Thursday, 6 June 2013

Permaculture and Biodynamic

Today in Chico News and Review there was an interesting piece about the Heartseed Community Farm. It seems that the Heartseed farmers Kee, Ron Toppi, and Elliott Proffitt were inspired by Paul Kaiser at Singing Frogs Farm and are running a farm based on Permaculture principles and some of the ideas of biodynamic farming. Reading about their awesome farm and the great ideas of these farmers made me want to revote Permaculture and Biodymnamic to think again and compare and contrast.

A little history: Biodynamics is a farming religio-philosophical practice that grew out of the lectures of Rudolph Steiner and the Anthroposophy movement in the early 1900s. Permaculture is a philosophy-design farming and living method that grew very recently out of the books and talks of Bill Mollison and David Holmgren. Both permaculture and biodynamics seek to create sustainable patterns of living and growing food based on systems of ethics that deal with how humans treat the earth and each other.

Farming Practices: Biodynamics is considered to be beyond organic while permaculture is not necessarily organic. Biodynamic farming has restrictions for chemical and intensive farming methods while permaculture relies on good planning and the know-how and sensibility of the people in the system.

Culture: Biodynamics has more of a structured community - there are groups that inspect and certify 'biodynamic' or 'demeter' foods. There are also many communities, schools, and businesses that are tied in with the biodynamic movement. Permaculture more of a movement, there are legal limits on who can offer permaculture design courses but the word permaculture itself is not regulated in any way.

Philosophy: As I said before both are based on sustainable patterns of living and social and ecological ethics. - Biodynamics also includes some ideas that might be described as 'mystic' or astrological although that is a rather small portion of the movement's beliefs. Steiner was a philosopher who was interested in metaphysics, and this is central to biodynamic farming. Permaculture has more of an ecological-science approach - the mystical and esoteric is something each individual deals with as they like.

So the point is that these two systems of farming can be complimentary. A permaculture farmer can be biodynamic as well. Neither is mutually exclusive but each is unique enough not to confuse one for the other (you won't necessarily find a permaculture farmer out burying horns filled with manure under the full moon or a biodynamic farmer with swales dug across the contours of his fields). To paraphrase Bill Mollison 'Permaculture is the wardrobe and biodynamic can be a hangar inside the wardrobe'.

"Die Kunst ist ewig, ihre Formen wandeln sich.
(The art is eternal, their shapes are changing.)"
― Rudolf Steiner

"Though the problems of the world are increasingly complex,
the solutions remain embarrassingly simple."
― Bill Mollison

"Traditional agriculture was labour intensive, industrial agriculture is energy intensive, and permaculture-designed systems are information and design intensive."
― David Holmgren

More reading on permaculture and biodynamic (Han et al., 2015; Whitney, 2013, 2015).

Han, E., Whitney, C. W., Niether, W., Nelson, W., and Baars, T., 2015. Effects of Biodynamic Preparation 500 (P500) Cow Horn Manure on Early Growth of Barley, Pea, Quinoa, and Tomato under Saline Stress Conditions, Tropentag Berlin, Germany “Management of land use systems for enhanced food security: conflicts, controversies and resolutions”,
Whitney, C. W., 2015. Trees for Gardens, Orchards and Permaculture, Permaculture, 86, 4-5.
Whitney, C. W., 2013. Permaculture and Biodynamics: sustainable systems of living and growing, Resurgence & Ecologist, Green Living, 4.

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