Elizabeth Candelario is the Co-Director of Demeter USA, the non-profit certifier of Biodynamic® farms and products in the United States. She also serves as Board President for NOP accredited organic certifier Stellar Certification Services. Elizabeth joined Demeter in 2008 following a 25-year career in marketing, business development, and non-profit management.
Douglas Gayeton: Could you explain the principles of biodynamic?
Elizabeth Candelario: It codifies the original intention of the modern sustainable farming movement. It is the most comprehensive agronomic standard anywhere in the world. Demeter’s vision is to heal the planet through agriculture, so it’s an environmental impulse. In the US, the term “biodynamic” has one definition. It’s the Demeter farm and processing standard, and we work very hard at Demeter to ensure that standard is met. The USDA is a regulatory function. It’s very specific about what you can do. You don’t use synthetic fertilizers. You don’t use synthetic pesticides. Demeter built on top of that. Ten percent of the total land has to be set aside in biodiversity, and the use of the preparations is a requirement. The important thing in the Demeter standard is that each farm, given its unique nature, is still on this path towards self-sustainability, and we’ll look at each farm dependent on their own particular reality.
Douglas: My understanding about the biodynamic preparations is that if I take some cow manure, put it in the horn, bury it in the ground, take it out six months later and spray it on the ground after mixing it with water, I’m going to have increased yields. How is that possible?
Elizabeth: First of all, the one place where reasonable people could disagree is the efficacy of the preparations. I think that is a really important conversation that we need to have, and we need more research. I don’t think that anybody’s saying that you’ve prepped 500 and you’re going to have increased yields. I think what people will say is, you’ve prepped 500 and it’s going to add to the soil vitality. And the soil vitality will lend itself then to healthier crops.
Douglas: Is prep 500 more of a ritual that symbolizes an adherence to a principle than actually having a direct impact on a farm’s soil health?
Elizabeth: What we certify is the farmers using it to help them increase the quality of their soil. I would argue that there are farmers who have a deeper connection with the use of the preps, and there are farmers that might use the preps without that deeper connection, and whether or not that translates to a different level of efficacy on the farm, I don’t know. I think that one of the mistakes the biodynamic movement in the U.S. has made is you have a lot of people who’ve been practicing for a long time; they’re so passionate about it. And they’re trying to talk to people about it that don’t have that experience themselves, and so something gets lost in translation. My job is to go out and talk about why biodynamics is a really good exercise, with the inward smile that it could be that, two years from now, that farmer comes back and talks to me about some deeper connection that he or she is experiencing on the farm.
Douglas: Is it true that we can say that something that’s biodynamic could be organically certified, but something that’s organically certified might not be Demeter certified?
Elizabeth: That’s absolutely correct. If something is Demeter certified, in essence it means it’s met the NOP standard. However, if they want to be organic certified, they still need to get that certification separately because it’s regulatory, and the NOP biodynamic isn’t equal to organic. That’s why we have a separate company, the NOP Accredited Organic Certification Company. My dream is, five years from now, our membership won’t want to maintain an organic certification, because they’ll know the consumer knows that biodynamic is organic.