Biodynamic Marketing Company - John Bradshaw The Bio-dynamic Agricultural Association of Australia was founded in the mid 1950s, an association of farmers practising the “Australian Demeter-standard” method of Biodynamics as developed by Alex Podolinsky. Their primary aims were to rejuvenate soil and nature, to provide a sound future for the earth and to produce healthy food for consumers. In 1967, the Bio-dynamic Research Institute registered the Demeter trademark in Australia, and developed the first organic/Biodynamic certification scheme here, to guarantee the integrity of Biodynamic produce to consumers. As the numbers of farmers and their acreage grew, Alex Podolinsky began raising consumer awareness and understanding through public lectures. Consumers started to seek Biodynamic food, and one by one the farmers began marketing their produce - the farmers were pained to see their quality produce so often ending up in the general pool. Gradually, the need arose for a centralised distribution system for Biodynamic produce. A further catalyst was that the farmers were not happy with the way Biodynamic grains were being exported to Europe and wanted more control over the process. Foundations In 1981, Alex, Trevor Hatch (Biodynamic beef and potato producer) and John Claringbould founded the Biodynamic Marketing Company Ltd. a not- for-profit company, to distribute Biodynamic produce to consumers. Peter (Alex’s son) and Judy Podolinsky started delivering to health food shops from a rented cool-room in Blackburn (Melbourne). They were both working at other jobs - Peter would finish night shift on Thursday night and deliver Biodynamic food on Fridays. Peter and Judy attended many trade shows such as the Healthy Living Show, to promote Biodynamic food, and introduce themselves to the many people who didn’t know they existed. The business grew steadily, and in 1985 they bought their first truck. As the business grew, they employed more people and moved their base to Powelltown. Trevor and Ginger Hatch (Biodynamic farmers from Athlone) built the first shed with Peter. Trevor and Ginger built the trusses and the timber came from their farm. Peter: “It’s things like that (Trevor and Ginger’s contribution) that made the whole thing possible”. That original shed, which they thought was huge (“what are we going to put in this enormous shed?!”) has since been extended three times. Grains were first stored in outside silos but later, a bigger shed was built to keep them out of the weather. Cool rooms and freezer rooms were added as needed. In 1989 Peter and Judy were still delivering the fresh produce from a warehouse in Melbourne, and the dry produce from Powelltown. An opportunity arose to lease some space from a trader in the Melbourne Wholesale Market at Footscray, and they moved the fresh produce distribution there, later leasing their own space. Organic/Biodynamic fruit shops buy fruit and vegetables from them there, but they continue to deliver the dry produce direct to shops. Biodynamic Products A glance through their fifteen page dry goods catalogue reveals a comprehensive range of Biodynamic produce – grains and seeds, flours, breads, cereals, milk, ice cream, yoghurts, cheeses, soya products, dried fruits, beverages, fruit juices, vinegar, nuts, oils and wines. Biodynamic Marketing includes organic certified produce in its portfolio to ensure that a full range of produce is always available – there are sometimes gaps in the range of Biodynamic produce. Peter finds that they sell more Biodynamic produce if they can offer a full range by including the organic produce - they sell quite a lot of organic certified fresh produce, particularly vegetables. However, the Biodynamic fruit and vegetables are always the most sought after in the market because of their superior flavour and keeping quality. For instance, the broccoli and cauliflowers from Harms and the bunching spinach from L’Herbier have exceptional flavour and keep fresh much longer than their organic counterparts. Peter estimates that of all consumers of organic produce, 40% consciously seek out Demeter Biodynamic produce. Many people are advised by their naturopaths to buy Demeter for preference. Biodynamic Marketing now employs fourteen full time and ten part time staff, between the wholesale market and Powelltown, with Peter as manager and Judy fulfilling many roles, working closely with Peter on business development and direction. Biodynamic Marketing sources product from all over Australia. Peter pointed out just a few of the products stored in one coolroom: oats from Western Australia, flour products from Queensland and Western Australia, dried mangos from North Queensland, rice from New South Wales, sultanas from Robinvale (Victoria) and lentils from Western Victoria. Exports Biodynamic marketing exports produce to Switzerland, Holland, Germany, New Zealand, Singapore and Malaysia and Tahiti. The export arket has always been good for the company, but hasn’t kept pace with domestic growth, which has been very strong. As Biodynamic production develops in countries closer to Europe, the 42-day shipping time from Australia becomes more of a hurdle. Grain exports are handled by Chris Podolinsky in Melbourne and Bob McIntosh in Perth. Wool exports are organised by Andrew Cameron ( Tasmania). In the early days, a safe method of preventing weevil infestation in grains was needed, particularly for export (grains are normally chemically treated for weevils). The CSIRO researched the use of carbon dioxide in grain containers, and this method is now widely used for the storage of BD and organic grains. Not only does CO2 stop insects developing, but it also keeps the grain fresher for longer by stopping oxidisation. Biodynamic Marketing Company as Facilitator The Biodynamic Marketing Company is a soundly based, viable business, but is not profit driven. Rather, its genuine aim is to act as the effective link between farmers and consumers. The thing that impressed me most about Biodynamic Marketing was the extent to which it actively assists farmers to ensure produce becomes available. For instance, during the recent drought years, Murray River irrigation water became extremely scarce and prohibitively expensive. The Biodynamic Marketing Company bought the water for the rice growers so that they could continue producing through the drought! This was a considerable risk as water had to be bought a year ahead of the crop to irrigate the soil- replenishing green manures and clover-based pastures. No insurance could be obtained to cover crop failure. No bank would have lent the large sums involved, given the risk. When the flour mill used to mill the Western Australian Biodynamic grain was to be sold, Biodynamic Marketing stepped in, financing a Biodynamic farmer to buy it so that the flour products could continue to be available to consumers. They have also financed silos for farmers so they can store grain on-farm prior to delivery to Biodynamic Marketing, as well as financing holding stocks of wool to develop an export market. Peter advises the farmers on what crops need to be grown to supply the market, and coordinates the needs of feed grain users (eg dairy and poultry farmers) with the growers. Peter feels that the marketing of the produce is the easy final part of a three- stage process – the first stage is where the farmer makes a conscious decision to convert to Biodynamics. The second stage is where the farmer learns to successfully apply the method. These are the two hardest stages – the selling of the produce is the easy part. Peter believes that most consumers don’t realize how much pressure certification can put on farmers – for instance, when times are hard and severe drought prevails, a Victorian dairy farmer might have to buy Demeter grain from W.A. to bring over to feed his cows so that he can continue producing Demeter certified milk. This puts enormous pressure on the farmer, but demonstrates his absolute commitment to the method and to the consumer. The Future Demeter Biodynamics is expanding steadily. There are always farmers retiring, but there are more new ones coming in. The trend is towards diversification – for instance a farmer who, ten years ago only milked cows might well now be growing vegetables as well. The farmers are also becoming more aware that they need to try to have their product available all the time – if they lose their spot on the shelf it can be very hard to get it back. Peter and Judy have, over the last 24 years, together with their dedicated staff, built a very strong company that does an excellent job in bringing together farmers, shops and consumers, to the real benefit of all concerned. They are bringing the best, most enlivened food available to Australian (and overseas) families and helping to build strength and vitality in the next generation - a nation is only as strong and upright as its citizens.