Health-conscious growers turn to biodynamic method

When some farmers switch over from conventional to organic farming, they soon discover that even those non-toxic methods are not good enough to satisfy their desire to respect the land and produce healthy food. For a growing number of them, biodynamic farming is proving to be a fulfilling way to achieve a much more holistic approach to producing food. Agronomist Marios Desyllas has been working in organic farming since it was first introduced to Greece in 1988 (he is a founding member of DIO, one of the organizations that certifies organic products), but a few years ago, on discovering and studying the ideas of the Austrian anthroposophist scientist Rudolf Steiner in biodynamic agriculture, he became involved in demonstrating these methods (see box) in Greece. In 1993 when DIO was first founded, Desyllas worked as an inspector of organic farms. Now he has switched to consultancy in a private capacity for organic and biodynamic farmers. «I am a ‘doctor’ now, not a ‘policeman’,» he said in an interview with Kathimerini English Edition. «Only 10 percent of my clients are organic farmers; the rest have switched to biodynamic methods,» he said. «Most of those I work with have already been practicing organic farming for two or three years and are familiar with the main principles. From there we go further – we work out how to make the farm better. People need time to adjust – it is rather sudden to spring biodynamics on them before they are familiar with organic principles. «When Steiner first introduced his ideas, they were rather extreme for what was being practiced at that time, but since then his ideas have proved to be correct,» he added. The difficulty with biodynamics is that it is multidisciplinary, covering fields ranging from astronomy to human relations. «Yet some of the principles of biodynamics are not all that strange,» Desyllas said. «One of my current projects is looking into traditional folk culture to find out what practices were used in the past, using the phases of the moon, the seasons and so on.» One of his sources is a book in Greek by Alkis Kyriakidou-Nestoros («Oi 12 Mines: Ta Laografika»- The 12 Months: The Folklore) that investigates month by month the way farmers observed natural rhythms of the Earth and moon to plan their sowing and harvesting. «It is not just about soil but it is a global approach, and that is what appeals to me. You learn things about the world, about yourself,» he said. In 2000, Desyllas went a step further, working with Italian experts in homeodynamics, a development of biodynamics that includes homeopathic methods and for the last four years he has been using it in his own consultancy work with organic farmers. «Homeodynamics uses natural methods to activate the dormant potential in the plant, that is to awaken the plant’s own ability to use cosmic forces in order to produce more fruit and flowers and to grow bigger,» he said. Desyllas has used homeodynamics extensively with farmers to combat the effects of the olive fruit fly, which burrows into the fruit to hatch, causing the fruit to rot. On an olive tree treated homeodynamically, the olives will not spoil so easily, but the hole made by the insect tends to heal over; the flesh of the fruit remains healthy and can be used for oil. Preparations used in homeodynamics (such as cattle manure, minerals, clay) are diluted and potentiated in a similar way to homeopathic preparations. Both in biodynamics and homeodynamics, the two main preparations used are cattle manure or crystalline quartz stored underground in cow horns. They can then be diluted and potentiated homeopathically. One only needs small quantities. For example, 20 grams of a preparation, diluted and stirred, is sufficient to spray about 4,000 square meters. Ready-made preparations are available, imported from Italy. Biodynamics and homeodynamics also attract more wildlife because of the clean environment and positive energy. Desyllas is holding a seminar on biodynamic and homeodynamic farming, which begins on Monday, September 18, in Kifissia with an introductory lecture followed by lectures one weekend a month for seven months. (For details, tel 210.801.01111, 210.801.0680, website: Further reading: «Biodynamic Gardening: For Health and Taste,» by Hilary Wright, published by Mitchell Beazley, «Biodynamikes Kalliergies» (Biodynamic Farms), by Gavriil Panagos. Desyllas is currently translating Enzo Nastati’s definitive «Manual of Homeodynamic Farming» into Greek. The origins of homeodynamic techniques Biodynamic agriculture is a method of organic farming that also takes into account cosmic rhythms, or the effects of the moon, planets and stars, which are believed to influence the energy of life forms on Earth, including cultivated plants. It recognizes that plants are activated by a vital force, which explains why some plants do well and others do not under the same conditions. The farmer aims not only to protect the land from harm but to treat and improve it, and encourage biodiversity. In order to restore a plant’s vital force, farming practices have to be adapted by increasing or limiting the effects of irrigation, fertilizer and pruning, but also by choosing the right moment for crucial jobs such as sowing, transplanting or harvesting. Biodynamic agriculture began with lectures given in 1924 by Austrian philosopher and scholar Rudolf Steiner. Homeodynamics is an extension of classical biodynamics that incorporates elements of homeopathy, the result of work done by Enzo Nastati at the Eureka Institute in Italy. It functions by stimulating the latent potential for adaptation. Natural substances are taken from raw materials and the information they contain is passed into water (by soaking, dilution or potentiation) which is then sprayed onto the plants and soil.