What IS Biodynamic Agriculture?
Biodynamic agriculture began in the 1900s with Dr. Rudolf Steiner, a highly experienced scientist, and philosopher. As industrialized and mechanized agriculture grew among farmers across the world, so did the use of chemical substances that deteriorate the farm’s natural ecosystems. This new take on farming led Dr. Steiner to believe that western civilizations would bring destruction to themselves and the planet if they don’t develop a full understanding of how the spiritual and physical worlds interact with each other; which ultimately allowed him to promote farm life as a single, self-sufficient organism that keeps soil, plant, animal and human health at its core.
It was only natural that farmers would like to explore these practices. I mean, promoting biodiversity at the farm, bringing plant and animal life at the farm together, improving fertility and soil health… These are all benefits every single coffee farmer should strive for!
Biodynamic Practices In Action!
So, how do farmers obtain this self-sustaining ecosystem, you may ask? Well, Dr. Steiner developed an array of biodynamic preparations that can be grouped into two types: Biodynamic Compost Preparations and Biodynamic Spray Preparations.
Biodynamic Compost Preparations
The Biodynamic Association defines that biodynamic compost consists of “six preparations made from yarrow, chamomile, stinging nettle, oak bark, dandelion, and valerian.” Supplementing the compost with these elements fosters the development of bacteria and fungi, creating a concentrate that boosts the compost’s nutritional profile by stabilizing nitrogen and microbial diversity.
Biodynamic Spray Preparations
To compliment compost preparations, Dr. Steiner also developed biodynamic spray preparations which include Horn Manure, which according to the Biodynamic Association is made from “cow manure buried inside a cow horn during the winter months; Horn Silica, which is “prepared from ground quartz crystals buried in a cow horn over the summer months” and horsetail tea.
How We Fell In Love With Biodynamic Coffee
We first experienced biodynamic agriculture firsthand when we met Alexander Keller from Finca Santa Isabel. As soon as we entered his farm, it was clear that it was truly a special place, and we were right! Finca Santa Isabel is the only farm in Guatemala where coffee is produced using biodynamic farming practices.
After four generations of coffee producers looking after the farm, it’s no wonder Finca Santa Isabel is a coffee paradise. However, it has been under Alex’s management and innovative approach that the farm transitioned from traditional production into a fully organic one. However, Alex’s vision to unite the environmental and social components of the farm and diversify his production to include various genetic-strains to ensure it’s long-term sustainability led him down the biodynamic path. Biodynamic production differs from purely organic practices. Many organic farms focus on either crops or livestock, often simultaneously but they are often considered separate operations that cause a nutrient deficiency in the soil, pollution, and untapped resources. Biodynamic production, on the other hand, aims to unite plants, animals, soil, and human components to create a living and interconnected organism within the farm, prioritizing the health of the land’s natural ecosystem.
Part of Alex’s commitment to preserving the farm’s ecosystem includes preserving 25% of the farm as a natural reserve. That, along with his responsible processing practices (such as recycling, composting or irrigating all water used at the wet mill) allows the farm to remain healthy and free of pollutants. His understanding of the interconnectivity of farm resources is a true reflection of his commitment to biodynamic practices, and a key component of his success. We’re honored to be able to partner with such an innovator and pioneer in Guatemala’s biodynamic agriculture.
How is Biodynamic Coffee Different From Organic Coffee?
Organic certifications are used to categorize coffee beans that have been produced without the use of chemical pesticides and herbicides. However, biodynamic coffees go beyond that as this practice requires farmers to observe the rhythms and cycles of the cosmos. This astronomical understanding allows biodynamic farmers to identify the optimal times for farm maintenance, cultivation, harvesting, and use of biodynamic preparations. This, combined with the unity of the farm’s components, reflects biodynamic farming’s connection between the spiritual and physical aspects of production; differentiating it from any other type of production.
Benefits of Biodynamic Farming
In our time diving into the complex world of biodynamics, we have seen first hand how the benefits of these protected and self-sustaining ecosystems are benefitting the farm through plant and wildlife diversity. When farms support this biodiversity, it creates a natural habitat for life to flourish at the farm – which is exactly what you want nowadays with the ongoing threat of climate change!
Biological diversity found in these ecosystems is directly interconnected with a coffee farm’s success. Between the different varieties of plants, animals, and in Alex’s case various coffee genetic strains, farms receive a broader range of microorganisms, nutrients, and pollinators that allow the ecosystem to flourish and become more resilient to changing climatic conditions, not to mention, the nourishment the soil will be receiving from this thriving ecosphere. (FAO,2004)
But don’t take it from us. We believe that Alex’s experience with biodynamic practices comes to show us the true spirit behind this agricultural model: “Our philosophy is that the farm does not belong to us, but we belong to the farm. Our focus and purpose is that the farm is happy and that the people are happy with the opportunities we have at our disposal,” he told us.
After everything we’ve said, you can safely assume that our offering from Finca Santa Isabel is truly something special. It was love at first taste, you might say.
This coffee not only comes from some of the healthiest coffee plants, and we might even say one of the healthiest coffee farms we’ve seen, but its biodynamic production allows the coffee to express the land’s terroir to the fullest.
If you’re a roaster interested in unique coffees that reflect the wonders of the Guatemalan terroir, then this one’s for you.