The concept of the "agricultural individuality,Ē or farm organism was introduced in the teachings of an Austrian by the name of Rudolf Steiner in 1924. In a series of lectures, he introduced an idea for a farming system based upon on-farm biological cycling through mixing crops and livestock. While the mixed-farming approach predates Steinerís ideas, it was his idea of the farm as an organism that helped to create a new system of agriculture. The information presented in these lectures, while new in its recommendations for agriculture, contained cosmological underpinnings, which were part of a philosophy he referred to as Anthroposophy, or spiritual science. Steinerís philosophy is also connected to ideas practiced in education, art, economics, medicine, dance therapy, and work with the handicapped and mentally ill.
In relation to its practical application in farming, this philosophy suggest that humans, animals, plans, minerals and the cosmic periphery form a whole system, or organism. The farm organism forms a unity in regard to the workings of both human and natural systems. The root of the Biodynamic system is the relationship of the farmer and his or her practices to the local ecosystem, which in Biodynamics reaches the extent of including the influence of the cosmos and subtle life forces on local habitats.
It is also acknowledged that any time we till soil or remove a crop, the land is being exploited in several ways. Land is exploited through the breakdown of organic substances and the removal of minerals. Commonly recognized organic practices and fertilizers are used to correct this problem. However, what is more important and often overlooked is the depletion of the subtle life forces that are also needed to sustain biological functioning. These forces need to be replenished in the soil and in the air above the earthís surface.
There are several ways to strengthen these life forces. In Biodynamic agriculture, preparations are made from herbs, mineral substances and animal manures to be applied to soil and plants at very small rates, measured in parts per million. Timely applications revitalize the weakened life forces and stimulate root growth, soil microorganism production and humus formation.
The foundation of Steinerís theories focused on blending prescriptive, wholistic practices with the farmerís own experimental methods. The observance and integration of astronomical phenomenon in agricultural activities, including careful timing of the application or production of certain Biodynamic amendments, as well as the organizing of the farm as an independent unit in regard to nutrients and feed stocks, can all be considered to an extent, a prescriptive approach. However, Steiner placed critical importance on the fact that nature could be understood only through studying and integrating natural cyclical rhythms. He was deeply critical of reductionism and agricultural scienceís emphasis on inputs from outside the farm. While he acknowledged the contribution of empirical science, Steiner emphasized from the beginning the necessity of farmersí further participation in the development of this method of farming. His suggestions on the qualitative importance of observing natural rhythms and patterns in nature rather than relying solely upon quantified data, is an important wholistic contribution to the field of sustainable agriculture.