The United States might be considered a force for innovation throughout the world, but one area where it has fallen behind is agricultural sustainability. Farms in America continue to deplete 295 million tons of topsoil every year, while other parts of the world are making a sharp turn towards sustainable techniques that consider soil creation to be the benchmark of a successful season.
For this reason, biodynamic agriculture has taken off in Europe, while it remains relatively unknown in America. This holistic, sustainable form of agriculture turns farm fields into well managed ecosystems and emphasizes vitality on every level, leading to impressive yields and profits for farmers.
Is there hope for the United States to match Europe when it comes to biodynamic farming? Let’s look at the trends through time for biodynamic farming to see if the United States is on track to catch up.
History of Biodynamic Farming in Europe
For such an innovative agricultural strategy, biodynamic farming began in a rather understated way: a lecture series in 1924. The European scientist and philosopher Dr. Rudolf Steiner was approached by local farmers who asked him to give advice for farming after they experienced years of stressful drops in the fertility, vitality and yields on their properties.
To help these farmers understand the causes of their worrying crop losses, Dr. Steiner demonstrated the ways their farms were like living organisms: self-contained and self-sustaining when properly managed. At the time, most farmers viewed their fields as factories primed to run on chemical inputs, which Dr. Steiner addressed as the root of the problem. Instead, he recommended, farmers needed to create on-farm fertility and manage their systems to leave the soil after every season better than before.
After these lectures, biodynamic farming took off in Europe and inspired hundreds of farmers to change their practices. In 1928, Demeter Certification (named after the Greek goddess of agriculture) was formed in Europe as a way to promote produce grown through biodynamic techniques, making it the first label designed specifically for naturally grown foods. Even today, Demeter certification remains the leading standard for biodynamic certification worldwide.
By the 1940s, the English Baron and agricultural professor Lord Northbourne first coined the phrase “organic farming” for the techniques he was following, having been inspired by Dr. Steiner’s idea of treating a farm like an organism. The principles of organic growing were heavily rooted in biodynamic philosophies, but eventually the practice became more about avoiding synthetic chemicals and using natural forms of fertility than treating the entire farm as an organism.
Today, Europe is continuing to push ahead with sustainable farm practices. Costumers throughout the UK and other countries have become accustomed to paying more for organic and biodynamic produce, even up to twice as much. This has allowed the biodynamic industry in Europe to thrive, meaning that an estimated 10% of farmland throughout Germany is now maintained biodynamically. As a testament to the popularity of biodynamic farming throughout Europe, the International Biodynamic Conference attracts close to one thousand biodynamic farmers every year.
U.S. Progress Towards Biodynamic Farming
Despite the increasing prevalence of organic food in American grocery stores, the country has long lagged behind Europe in regard to biodynamic cultivation. One reason for this is that biodynamic farming requires a paradigm shift for farmers by requiring them to expect lower yields in the short term in order to foster their land for better production in the long run. However, as the organic market continues to develop, many assume that biodynamic products will be the next natural culinary step for American customers looking to live lighter on the planet.
In the same way, the United States Demeter Association (called Demeter USA) was formed in the U.S. in 1985 and remains the standard for biodynamic certification throughout the country. Today, any farm in America that wants to advertise themselves as biodynamic must obtain professional certification through Demeter USA.
What was once a highly niche market is steadily becoming more mainstream. Wine was one of the first biodynamic products to take off in America, as connoisseurs quickly noticed how much richer and more well-rounded biodynamic grapes made each glassful. Today, there are numerous food brands now offering biodynamic options, including White Leaf Provisions.
Recently, Demeter USA began collecting soil samples from biodynamic farms throughout the country. When this research is completed, it will provide a better look into the enhancements that biodynamic growing makes for the soil and make it easier for farmers to understand the real-world benefits of following a soil-building approach for their land. As Demeter USA is currently the only organization studying soil health in this way, they hope that their findings will give biodynamic growers a platform to speak about the ways their farming techniques make a difference for the health of the planet, especially in regards to climate change.
Nonetheless, U.S. acreage devoted to biodynamic growing is continuing to increase. According to reporting from Demeter, acreage devoted to biodynamic farming increased by 16% in America last year, for a total of 21,791 acres. Farms throughout the country have embraced the biodynamic philosophy of ecological management, from the vegetable and stone fruit-producing Apricot Lane Farm in California to a Northern Michigan tea farm called Light of Day Organics.
Help the Process by Going Biodynamic!
If you’re ready to make a difference for American soil with your eating habits, it might be time to add more organic and biodynamic foods into your diet. At White Leaf Provisions, we grew tired of how hard it was to find biodynamic foods stateside, so we started a family business that’s focused on offering pure food products for you to enjoy. We are completely transparent about everything we sell, and our biodynamic-certified, unsweetened apple and pear sauce is made from purely U.S. grown fruit without any sweeteners, additives or preservatives.
Through choosing our food, you can help support biodynamic farming in the United States and continue to push for more acres of farmland to turn towards sustainable growing practices.