Regenerative Agriculture – The Secret to Saving the Planet
In the face of soil degradation, severe climate change, and world hunger – all might seem lost. But there is hope. Regenerative Agriculture is a holistic approach to farming and ranching that focuses on creating harmony with nature in a way that not only doesn’t harm land – but improves it!
This episode takes a holistic approach to explain how Regenerative Agriculture can help bring our world back to life while going over the principles and practices that make this type of agriculture beneficial for the soil and the entire planet!
Read below or hit one of the links above to listen in!
Tune in to Episode 65 – Soil Health, The Planet, and You!
Last week we learned about why the health of the soil is essential for the planet and our survival. To recap, healthy soil is the foundation for the world’s healthy food and water. It also is a key player in the ecosystem that can protect us from ecological disasters like severe flooding, drought, erosion, and more if properly nurtured.
We also learned that modern industrial agriculture practices have reduced soil biodiversity, contributed to erosion and desertification, polluted our land and water, and affected the ability of the soil to sequester carbon.
This type of agriculture is not sustainable, as we are degrading the earth’s topsoil to a point where we can quantify how much longer we will be able to harvest the land.
But – there is a solution! Regenerative Agriculture.
To quote Ronnie Cummins of Regeneration International,
“If you’ve never heard about the amazing potential of regenerative agriculture and land-use practices to naturally sequester a critical mass of CO2 in the soil and forests, you’re not alone. One of the best-kept secrets in the world today is that the solution to global warming and the climate crisis (as well as poverty and deteriorating public health) lies right under our feet and at the end of our knives and forks.”
What is Regenerative Agriculture?
Regenerative agriculture is a holistic approach to farming and ranching that focuses on creating harmony with nature in a way that not only doesn’t harm land – but actually improves it. It’s a system that recognizes and honors the interconnection of farming systems and the ecological system as a whole. Regenerative agriculture is a collection of farming techniques that help to sequester carbon, improve soil quality, reduce erosion and runoff, and create a sustainable food system for the world.
It almost sounds too good to be true – but it’s not.
The roots of Regenerative Agriculture
Regenerative Agriculture is growing due to the current climate crisis, but it is deeply rooted in Indigenous tradition. Indigenous cultures have practiced land management and regenerative agriculture techniques for thousands of years. I say this because it’s essential that we not only see regenerative agriculture as an answer to our problems – but recognize these indigenous food practices as something that improves and values the entire ecosystem we are a part of. It’s changing how we look at our food systems in a more circular, dynamic way versus the linear food production system that currently reigns supreme.
While many principles of regenerative agriculture you may see are focused on improving the health of the soil specifically, I am going to talk about the principles defined by the National Resources Defence Council (NRDC). The principles outlined by the NRDC rings truer to the holistic view of regenerative agriculture, focusing on the overall environmental and societal benefits from the practices – the whole ecosystem.
Regenerative Agriculture Principles
- Nurture Relationships Within and Across Ecosystems
- Prioritize Soil Health
- Reduce Reliance on Synthetic Inputs
- Nurture Communities and Reimagine Economies
Nurture Relationships Within and Across Ecosystems
The first principle is nurturing relationships within and across ecosystems. This means strengthening connections between people, lands, water, livestock, wildlife, and the microbial life in the soil. For example, when we decoupled livestock from the land, we interrupted the natural ecosystem – creating more carbon emissions and pollution while simultaneously harming our soil, as well as introducing a host of ethical issues through the treatment of these animals. It’s kind of crazy that we did that because nurturing that relationship in the first place would have led us down quite a different path.
By reintegrating livestock into grasslands, we can increase soil nutrient cycling, increase water retention, reduce water pollution, curb weed and pest problems without harmful chemicals, reduce the carbon emitted from our current ag practices, and even increase carbon sequestration of the land.
With this principle in mind, we can begin to see how interconnected our ecosystems naturally are and work towards harmony and balance.
Prioritize Soil Health
The second principle is prioritizing soil health. There are many ways regenerative agriculture does this – but ultimately, it is about preserving the biological structures that bacteria, fungi, and other soil microbes build like a network underground. It’s about enhancing soil biodiversity. We can do this through minimizing soil disturbances, aka no-tilling, keeping the soil covered through mulching, utilizing cover crops, and creating permanent pastures.
Reduce Reliance on Synthetic Inputs
The third principle is reducing reliance on synthetic inputs. This is somewhat self-explanatory – it uses fewer chemicals, antibiotics, fertilizers, and herbicides. These synthetic inputs are a proven danger to human health – so removing them from our food sources, the air, and the soil is a big win for planetary health. Using natural methods of regenerative agriculture also address the problems of weeds and insufficient growth – allowing for nature to balance itself out and save farmers and ranchers money in the process.
Nurture Communities and Reimagine Economies
The fourth principle is nurturing communities and reimagining economies. This principle recognizes the harm industrial agriculture has done to communities. It acknowledges that the narrative about reintroducing regenerative agriculture must include the Black and Indigenous communities that initially built these sustainable food systems. The NRDC says this principle is also about “remedying long-standing social injustices, including systemic discrimination that has denied farmers and ranchers of color access to land tenure and support services.”
One Earth reports that even though the farming industry today harvests enough to feed the world’s population – there are still one billion people living in chronic hunger. This is because “industrial-scale monoculture has decreased food security worldwide, reduced the nutritional value of foods, and created a “seed extinction” crisis. Currently, just five companies control 70% of the world’s seeds.” Regenerative Agriculture creates economies that are accessible to all – one’s that would provide jobs and more financial stability, protect seed diversity, alleviate world hunger, and pull many out of poverty.
Benefits of Regenerative Agriculture
So utilizing these principles of regenerative agriculture, we can:
Soil and human health
➡️ Put land in the hands of small farmers who feed the world
➡️ Make farms more resilient through their diversity – meaning higher yields even in the face of climate uncertainty.
➡️ Improve nutrition through organic farming – providing us with higher levels of vitamin C, iron, magnesium, and phosphorus (in comparison to their non-organic counterparts) and reducing the number of nitrates and chemicals in our system.
➡️ We can also preserve traditional knowledge, increase farm productivity, and bolster economies.
➡️ Improve our soil health by increasing its water retention and soil biodiversity – giving life to not only the organisms under our feet but having a domino effect on the biodiversity of insects, plants, and animals up the food chain.
➡️ And finally, regenerative agriculture can save us from the woes of climate change. We mentioned last week how our industrialized agricultural practices not only strip the soil of its ability to sequester carbon but positively contribute to high levels of greenhouse gas emissions. It regenerates the soil’s organic carbon concentration and increases soils carbon stocks – or their capacity to accumulate or release carbon. Research shows that “transitioning 10-20 percent of agricultural production to best practice regenerative systems will sequester enough CO2 to reverse climate change and restore the global climate.”
We need to draw down the amount of c02 in the atmosphere immediately – and other techniques can’t do what we need in the amount of time we need it. Treating the soil with regenerative practices is the secret answer to sinking mass amounts of carbon quickly, reversing climate change, and providing us with so many more social and environmental benefits along the way.
It’s genuinely amazing what our earth can do if we just take care of it! If we treat it as part of us, not separate from us.
regenerative agriculture practices
So how do we do that? Like what are the actual practices? Well – the list of regenerative agriculture practices is pretty long. Many farmers and ranchers do what is best for their setup and soil and typically use a combination of methods. But I’ll list out 10 of the most common regenerative agriculture techniques (in no particular order of importance).
Annual Organic Farming
Annual Organic Farming utilizes non-chemical fertilizers and pesticides, which helps mitigate the harm to nature and human health.
Low or No-till farming
Traditional tilling breaks up soil and turns it over, so in contrast, no tilling propagates as little soil disturbance as possible. So fewer disruptions to the ground allow for more diverse soil microbes that provide better soil structure for plants to grow and build resiliency.
Cover Cropping keeps live roots in the soil by planting crops not just for harvesting but to ensure no ground is left bare. This helps to improve nitrogen and nutrient cycles – reinvigorating plants and reducing the need for fertilizers.
Animal re-integration reintroduces livestock, like cows, to crops. Heliae says that animal grazing after annual crop harvest aids in the “conversion of high carbon residues to low carbon organic manure,” helping soil health and assisting in weed and pest management. In addition, it takes the pressure off of our systems to manage and treat animal waste and improves animal health.
Holistically managed grazing goes hand in hand with animal reintegration and is just a way to move livestock around farmland that would mimic their natural grazing patterns with the added benefits of increased land and grass fertility.
Crop rotation diversity
So, say a traditional farm rotation is corn to soybeans – crop rotation diversity would include small root crops like alfalfa, wheat, oats, and hay in the mix. This type of practice helps fix nitrogen levels, which improve the quality and yield of the plants, improve soil structures, reduce pests, create fewer labor peaks and increase the ability for landowners to use their machinery more efficiently.
Agroforestry integrates trees, crops, and animals together in one system in a way that benefits all three. Agroforestry provides food and shelter for animals and wildlife, encourages more diversity, improves forest health, boosts soil carbon sequestration, provides additional revenue streams for the landowner, and adds to the land’s beauty.
Hedgerow Conservation Buffs
Hedgerow Conservation Buffs – Hedgerows are shrubs and trees that border fields and act as a habitat for pollinator insects and other wildlife, but also serve as a way to decrease soil wind erosion while providing additional income and a little bit of beauty!
Planting Native Species
This is something that you can do at your own home to increase soil health. Native species are species of plants and grasses that have evolved for that specific region’s microclimate – making them more resilient and reducing the need for external inputs. They have incredibly long roots – up to 16 ft long that allow them to increase the ability of soil to absorb and retain water.
Composting – And finally, on this shortlist is composting!! This is the tool we need to help restore our degraded soils. It takes organic materials such as crop residue, food waste, and animal waste which are carbon-rich. It allows them to become a stable organic matter ideal for plant growth and amending soil health. Composting is the topic of next week’s episode since we can all do it – so be sure to subscribe, so you don’t miss it!
But, see what can happen when we begin to value the health of our soils?? Our earth FLOURISHES! And you may be thinking, “Okay, Lena, that’s great and all, but I’m not a farmer.” Don’t worry – Whether you’re a farmer, a gardener, or a consumer, you can join the movement to reintroduce regenerative agriculture.
Support regenerative agriculture
Know the source
You can start to question where your food comes from and the practices on that farm. See what you can find out your food sources when you go to the grocery store or if you’re going to a farmer’s market, you can ask them directly! Try choosing food that you know is grown to help regenerate the land.
Practice at home
If there isn’t a suitable option near you, or you just want to try your hand at growing yourself – regenerative agriculture practices can be applied in your backyard. Whether growing in pots in your home or on a balcony or growing in a small raised bed, or even a large garden – gardening can be really rewarding. Especially if you use your compost to help support the soil that grows your food because it allows you to see the entire lifecycle of your food! You can also plant native plants – reducing your lawn maintenance and creating a plethora of biodiversity.
share your voice
No matter what, you can be a voice for healthy soil. I always say – share this information with your friends, family, co-workers! You never know what spark will be someone’s motivation to join the movement.
In that same regard, you can make sure your voice is heard by politicians who can make a difference. More farmers aren’t adopting regenerative agricultural practices because our tax dollars go towards government subsidies that give farmers a guaranteed profit for their output. We need to rethink our systems to ensure the world’s food supply while increasing yields and creating more resilient farms that are far more financially and ethically rewarding for their owners. Regenerative agriculture can get us there.
Something to grow on
For this week’s something to grow on, I want to begin to shift our mindset from sustainability to regenerative sustainability. From maintaining systems that improve health and ecological systems to creating living systems that thrive where whole-system health and well-being continually increase. These practices do overlap – but the language and intention are different. Our world is constantly changing – so we need a concept of sustainability that transforms with us—shifting from reducing our impact to creating positive good in the world.
Researcher Leah Gibbons says that regenerative sustainability “calls for humans to live in conscious alignment with living systems principles of wholeness, change, and relationship, as nature does” It’s us as nature.
So that’s just a little food for thought as we continue to grow deeper in our conversations on creating these sustainable, holistic habits for ourselves.
I’m so thankful that you were here today, and I can’t wait to have you back again next week on Hometown: Earth.
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