Author: Esha Chhabra | Published: March 5, 2017
hen John Chester, a filmmaker from California, quit his job to become a farmer, he didn’t do it out of a desire to “feed the world”. Instead, he says: “I’m trying to feed my neighbors – and if everyone did that, we would be able to replicate this.”
He is referring to Apricot Lane Farms, a 213-acre biodynamic and organic farm in Moorpark, California, that Chester runs with his wife, Molly. The couple nurtures 100 different types of vegetables, 75 varieties of stone fruit, and countless animal residents: Scottish highland cattle, pigs, chickens, sheep, ducks, hens, horses and livestock dogs. Last year, Apricot Lane Farms was recognized by the National Wildlife Federation and the North American Butterfly Association for supporting so much wildlife – not a recognition typically given to farms.
Apricot Lane is part of a growing movement in biodynamic farming. The number of biodynamic farms in the US is rapidly increasing, according to Elizabeth Candelario, co-director of Demeter USA, the nonprofit certifier of biodynamic farms and consumer products in the US. According to Demeter, the total acreage for biodynamic farming in the US increased by 16% last year, totaling 21,791 acres.
Earlier this year, Demeter began collecting topsoil samples from biodynamic farms. This will help the organization determine if the soil quality is improving year after year on certified biodynamic farms. According to Candelario, Demeter is the only national farming organization implementing this practice. “This will provide a tool for farmers who continue to focus on building healthy soil, and give voice to power about biodynamic agriculture’s role in mitigating the impacts of climate change,” she says.
So what distinguishes biodynamic farming from organic? Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner, the godfather of organic and biodynamic farming, encouraged farmers to look to the cosmos before planting and harvesting crops. The biodynamic calendar is based on the positioning of the stars and the moon. While many biodynamic farmers utilize the lunar calendar, it is not a requirement for certification.
The National Organic Program (Nop) standard forms the base to the Demeter standard – so if it’s not allowed in organic, it’s not allowed in biodynamic. If a farm is certified biodynamic, it means it has met the requirements of organic, with some additional measures. For example, while organic permits imported organic fertilizers and pesticides, biodynamic requires that a farm system itself produce its own fertility – meaning compost and nutrients – as much as possiblethrough the integration of livestock and the rotation of crops. There are limits to the amount that can be imported from the outside – for example, no more than 36lbs of nitrogen per acre, per year.