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Part II: How Regenerative Organic Agriculture Can Save the Planet
[Editor's note: This article is part two of a two-part series. Read part one.]
We now know that 20-30 percent of manmade greenhouse gases in the atmosphere comes from industrial agriculture. Petrochemicals are for cars, not for the soil. By dumping ag chemicals onto our soils, we disrupt nature’s delicate balance of water, soil and air.
Carbon sequestration land practices include agriculture, forestry, wetland and range management systems that improve the rate at which CO2 is removed from the atmosphere and converted to plant material and/or organic matter in the soil. Today excess carbon is falling into our oceans and creating acidic conditions that threaten plant and animal species. If we remove carbon from the atmosphere and oceans by way of regenerative organic agriculture practices, we will sequester carbon into the soil and expand the soil’s water-holding capacity. Building organic matter into the soil’s humus layer is essential for growing the healthful foods humanity needs.
As National Geographic has reported, “... relatively new research is finding that the introduction of massive amounts of CO2 into the seas is altering water chemistry and affecting the life cycles of many marine organisms.” This is disturbing the oceanic ecosystem in profound ways that include reducing the plankton that feeds whales and provides oxygen for humans.
The 2014 Rodale Institute report states, “Organically managed soils can convert carbon CO2 from a greenhouse gas into a food-producing asset.” Two major upsides to this approach are drought-proof soils and, thanks to more nutrient-rich foods, reduced healthcare costs.
Luckily, bloggers, activists and the booming pure food movement hold the promise of positive change. We need a coalition of educated and empowered people to make good dietary choices that also support living soils. Organic, nutrient-dense foods might cost more (buying in bulk helps), yet we can see how costly poor food choices are for our national health. And, as in the civil rights movement or any progressive movement for change, it’s time for us to stand up and make our voices heard. Keep blogging, tweeting, Pinteresting, Instagramming and posting on Facebook, as sharing is caring.
The San Francisco-based Biosafety Alliance will hold a major conference on carbon farming and climate change in Richmond, California, in September 2015, featuring such speakers as Vandana Shiva and Ronnie Cummins. The ministers of propaganda at Monsanto and other chemical companies are amping up their own social media campaigns, to tell us how they’re going to feed the world and increase food security through genetically engineered foods and chemical agriculture. Sales are down or flat for virtually every major American food company, so they’re spending hundreds of millions of dollars to fortify their misleading advertising and public relations campaigns.
Courtney White in his book Grass, Soil, Hope: A Journey through Carbon Country writes: "It is easy to forget that once upon a time all agriculture was organic, grass-fed and regenerative. Seed saving, composting, fertilizing with manure, polycultures, no-till and raising livestock entirely on grass—was the norm, not the exception as it is now.
“We all know what happened next: the plow, the tractor, fossil fuels, mono-crops, nitrogen fertilizer, pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, feedlots, animal byproducts, e. coli, CAFOs, GMOs, erosion, despair—practices and conditions that most Americans today think of as ‘normal,’ when they think about agriculture at all."
As delicate ecosystems are disrupted, and plant and animal species face extinction at an ever-increasing rate, the word is getting out that the current practices of chemical companies and industrial agriculture are harming billions of people.
Recently, large investment funds have responded to disinvestment advocates by selling off their holdings in Exxon, BP, Chevron and other carbon polluters, yet they still invest in Monsanto—a group that transgresses far beyond any oil company in its injury to the environment and society.
It’s time for everyone who cares about the future of food to unite in changing the failing industrial agriculture system. We have the opportunity to vote three times a day by eating organic whole foods instead of packaged, processed and convenient “food-like substances.” Vegans, it’s vital that you choose organic foods vs. Roundup-sprayed, hexane-processed soy cutlets. The fake, non-organic foods funded by the Silicon Valley are not life-enhancing. For those who eat meat, eggs and dairy products, it’s important to support pasture-based ranchers and suppliers, as these systems sequester carbon into the soil humus-sphere through intensive grazing. Meat eaters consider consuming 50 percent less meat, and at all costs we must avoid conventional suppliers that rely on toxic, high-GHG chemical fertilizers to grow carbon-intensive GMO corn and soy.
Industrial agriculture regards soil as merely a root-holding medium on which to apply petroleum products while manipulating genetics. Regenerative organic agriculture views soil as a holistic system, and understands the interconnected soil biology—teeming with the billions of bacteria and fungi that, along with earthworms and organic matter, indicate good health. Healthy soil yields healthy foods that, in turn, nourish a healthy society. Los Angeles-based Kiss the Ground Foundation is working on a powerful, new, five-minute Story of Soil video to educate the public on this vital issue.
Using short rotation with solar-powered mobile fencing, a new generation of ranchers is growing grass while building carbon and organic matter into the soil. The 12-minute video Soil Carbon Cowboys featured one such “grass rancher,” Gabe Brown, who increased the organic matter in his North Dakota pastureland from less than 2 percent to 8 percent in 20 years.
For annual crops, planting rotational cover crops like vetch or alfalfa, instead of using nitrogen fertilizers, is essential. Chemical nitrogen fertilizers release massive amounts of nitric oxides that are nearly 400 times worse than carbon dioxide. Some organic CAFO producers such as Horizon Organic Milk are clearly not regenerative, as they rely on factory farms to produce a large percentage of their milk.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency statistics vastly underreport agriculture emissions at 10-12 percent total. Many researchers think agriculture is the source of more of these emissions than even transportation fuels. Organic is better than conventional, but organic plus regenerative is best, for it enhances soil fertility vs. merely maintaining it. (A big reason why the return of hemp farming is so vital is hemp’s deep taproot and nitrogen-rich leaves that build soil tilth).
Yet, as Tom Newmark of regenerative farming group the Carbon Underground says, “We need to both move forward in building soil life and conduct more science around carbon sequestration to share with policymakers and allies.”
The Way Forward
Many in the organic movement wonder about our NGO allies in the climate, ocean and forestry sectors. According to Ronnie Cummins of the Organic Consumers Association, “With the mounting evidence of how regenerative organic agriculture is the number one solution for climate change, ocean health, and soil ecology via sequestering carbon, it’s time for the environmental movement to join forces. In fact, our survival depends on it.”
Trying to solve the entire problem by reducing global carbon via solar, wind and renewables has been a failure. One climate meeting after another ends with people throwing up their hands and declaring that we’re doomed because nations won’t agree to meaningful cuts. The message of drawing down carbon via regenerative agriculture warrants no mention in the glossy documents, nor even a tweet!
A recent Cummins “Letter from Lima” provides interesting background on the climate movement.
Yet a groundswell of people are beginning to realize that the way forward is to support regenerative organic farming and pasture-raised meat and dairy systems while simultaneously reducing animal consumption. As the Earth passes the 400-ppm carbon mark, noted author and environmentalist Paul Hawken declares, “Stabilization at 450, 500, 550 ppm is chaos—our goal should be drawdown.”
Which is better for the environment—to buy a Tesla and consume a standard American diet or to drive a used SUV and eat an organic diet with some pastured meat and dairy? Yes, it’s the latter, and of course even better is to eat an organic diet, walk or bike more, and drive a more energy-efficient car.
Soil, not oil, is the wise path forward. At the height of this information age of Google and the social media, the history of our planet is being written. Will it ultimately be said that the simple solution under our feet was shared around the digital campfire, and thus globally chosen by informed citizens of the Earth? Or will the annals read that this saving solution was ignored by all but a few? Did the 7 billion people on Planet Earth succumb to false messages from Monsanto, Exxon and self-serving apologists that GMO “better living through chemistry” food systems were best?
As you read this, a new generation of GMO 2.0 untested synthetic foods is being programmed in labs via “3-D food printing.” The fate of Earth’s life-support systems is hanging in the balance. Remember, as you start to reach for that box of non-organic cereal for your shopping cart: What we eat will impact the planet more than just about anything else we do. It’s late in the fourth quarter and there are no timeouts left, but—yes—we have the ball.
It’s time for us to revive the ancient wisdom of honoring the land, and in the process heal our atmosphere, our oceans, our humus-sphere and ourselves. Regenerative organic agriculture is the answer we need to create a food system that works for everyone. Are you ready to be part of this solution?
John W. Roulac, founder and CEO of the superfoods company Nutiva, has also founded five nonprofit ecological groups, including GMO Inside and the Nutiva Foundation. John has written four books, including Backyard Composting and Hemp Horizons.
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