The global population has never been larger, and while global population growth is leveling off (https://www.ted.com/playlists/474/the_best_hans_rosling_talks_yo go educate yourself), humanity still faces multiple enormous challenges in feeding so many hungry mouths.
Global agricultural yield is now high enough that nobody needs to starve, and the most problematic situation in terms of sheer volume is simply distribution. However, the massive improvements in yield volumes have brought with them a new set of ethical challenges. Just like designer babies and bio-medically augmented humans, speedy advances in crop yield and livestock poundage and growth require immediate considerations about where to draw lines and limits.
Biodynamic agriculture is one paradigm that provides partial aid in making those decisions. Today’s post is a discussion of the clash between biodynamic, holistic agriculture, and the perceived need for advancing yield and minimising effort.
To try out a new post format I’ve invited Mona Lund Hedeager to participate in an ad-hoc interview setting, a specialist in innovation and part of the Hedeager family agro-business – centred around biodynamic principles.
Check out her take on biodynamics, progress and whether there’s a conflict.
Hvad does “biodynamic” mean to you? Why is it worth working with?
For me, it represents a lifestyle. I know that when something is marked with the Demeter-symbol (editor’s comment: The Demeter symbol marks a product as biodynamic similarly to how organic goods are marked), extra care has been taken to ensure the wellbeing of animals, environment and climate. All things that benefit humans in the long run. That’s why I see biodynamics as a positive cycle. When we watch out for the “organism” of Earth, it reaps rewards for both animals and people.
In biodynamic agriculture there’s space for diversity – so we don’t use any pesticides to kill unwanted plants and animals, and we avoid artificially provoking enhanced growth rates of specific life forms. Instead we use general-purpose fertiliser.
When working with biodynamics, you get to take part in something greater, a social responsibility. You strengthen the bond between helath, food, and humans. Oh, and bio foods are not just healthier, they’re tastier – something largely achieved through slower growth rates, packing in more taste and nutrition.
Hedeagergaard switched to fully biodynamic in 2011. Until that time, I presume you did business with commendable respect for the animals. So why the change? What differences did you see?
In 1998 we switched from conventional to organic, and in 2011 we took the next step onwards and upwards to biodynamics. The change helped us to feel more balance at the farm. A lot of the tighter regulations required to meet the aforementioned Demeter standard were in line with the values of the farm and household anyway, so it was a natural step.
Animal welfare has always been one of the driving values at the farm. Requirements like “dehorning cattle is forbidden, as it impacts the quality of life as well as the quality of milk” are really easy for us to follow. Cows simply need enough space that their horns aren’t an issue, so we simply maintain a lower population.
That means less volume and less revenue, but it’s balanced by higher margins.
When farming biodynamically, or using biodynamic principles on top of organics, the yield is reduced as compared to “conventional” agriculture. That means less edible product, and keep in mind that some regions there’s still not enough food to go around. Without a vegetarian revolution it’s impossible to convert all agriculture to biodynamics, due to a lack of space. What are your thoughts on these challenges?
My answer would be “prioritisation”.
We have experimented with our meat and we agree that the biodynamic meat is both more nutritious and tastes of more. We’re hearing the same from our customers. So we’d say that the amount required falls and the quality rises. Often, supermarket meats are fatty, or pumped up with water to make them seem larger. We don’t want pull stunts like that, we just want to focus on selling real, clean, quality product.
Does being in contact with the earth and animals influence your creative work?
As a student, it’s limited how often I get to work on the farm with earth and animals. It makes me happier to work with sustainable projects. Sustainability is a personal value for me, that I enjoy working with.
Thanks to Mona Lund Hedeager for taking time out to answer these questions and shed some light on biodynamics from the inside. Check out http://hedeager.info/ for a look at what a biodynamic farm can do with online presence.
Since our issues with feeding the population are more related to distribution that yield, we still have the choice to prioritise how we run farmlands, even though it means less yield. Combined with a more plant based diet, this approach can take us far.