Venturing Beyond Organic

As nutritional fads come and go, certain buzzwords get thrown around quite a bit. Sometimes those buzzwords end up sticking in our modern lexicon, becoming as commonplace as any other word. I'm sure, even though you may be a little fuzzy on what it means, specifically, it's a safe bet that you're at least familiar with the term "organic." Most folks understand it generally—the product having limited or no exposure to chemicals throughout the entire span of production. While this is true, something still rings a little hollow. In this article, we'll touch on what "organic" means and explore the new buzzword on the horizon: biodynamic.

Customer comes into the shop:

"Hi, what can we get for you today?"

"Well, I'm looking for organic coffee, do you have that?"

And inevitably I always answer,

"Yeessss, and no."

Customer furrows their brow in confusion.

The reason for my, admittedly, confusing response is this--- while we do have a few options that we can legally label "organic," once it's run through the grinder, it is no longer "organic." However, if you are more concerned with pesticides and chemical fertilizers used when growing the coffee beans, then yes, we have a good number that were grown organically. Most folks are more concerned with how it was grown as opposed to which grinder we use to prepare their order. In this case, biodynamic farming may be of interest to you.

Developed in 1924, the concept of biodynamic farming is reportedly the first modern organic farming philosophy. The basic principles are to first, get your farm under "control." Second, manage that "control" by using by-products from the farm. And third, observe the biodynamic planting calendar.

Biodynamic farmers "get their farms under 'control'" by looking at their farm and the surrounding lands as an interrelated ecosystem. Holistically driven, they don't just treat for pests year after year with pesticides, or for that matter, with more organic methods, like a rosemary oil spray. There are no chemical interventions in biodynamic farming. Instead, the farmers take it a step further by modifying the land to let Nature do the dirty work. They implement and foster habitats with naturally occurring predators of the pests they wish to eliminate, among other methods.

Next order of business is to manage the system they've fostered with by-products from the farm. It's not enough to avoid chemicals and pesticides. Biodynamic farming is more about using Nature in a bit of guided self-regulation, if I may speak so contradictorily. For instance, one of the main principles is amending the soil to foster a micro-ecosystem that is specifically beneficial to the ecosystem as a whole. These are called biodynamic preparations. An example of this would be growing and harvesting yarrow to amend the compost used to fertilize the plants. Because yarrow has very deep roots that penetrate the subsoil, it is known as a nutrient accumulator. It's a naturally occurring booster that'd be sure to benefit any garden or farm. Fertilizer from a herd of alpacas or a flock of chickens can do wonders for the soil as well. Crop planning and rotation is also emphasized to help the soil maintain a rich, diverse, and beneficial balance.

Lastly, and somewhat controversially, the use of the biodynamic planting calendar. It is held that lunar and astrological cycles and events influence the soil and plants, and in so doing, must be observed for optimal conditions when planting or harvesting. Now, I enjoy a good astrological reading every now and again, and I will concede that the Moon's influence does affect Earth (remember the tides), but I hesitate to go so far as to only harvest my garden tomatoes when the Moon is in Aries. However, if you're intrigued by the concept, by all means, experiment to your heart's content.

It's been my experience that if a client asks about "organic" coffee, they are far more concerned with how the coffee was grown, and not so much the strict use of the term, which comes with it a legal checklist that must be satisfied to be true. While there is no denying the merit and efficacy of organic methods, biodynamic coffee production is like "organic" on steroids. (Pardon the play on words.) Perhaps, biodynamic farming can be viewed as what "organic" farming was always meant to be, natural, holistic, and universally beneficial. Currently, ACR has only one coffee that's biodynamically grown, Brazil Chapada Diamantina LTD, but we are so excited by the concept that we are on the hunt for a few more to add to the repertoire. Once we've selected our favorites and give them a test, we'll be sure to let you know!