Self-sustaining living organism | A fundamental tenet of Biodynamics, which is that the estate becomes as self-sufficient as possible, especially in terms of its fertility needs. It is also called the Farm Organism Principle. Elizabeth Candelario of Demeter USA says ‘the term Biodynamic refers to an entire farming system. Some wineries will suggest they use “some Biodynamic practices” but, to use an old adage, that is a bit like being “a little pregnant”!’ 

See also sustainability and farm practices

In his 1924 Agriculture Course Rudolf Steiner (1993, p27) said that ‘a farm [vineyard] comes closest to its own essence when it can be conceived of as a kind of independent individuality, a self-contained entity. Every farm ought to aspire to this state of being a self-contained individuality. This state cannot be achieved completely, but it needs to be approached. This means that within our farms, we should attempt to have everything we need for agricultural production, including, of course, the appropriate amount of livestock.’ The idea of this was to use the composted animal manure to maintain soil fertility, farm health, and crop vitality. The farm would have a balance between land for the animals to eat from and land for crops for humans to eat from with the composted animal manure being the bridge between the two. 

In contemporary wine terms the Farm Organism Principle is akin to ‘terroir-driven’, meaning a wine that carries its own unique sense of place. Modern Agriculture has become what Timothy Brink (2013, p25) calls ‘an input-output model where productivity is the main factor that guides mangement decisions’, and is calculated by how many tonnes of seeds, fertiliser, herbicide, pesticide, and lime you put in, and how many tonnes of saleable product you get out. ‘Optimum production is the guiding factor,’ he says whereas the Biodynamic approach is about growing a wide diversity of crops, and having crops and livstock which ‘are appropriate and belong to the place you are farming.’ In this way the crops ‘do well in a natural system without being propped up with fertilisers, herbicides and pesticides for the crops, and vetinary interventions for the livestock. It is a different way of thinking about the farm. There’s a balance between crops [a mixed farming system]. The different parts of the farm organism benefit each other and support each other. It requires a change in thinking [and not to] convert to organic agriculture and substitute natural inputs for artificial inputs and still treat [the] farm in an industrial way. An appropriate mix of livestock and crops [is needed so] that the manures from the livestock support the cropping and the crops provide the feed and straw for the livestock. The different parts of the system benefit each other. With diversity comes health and resilience. Nature is always diverse. Everything interacts. The soil, the plants–the crops and grassland, the livestock, the farmer. Choose crops that belong to the farm.’

The farmer | ‘Thomas Jefferson’s….love of the yeoman farmer stemmed from his belief that those who produced their own food never needed to bend to the will of another, and thus were truly free. Well before Karl Marx started to write about alienation, the idea that people treated only as factors of production would not only lack true freedom, but also other opportunities to reach their full potential, was a mainstay of Enlightenment thought. Adam Smith worried that the factory system, where workers simply turned up and followed the instructions of capitalists, would make its participants “as stupid and ignorant as it is possible for a human creature to become.” John Stuart Mill, who valued political freedom above all else, also predicted that under capitalism people would become passive, dull wage-slaves; he wanted to see many more working in co-operatives. The echoes of Harrington, Smith and Mill are clear in the works that articulate the views of today’s left, from Mark Fisher’s “Capitalist Realism” to David Graeber’s “Bullshit Jobs”. Globalisation, in their eyes, is less an engine for prosperity and more a generator of insecurity, unfreedom and unfairness,’ (The Economist, ‘Millennial Socialism’. Feb 16th 2019).

Christoph Simpendorfer | Christoph Simpendorfer, the first General Secretary of Demeter International (a newly created position which he took up on 1st January 2016) says Demeter (which manages the Demeter and Biodynamic trademarks globally) ‘has the role to uphold the idea of a farm as a [self-sustaining] living organism. This is where the name of the organic movement comes from. We can see more and more specialisation [more monoculture, less polyculture] on organic farms, which works against this ideal. The integration of animals as the element of building relations within the farm organism is one of our main contributions to the organic movement.’ (quoted in Richard Swann, 2016 p42).

Hugh Lovel | Hugh Lovel (2000, p86-87) points out why Steiner attached such significance to farms having a balance of both livestock and crop plants: ‘Plants are formative. They build. Animals are transformative and they recycle or break down and rebuild. The conventional investigator may say the animal breaks down plant tissues with digestive enzymes. No doubt he will acknowledge that in most cases there is a certain amount of chewing involved. But the BD [biodynamic] practitioner can only shake his head since he knows animal digestion and nervous development run parallel and both these activities are transformative. For one thing, how does the animal select what it chooses to eat?’

As Biodynamics concerns forces as well as substances, animal manure is seen to provide both substances, via both enzymes and the other organisms needed in compost (fungi, bacteria), and forces via the nervous development the animal exerted when digesting the plants to produce the manure in the first place (see also Horn manure 500).

‘Without the digestive activities of animals, plant fibres would be much slower to break down and return to the soil,’ says Lovel (2000, p86-87). Thus a diversity of both plant and animal species is needed to assure rapid recycling of plant materials in order for farms and vineyards to become successful self-sustaining organisms capable of transforming one-way waste streams born of an ‘acquire, use, discard’ mentality into a regenerative cycle of fertility.

Composting allows the recycling back onto the land of the by-products of wine production when micro-organisms (mainly bacteria) in manure are allowed to break down organic matter into gas (carbon dioxide), water and, most importantly, solid and stable humus. The two most obviously compostable by-products of winegrowing are cut vine prunings in late winter/early spring, and anything left over from winemaking every autumn, mainly the grape pomace, pressings, stems and lees. Other winery by-products which can also be composted include diatomaceous earth, bentonite finings, used filter pads and even shredded waste paper (a carbon source) from the office.’

Jeff Poppen | Jeff Poppen (2001, p17) says when manure or fertility is bought in from outside it can be seen as a remedy for a sick farm. ‘If the soil was already a fertile humus teeming with life and potential plant growth, it would not need this medication.’

Hugh Williams suggests that ‘as ecology shifts from being a good idea to being a matter of life and death, Rudolf Steiner’s image of the whole farm individuality will come to be seen as a practical necessity for agriculture of the future.’

Nicolas Joly | ‘One of the important things which Steiner states about biodynamic agriculture (and anthroposophic medicine) is that it does not ‘combat’ a disease but promotes an equilibrium, and by this means renders the carriers of disease far less potent. This holistic notion of the agricultural organism is an important one. Thus it may be a very good idea to sacrifice a little of our AOC terroir to leave a field, a wood, fallow ground or a tree at the very least,’ (Nicolas Joly, 2007, p77).

Vineyard ‘Farm organisms’

Austria | Bioweingut Karl Schnabel. | Weingut Ploder-Rosenberg. | Weinhof Anderl


Elizabeth Candelario, ‘Biodynamic® Agriculture • Wine FAQ’, with Elizabeth Candelario of Demeter USA, Sept 2009.

Hugh Lovel, A Biodynamic Farm (Acres USA, 2000), p86-87.

Hugh Williams, ‘The Feeding of Fruit Trees’, Stella Natura Calendar 2000 (Kimberton Hills USA, 1999), p24.

Jeff Poppen, The Barefoot Farmer (USA, 2001).

Nicolas Joly, ‘What is Biodynamic Wine?’, (Clairview Books), 2007, p77

Richard Swann, Interview with Christoph Simpendorfer, General Secretary of Demeter International, Star and Furrow, Issue 135, July 2016 p42-43.

Rudolf Steiner 1993, Spiritual Foundations for the Renewal of Agriculture (Bio-Dynamic Farming and Gardening Association, Inc. USA, 1993), trans. by C. Creeger and M. Gardner, p27.

Timothy Brink, ‘Convert your farm to Biodynamics’, Star and Furrow (Journal of the Biodynamic Association UK), No. 120 December 2013, p25-28.