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Health Hack #49 - The Need for Biodiversity in Our Soil

Regenerative Agriculture

Let’s hope that within the next few years, the adjective regenerative, in its application towards farming, achieves the ubiquity that terms like sustainable and local have achieved over the last decade. Sustainability and locale are key players within this food ethics vernacular, but they’re largely irrelevant without regenerative practices. It’s only through this overarching ethos that we can truly start undoing much of the harm that has been caused by farming practices that have run amuck in a race to simplify and streamline everything over the past century.

Before diving into some of the components of regenerative farming, let’s first start by highlighting what it isn’t. It is not monocropping: planting the same seed on the same plot of land, year after year. Harvest, plow, re-seed repeat. Our soil yearns for diversity, for complexity equates to richness. Without diverse inputs, soil will weather. It will become stale, and literally begin to disappear. Just sift through the remnants of your flower pots in the springtime, having removed the annuals from the fall prior but left the soil to sit idly. It’s a shell of its former state.

It’s been projected that sans a significant renaissance towards improved methods of farming, our globe’s soil has no more than sixty remaining years of farmability. Yes, we may see continued product yields on an annual basis, and assume that no issue exists, since the same old corn field continues to produce the same old corn, year after year. But like how we are what we eat, our food supply is derived from what it consumes. We don’t think of plants as consuming, per se - but they do. They consume sunlight, but as important to what’s above, is what’s providing nourishment from below. As soil endures the redundancy of monocropping, its quality degrades, as does that of the plants that it sustains. If we’re not conditioning the soil well, then we’re not conditioning the plants well, either. And if the very plants that we consume aren’t conditioned well, then neither are we.

Regenerative farming is not synthetic. We are not smarter than Mother Nature. Time and again, man attempts to outwit the universe, and the universe laughs last. We can employ our brightest chemists to formulate chemical inputs to eradicate a vast swath of weeds or attempt to invigorate our earth’s soil with the infusion of manufactured minerals. We can seemingly succeed at doing so, but so often do we later learn, humbly, that the prize we’d earned for our feat is no more than fool’s gold. Think of all of the modern innovations that have revolutionized the way we live and behave, only to learn not long thereafter at what impact these perceived innovations have on our health, or our planet. Take the advent of plastics. Multi-purposed, long lasting, inexpensive means of packing and storing virtually anything. Each apparent virtue working against our dear planet once, after having revolutionized so many industries, it came to light that many of these magical plastics remain in our landfills (or wherever they’re littered) for literally hundreds of years before they break down. Synthetic herbicides and pesticides are quite effective at vanquishing weeds and pests from our fields, but they’re also quite adept at destroying the biodiversity of what lies beneath. When this underground ecosystem is disturbed, there again lies a transference of ills to us humans when we interact with plants born of toxic soil.

Regenerative farming is not easy. It’s a carefully cultivated technique that relies on far more work requirements than modern day factory farming methodologies. It requires more care, more consideration, more planning, and more susceptibility to imperfection. Due to these vulnerabilities, products gleaned from these methods tend to cost more. The old pennywise, pound foolish adage holds true given the context here, which is bound to become an important part of the conversation if we as a society shift more towards embracing these superior farming techniques. We might spend a little more today and a little more tomorrow, but we must remember to measure that against our long term health and against the overall vitality of our planet. Of what loss to us is a mark-up in our food expenses, if it ensures that we live longer and better. If our food choices today help stave off just one chronic disease downstream, then it’s very hard to argue about upgrading things now. The cost of a quality diet today is likely to save on medical bills tomorrow.

In a nutshell, regenerative agriculture employs nature-derived methods in assuring biodiversity of our earth’s soil. It holds soil health as absolutely paramount. It equates good soil health to as complex and diverse a network as possible. In a teaspoon of rich soil resides more microorganisms than human beings on planet earth; it is in the spirit of the regenerative way to preserve this astounding statistic. Nuanced composting strategies abet this goal, pulling both from complex waste management programs internally and utilizing external compost sources when and where needed. Regenerative methodology favors crop rotation over tillage and will often use animals to help facilitate these rotations. The animals are often released onto a swath of land post-harvest, where they’ll forage on the remnants, and de-weed the earth naturally, without the need for chemical herbicides. While grazing, their waste returns hearty compost back into the soil, helping to rejuvenate it without the need for chemical fertilizers. Maybe a flock of chickens is released upon the pasture, where they’ll aerate the soil naturally, and with their insatiable appetite for bugs, eradicate the bulk of plant disturbing pests without the need for chemical insecticides. This is a most idyllic version of how regenerative agriculture plays out (not all regenerative farms utilize animals), but it beautifully paints the portrait of what can be, and speaks towards the merits of complying with nature’s insistence on doing its thing.

Interestingly, the regenerative movement finds many of its roots right here in Pennsylvania. Regenerative Agriculture was first coined by the Rodale Institute in the early 80’s, and is finally on the cusp of gaining acceptance into modern food parlance. As diehard advocates for real food, there is really no truer way to cultivate realness from the earth than through these farming methods. We look forward to exploring this topic further in the coming weeks and hope this compels our readers to dig deeper into the story of the roots that (hopefully) appear on your dinner plates each night…