism
The first is really an attitude-of-mind. This is foundational to the approach as it creates an holistic orientation that views the farm as a complete system. The biodynamic farmer is encouraged to experience themselves as part of that system and to think into the rhythms and patterns of the farm and its environment.
The farmer develops the farm through developing the thinking of the farm, and the biodynamic farmer will make this process as sensitive, conscious, caring and deliberate as possible.
There are two types of biodynamic preparations. The first are used to make compost. Compost is an amazing soil improver, and the biodynamic approach is very particular. Some view compost as additional fertility, but the biodynamic grower is looking to do more than add fertility, because biodynamic compost adds
Seven different preparations are made from plants such a nettle, yarrow, camomile, horse-tail, oak bark, dandelion and valerian. These are added to the compost heap once it is made. Biodynamic compost heaps are not turned, and they are spread before the composting process has ended. Both not turning and spreading whilst the compost biodiversity is still high are supportive of the life of the farm.
The second type of preparations are mixed with water and sprayed directly onto the fields. There are two of these field spray preparations, one made from ground silica and one made from cow manure. Both support the growing phases of the plant – the silica supporting the flowering / fruiting / seeding phase, and the cow manure supporting the rooting / leaf growing phase. The silica preparation brings warmth forces, for example, resisting mildew; and the cow manure preparation brings water forces – for example, encouraging roots to spread deeper.
The principles of the biodynamic system were laid out by Rudolf Steiner in 1917, and they are calculated to harmoniously harness the life forces of the Earth and the Heavens. There are many ways of explaining or understanding this, but in practice, it means an appreciation of the whole.
Since Steiner invented biodynamic growing the sympathy for the rhythms of nature extended into the development of a planting calendar by his successors, that works with the changing influence of the moon on the growing cycles of the plants.
In essence, the moon particularly supports the rooting, flowering, leaf growing and fruiting processes of the plants in succession, for 2 – 4 days each, on a rolling basis. This lunar influence is mediated to the plant through the soil around the plant, when the soil is worked, either because of planting, transplanting or hoeing. It is easiest to think of the soil as a coherent organism, and the working of the soil, as disturbing its subtle-skin to allow the subtle cosmic forces to be reflected from the moon into the soil.
It has also been found that the moon’s ascending and descending cycle impacts germination and grafting, such that germination is enhanced on an ascending moon and grafting is enhanced on a descending moon.
The biodynamic preparations, books and the planting calendar can be obtained from the Biodynamic Association.
Here is a short film introducing the biodynamic method:
Here is a short film an episode of the BBC Gardeners World programme that explored planting according to the rhythm of the moon:
Here is an article from Permaculture Magazine about biodynamic growing: Reviving Rush Farm the Biodynamic Way
How did we find out about the biodynamic system?
The Parsons family, which founded Rush Farm and sold it into community ownership when Stockwood was founded, have a long connection with biodynamics.
David Clement, the father of Anne Parsons and grandfather of Sebastian, Tabitha and Sophie Parsons, was one of the two first biodynamic farmers in the UK. His farm is written about here.
David Clement was also one of the founders of the Biodynamic Association and chaired it for several decades. Anne Parsons was the Hon Sec of the Associations for many years, and Sebastian Parsons was chair of the Association from 2009 – 2012, and Executive Director of the Biodynamic Land Trust from 2015 – 2017.