What is Biodynamic Farming?
Move over organic and fair trade, the newcomer to the sustainable and ethical fashion scene is clothing made by harnessing the power of astrology. The health and wellness area is seeing a growing market in apparel thanks to biodynamic farming.
What is Biodynamic Farming?
The way the industry thinks of sustainable clothing now goes beyond organic, low impact, and toxin free. It is no longer enough to merely not use hazardous materials. Instead, clothes can actually make a positive change by helping to reverse climate change! The secret to fashion cleaning up the planet lies in biodynamic farming. The newest trend in biodynamic farming is not so new at all. It actually dates back to 1924, but is gaining popularity as consumers demand change from the fashion industry.
Have you heard of biodynamic farming or maybe the term regenerative farming? Recently biodynamic farming has become a buzzword in the beauty industry. Biodynamic farming focuses on working with the earth, and the universe, to farm in harmony with nature. Recently, these farming methods have expanded beyond food and beauty products. Today, cotton similarly uses the same practices and principles.
Where you might have heard the term "biodynamic farming" before...
The Beauty Industry
Although invented nearly 100 years ago, biodynamic farming only recently started making headlines. The farming techniques first official debut into the mainstream was via the skincare industry. This is because biodynamically farmed ingredients boast higher more potent levels of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Dr. Hauschuka, who looks at plants as medicine, brought what was once a niche farming technique to the mainstream with their high-end luxury powerful raw ingredients that actually work.
Another brand that helped biodynamic farming to the forefront of social media is Weleda. The brand stole headlines thanks to bloggers loving their toxin-free formula. Also, as an added bonus finding it in grocery stores is easy. Sorry, coconut oil, you just don’t cut it anymore. Because of Weleda’s easy to find distribution through WholeFoods biodynamic lotions became a household staple for the health-conscious set.
In 2017 The Guardian reported that biodynamic farming was on the rise. The best way to get your dose of biodynamic fruits and veggies if fresh from local farmers. The produce from a biodynamic farm tastes like nothing from a conventional farm or even organic farm. Experts say this is because of the healthy soil and synergistic methods used. But don't worry, If you don’t have access to a local farmer. Retailers now make biodynamic prepared foods. Ultima makes the ultimate recovery drink from biodynamic tart cherries, watermelon, and lemon. Thrive Market offers 4 different kinds of biodynamic pasta sauces and a biodynamic granola on their website. And, there is even biodynamic chocolate for those with a sweet tooth thanks to Óbolo Chocolate.
so, what exactly is biodynamic farming?
Or, maybe you have heard of biodynamic farming because of its weird hippie methods. One infamous process involves taking cow manure, packing it into a cow horn, and burying it underground over the winter to make natural fertilizers. But, the system of biodynamic farming, is much more than this.
cow horns after being buried for 6 months with manure inside of them in biodynamic farming
A different way of looking at the world
Each biodynamic farm is its own living organism. Plants, animals, soil, and people work together to create regenerative and sustainable ecosystems. Each farm is totally self-sufficient. Almost like a biosphere. Practices like composting, crop rotation, and the synergy of plants and animals living in harmony. As a result, farms have rich biodiversity and soil health. Instead of chemical fertilizers, farms use natural compost made with medicinal flowers to maintain soil health. For example, chamomile will improve plant growth. Oakbark wards of plant disease. And, yarrow flower helps to replenish and rebalance soil. Sounds much nicer in contrast to the toxic chemical cocktail used in conventional farming, doesn't it?
Mr. Ehrmann who maintains Dr. Hauschuka’s garden states. “How do the soil, plants, animals and people work together in the garden? Our garden has an array of different habitats: shady, wooded areas and sunny spots, a stream, a pond, windy corners, and damp ones. How can we prepare the garden in such a way that plants can become powerful, nourishing plants in it?”
humans and animals working in harmony in biodynamic farming
Biodynamic farming goes beyond how we interact with our planet, it studies the natural rhythms of the cosmos. The philosophy takes into account the positions of the earth, sun, planets, moons, and stars and how they gently affect our world. These movements determine the perfect time for sowing, planting, harvesting, etc. If this sounds like a bunch of hocus pocus to you, think about it this way. The position of the moon controls the ocean's tides. So, why wouldn’t the universe affect other natural systems around us?
Is biodynamic farming the same as regenerative farming?
Regenerative farming is another new buzzword in the sustainable and ethical fashion community. The answer to if they are the same is, almost. The principles of soil health, biodiversity, and sustainable ecosystems are all very similar. But, due to the fact that biodynamic farming, specifically, takes it a step further by farming according to the universes rhythms. Each school of farming also has very different origins and certification methods.
Demeter USA is a non-profit that ensures biodynamic crops were made under proper conditions.
The Demeter Biodynamic® Farm Standard is a 16 category comprehensive organic farming method. The rigorous certification promises an unbroken chain of accountability. It is possible to trace the chain of transparency from the farm to the finished product. Certification protects against manipulation or greenwashing of biodynamic products.
The actual certification is based on Dr. Rudolf Steiner's "Agricultural Course" that he gave in 1924. Steiner, who founded the Waldorf School, was asked by a group of farmers for help. They noticed a rapid decline in their crops and the health of their animals. As a result, after they applied the principles taught by Steiner, Demeter was formed in 1928.
If you are interested in getting your hands on some biodynamic products, Demeter also has a great interactive map for finding a certified farmer near you.
Rodale Institute offers Regenerative Organic Certification. Brands that are part of their pilot program include Patagonia, Vega, Horizon, Natures Path, Dr. Bronner, and others.
Regenerative Organic Certification is based on three pillars. The three pillars are soil health, animal welfare, and social fairness. Soil health means to not till the soil, use cover crops, and not using any synthetic chemicals. Animal welfare means that animals live with 5 freedoms. Freedom from fear and distress. The freedom from hunger. Freedom from pain and injury. And finally, freedom to express normal behavior (aka not being locked up in tiny cages). Lastly, social fairness basically means people are paid fairly in good working conditions.
Rodale even has a farm in Pensylvania that people are able to visit and learn more about the practices. It seems like a pretty cool place to take a road trip to.
It’s not all hocus pocus
The core of biodynamic farming is philosophy, not hard science. But, there is growing evidence that this system of farming is good for the planning.
Recently the academic community has begun to champion regenerative farming as a solution to the negative global impacts of the industrialized agricultural industry. Regenerative farming which takes the same core principles as biodynamic farming, but without the dose of mysticism has been an easier sell for policymakers that believe in facts, figures, and hard science.
Biodynamic farming, a solution for global warming
Scientists have started to suggest regenerative and biodynamic farming as an agricultural solution for today's global warming crisis. This is largely in part because of cover farming. The practice of cover farming in biodynamic farming helps to reduce farmers carbon footprints.
Between crop seasons a special set of crops that “blanket” the soil are planted. AKA, cover crops. Their job is to convert nitrogen gas from the air into the soil. Nitrogen-rich soil creates a healthy and good environment for plants to grow.
Cover crops also play another important role. They help to pull carbon out of the air. During traditional farming, the land stays barren between harvests. By introducing cover crops between harvests the plants are effectively cleaning our air and creating healthy soil.
There is no downside to this practice, and many scientists believe that plants, not barren land, are key to a sustainable farming future. The best cover crops are different types of legumes. Plants like summer peas, alfalfa, and crimson clover are great at adding nitrogen to the soil and removing carbon from the air.
Cotton with Karma
Cotton, the fabric of our lives is actually pretty dirty. Get ready for some shocking facts...
It is estimated that over 300 million people work in the cotton industry. And, this is no surprise considering 75-85% of the clothing we wear is made out of cotton. It is estimated that cotton accounts for 16% of the worlds pesticide use. It is also estimated that 20,000 people per year receive emergency medical attention because of pesticide poisoning. This happens because in unregulated developing countries workers walk the fields barefoot and without respiratory protection as they spray chemicals all day long. Some chemicals are so toxic there is a ban in Europe and The States. Shockingly, these chemicals are still in use overseas.
Lastly, conventional cotton farming is thirsty. The water needed to grow India’s cotton exports in 2013 was enough to supply 85% of the country’s 1.24 billion people with 100 liters of water every day for a year. At the same time, 100 million people in India do not have access to safe water.
Because the fashion industry has been sighted as the worlds second most damaging industry there is pressure to change systems. As a result of this statistic, cotton which makes up a majority of the world's clothing, is a key contributor to the damage that needs to be corrected.
Biodynamic and regenerative farming will most likely become key methods in the future to mitigating the fashion industries negative environmental impact.
Getting Farmers on Board
One group in India, bioRe is working to help other farmers join the biodynamic movement through the entire product supply chain.
bioRe biodynamic farming school in India, astrology teachings
bioRE started their organic cotton project back in 1991 in Madhya Pradesh and the Maharastra regions of India. A component to their facilities is an agricultural training center. The development of organic and biodynamic cotton farmers is at the core of the centers mission. Also, along with traditional farming methods, the school teaches farmers biodynamic lifestyle methods.
In biodynamic farming, the farmer is part of the ecosystem. Many farmers that learn biodynamics from bioRe construct their own underground biogas chambers. Biogas is made by using waste from animals and a simple fermentation process. Farmers are then able to use this gas for cooking food in their homes. So, nothing gets wasted, and nothing is unnatural in bioRe’s methods.
underground fermentation of biogas at bioRe biodynamic farming
Biore encourages farmers to join the movement by helping them financially. To eliminate financial pressures, bioRe will pay them for loss of crops. Also, as an added benefit farmers also receive aid during the transitional years that it takes to convert their farm to organic biodynamic.
beyond the farm
Dedicated to change, bioRes work certainly does not stop at the farm level. Since they also act as agents in the textile chain, they purchase cotton harvests at ten percent above the market price. And, they offer farmers a 5-year contract. Historically farmers have been powerless to the short-term profit goals of a market controlled by GMO seeds. Because of bioRe, now farmers get a fair price for their cotton and are able to break free from the GMO cycle. A cycle that has forced many of them to commit suicide.
In the states, Fibershed has just started its own biodynamic project.
What is Fibershed?
“Fibershed develops regional and regenerative fiber systems on behalf of independent working producers, by expanding opportunities to implement carbon farming, forming catalytic foundations to rebuild regional manufacturing, and through connecting end-users to farms and ranches through public education.
We envision the emergence of an international system of regional textile communities that enliven connection and ownership of ‘soil-to-soil’ textile processes. These diverse textile cultures are designed to build soil carbon stocks on the working landscapes on which they depend, while directly enhancing the strength of regional economies. Both fiber and food systems now face a drastically changing climate, and must utilize the best of time-honored knowledge and available science for their long-term ability to thrive.”
Basically, Fibershed, biodynamic farming, and regenerative farming share a lot of the same core principles.
The Indigo Project
Fibershed’s first project is The Indigo Project, lead by Craig Wilkinson.
Initially, Craig Wilkinson journey with biodynamics began when he was introduced to the Egyptian biodynamic organization Sekem. According to Fibershed, the “only scale-certified producer of biodynamic cotton in the world.”
Sekem was founded in 1977, when Dr. Ibrahim Abouleish decided to plant a farm in an untouched part of the Egyptian desert. By using biodynamic agricultural methods, the team was able to revitalize a piece of desert into a rich agricultural land. As a result, Sekem's small farm grew into a large agro-industrial group of companies and NGOs.
A growing movement
There, Wilkinson learned that diversity is not just important on a farming level, but also on a community level. Wilkinson realized that Sekem is a perfect vertical supply chain. Most noteworthy, from fiber growing, to harvesting, to processing, and the final product - they controlled everything. Wilkinson realized what a special and rare type of supply chain they had. And, he saw an opportunity in it. He decided he would bring the same systems back to the United States, specifically California.
Wilkinson and Fibershed are now working together through grant money to create the first fully biodynamic denim jeans, with a 100% traceable supply chain. How cool is that?
So, why should you care about biodynamic and regenerative farming?
According to Demeter USA, the nonprofit certifier of biodynamic farms and consumer products in the US, the total acreage for biodynamic farming in the US increased by 16% last year, totaling 21,791 acres.
If you care about what you put on your body...
Biodynamic and regenerative farming is a step above organic farming, and much more traceable and transparent. Because every farm is self-sustainable, there are no complicated supply chains to figure out where your clothing is coming from. Incorporating these practices could be the answer to transparency that the fashion industry desperately needs.
If you care about the planet...
Be the change you want to see in the world! Biodynamics circular and waste-free practices work with, instead of against, nature. Scientists consider biodynamic farming a solution to climate change. And, for this reason, biodynamic and regenerative farming can even go as far as to help reverse climate change.
If you believe everything carries energy...
Biodynamic farming is about recognizing the interconnection of all things and working with the universes natural systems to create conscious crops and products. Maybe, the world needs a little more interconnectivity and compassion? Basically, biodynamic clothing has good juju.