Earth Day draws up celebrations of the beautiful planet we live on and anxiety over the future. An alternative way to celebrate this Earth Day is to take action towards slowing climate change. One way to do that is through regenerative agriculture. This practice sounds complicated and unattainable but it’s easier than you might think to participate in regenerative agriculture!
Why Do We Need Regenerative Agriculture?
Our food supply is in crisis. Over the past few decades, the food crisis has been growing exponentially due to soil erosion and poor soil health, chemical pollution, conventional farming methods, and decarbonization of the soil that food is grown in. The result is an overall deterioration of the variety and quality of food available for us to eat.
Research shows food now has lower vitamin and mineral content along with an increased antibiotic and chemical content which is detrimental to human health. A solution to this crisis lies in Regenerative Agriculture, an approach to developing crops and sustaining the land in a way that replenishes the organisms that support the growth of nutrient-dense food. This is more than just growing and choosing organic food. Regenerative Agriculture is a solution that has the power to restore organic carbon to the soil, reverse climate change, and improve the health of the population.
Not only are current agricultural practices bad for us, they are also bad for the Earth. A 2020 study on the impact of agriculture worldwide found that current practices lead to a variety of adverse climate effects such as:
- Released methane from the overproduction of meat
- Increased CO2 emissions from poor manure management
- Emission-related issues because food is transported far distances before reaching the consumer
- Inefficient farming practices which zap the biodiversity from the Earth
The study’s authors suggested more efficient agricultural practices, crop rotation, and the use of organic products in agriculture could help mitigate the effects of the agricultural sector on climate change. Regenerative agriculture offers all these solutions and more.
Regenerative Agriculture and Organic Farming/Gardening
So, what exactly is regenerative agriculture? It rebuilds organic matter and living biodiversity within the soil so the land can consistently produce nutrient-dense food year after year. Farming methods used in regenerative agriculture (RegAg) effectively store more water in the soil and rapidly draw carbon out of the atmosphere, trapping it underground, resulting in a significant reversal of damage of climate change. How significant? The National Academy of Sciences estimates that Regenerative Agriculture can sequester 250 million tons of carbon dioxide in the U.S. annually, or around 4% of the country’s emissions. Reductions in greenhouse gas emissions is why RegAg is sometimes called “carbon farming.” It could also improve our food production, increase food security, and make our food system more sustainable.
Organic farming and gardening are a part of RegAg. Organic, healthy soil helps produce more nutrient-dense plants and foods. When these plants naturally biodegrade, are harvested, or are manually turned over into compost, they improve the nutrition of the soil and make it more hospitable to a wider variety of beneficial organisms (fungi, microbes, insects, etc).
Improving soil health and soil biodiversity is the “soil cycle of life” (hence the term regenerative) which gives back not just to the growth and sustainability of crops but to the entire ecosystem. Regenerative Agriculture “works” for the smallest organisms living in the soil up through the ecological chain, supporting the health of all creatures including humans.
Key Facets of Regenerative Agriculture are:
- Increased organic matter in the soil brings insect biodiversity which helps control invasive species and pests that would otherwise destroy crops
- RegAg does not harm the land; rather, it improves it using farming methods that revitalize the soil and the environment
- The shift towards holistic ecosystems functioning symbiotically leads to more productive farms, healthier communities, and stronger economies
Methods of Regenerative Agriculture include:
- conservation tillage
- cover crops
- crop rotation
- free range grazing
- using organic pesticides, herbicides, and topsoil
- mobile animal shelters and pasture cropping
- inviting pollinators, like bees, to a farm
Regenerative farmers, like the teams at La Puma Farms and Rodale Institute, are committed to creating regenerative agricultural systems.
How Everyone Can Contribute to Regenerative Agriculture
You don’t need acres of farmland to contribute to RegAg. Your backyard garden, your shopping choices, and what you do with food waste can all impact RegAg. If we do our part to grow food and eat sustainably, then we will be contributing to a holistic and symbiotic solution for the good of the planet and our health.
Find a local regenerative farm in your area and support their cause by buying direct or through a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program, if offered.
If you don’t have a regenerative farm nearby, look for humane animal farms that raise animals in a way that is good for the environment. This would include pasture-raised farms, many of which will sell directly to consumers. Choose to buy local and organic whenever feasible for you.
In your own garden:
- Use organic soil and natural fertilizer
- Compost food waste
- Learn to mulch properly
- Learn to plant the right plant, in the right spot, at the right time of year
- Use natural pest deterrents such as botanically-based (instead of chemical), chicken wire, or netting
- Plant native and disease-resistant plants rather than trying to grow things not suited to your climate zone
- Maintain plant diversity, which will nourish the soil and encourage ecosystem biodiversity
- Prune and weed the garden weekly, at minimum.
If you do have a garden, consider taking my free organic gardening test. This test will let you know how organic your garden is and steps you can take so the plants grown are better for the planet and you.
Regenerative agriculture, whether implemented in your back yard or on a grand scale, holds the potential to transform farms and farmers into planetary heroes as they rebuild the land and grow the economy that supports life in all its forms.