What's the difference between organic and biodynamic?


The term "organic" broadly describes anything derived from living matter, or, technically, any carbon-based compound. With the advent of environmentalism, the term has taken on a new meaning to describe food or farming without synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, and other artificial inputs.

So, in terms of food or farming:

"Organic" focuses on being "toxin-free", while "biodynamic" focuses on being "nutrient-rich".

"Organic" usually means free of synthetic pesticides/herbicides/hormones/antibiotics/etc. "Biodynamic" takes it a step further and means a farm system based on healthy mineral-rich soil with good microbes.

Of course the two terms are not mutually exclusive. By definition biodynamic is also organic (soil needs to be clean to be healthy), but organic doesn't necessarily mean biodynamic (it can be free of toxins, but still depleted of nutrients).

Here's what Wikipedia says about biodynamic farming --
Biodynamic agriculture is a method of organic farming originally developed by Rudolf Steiner that employs what proponents describe as "a holistic understanding of agricultural processes". One of the first sustainable agriculture movements, it treats soil fertility, plant growth, and livestock care as ecologically interrelated tasks, emphasizing spiritual and mystical perspectives. Proponents of biodynamic agriculture, including Steiner, have characterized it as "spiritual science" as part of the larger anthroposophy movement.
I try to get biodynamic when I can. Still, organic is better than industrial (which is nutrient-poor and contaminated with toxins), and of course any fresh food even from industrial farming is still better than instant/junk food.

The concept is more important than the terminology, but the terms help us communicate ideas better. The International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD)-- a global involving FAO, WHO, World Bank, UN, and over 100 countries-- used the term "agroecology". Agroecology describes farming approaches that mimic natural ecosystems in order to produce food that is clean and nutritious, while minimizing pollution and maximizing soil fertility. Other related terms are "permaculture", "grass farming", and "soil farming".

Here's an excerpt from Global Agriculture --
Agroecological systems, such as organic farming, permaculture and other variants, are knowledge-intensive, tend to use less or no externally-supplied synthetic inputs, and seek to generate healthy soils and crops through sustainable management of agro-ecological cycles.

They make better use of local resources in small-scale agriculture which can improve productivity and generate worthwhile innovations.

Agro-ecological and organic farming can achieve high production efficiencies on a per area basis and high energy use efficiencies, outperforming conventional industrial farming in both areas. Despite having lower labour efficiencies than (highly-mechanised) industrial farming and experiencing variable economic efficiency, latest calculations indicate a capability of producing enough food on a per capita basis to feed the current world population. Their higher labour demand compared to conventional farming can be considered an advantage where few alternative employment opportunities exist.
"Organic" is a useful shorthand for all of these ideas, because many people already have some clue about what it is. However, due to the lack of education and regulation, the term may be hijacked and used in such a way as to belie the spirit of the idea-- as in the case of "organic" junk food. I personally like the term "agroecology" because it emphasizes mimicking natural ecosystems, but it's quite a mouthful isn't it? Even more so than "biodynamic"!

Based on a Q&A on my ask.fm account. Ask me anything! :)

- Feanne

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