The door opens. The door toward the humid, dark and mysterious. Beyond its threshold – paradoxically white and luminous – the biodynamic preparations gestate in the earth’s womb, awaiting their moment, in sync with the stars, to accomplish their mission of transmitting cosmic forces to the soil.
We find ourselves at Los Warumos Farm in Barva, Heredia, an example of the biodynamic universe right in Costa Rica’s central valley. Behind this symbolic white door to the earth’s depths, producer Rhoderick Sell stores the preparations until they are ready to fertilize the soil.
Since 2005, Rhoderick has worked with hand-in-hand EARTH graduate Esteban Acosta (‘08, Costa Rica) to develop such practices. That year, Rhoderick offered his land and experiential knowledge, and Esteban offered the expertise he had gained through hands-on learning at EARTH. In doing so, they began cultivating a mutually beneficial exchange of knowledge. Today, Esteban is the coordinator of the National Biodynamic Agriculture Movement, which is organizing a Latin American conference whose main event will take place on the University’s Guácimo campus at the end of September.
EARTH’s reputation as an innovator in organics inspired the organizers to hold the conference at the Institution. As Esteban affirms, “The University gave us its unconditional support since the beginning. We want to reciprocate the University’s support by helping to further strengthen EARTH’s leadership in organic agriculture at an institutional level.”
With the purpose of bringing biodynamic agriculture to small farmers in the region, Esteban has coordinated to provide scholarships for 55 small farmers in Central America to attend the conference. In addition, each Latin American biodynamic association will receive a scholarship, enabling the knowledge of this sustainable practice to reach beyond Costa Rica’s borders.
More than a farm – a living organism
Although based on millennial, ancestral principles, biodynamic agriculture is today considered anything but conventional. Indeed, ground quartz mixed with rainwater inside of a cow horn is a highly unorthodox fertilizer in the twenty-first century.
Nevertheless, its practitioners believe whole-heartedly in its effectiveness. For them, traditional scientific measures cannot effectively deem its worth. Biodynamic agriculture’s power transcends the physical realm into the metaphysical; embracing it requires a mind open to see beyond what is immediately evident.
Rudolf Steiner, born in present-day Croatia, founded the method in 1924. He envisioned it as an alternative way to farm that would counteract agrochemicals’ widespread degradation of both soil and crop quality – a problem that continues to plague agriculture nearly a century later.
The basic idea is rooted in seeing the farm as an organism, a living whole composed of elements that constantly interact: the soil, the animals, the sources of water and the human being. It is the human, in his or her role as a farmer, which must direct the group as an orchestra conductor would, in an efficient symphony to produce food ecologically and economically. In the process, the farmer mu st strive to use as few agro-inputs as possible and to make the best use possible of the system’s internal resources.
In the same way, the farmer must show profound respect for the essence that lives within all of the components of the microcosm. As Steiner said, “Seek the truly practical material life, but seek it so it does not numb you to the spirit.”
Of course, this organism’s life – like that of other beings – is determined by water, air, nutrients and most importantly, the sun, a cosmic force. These biological cycles, governed by the sun, moon and stars, together serve as a compass guiding the symphony in the right direction. For example, the moon’s trajectory – both ascending and descending – affects a plant’s development and level of fluids in an important way.
In addition to a deep knowledge of such natural cycles, the biodynamic preparations form another keystone in this type of agriculture. These nearly alchemical fertilizers consist of organic materials and minerals that acquire specific qualities while fermenting. As is the case with homeopathic medicine, the substance itself matters less than the power of the process it catalyzes; when farmers use the biodynamic preparations, they do so in very limited quantities and with not with the purpose of adding a nutrient to the soil, but instead of enacting a process in nature.
In this way, biodynamic farmers focus not on the quantity of food produced, but instead on its quality. They sell their products on the basis of its better nutritional value, flavor and conservationist production.
Biodynamic agriculture, then, bets more on food production as an art form, a primordial sacred office of humanity that once was, but has now been lost to industrialization. Rhoderick Sell wouldn’t change his way of life “for anything in the world.” He celebrates biodynamic agriculture as “an ecological, sustainable and above all ethical practice, which involves a commitment to the helping the community and sound stewardship of natural resources.” Everything needed is achieved through an equitable exchange within the system itself, where life comes into being and cosmic energy is harvested.
Esteban has high hopes for the conference. With more 150 participants expected, he believes it will inspire others in the region to adopt an alternative vision of agriculture. “Biodynamics isn’t just about cultivating the earth,” he shares. “We’re not just talking about producing food naturally – we’re also moving beyond that to guide human society in channeling its efforts toward truly integrated development that embodies humanistic values and a more ecological social reality. In short, it’s a philosophy of transforming human beings to live more in harmony with the universe.”
Want to know more? Click here to learn more about the 27th Annual Latin American Biodynamic Agriculture Conference from September 23 – October 2. Or visit the National Biodynamic Agriculture Movement’s blog at http://www.biodinamicacostarica.blogspot.com/.
Editor’s note: While there is growing interest in this branch of organic agriculture, we recognize that the validity of biodynamic agriculture is hotly contested among many scholars and agricultural scientists. However, we believe that one of our roles at EARTH University is to promote dialog and provide spaces for the exchange of ideas and knowledge among academics, students, alumni and the community at-large.
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