Demeter products, already well established in organic food shops and health food stores, are now showing up more and more on supermarket shelves. This includes cheese and milk as well as vegetables and fruit. Let’s take a look behind the scenes at what distinguishes this label from standard organic quality.
To discover what Demeter is all about, we have travel back in time a bit. More precisely, to the year 1924. Rudolf Steiner, the founder of anthroposophy, gave a lecture on Whitsun that year in what is today Poland on the subject of “How to Thrive in Agriculture”. His listeners were farmers seeking a way to sustainably improve the fertility of their soil and the health of their plants and animals. Steiner’s ideas gave them the answers they needed. His anthroposophy prescribed a scientific approach to agriculture, but one that made room for spirituality. This marked the start of biodynamic agriculture. Three years later, in 1927, the Demeter Association was founded, named after the Greek goddess of fertility. Demeter was the first-ever organic quality seal, used to certify products grown according to the oldest organic cultivation method.
The big picture at a glance
Biodynamic agriculture views each farm as an individual organism in which the soil, plants and animals, and humans are all part of a natural cycle and support one another. According to the principle “all or nothing at all”, a farm must be converted completely to this method in order to obtain Demeter certification. Therefore, a farmer cannot produce both conventionally and according to Demeter standards in parallel.
What does this mean in concrete terms? Farmers who produce according to biodynamic guidelines embrace the following values:
- Soil – The top priority is soil health and fertility, which is ensured by a rotating diverse crops and using so-called biodynamic preparations (more on this below). The soil is considered to be the digestive organ of the plants.
- Plants – Demeter farmers rely on crops that are adapted to the specific site. This means that they choose varieties that thrive optimally in the region where the farm is located.
- Animals – On Demeter farms, livestock is kept in accordance with the natural habits of the particular species. Cattle keep their horns, stables are adapted to the animals’ needs, and all animals are given feed produced on the farm as far as possible.
- Humans – In the holistic Demeter approach, humans assume the role of mediator. The farmer treats plants, animals and also soil with respect and is responsible for the functioning of the whole organism. Farmers work according to natural rhythms, for example by observing the biodynamic calendar.
Agriculture in harmony with nature
An important part of the Demeter philosophy is the production and use of so-called biodynamic preparations. These are compost preparations made from medicinal plants such as nettle, chamomile, dandelion or valerian, which farmers bury in the soil to improve humus formation and soil structure. This method is designed to maintain the above-mentioned natural cycle of each farm. The preparations serve here as tools that function very broadly in a “system-regulating” manner. Some Demeter farms also rely on the biodynamic calendar as their guide for scheduling work with their crops. The calendar shows the phases of the moon: new moon, first quarter, full moon, last quarter. Certain phases are particularly suitable for cultivating flowering plants or for harvesting root plants, for example. This orientation on moon phases is based on the basic attitude that the natural rhythms of life and also of plants are influenced by the position of the planets – especially the moon.
Organic with a plus
It is clear to see that the Demeter guidelines go one step further and are stricter than the usual organic standards. In contrast to organic, Demeter prescribes the following:
- Where possible, animals must be kept on the farm in order to close the cycle (natural manure). If this is not possible, the manure must come from a Demeter-certified farm.
- The animals keep their horns.
- Use of biodynamic preparations.
- Coordination of farm work with the phases of the moon (optional but recommended).
- Demeter also sets specifications for product packaging. For example, aluminium packaging of Demeter products is not permitted.
- The Demeter guidelines prescribe careful processing of raw materials and permit only a minimum of necessary additives.
Demeter seal for the organic pioneer
The first Demeter juice from Biotta is a modern interpretation of the classic Biotta Rüebli. Biotta Demeter Rüebli-Orange-Ingwer combines the best Demeter carrots from the Thurgau region with a hint of exotic flavour and spiciness. Fritz Lorenz, a longstanding Biotta vegetable farmer from Tägerwilen TG, grows the carrots in his fields according to Demeter standards. With 60% vegetable content, natural vitamin A from beta-carotene, and no artificial additives, the first Demeter juice from the Swiss organic pioneer satisfies with its delicious taste and natural sweetness from fruit and vegetables.
For further information on Demeter, see www.demeter.ch.