A Guide to Biodynamic Food Costs
Perhaps you’ve noticed a new label on various food items as you’ve wandered through your local store or farmer’s market: biodynamic. This raises many questions for those who are unfamiliar with the term. Does it mean it’s organic? Is it a GMO? How much more expensive is it for me to buy biodynamic products than conventional products? To help you understand these topics, we’ve compiled this guide for your new journey into biodynamic foods.
What Are Biodynamic Foods?
By definition, biodynamic foods are foods that are grown or produced using biodynamic agriculture. Biodynamic agriculture focuses on regenerative farming practices; preserving biodiversity on the farm through active cultivation of native species and preservation of new traits in organisms; and treating each farm as a small, self-sustaining biosphere.
While the term “biodynamic” was established in the U.S. in 1985, the concept of biodynamic agriculture was first developed in 1924 by Rudolph Steiner, a philosopher in Silesia, Germany, which is now Kobierzyce, Poland. Steiner began developing a course in organic and biodynamic food in response to farmers in the region noticing a serious degradation of soil quality on their lands. The course focused on regenerative farming practices to rejuvenate the soil.
What’s the Difference Between Biodynamic and Organic?
If you are scratching your head wondering what’s the difference between biodynamic and organic, you’re not alone.
At their cores, biodynamic and organic farmers focus on respecting the environment and ecological processes. Neither practice uses chemical pesticides or fertilizers and neither use genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Animals raised on these farms spend time out in the fields, are not given growth hormones, and are fed hormone-free feed. Crops are fertilized with organic matter preparations and manure and pests are controlled through natural methods.
Where biodynamic and organic farming practices start to diverge is the holistic approach to farming. To be considered a biodynamic farm, each farm must dedicate 10% of its land to fostering biodiversity and produce 50 percent of its livestock feed to be a self-sustaining ecosystem. Biodynamic agriculture focuses heavily on letting fields rest for several seasons while animals graze on them to reintroduce nutrients to the soil.
The Benefits of Biodynamic Foods
There are many people who never consider how the way their food is produced has an impact on their physical wellbeing.
No pesticides in your foods. Biodynamic farms may not use any kind of chemical pesticide and instead rely on using natural pesticides and birds to eat bugs. This means you no longer need to be concerned with consuming toxic chemicals or thoroughly washing your produce to remove any traces of pesticides.
You’ll eat fresher food. For the most part, biodynamic foods are picked closer to ripeness and don’t contain any preservatives to keep them fresh longer. Because of this, biodynamic farmers tend to sell their produce to stores closer to home.
No added hormones. Biodynamic farmers to not give their livestock any hormones or hormone-enriched feed. As such, biodynamic animal products are less likely to cause hormone imbalances in people who consume them.
How Much Do Biodynamic Foods Cost?
Biodynamic foods cost approximately the same as organic foods, so about47% higher than conventionally-grown food. However, when you consider the great environmental impacts of biodynamic farming, which we’ll discuss in the next section, plus the fact that you’re not putting harmful chemicals into your body, many argue the benefits justify the costs.
But why do these foods have such a high cost? For organic and biodynamic farmers, the costs are associated with maintaining certifications, record keeping, and the costs of foregoing one input for another (ex. Land dedicated to producing animal feed cannot be used for crops to be sold).
The good news for these biodynamic farmers is their methods allow to charge higher rates that the market accepts. Despite the lower yield in most crops grown this way, most biodynamic farmers come out equal to or greater than their conventional farmer counterparts.
How Does Biodynamic Farming Impact the Environment?
No harmful chemicals and fertilizers are injected into the soil, which means they will not end up in the water table or running off into local streams and rivers. In the long run, these chemicals leech nutrients and microorganisms out of the soil which leaves soil that is more easily washed away during periods of heavy rain. The soil and chemicals end up in the greater watershed area which harms the delicate ecosystems in rivers and oceans.
Fewer greenhouse gasses are emitted from both transportation and the soil itself. For the most part, biodynamic foods do not travel as far, so less carbon is emitted by combustion engine vehicles. In terms of the soil, as farmers practice regenerative farming practices, the microorganisms in the soil thrive and hold onto carbon in the soil. In conventional farming methods, constant plowing removes many microorganisms and releases carbon into the air.
Better soil for the future. In other words, you reap what you sow. By investing in returning nutrients to the soil through natural fertilizers like livestock manure, farmers ensure the longevity of their farm. Investing in the soil continuously also means a biodynamic farmer will never have to leave a field alone for years because it’s nutrient deficient, costing him an entire field’s worth of revenue.
What’s the Cost of Not Farming This Way?
Many advocates of biodynamic and organic farming argue there’s a significant cost to future generations if we don’t commit to farming this way.
While the yields of these farming practices are smaller than conventionally grown produce and livestock, over time the yields and revenue are equal to or greater than conventional farming. This tends to be because conventional farmers run into issues where the lack of biodiversity in their lands can wipe out their entire crop, of which they only grow one variety. Plus, the eventual stripping of nutrients in the soil means they need to rest fields for years before they’re resuscitated.
More farmers in the U.S. are realizing biodynamic agriculture is completely sustainable and has great returns. As of 2017, there are over 300 certified biodynamic farms and 21,781 organic farms in the U.S. Organizations likeDemeter, the official certifier of biodynamic farms, continues their efforts to educate and certify farmers in the methods of biodynamic farming.
When you look at the benefits of biodynamic agriculture for the environment and the health benefits associated with eating biodynamic foods, there’s really no arguing that we should be farming any other way.
If you have any other questions about biodynamic foods and how they can fit into your lifestyle, please get in touch with us here.