Regenerative Farming and Reversing Climate Change
Regenerative farming is simply farming like nature has for billions of years. When we look at nature what do we see? Dozens of different species of plants, animals and insects all living together in small areas and there are plants in the soil at all times. The reason nature does this is that's how it creates balance, feeds the soil, holds moisture and creates a perpetual cycle of nutrients. The more organic material in the soil the healthier it is.
Why is this important to us? If we properly manage our soil it can be one of our greatest allies in reversing CO2 emissions and climate change. When plants breath in CO2 they create a liquid carbon fuel through photosynthesis, but 40% to 60% of that liquid carbon is leached down through their roots into the soil and it becomes fixed there by a host of microorganisms feeding off it and in-turn providing various nutrients to the plants like nitrogen.
So what's that all mean? A lot!! If we increase the organic matter on every farm in the world by just 1% it would sequester more carbon than was emitted globally in 2020 (37 billion tons emitted vs. 46 billion tons sequestered). Since most long term conventional farms have an organic matter content between 1.6% and 3%, and soil can hold as much as 14%, the opportunity to halt and reverse climate change is massive.
Today about 95% of our farms practice industrial monocrop agriculture with heavy tilling which has quite the opposite effect. By only planting single crops soil ecosystems don't have enough variety to be vibrant. By tilling the soil and leaving it bare for long periods of time, vast amounts of carbon are released by the organic material, moisture and the ability to hold it are lost and the microorganisms that feed the plants die.
In response, modern agriculture covers this issue up with synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, genetically modified crops and drain local water sources all killing the microbes and ultimately the very soil we need to feed us and pull carbon out of the air.
The answer is regenerative farming.
So what are the keys to regenerative farming?
Biodiversity - the more species the better. A regenerative farm may have dozens of of varieties of grains, fruit trees, flowers, vegetables, cover crops and even animals
Living root on the soil at all times. This means in-between cash crop harvests cover crops are grown so the soil never lays bear and the ecosystem is fed with multiple variations. These can be harvestable crops or simply rolled over the soil the following season.
Minimal disturbance to the soil, meaning no tilling or in the case of your backyard garden no rototilling
Greatly reduce or completely eliminate the use of synthetic fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides.
Let me explain how this works on a small scale in a suburban backyard. If I plant an apple tree, let's say a pink lady, that tree will produce a decent amount of apples, some will get eaten by things like aphids and at the end of harvest I'll have a few apples for my troubles. Now let's say I plant that same tree but I add a 2nd apple tree like Granny Smith, I put in lavender, chives and some strawberry vines and all of a sudden my apple crop from my original tree triples. Why? The Granny Smith helped pollenate the Pink Lady, along with the bees drawn by the lavender, the aphids were less of an issue because the chives naturally deter them and the soil was being fed by five plants all with different nutrient profiles. Five different plants working together, feeding the soil and maximizing the amount of carbon sequestered back into the earth.
This is the beauty of regeneration. It uses the simple principals of nature to not only grow food without the need for poisonous pesticides or synthetic fertilizers but revitalizes the soil and captures CO2 from the atmosphere to combat climate change.
While today only 5% of our farms are managed for soil health there are organizations like The Soil Health Academy and the National Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) racing to teach our farmers how to manage soil and use regenerative farming practices.
There several ways you can be part of the solution
Support farms that manage for soil health and use regenerative practices. You can search for farms near you that use regenerative practices.
Compost your food scraps to revitalize soils in your garden and houseplants while putting that carbon back into the ground (see our composting post),
Don't rototill your garden. Simply flatten the plants from the last harvest and plant this year's crop directly into the soil. Not only will this make your soil stronger but the flattened plants from the previous year make a great natural barrier for weeds.
Diversify the plants your growing whether that's in a backyard garden or some herbs in a widow box
Look at putting in a food forest in your backyard, patio, balcony or community garden (see future posts on how to build a food forest) with a focus on perennials.
Using regenerative farming and gardening techniques can amend our soil, create healthier foods, reduce fertilizers and pesticides, all while helping to reverse climate change.
For more information on soil health and regenerative farming