By Rachel Kastner
Thank you to the Center for Global Justice for hosting us.2 I’ve been in San Miguel for a little over three years, and my passion and life’s work is regenerative agriculture. I’ve been involved in a continual learning progress in organic agriculture over the past seven years. I studied International Area Studies at the University of Oklahoma; I was also born and raised in Oklahoma. I went to live and work in South Africa for a year after I graduated and that is where I found agriculture being employed as an avenue of social change and as the solution to global climate change. Since that time, about seven years ago, I’ve dedicated myself to studying and employing organic and regenerative agriculture.3 It’s been a learning experience for me, and I’m fortunate enough to be able to partner and work with a local organization here in San Miguel, called Vía Orgánica. Most of you probably know Vía Orgánica as a store and restaurant, but we’re also an educational body, and have an educational forum. I’ll be sharing a little bit more about what we do at an educational level in San Miguel. But my message for you today is what I hope for the future, how farmers can reverse global climate change.
Our message at Vía Orgánica is this: agriculture is a game-changing solution to global climate change. Our proposition for how this is taking place and how this is going to resolve – not only mitigate, but also reverse – climate change, is that agriculture has a potential to greatly reduce the amount of greenhouse gases that are being produced every year, as well as reverse climate change by drawing billions of tons of carbon that are in the atmosphere, back down to the soil from where it came, and where it belongs.
Most of us know the gloom and doom story of our industrial food system, and in agriculture at large. We know it as the culprit; it’s responsible for deforestation, environmental degradation, soil loss, and environmental destruction, pollution of our waterways with toxic chemicals, pollution of our food, making farmers sick, and consumers sick by the industrial inputs into this agricultural system. What a lot of us don’t know is how greatly our global food system is contributing to annual greenhouse gas emissions. When we look at the entire global food sector, we see that it is responsible for over half of global greenhouse gas emissions. Agriculture, that is tillage agriculture, accounts for 11%-15%. Land-use changes and deforestation – lands and fields being cleared, and forests being cut down and native prairies being tilled to produce food – is another 15%-18% annually. Processing and transportation is a large percentage, another 15%-20%, and then also 3% and 4% due to the waste stream that’s produced from this global food system.4
In global climate talks about the food system, agriculture is almost seen as a necessary enemy. We all know that it has negative effects on our environment and also on consumers, yet it’s often not openly recognized and talked about as being a major culprit. And there are a couple reasons for this. One is that the global industrial farming industry has bought out politicians and global world leaders. And the other is the sense of fear, that we have to keep producing food to feed the world, and that the industrial system is the only way that we can do that. But we’ve got to overcome that fear; we’ve got to look at the science and the research that’s coming out now. And we have a message of hope when it comes to agriculture and climate change, and this message is that agriculture is a major game-changing solution.
We know that we have to stop emitting greenhouse gases, we have to get away from our dependence on fossil fuels, but at the same time, that’s not happening fast enough, obviously. At the same time, we have to reduce the amount of carbon that’s currently in our atmosphere, and we have to do it very quickly. We are currently at a level of 400 parts per million greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Largely, scientists have agreed that we need to get back down to 350 parts per million to avoid catastrophic climate change. We’ve got to get this carbon out of the atmosphere.
How are we going to do that? We’re going to do it by creating a global movement, changing our agricultural system to a regenerative, organic production system, and pulling carbon back to where it came from, back into the soil, where it belongs.
I’d like to introduce, “What is regenerative agriculture?” Most of you are familiar with what organic agriculture is, which means the absence of synthetic chemicals, fertilizers, and genetically modified organisms. Regenerative agriculture goes a step further and works with nature to use photosynthesis and healthy soil biology to draw down greenhouse gases, while producing as much food as possible in a way that revitalizes soil, rather than depleting it. In the words of a visionary farmer: “Farming like the Earth matters.”
We know that plants through photosynthesis draw carbon out of the atmosphere, and use this carbon for their above-ground plant growth. Part of this carbon is respired, or exhaled back into the atmosphere, but around 20% to 40% of the carbon absorbed from the atmosphere, from green plant life, is emitted into the soil through its root systems primarily in the form of sugars. So the plant roots, through photosynthesis, pull down energy from the atmosphere, they release this energy into the soil, and this energy released into the soil has a very dynamic and important relationship with soil micro-organisms, primarily bacteria and fungi. This relationship between the energy that comes from plant roots and soil micro-organisms, locks carbon into the soil in long-term storage. So what we’re talking about is every single green leaf, every single green plant, every single green tree has the ability to pull carbon from the atmosphere and store it into the soil, long-term.
We’ve known about this for a while, right? That’s why we’ve been talking about reforestation as a solution to global climate change, but what we’re currently learning is how scalable this movement is, because of the interaction with soil micro-organisms and plant life, and how this relates not only to forestry, but to all forms of agriculture, which makes this movement much more scalable and necessary. So as the sugars come down into the soil, they’re feeding micro-organisms; we have essential nutrient exchange happening. And the word regenerative means that these systems are creating their own nutrients, they’re generating their own nutrients so that they do not need external inputs for plant fertilizers and nutrients, plant minerals, because the intricate interactions happening between the plant and the soil micro-organisms are creating nutrients for that plant, which creates a regenerative system that’s extremely resilient, and we’ll talk a little bit more about the significance of that resiliency.
So the carbon that’s then admitted into the soil becomes locked into the soil, potentially for centuries, which is huge news for us. We’re learning that over millions of acres worldwide, we can lock carbon into soil, long-term. In a short video from an organization called Kiss the Ground, which is a partner of Regeneration International, and also the Organic Consumers Association, we learn more about the relationship between soil and carbon sequestration.5 The video, The Soil Story, is a fantastic effort that really explains this process very well.6 I love that video, it’s such a great overview of the situation. And it encapsulates the message of hope that we’re talking about rolling out on a global level.
In the video we learn how the soil is a natural system that sequesters carbon; I want to talk about what that actually looks like on the ground, and what rolling this movement out on a global scale looks like. I think it’s important to look at some of the numbers. When we look at sequestering carbon in the soil, our soil currently holds 2,500 billion tons of carbon compared to our atmosphere, which is only 800 billion tons. Plant and animal life, 650 billion tons. And scientists estimate that, since the dawn of agriculture, we’ve released 50% to 70% of the original carbon stock in our soils, which has primarily gone up into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide. We see that our soils are a massive carbon sink, and we have the potential of returning all of this carbon back to the soil, because we let it all out, right? So, this is a half-empty carbon sink that’s readily available to us. And when we look at other forms of sequestering carbon through geo-engineering, realistically, we can see that the soil is a much more readily available, economic, and we like to say, “shovel-ready” (ready to go), solution.
So how much CO2 are we actually talking about? What scale are we talking about here? From measuring regenerative agricultural systems, and seeing how much carbon they’re actually pulling down every year, we can estimate that regenerative agriculture can sequester 100% of current human greenhouse gas emissions, or more. If we were to say that we’re going to roll this out on a global scale — say we’re going to put the four-billion acres of crop lands and pastures in regenerative management, 14-billion acres of range lands, and 10-billion acres of forests — we could reduce our atmospheric carbon concentration to 350 parts per million in under five years. So we’ll be pulling 50 parts per million of carbon out of our atmosphere in under five years. This would be an ideal situation where the entire world would stop exactly what they’re doing, and turn over to regenerative agriculture, right?
But, looking at this ideal situation, we can see the scale and how important this is. Not only is it important, it’s going to become necessary when we look at the effects of global climate change. So, why is regenerative agriculture a big deal? It’s scalable. A third of the earth’s surface is arable land that is mostly under agricultural production. So, the oceans are not available for sequestering any more carbon; carbon is acidifying our oceans as it is. And so, our largest available resource is the soil. It’s readily available. Farmers are already using these methods worldwide. The scientific and global communities are really beginning to pay attention, and studying the research that’s coming out of these systems.
We’re writing an article where we’re saying that it’s necessary for food security and the changing climate. But the industrial food system, the way that it’s producing food today, cannot withstand global climate change; it is not resilient in the face of drought, flooding, and temperature swings. We’re going to talk a little bit about the far-reaching benefits of this regenerative agriculture system: not only is it a solution to the problem of climate change, but it has a domino effect of beneficial changes for local communities, for global poverty, for global economies, for the global environment.
Elements of Regenerative Agriculture
As we see, regenerative agriculture is the most accessible large-scale method of sequestration at our fingertips. So, what are we actually talking about here? What do regenerative farming methods look like, and what are farmers using today on a large scale to do this? One of the regenerative farming techniques used is no-till, or minimum till agriculture. Currently in the United States, in the industrial agricultural system, 20% to 40% of our agricultural system is using no-till agriculture. So, what does no-till agriculture mean? It means that implements are used, tractors are used, but, instead of turning soil over, which oxidizes any carbon that’s been pulled down into that soil and releases it into the atmosphere, the soil surface is maintained, and implements are used to put seeds in the soil without opening the soil, without churning the soil, without moving it.
This has several beneficial effects. The first is that carbon is not released. The second is that the organic material that is in the soil doesn’t become oxidized, so it actually improves soil structure and water-holding capacity. And the third, again, goes back to the microbial life that’s in the soil. Instead of being oxidized and killed through tillage agriculture, that biological community remains alive in the soil, and forms beneficial relationships with plant roots, so that more carbon is sequestered.
As I was saying, up to 40% of agriculture in the United States uses the no-till approach. Why? This has primarily been put into place through natural resources and conservancy agencies in the United States for soil conservation, because when we come in and we till the soil and then rains come, a huge percentage of that soil washes off of our field, into our lakes and rivers. And farmers are finding that their rain and irrigation goes further when they leave the soil untilled. The organic material that’s conserved in the soil, the soil structure that’s created by plant roots and the soil micro-organisms increases water-holding capacity, which in the Midwest in the United States is becoming essential for their production systems.
In the past five years, they’ve seen severe droughts, and they have found that a no-till system is improving the water-holding capacity of their soil, and so they’re using it. Now, a disadvantage of the industrial agricultural system using a no-till agriculture that’s not organic, is that they primarily use herbicides to remove weeds — because if you’re not coming in and tilling the soil, you have weed pressure coming from the soil. So they’re in non-organic systems, they’re drenching the soil with herbicides, which is then going down into the water systems, it’s running off into lakes and streams, contaminating foods.
In addition to no-till methods, regenerative agriculture uses organic systems. There are ways that we can do this. In a no-till agricultural system with organic methods, one can see the residue from the previous crop in-between the row of the green plants. So you have all this organic matter, it has intact roots into the soil, and also organic matter above the soil. It acts as a mulch, as a layer keeping soil moisture in; the roots are decaying, dying in the soil, further feeding the microbial life in the soil.
Another essential element of regenerative agriculture is recognizing the soil as a biologically active living organism, and recognizing that the microorganisms, the fungi, and bacteria in the soil are essential for carbon sequestration. No-till agriculture is one step in the right direction. But if you’re drenching your soil with synthetic herbicides and chemicals, that largely reduces the biological communities of microorganisms in the soil. Micro-organisms in soil are killed off by synthetic inputs; the microbial life in the soil can’t coexist with these inputs – synthetic fertilizers, nitrogen-phosphorus fertilizers, and also herbicides and pesticides. Not only are the organic elements of the system absolutely essential for the functioning of the microbiological ecosystems underneath the soil, we have to allow them to live, and give them the proper environment to live, that is, an environment that does not use pesticides and herbicides.7
Crop diversity and agroforestry constitute another method of regenerative agriculture. Photo 1 (above) demonstrates this method on a large scale. The farmer is Mark Shepard of Wisconsin. On this 106-acre farm that he’s developed, ten different products–nuts, vegetables, grains, trees—are grown. Systems like this, as you can see, don’t look like corn farms in Iowa; they look more like natural systems. And one of the greatest lies that the industry has told the public, one that our politicians repeat, is that, “Organic agriculture cannot feed the world.” We know that that’s not true.8 There have been several studies done, and the global international community is really coming out and saying, “It’s not true that organic agriculture can’t feed the world. It can feed the world, in fact these agricultural systems are more resilient, they provide better food security for local global communities throughout the world, and it’s scalable.”
This is what we see Mark Shepard doing, and there are hundreds of other large-scale, regenerative agriculture farmers who are implementing designs like this throughout the world, including here in Mexico. These are people who understand natural systems, understand biological systems, and they’re very good business people, they understand how to make multiple businesses off of land. It’s all improving the environment, improving local communities’ economies, and it’s an essential way to move forward.
Perennial grasses and crops: when we have greater root systems, we have more sugars going down to the soil, we have higher micro-organism communities in the soil, and we have higher carbon sequestration. And so, returning our grasslands, we must take care of our grasslands and range lands in a way that they’re not overgrazed, that they’re not under-grazed, but that the plants are stimulated properly by animals, to create larger root systems.
We also have other groups, the Land Institute in Salina, Kansas, that’s working to breed a perennial grain crop that they call Kernza.9 The idea is that it’s a perennial grass that never has to be cultivated, but perhaps mowed, and that produces grain that’s edible for humans. They’re also looking at creating a plant with the type of root system that’s highly productive. They’re getting there; they’re still several years down the road from making the products palatable. They have the products, but it doesn’t taste very good. So they’re working on breeding more desirable qualities into the lines. But there’s a huge potential for creating a perennial grass system that also feeds people.
The planned rotational grazing of livestock is also absolutely essential. When we look at the amount of grazing lands and grasslands worldwide, cows are again being viewed as the culprits behind land degradation. Land conservationists have been forever trying to get cattle off of land. What we’re seeing now, but which farmers have known for several decades, is that properly managed animals can restore degraded systems. Photo 2 (above) shows a high desert, dry environment. On the left side of the picture, look at the amount of ground cover there is. Look at the diversity of plants that is there. And on the right side, you see basically bare ground, exposed soil. When the rains come, when the winds come, that soil is lifted off, and there’s obviously no fodder for animals. The situation on the left was created with animals grazing. I’m not sure how many years it took them to attain this amount of ground cover.
A Zimbabwean, Allan Savory, realized that land restoration could be achieved by moving large groups of animals, specifically elephants. Asking “how can we regenerate our savannah? They’ve been totally over grazed and the soil totally depleted with desertification,” he answered by observing the environment and nature that he grew up in. “Well let’s look at how animals move around. They move around in large groups, they move around together, and they don’t come back to the same place until it’s been regenerated.” And so he started managing animals in this way, and has developed an entire management system that’s called holistic management. We’re seeing this used all over the world on billions of hectares. And it’s regenerating broken ecosystems, it’s not only maintaining prairies as they should be, but animals can come into an environment that’s completely stripped, like on the right side of photo 2, and because their manure is biologically active, they’re putting biology back into the soil. It’s putting a layer of mulch onto the soil, and that’s just the startup that degrading soil needs, if properly managed, to recuperate. So, absolutely essential. Again, this is a picture showing the difference in the same environment. The left side is holistically managed with rotationally grazed animals. And the right side is an over-grazed field, which most of us are perfectly familiar with here in Mexico, and also in different areas of the United States.
Another method of regenerative agriculture that’s huge, is compost application. Recent research has shown that a single application of a half-inch layer of compost on grazed range lands increases forage production by 40% to 70%, increases soil water-holding capacity to up to 26,000 liters per hectare, that’s a lot, and increases soil carbon sequestration by at least one ton per hectare per year for 30 years, without the reapplication.10 So again, when we talk about scaling this movement up, and how significant this could be if we took half an inch of compost, and applied this on a large amount of land, we’re getting one ton more per year, per hectare of carbon sequestration, which has the potential to be huge.
Why does this work? The compost that’s applied to the surface soil, again, is activating that biological community below the soil, it’s putting more organic matter into the soil and helps retain water. The biological community needs water to function. It’s providing an extra boost of nutrients to plants. So, healthy plants, healthy roots, and healthy micro-organisms in the soil. It’s a whole secured system that’s feeding itself.
This all sounds great, right? I want you to know that this is not just a theory, this is happening. And it’s happening on a large scale, and globally, people are really starting to pay attention to it. Over 2,000 farmers in Eastern, Southern and Western Australia are adopting a method known as pasture cropping.11 You take your grassland and you come in, you plant corn, or wheat, or cotton directly into your pasture without tilling it, without turning it over. And so, again, you have the grass that’s acting as a cap on the soil, holding in moisture, holding in carbon, and the roots are continually pulling carbon. Then you come in with your annual crop, and plant into that grass. This is made possible usually with animals being included into this production system. So before your annual crop is planted, animals will come in, a large herd of cattle come and eat the grass down, then you come and you plant your annual crop of wheat. Your annual crop then is the seed that’s going into a carbon-rich soil, a nutrient-rich soil, bacteria and fungi-rich soil, has amazing production, and you haven’t tilled anything. And on top of that, you also have grass to bring your animals back into after the harvest.
This is being used all over the United States, and also in Australia, where it was really pioneered by farmers who were dealing with highly degraded lands. Let’s see, you’ve got the high crop yields from using pasture cropping that are up to four tons per hectare, then it starts on a new grassland. So these are production levels that by far out-produce their industrial counterparts.
The Savory Institute presents a photo taken in Mexico in 1963, and then blends it with one of the same location in 2003, but this is grassland that’s been put into holistic management. So if it were left as it were in 1963, it would have degraded further. But in the blended image, you can see the potential of ground cover, and diversity of grasses. The trees here have come back to life, and they’ve planted more trees. And again, this is happening over millions of acres and throughout the world. The Savory Institute’s goal is to plant one billion acres in holistic grazing by 2025. So they’re a strategic organization that’s focused on scaling up to this large scale.
The Benefits of Regenerative Agriculture
What are the extended benefits of regenerative agriculture? We’ve talked about how it’s a solution to climate change, but the great thing about any holistic system is that it has multiple, extensive benefits for our environment. One of the greatest things about having soils that are regeneratively managed is that their water-holding capacity is greatly increased, like we’re talking about with the no-till system. And as we’ve seen in recent years, global climate change is happening: droughts and dramatic flooding are affecting communities and agricultural production all over the world. And the global water crisis is here and present. When we have soils that are regeneratively managed, not only can they hold rainwater better; the water recharge of aquifers is increased, because instead of running off and carrying topsoil with it, the water is being absorbed into the soil because of the root systems, because of the tiny canals that these micro-organisms make into the soil so that water is actually able to transfer back down into aquifers. This has a large potential to alleviate the global water crisis as it is today.
Here are some numbers on how that water-holding capacity is increased: we can measure soil carbon, and we can measure water-holding capacity and water recharge, and we see that a 1% increase in soil carbon transfers to 27,000 gallons of water per acre. An acre is not that big but. 27,000 gallons of water is a lot of water!
There is also an increase in crop production and resiliency when we have regeneratively managed soils. We see higher nutrient values in soils, and we have higher mineral values in the soils that are being regenerated from natural systems. In industrial agricultural systems that depend on tillers, or on synthetic fertilizers and inputs, it’s true that if you take synthetic nitrogen and you pour it on a plant in the soil, that plant takes that nitrogen up and grows and creates fruit, which could be corn, or tomatoes, or whatever. However, the nutrient quality of the fruit produced from the plant only given synthetic inputs is much less than that of a plant grown in a biologically rich and healthy soil. That not only is providing the plant essential nutrients that it needs to grow, but it’s also providing the plant essential minerals. Basically the industrial food system can get by creating fruit by just giving a plant enough of these essential nutrients to create a perfect, red, plump apple. When looking at the nutrient content of that apple however, we find that it’s largely degraded from what it was 15 years ago on our grandparents’ farm. When we look at the soils that are biologically active, it’s those microorganisms that are making or breaking down minerals in the soil for the plant, and the fruit then carries those minerals.
So when we talk about food security issues, creating nutrient-dense food is absolutely essential and these systems are creating just that, as well as systems that are more resilient in the face of climate change. Natural systems – whether forests, wetlands, or prairies – are so biologically diverse that they have the capacity to recuperate and regenerate after catastrophic climate events. The food systems that are being designed on the model of nature are also more resilient in the face of global climate change. When we have floods, fires, changing temperatures, instead of having a system that’s based on industrial inputs and special seeds that have to grow at a special temperature and have to have a special nitrogen fertilizer, we have natural systems that are working together. The soil organisms are “talking” to the plants and they’re creating different conditions for those plants to be able to recuperate and grow. The seeds, the generations of seeds are passing down environmental information, from plant generation to plant generation, about changing climates and changing temperatures. We see these natural systems are far more resilient.
There’s more good news. Regenerative agriculture not only has environmentally positive impacts, but it also has the capacity to reverse global poverty and hunger. The social and economic benefits of regenerative agriculture include, as I was saying, food for communities while removing toxic pesticides, herbicides, and genetically modified organisms from food and environments. It’s simply providing people with clean healthy food.
These systems also restructure the global food system, returning work to small farmers. So these systems generate a significant economic multiplier effect in the community, creating real wealth beyond the agricultural business.12 It demands more skilled labor, the diversification of farming enterprises, and it improves the economic resilience of farming operations through diversified production. So, again, it’s returning the farmland to rural communities, taking it out of the hands of large corporate, agricultural companies. This doesn’t mean 5-acre farms here, 10-acre farms there; we’re talking about large-scale farms.
The Problem of Scale
So how are we going to scale up our global food system using regenerative agriculture? Some important information that has come to light is that scientists and farmers have been aware of the soil’s capacity as a carbon sink for many years. The studies that have been conducted measuring carbon in soils and the extended benefits of these are finally being heard on a global level. For the first time, in December 2015, at a UN Climate Summit, agriculture was on the agenda as a major solution for climate change. So, this is huge.
One of the agreements that came out of the Paris-Lima Agreements in December 2015 is the “4 per 1,000” initiative, proposed by the French Ministry of Agriculture.13 It suggests that a 4% annual growth rate of soil carbon would make it possible to stop the present increase of atmospheric carbon dioxide. Many countries have signed on to the “4 per 1,000” agreement, including Mexico. Everyone’s diving in saying, “How do we make this possible? We see the potential for drawing down the amount of carbon dioxide; let’s make it happen. How do we roll this out on a global scale? And how do we involve our ministries of agriculture, how do we educate them on doing this? How do we educate our farmers on these regenerative methods? Let’s get it into practice.” That’s where everyone is at right now.
Developing the Change Makers
Another necessary step in scaling this movement up is to just stop subsidizing a degenerative agriculture, and incentivize regenerative agriculture. We’re looking more and more into how we can measure the amount of carbon being sequestered in soils through specific methods. What methods exactly qualify for the regenerative agriculture rubric? This is being developed as we speak, so that we can qualify a farmer to be a regenerative farmer; we can give him a certification, we can give him parameters for production, we can measure how many tons of carbon they’re putting into their soil, and we can give them carbon credits for doing that as a global service for pulling carbon out of the atmosphere, at the same time, making this regenerative production more economical for the farmer.
There’s a lot of research to be done in that area. As with any biological system, it doesn’t come in a nice neat package of exactly how to measure carbon, but the studies are being done, the work is being developed. So who’s going to carry out this transition? Small farmers.
Currently, small farmers grow 70% of the world’s food on 25% of the world’s land. So when I talk about going back to the small farmers, this is still within our reach. Not all the small farmers have died out in the United States; they’re actually half, but globally speaking, our small farmers are still there, and a lot of them still have land, a lot of them are still producing food but are struggling to survive. Farmers and conscious consumers can feed the planet.
So how do we build this movement? Connect all the dots. The great thing about what we see coming together right now with this regenerative agriculture movement is not just soil conservationists; it’s not just permaculture hippies that are into this idea. All across the board, activists for health, environment, justice, peace and democracy are saying, “Hey, this is a real solution, and we’re going to start talking about it, we’re going to start talking to our governments about it, we’re going to start developing global initiatives and programs to address it.” And connecting all these dots is absolutely necessary. And each one of you has your place in this movement, as well, your connections to your own groups and activism that you’re participating in.
Part of our campaign strategy must be to recognize that, as I mentioned earlier, we’re currently subsidizing degenerative agricultural systems. And one of the biggest threats to a regenerative agriculture system is the hold that industrial factory farms have.14 The amount of livestock produced in industrial factory farms by far controls the market in the Americas and in Europe, and we have to say “Stop, these systems are sick systems, they’re making our environment sick, they’re making products that are sick, and they’re making consumers sick.” Now it’s time that we say, “we’re not allowing this anymore!” And really call it out for what it is. Ranchers and cattle-raisers can become our greatest allies. There are beautiful relationships forming all over the Midwest, in the United States, of environmentalists and ranchers coming together, learning techniques for proper animal management on grasslands. And farmers making more money, because they have healthier grasses, are able to put more animals on their land, and their lands are healthier, and we have greater protection from soil erosion.
We also need to push the organic community to go beyond the minimum of the USDA organic standards. Just because that agricultural system is organic, doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily regenerative. True organic farmers know these regenerative methods, and they’re using them, minimum tillage, cover cropping, rotation of crops, etc. However, our organic standards don’t necessarily include these regenerative practices as a standard, so we need to push the organic community to start recognizing and start measuring. Yes, these production systems are organic, but are they regenerative? Are they healthy for the environment? And we need to make sure that those production systems aren’t degrading our soils in any way.
Become a leader in the movement. Each and every one of us has our place as a consumer. Every time we eat at a restaurant, every time we buy food for our family, every time we have a lawn or a garden, we are all leaders in our own communities. And this movement is global, and it involves all of us. So we urge you to become a leader in this movement, wherever you are.
The climate movement offers doom and gloom, but what we need is hope that we can reverse, not only mitigate climate change. If regenerative agriculture is scaled up to the potential that it has, we’re talking about pulling more carbon out of the atmosphere than we are emitting, which would be bringing our carbon dioxide levels down annually, reversing the effects of global climate change. I haven’t heard of any other solution that has offered us that potential.
It is absolutely necessary that this movement become globalized, replicated on large amounts of land very quickly. A new initiative, launched at the climate talks in Paris this past December, is an organization called Regeneration International, which is a group of world leaders in various environmental movements who have come together to solve problems in agriculture and climate change. Some of the founding members are Ronnie Cummins from the Organic Consumer Association, Vandana Shiva, Andre Leu from IFOAM Organics International, Hans Herren from the Millennium Institute, and Steve Rye from Mercola.com. So we have some major political leaders, global leaders here, who are from all different sectors — the health sector, the agricultural sector, the environmental sector — all coming together to say regenerative agriculture needs to be heard, focused on, developed, and rolled out on a large scale.
So I urge you to go to the Regeneration International webpage.15 They’ve done an amazing job at pulling together articles, information, videos surrounding agriculture, climate, health, and the environment related to regenerative agriculture. And I have some information here, take a card with you so you remember their website, their Facebook. It’s an amazing place to educate yourself and your community with the information that’s coming in our own systems.
So, you’re part of your movement. As you know, you vote with your dollar, your political pressure on our politicians who largely have been bought out by the industry, the large agriculture industry, it’s time to put pressure on them and say, “Enough is enough.” We urge you to join the movement, and there are several avenues that you can join. In the United States, the Organic Consumers Association (OCA) is a sister organization of Vía Orgánica, our Mexican-based organization. OCA is comprised of over two million members. It’s basically an online, grassroots-advocacy group representing organic consumers in the United States. And they’re incredibly active politically in the United States. I urge you to get connected with the OCA, on their webpage and their newsletters.
Locally, here at Vía Orgánica in Mexico, we have a store and restaurant, and also our educational wing. We offer free workshops every week from our store location in Centro. We have a radio program every Tuesday that talks about environmental issues, health issues, agriculture.16 We have an educational farm and ecological center at our ranch. At this farm, we’re developing a learning center for regenerative agriculture, and we have a production garden that’s about two acres in size. We’re also developing a livestock program. And we have some very exciting education happening at the farm for local Mexican rural communities, and also for international students.
The Ecological Ranch at Vía Orgánica is becoming a center point for all of these educational activities, and really a voice, internationally and locally here in Mexico for this movement. And then with Regeneration International, there is a wealth of information, with an amazing calendar of local events.
Regenerate means to give fresh life or vigor, to revitalize, to recreate nature, to cause to be born again. And when we look at the state of our world, the state of our societies, political environments, our environmental state, I think we can all agree that a regenerative approach is absolutely necessary. It’s an exciting message of hope that I’m very grateful to share with you today. Thank you.
1. This is an edited and revised transcript of the author’s presentation to the Center for Global Justice, San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, in August 2014.
3. Defined below.
4. For more information on agricultural emissions and sinks, including US-specific data, please see https://www3.epa.gov/climatechange/ghgemissions/sources/agriculture.html
5. Regeneration International (RI), founded in June 2015, is an online and grassroots non-profit organization working to educate, unify and mobilize the food, farm, climate, natural health, environment, and economic justice movements around agriculture-based solutions to the world’s climate, hunger and environmental crises. Through our global network, we are connected to 3.5 million consumers, farmers, activists, scientists and policy makers in over 60 different countries. Our mission is to build a global network of farmers, scientists, businesses, activists, educators, journalists, policymakers and consumers who will promote and put into practice regenerative agriculture and land-use practices that: provide abundant, nutritious food; revitalize local economies; regenerate soil fertility and water-retention capacity; nurture biodiversity; and restore climate stability by reducing agricultural greenhouse gas emissions while at the same time drawing down excess atmospheric carbon and sequestering it in the soil.
6. Kitteridge, Jack (2015) “Soil Carbon Restoration: Can Biology do the Job?” Northeast Organic Farming Association.
7. On Industrial vs Regenerative Agriculture see
http://blogs.worldwatch.org/nourishingtheplanet/feeding-the-world-sustainably-agroecology-vs-industrial-agriculture/; also Ohlson, Kristin (2014) The Soil Will Save Us: How Scientists, Farmers and Foodies Are Healing the Soil to Save the Planet. http://www.kristinohlson.com/books/soil-will-save-us
8. On the relative productivity of organic systems, see the Rodale Institute’s Farming Systems Trial (FST)®; it is America’s longest running, side-by-side comparison of organic and chemical agriculture. http://rodaleinstitute.org/the-strength-to-feed-the-world/.
9. See the Institute’s website: https://landinstitute.org
10. See the Marin Carbon Project,
11. White, Courtney (2013) “On pasture cropping, Pasture Cropping: A Regenerative Solution from Down Under,” in Solutions. 4:1, February
12. Lengnick, Laura (2015) Resilient Agriculture: Cultivating Food Systems for a Changing Climate. Gabriola Island, British Columbia: New Society Publishers
13. For more information on the initiative, see its website, http://4p1000.org/understand.
14. According to an argument advanced by the Heritage Foundation and other critics of the farm bill, US farm policy “is based on the premise that a surplus of crops has lowered crop prices too far and farmers need subsidies to recover lost income. However, the federal government’s remedy is to offer subsidies that increase as a farmer plants more crops. This creates greater crop surpluses, driving prices down even further and spurring demands for even greater subsidies.” See Riedl, Brian M. (2002) “Top 10 Reasons to Veto the Farm Bill” Heritage Foundation, http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2002/04/top-10-reasons-to-veto-the-farm-bill. Farm policy that encourages overproduction has the effect of increasing total use of pesticides and fertilizers and contributes to declines in grassland ecosystems and many bird and other wildlife species that depend on them. See Organic Consumers Association, “About Current Farm Subsidies.”
15. Here are the Regeneration International internet-based presences:
16. The radio program can be found online at http://viaorganica.org/radio/