We recently had Gena Nonini of Marian Farms in Fresno, California join us to share about Biodynamic farming.
Gena discovered Biodynamic farming and philosophy while working as an export commodity trader with a Fortune 500 company back in the 90's. On a trip to Australia and New Zealand, she learned about Biodynamic agriculture and was so impressed with the food quality, vision, and people she met that she was inspired to change over the family farm. Five years later, in 1995, her farm became fully Biodynamic Certified.
Gena is the third generation of her family to steward the Marian Farms land. Her grandfather came to Fresno in 1900 from the Northern Italian Alps where he was a dairy farmer and grape grower. Now, Gena grows Biodynamic Nonpareil and Monterey Almonds, Thompson Seedless Grapes (and raisins) as well as Washington Navel Oranges and Meyer Lemons. Marian Farms also distills its fruit using a copper pot still and sells its artisan spirits under the Marian Farmhouse Spirits brand.
What is Biodynamic?
Biodynamic farming is not only a form of agriculture, but also a philosophy, a way of seeing the world around us. The practice seeks to cultivate the potential and individuality of each farm and to recognize and engage the cosmic influences on the soil and plant growth, including rhythms of the day and seasons of the year, as well as the effects of the sun, moon, and planets. Biodynamic farming considers the farm a living organism and regards the maintenance and improvement of soil as key to preserving the soil’s fertility.
The specific ideas of biodynamic farming were formalized in 1924 by philosopher Rudolf Steiner with a series of eight lectures on organic agriculture given in response to requests from farmers who were experiencing degraded soil conditions and a deterioration in the health and quality of crops and livestock resulting from the use of chemical fertilizers.
These ideas help to define Biodynamic agriculture.
Paradigm Shift in Thinking
Gena described a new perspective or a new way of thinking about agriculture. Biodynamic farms work in the realm of ‘forces’ and matter, whereas organic and conventional farms work in the world of matter or physical substance only. Conventional agriculture is a culture of death, where the farmer is always trying to kill something: a bug, a fungus, a disease, a weed. This relies on substances to alter, change, or ‘combat’ the natural world. Biodynamic farmers work to find synergy between the forces of the Earth and the celestial forces of the cosmos, embracing diversity to bring the farm into balance.
Use of Biodynamic Preparations
From the original lectures, Steiner prescribed nine different preparations to aid fertility, improve soil biodiversity, and enhance compost used on the farm. The preps are made by the farmer at specific but different times of the year relating to the seasons and desired forces and stored underground for a prescribed period. The preparations use only natural ingredients.
Working in Harmony with Cosmic Influences
Gena spoke to us about the cosmic rhythms that move the oceans and how it's well-known that many people are influenced by Lunar cycles - anxiety, depression, sleeplessness, and heightened emotions. Cosmic influences are taken into consideration on the Biodynamic farm. The farmer may use age-old celestial planting calendars (i.e., Stella Natura) to inform planting, cultivating, harvesting, and applying preparations.
Whole Farm Organism – Farm Individuality
Biodynamic farmers understand the concept of the ‘farm organism’ and its elements: fields, forests, plants, animals, soils, compost, people, and the spirit of the place and see the farm as a unique and magnificent symphony, in which the farmer is not there to control, manipulate, or overpower nature, but rather to be the conductor of a great symphony within it. They strive to embrace the idea of a farm where nothing is brought in and the farm produces all of its own fertility with its own livestock and crop combinations.
Demeter USA works as the certifier for Biodynamic farms and products in America. Demeter is worldwide, first formed in 1928 and named for the Greek goddess of agriculture, and advocates for Biodynamic agriculture and certifies Biodynamic farms. Demeter remains the oldest ecological certification organization in the world, active in 50 countries around the globe.
Biodynamic farming practices have long been considered the gold standard in regenerative agriculture, and – as the oldest methodology-based certifier worldwide – Demeter and Biodynamic practices continue to be at the frontline of developing solutions to agriculture and global issues associated with climate change and the degradation of soil, water, and the environment.
Read more about Marian Farms.