Sunday, January 20, 2013

Biodynamic Agriculture

On my Saturday stroll back home from town, I stopped in at a new organic supermarket that opened right in the middle of the banking district.  As there are not many grocery stores in our neighborhood, I wanted to check out the selection.  The bread selection looked interesting, and I decided to try an organic milk that was not available in other stores and an organic yoghurt from "Andechs".  For numerous reasons, we are not an organic family.  We do, however, buy organic milk when available  -- and ususally there is a store brand organic milk available at the big-chain store around the corner from where we live.  Several of us at Bloggerboy headquarters like milk, and I worry about all the additives that go into modern industrial cows that might make their way into my bloodstream.  (At my age, I'm fighting hard enough not to grow breasts without the additives!)  What I'm trying to say is that I have no idea about the different types and degrees of organic production.  The fresh whole milk that I bought really was some of the best I have tasted.  By comparison, we just got back from a week in Tirol where   we stayed in a family-run pension in an alpine town at 1,500 meters.  The pension also was a family-run organic farm, and there were cows in a stall right next to the pension and fresh milk and butter from those cows each morning at breakfast.  The milk from the store tasted just as good as the milk at our pension, which was excellent.  It had at least 3.8% fat, and there even were a few small clots of cream in the pasteurized milk (i.e. it was not homogenised).  Why buy anything else?  Think of milk that lingers on your palate like a good wine.  I had to suppress a snicker, however, when I read the label. 

"This fresh alpine milk comes exclusively from biodynamic farms.  Demeter Farmers sow, plow and harvest in harmony with the rythm of the stars -- thus using the natural powers of the cosmos."

What had I stumbled into?  I don't have time to go into great detail, but Demeter farming in Germany is closely related to the anthroposophic movement, and there are plenty of anthroposophists in Germany.  More from Wikipedia.

"The development of biodynamic agriculture began in 1924 with a series of eight lectures on agriculture given by philosopher Rudolf Steiner at Schloss Koberwitz in SilesiaGermany, (now Kobierzyce in Poland east of Wrocław). The lectures, the first known to have been given on organic agriculture, were held in response to a request by farmers who noticed degraded soil conditions and a deterioration in the health and quality of crops and livestock resulting from the use of chemical fertilizers. The one hundred and eleven attendees, less than half of whom were farmers, came from six countries, primarily Germany and Poland. The lectures were published in November 1924; the first English translation appeared in 1928 as The Agriculture Course.

The origin of Demeter is a Cooperative for the processing of products of the biodynamic agriculture created in Berlin, Germany, in 1927. The trademark Demeter was registered in 1928. Demeter was administered by the German agronomist Erhard Bartsch who also directed the Experimental Circle of anthroposophical(biodynamic) farmers, and who had chosen the name Demeter, jointly with the German chemist Franz Dreidax. Dreidax was responsible for the development of the Demeter criteria and the quality control. Demeter ceased temporarily to exist in 1941 when the Nazi Government dissolved the Union for biodynamic agriculture. It was reestablished in Germany after the Second World War. In 1997 19 independent Demeter organisations came together to establisch Demeter International.

The certification is the oldest traditional organic certification in Europe and is regarded as the highest grade of organic farming in the world. Certification is difficult to come by and must be renewed annually. Demeter’s “biodynamic” certification requires biodiversity and ecosystem preservation, soil husbandry, livestock integration, prohibition of genetically engineered organisms and viewing the farm as a living “holistic organism”. The certification verifies the fulfillment of the standards on behalf of the farmers, which in turn guarantees high quality food products to the consumers. This is rewarded by receiving a higher price for food certified with the “Demeter” label, ranging from 10-30% on average."

On the more scientific side, the dairy advertizes the high quality of the milk's Omega-3 fatty acids and CLA (conjugated linoleic acids).  Furthermore, the dairy, a cooperative, engages in fair trade practices.  So, with all this in mind, I am going to return my brown glass milk bottle to the store to see how much I paid for it and hope that I can add this milk to my regular diet.

Follow-Up.  I went back to the organic store today and bought two liter bottles of milk.  The price was EUR 1.29 per liter, including sales tax (VAT).  That comes out to about USD 6.86 a US gallon.  I did a bit of surfing, and, although you can find store brand organic milk for lower prices in the US, I saw offers of other types of organic milk from smaller producers in urban areas for prices in the range between USD 5.00 and 7.00 a gallon without sales tax.  What do you think, dear readers?  Frau Bloggerboy got a big clump of cream in her glass this afternoon.  She remarked that the taste reminded her of "cows" and "hay".  Not sure that is a compliment, but if she doesn't like it, there's more left for me.


margaret21 said...

I had the opportunity to visit a couple of bio-dynamic farms when I was in India 5 years ago. While I'm nor sure I'm convinced by all the theory behind it , I am by the care, thought, and general good husbandry that seems to go with it, and by the fact that the soil is maintained as a living, rich means of production without resorting to chemicals. I'm not surprised that your milk was good

Eugene Knapik said...

Who wouldn't want milk that harvested the powers of the cosmos. It kind of reminds me of the stuff they write on Scotch labels... Did you have to re-mortgage Bloggerboy Headquarters to buy some milk?

Bloggerboy said...

Hi Margaret. I agree, if the product tastes great and I don't have to overdraw my account to pay for it, then why should I care whether the farmers talk to their earthworms or bless their manure? I'm sure the biodynamic approach is cheaper than most high-end fertilizers, so that would make it interesting for a developing country.

Hi Eugene. I'm sure it was pretty expensive, but I forgot to save the cash register slip. I was more interested in testing the quality first. Now comes a more detailed analysis. On the other hand, food in the EU is heavily subsidized and frequently less expensive than in the US.