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17 Organizations Feeding and Healing the World Through Regenerative Agriculture
By Eva Perroni
Transitioning to more sustainable forms of agriculture remains critical, as many current agriculture practices have serious consequences including deforestation and soil degradation. But despite agriculture's enormous potential to hurt the environment, it also has enormous potential to heal it. Realizing this, many organizations are promoting regenerative agriculture as a way to not just grow food but to progressively improve ecosystems.
Drawing from decades of research, regenerative agriculture uses farming principles designed to mimic nature. To build healthy soils and fertile, thriving agro-ecosystems, this approach incorporates a range of practices like agroforestry and well-managed grazing. Benefits of these practices include richer soil, healthier water systems, increased biodiversity, climate change resilience and stronger farming communities.
To celebrate the ongoing work of individuals and organizations dedicated to healing agro-ecosystems around the globe, Food Tank is highlighting these 17 organizations building a global grassroots movement for better agriculture.
Aranya Agricultural Alternatives organizes and strengthens rural farming communities in India to achieve food and nutrition security through permaculture farming practices. Sanskrit for "forest," Aranya promotes natural agricultural practices based on forests' self-regulating ecosystems. Aranya runs permaculture design courses and workshops as well as community-based projects focused on watershed and soil management, tree-based farming, diversified cropping, animal integration and seed saving.
Grounded, an organization based in Cape Town, South Africa, partners with farmers across sub-Saharan Africa "to develop regenerative businesses [that] establish a healthier and more profitable balance between nature and agriculture, while shortening the value chain between producers and consumers." Their projects include restoring the natural biodiversity in the biodiversity hotspots of Madagascar, the Langkloof and the Baviaanskloof, as well as restoring natural migration routes of elephants in Zambia. Grounded is actively working to improve soil quality, increase the vegetation cover and add to the water table in these regions while promoting sustainable and profitable farming models.
Kiss the Ground is a California-based nonprofit working to regenerate land and reverse climate change through rebuilding healthy soil. They create educational curriculum, campaigns and media to raise awareness and empower individuals to purchase food that support healthy soils and a balanced climate. Kiss the Ground also works with farmers, educators, NGOs, scientists, students and policymakers to advocate for regenerative agriculture, and help drive brands and businesses to develop more sustainable supply chains worldwide. Locally, they operate a community garden in Venice, California, demonstrating urban permaculture to volunteers and homeless youth.
RegenAG is a community-based family enterprise providing farmers, professional organizations and communities with education and training to learn from the world's most innovative and effective regenerative agriculture practitioners in a wide range of fields. Their on-farm consulting and extension services teach farmers the knowledge and skills to significantly reduce inputs and effectively manage and monitor farm fertility though beneficial microbe capture and reproduction, water cycle repair, soil building and other holistic management strategies. RegenAg also holds courses, workshops and field days to showcase the success and trials of farmers who have adopted regenerative strategies on their farm.
Regeneration International (RI) provides information and resources that highlight the connection between healthy soil, regenerative agriculture and land use, food, health, healthy economies and climate change. These include a multilingual website and social media networks, an interactive online portal, consumer campaigns, events and international conferences. And every year, RI brings a delegation to the U.N. Climate Summit to raise awareness about the links between soil and climate. RI also engages in farmer training, through partnerships with Via Organica and its teaching farm and the Main Street Project's regenerative poultry project.
The Rodale Institute is known for pioneering and continually advocating for the use of regenerative agricultural practices. Founded in 1947 in Kutztown, Pennsylvania, by J.I. Rodale, the Institute has transformed 333 acres of formerly degraded farmland into highly fertile and productive land growing a variety of organic crops. The farm forms the basis for Rodale's research, education and outreach, and it is home to the longest-running comparative study of organic and chemical agriculture, started in 1981.
The Savory Network is a global group of entrepreneurial innovators and leaders working to advance regenerative agriculture, reverse desertification and combat climate change. With more than 30 hubs around the world, the Savory Network advocates, trains, implements and facilitates Holistic Management and regenerative agriculture practices in their own global and agricultural contexts. The network is an initiative of the Savory Institute, which has the broader goal of informing policymakers, establishing market incentives and increasing public awareness to support the ecological restoration of grasslands worldwide.
8. Soil Capital
Soil Capital is "a company committed to scaling and sustaining regenerative agriculture through market-based solutions." Using proven farming processes and adapted technology, they focus on maximizing farm profitability through increased soil health, resilience and the natural productivity of the farm ecosystem as a whole. Through partnerships with experienced farmers who demonstrate resource-efficient and sustainable operations, Soil Capital assists other farmers in transitioning from conventional to regenerative agricultural practices. In doing so, Soil Capital seeks to scale and replicate holistic and healthy agricultural projects worldwide.
Soils, Food and Healthy Communities is a participatory, farmer-led organization which uses local indigenous knowledge and agroecological methods to improve food security, nutrition and soils in Malawi. Their Malawi Farmer-to-Farmer Agroecology project uses farmer-to-farmer teaching about agroecological farming methods to sustainably manage soils, improve agricultural and dietary diversity and improve incomes of 6,000 farming households in central and northern Malawi. Through the use of grains and perennial legumes, farmers fix nitrogen, nutrients and organic matter directly into the soil, improving soil fertility and enhancing environmental and food security.
Founded by leading international soil microbiologist Dr. Elaine Ingham, the Soil Foodweb Institute (SFI) provides expert analysis and advice to empower primary producers to take control of maintaining the health of their soil. SFI analyzes soil micro-organism activity and creates management plans tailored to farmers' specific soils to achieve a sustainable, productive and low-input farming system. SFI Laboratories have extended across the globe, providing services to thousands of farmers to improve the health and productivity of their soils.
The mission of this nonprofit organization is to "preserve the environment by partnering with families to improve well-being through sustainable farming." They work in Central America promoting sustainable alternatives to slash-and-burn agriculture. Through their multi-year program, participants receive tailored training and technical assistance. Former Peace Corps Volunteer Florence Reed founded the organization in 1997 after realizing the potential for training in sustainable agriculture to help farmers provide for their families while engaging in restorative practices.
Terra Genesis International is a regenerative design consultancy that includes engineers, permaculture design experts, agro-ecologists, foresters, carbon scientists and financial analysts. They help large-scale agriculture and business clients that use natural ingredients in their products to redesign their supply chains and incorporate agricultural practices that regenerate soil, increase biodiversity and boost business.
The Carbon Underground acts as an umbrella organization connecting academia, businesses, organizations, schools, governments and the general public, communicating and educating about the power of healthy soil to combat climate change. The Carbon Underground coordinates a globally interconnected set of research groups working to demonstrate the impact of sustainable agriculture, land management and regenerative enterprises as principal tools for sequestering carbon. Through their focus areas of corporate impact, education and training, policy and communications, The Carbon Underground aims to facilitate the widespread transition of farms, ranches and grasslands from industrial into regenerative enterprises.
The Ecological Farming Association (EcoFarm) is a nonprofit organization that connects farmers, ranchers, distributors, retailers, activists and researchers for education, alliance building and advocacy. They run an annual Ecological Farming Conference that features more than 70 workshops, intensives, exhibitions and special events including seed swaps, film screenings and organic culinary fare. EcoFarm also offers a free mentoring program for apprentices and beginning farmers as well as a range of online farmer resources. EcoFarm is a broad network of grassroots leadership and has facilitated an exchange of knowledge for more than 60,000 people across the U.S.
The Land Institute focuses on developing perennial grains, pulses and oilseed crops. Their crops are grown in "ecologically intensified polycultures" that mimic the diversity of natural ecosystems. The Land Institute breeds new perennial crops and develops ways to productively grow these crops in diverse polyculture mixtures. Led by a team of ecologists and plant breeders that partner with multiple organizations worldwide, The Land Institute works to develop an agricultural system that can produce ample food while minimizing or eliminating the negative impacts of industrial agriculture.
The Timbaktu Collective works to protect, manage and restore degraded ecosystems in rural Indian village communities. The Collective works in 172 villages within the Anantapur district, reaching and serving approximately 21,000 marginalized families. Their work in ecology includes the restoration of wastelands through planting locally adapted indigenous varieties of trees, reviving traditional water-harvesting structures to conserve water, and rejuvenating soil health through organic farming practices.
The Traditional Native American Farmers Association holds an annual Indigenous Sustainable Food Systems Design Course, providing training in ecological design, natural farming and earth restoration. The course is a holistic indigenous approach based on traditional knowledge and practices. These practices help improve air and water quality, ecosystems, nutrition and community health. The Traditional Native American Farmers Association also holds workshops and training on seed saving, beekeeping and growing medicinal herbs to enhance biodiversity and increase seed and crop vitality.
Eva Perroni was a Research & Writing Fellow at Food Tank and a freelance researcher-writer and activist focused on promoting sustainable food systems. She holds an MA in Development Studies from the University of Melbourne, maintaining a strong research focus on global food security and food and agriculture politics.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Tom Duszynski
The coronavirus is certainly scary, but despite the constant reporting on total cases and a climbing death toll, the reality is that the vast majority of people who come down with COVID-19 survive it. Just as the number of cases grows, so does another number: those who have recovered.
In mid-March, the number of patients in the U.S. who had officially recovered from the virus was close to zero. That number is now in the tens of thousands and is climbing every day. But recovering from COVID-19 is more complicated than simply feeling better. Recovery involves biology, epidemiology and a little bit of bureaucracy too.
How does your body fight off COVID-19?<p>Once a person is exposed the coronavirus, the body starts producing <a href="https://www.mblintl.com/products/what-are-antibodies-mbli/" target="_blank">proteins called antibodies to fight the infection</a>. As these <a href="https://www.statnews.com/2020/03/27/serological-tests-reveal-immune-coronavirus/" target="_blank">antibodies start to successfully contain the virus</a> and keep it from replicating in the body, symptoms usually begin to lessen and you start to feel better. Eventually, if all goes well, your immune system will completely destroy all of the virus in your system. A person who was infected with and survived a virus with no long-term health effects or disabilities has "recovered."</p><p>On average, a person who is infected with SARS-CoV-2 will feel ill for about seven days from the onset of symptoms. Even after symptoms disappear, there still may be small amounts of the virus in a patient's system, and they should stay <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/if-you-are-sick/steps-when-sick.html" target="_blank">isolated for an additional three days</a> to ensure they have truly <a href="https://health.usnews.com/conditions/articles/coronavirus-recovery-what-to-know" target="_blank">recovered and are no longer infectious</a>.</p>
What about immunity?<p>In general, once you have recovered from a viral infection, your body will keep cells called lymphocytes in your system. These cells "remember" viruses they've previously seen and can react quickly to fight them off again. If you are exposed to a virus you have already had, your antibodies will likely stop the virus before it starts causing symptoms. <a href="https://dx.doi.org/10.5114%2Fceji.2018.77390" target="_blank">You become immune</a>. This is the <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK27158/" target="_blank">principle behind many vaccines</a>.</p><p>Unfortunately, immunity isn't perfect. For many viruses, like mumps, immunity can wane over time, leaving you <a href="https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/04/160421145747.htm" target="_blank">susceptible to the virus in the future</a>. This is why you need to get revaccinated – those "booster shots" – occasionally: to prompt your immune system to make more antibodies and memory cells.</p><p>Since this coronavirus is so new, scientists still don't know whether people who recover from COVID-19 are <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/hcp/faq.html" target="_blank">immune to future infections of the virus</a>. Doctors are finding antibodies in ill and recovered patients, and <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/hcp/clinical-guidance-management-patients.html" target="_blank">that indicates the development of immunity</a>. But the question remains how long that immunity will last. Other coronaviruses like <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/jmv.25685" target="_blank">SARS and MERS produce an immune response</a> that will protect a person at least for a short time. I would suspect the same is true of SARS-CoV-2, but the research simply hasn't been done yet to say so definitively.</p>
Why have so few people officially recovered in the US?<p>This is a dangerous virus, so the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is being extremely careful when deciding what it means to recover from COVID-19. Both medical and testing criteria must be met before a person is <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/hcp/disposition-in-home-patients.html" target="_blank">officially declared recovered</a>.</p><p>Medically, a person must be fever-free without fever-reducing medications for three consecutive days. They must show an improvement in their other symptoms, including reduced coughing and shortness of breath. And it must be at least seven full days <a href="https://health.usnews.com/conditions/articles/coronavirus-recovery-what-to-know" target="_blank">since the symptoms began</a>.</p><p>In addition to those requirements, the CDC guidelines say that a person must test negative for the coronavirus twice, with the <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/if-you-are-sick/care-for-someone.html" target="_blank">tests taken at least 24 hours apart</a>.</p><p>Only then, if both the symptom and testing conditions are met, is a person officially considered recovered by the CDC.</p><p>This second testing requirement is likely why there were so few official recovered cases in the U.S. until late March. Initially, there was a <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/18/health/coronavirus-test-shortages-face-masks-swabs.html" target="_blank">massive shortage of testing in the U.S.</a> So while many people were certainly recovering over the last few weeks, this could not be officially confirmed. As the country enters the height of the pandemic in the coming weeks, focus is still on <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-nCoV/hcp/clinical-criteria.html" target="_blank">testing those who are infected</a>, not those who have likely recovered.</p><p>Many more people are being tested now that states and private companies have begun <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/cases-updates/testing-in-us.html" target="_blank">producing and distributing tests</a>. As <a href="https://www.dispatch.com/news/20200406/coronavirus-in-ohio-from-its-rocky-start-testing-for-covid-19-slowly-ramping-up" target="_blank">the number of available tests increases</a> and the pandemic eventually slows in the country, more testing will be available for those who have appeared to recover. As people who have already recovered are tested, the appearance of any new infections will help researchers learn <a href="https://www.statnews.com/2020/03/24/we-need-smart-coronavirus-testing-not-just-more-testing/" target="_blank">how long immunity can be expected to last</a>.</p>
Once a person has recovered, what can they do?<p>Knowing whether or not people are immune to COVID-19 after they recover is going to determine what individuals, communities and society at large can do going forward. If scientists can show that recovered patients are immune to the coronavirus, then a person who has recovered could in theory <a href="https://www.vox.com/2020/3/30/21186822/immunity-to-covid-19-test-coronavirus-rt-pcr-antibody" target="_blank">help support the health care system</a> by caring for those who are infected.</p><p>Once communities pass the peak of the epidemic, the number of new infections will decline, while the number of <a href="https://www.newsweek.com/china-says-passed-peak-coronavirus-epidemic-covid-19-1491863" target="_blank">recovered people will increase</a>. As these trends continue, the risk of transmission will fall. Once the risk of transmission has fallen enough, community-level isolation and social distancing orders will begin to relax and businesses will start to reopen. Based on what other countries have gone through, it will be <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-020-00154-w" target="_blank">months until the risk of transmission is low</a> in the U.S.</p><p>But before any of this can happen, the U.S. and the world need to make it through the peak of this pandemic. Social distancing works to slow the spread of infectious diseases and <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/need-extra-precautions/what-you-can-do.html" target="_blank">is working for COVID-19</a>. Many people will <a href="https://www.yalemedicine.org/stories/2019-novel-coronavirus/" target="_blank">need medical help to recover</a>, and social distancing will slow this virus down and give people the best chance to do so.</p>
By Elizabeth Claire Alberts
The future for the world's oceans often looks grim. Fisheries are set to collapse by 2048, according to one study, and 8 million tons of plastic pollute the ocean every year, causing considerable damage to delicate marine ecosystems. Yet a new study in Nature offers an alternative, and more optimistic view on the ocean's future: it asserts that the entire marine environment could be substantially rebuilt by 2050, if humanity is able to step up to the challenge.
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By Zulfikar Abbany
Bread has been a source of basic nutrition for centuries, the holy trinity being wheat, maize and rice. It has also been the reason for a lot of innovation in science and technology, from millstones to microbiological investigations into a family of single-cell fungi called Saccharomyces.
Chemical leavening<p>If you like a little heft in your loaf, you will need a leavening agent.</p><p>For those short on time, you can use baking soda. That's a chemical compound of sodium bicarbonate mixed with potassium bitartrate, or cream of tartar.</p><p>Soda breads have their traditions in parts of eastern and central Europe, and in Ireland and Scotland, with Melrose loaves and "farls."</p><p>They can taste a bit bland, though, and are often considered only as an emergency solution on Sundays. No disrespect intended: They taste just fine fresh from the oven.</p><p>Whether it's chemical or more "natural," leavening relies largely on the production of carbon dioxide.</p><p>When you mix an acid, such as vinegar, buttermilk, yogurt or apple cider, with an alkaline compound like baking soda, you get CO2. That CO2 creates bubbles, which in turn capture steam in the oven and allow a bread to rise.</p><p><span></span>But it's better with yeast. Tastes better, too. It just takes more time. </p>
What is yeast?<p>There are yeasts all around us — on grains, in the air, in biofuels. It even lives inside us, but that's not always a good thing.</p><p><a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1090575/pdf/1471-2334-5-22.pdf" target="_blank">Candida yeast</a> can cause infections of the skin, feet, mouth, penis or vagina if it builds up too much in the body.</p><p>One of the most common yeasts, however, is <em>Saccharomyces cerevisiae</em>. That's <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/an-early-beer-archaeologists-tap-ground-at-worlds-oldest-brewery/a-45480731" target="_blank">"brewer's"</a> or "baker's" yeast.</p><p>You can get fresh baker's yeast, often in 42-gram (1.48-ounce) cubes, or as dried yeast (quick action or active, which requires rehydration) in a sachet of 7 grams.</p><p>There's little difference: One is compressed and the other is dehydrated and granulated. But they do the same thing, essentially. </p><p>Some commercial yeast producers add molasses and other nutrients. But natural yeast has plenty of useful nutrients in it anyway, including B group vitamins, so who knows whether it's good or necessary to add them. </p>
How does yeast work?<p>When you mix flour, yeast and water, you set off a veritable chain reaction. Enzymes in the wheat convert starch into sugar. And the yeast creates enzymes of its own to convert those sugars into a form it can absorb.</p><p>The yeast "feeds" on the sugars to create carbon dioxide and alcohol. The yeast burps and farts, releasing gases into the mix, and that creates bubbles to trap CO2. </p><p>It's a vital fermentation process that breaks down the gluten in the flour and helps make your bread more digestible.</p><p>The yeast cells split and reproduce, generating lactic and carbonic acid, raising the temperature and ultimately adding flavor to the mix.</p><p>The longer you leave the yeast to do its thing, the better for your bread. Time is more important than the amount of yeast. </p><p>In fact, that's an enduring question — how much yeast? I'll use 20 grams fresh yeast for 500 grams of flour. Others say that's enough yeast for 1 kilo. If you are converting a dry-yeast recipe to fresh yeast, some bakers advise tripling the weight. So, if a sachet of dried yeast is 7 grams, your fresh yeast is 21 grams.</p><p><span></span>But that also depends on the flours you are using, temperatures in the bowl and the room, and a host of other things. You'll just have to experiment and see. No number of books (and I've read a stack on bread) will help as much as trial and error.</p>
Wild yeast: Sourdough<p>So, good bread needs time. If you have a lot of time, why not move it up a notch and grow wild yeast — a sourdough starter — in your own home?</p><p>A sourdough starter is not to be mistaken (as it often is) for the leaven, or "mother," "sponge," or <em>levain</em>. That's more a second stage, a descendant of the starter. You take a scoop from your starter and add it to another flour and water mixture when you prepare the dough for a new loaf. </p><p>The sourdough process utilizes yeasts naturally present in flour and … yet more time. A longer fermentation process allows a richer lactic acid bacteria <em>lactobacilli</em> or LAB to evolve, and that can be healthy for your gut microbiome.</p><p>It's simple enough to start a sourdough starter. All you need is flour, warm water and time.</p><p>Some suggest equal measures of whole-grain flour and water at 28 degrees Celsius (82 degrees Fahrenheit), some say room temperature — just don't let the water exceed 40 C or the yeasts will die. Some suggest two parts flour to three parts water. But it's up to you whether you want a drier or wetter starter. You will know only through experimentation. </p><p>Some say you should filter tap water to remove chemicals like fluoride and avoid using water that's boiled and then cooled. Others say that really doesn't matter.</p><p>The main thing is, keep it clean and give it time. Days, weeks, months and years.</p>
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