Regenerative agriculture can feed us, cool the planet

by Nancy Deren

We are at a pivot point of both climate crisis and opportunity.

Our climate crisis is a symptom of multiple natural systems being altered or destroyed, with biodiversity loss and nitrogen imbalance the most severe. 100% renewable energy alone is insufficient to address our dire situation and will take too long.

How we currently grow, prepare, eat and waste our food, are major sources of the climate destabilization, injustice, and insecurity we face.  We are eating fossil fuels.  It takes 10 calories of fossil fuel energy to produce 1 calorie of food. 20-40% of global heating is related to this extractive, chemical based industrial system.

Eating is an agricultural act we all do every day. We can transform our current agriculture system from one based on extraction and multinational corporate profit, to one based on health, justice and ecology, with fair livelihoods for farmers.  One that honors relationships between growers and eaters. One that cools and heals our planet.

Regenerative agriculture can feed us all and cool the planet. These agro-ecological practices can provide at least one-third of the climate mitigation needed to reduce global heating.

Industrial agriculture is not feeding us nutritious food, or providing our farmers and ranchers fair prices.

Use of chemical nitrogen fertilizer, pesticides and herbicides, and practices that leave soil naked and exposed are destroying our precious soil, polluting our water, and releasing tons of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses into the air.

Crop insurance and farm subsidies and policies are skewed primarily to large corporate farms growing commodity crops. Fruits and vegetables are called “specialty crops” and get less than 1% of subsidies. This uneven playing field and lack of support for farmers and ranchers who are good stewards of the land makes transition extremely difficult.

But we can change this picture within a decade.

Regenerative, agro-ecological practices work in harmony with nature, focusing on soil health.

Living soil partners with plants, working to trade sugars and nutrients and build strong roots that pull carbon down in the soil and store it deep underground. Tons of carbon! Living soil is the second biggest reservoir of carbon on the planet, next to the oceans. Soils store water like a sponge; critical for dealing with droughts and floods.

Chemical nitrogen fertilizers disrupt this powerful process by feeding the plant but not the soil. Nitrogen run off and dead zones are the result. Organic fertilizers feed the living soil that feeds the plants, making them way more nutritious and resistant to diseases.

If we’re going to ditch the chemicals, restore healthy soil, grow nutritious food, and cool our planet, we must get animals back on the land where Nature intended.  Nature farms with animals, from the tiniest billions in healthy soil to the big ones we know. Ruminants like cows and bison co-evolved with the grasslands, creating some of the world’s most rich, diverse habitats. They are essential to getting those tons of carbon back in the soil where it will feed and nurture the plants, animals and us! Grasslands store more carbon than trees, in areas prone to drought and wildfires.

Saving our planet is not about being a vegan, vegetarian or an omnivore – specific diets are a distraction if we keep eating within the current agribusiness driven system. Highly processed plant based food products are destructive to the planet and health, just like factory farmed meat.  It’s not the kale or the cow: it’s the how!  Become a food citizen instead of consumer, and no matter what your dietary preference,  take action to put Nature as the measure of our agriculture/food system—she’s got a proven record of success!

Our individual actions matter, but collective action has the power to transform our food system. We will be effective if we join together to change policies, buying habits and to demand an end to the cruel and unnatural practices of factory farms and giant chemical drenched unnatural monocultures of plants. Our clothes are also part of the problem—65% of what we wear are synthetics, made from fossil fuel based chemical processes.

Last spring, over 300 organizations ranging from public health, to farmworkers to environmentalists urged Congress to make food and agriculture central to the Green New Deal.  Last week, a bipartisan coalition called Farmers and Ranchers for a Green New Deal, joined with the Sunrise movement to present Congress with policy goals and reforms calling for breakup of corporate agribusiness monopolies and support for transition to organic, agro-ecological practices.

You can be part of this movement.  Individually, practice reading labels, buy organic as much as possible, ditch chemical fertilizers, and choose food and clothing made ethically and responsibly.  Support our local farmers, farmers marketsand CSAs.   Join local and national groups like Kiss the Ground, Green America, or Regeneration International. Together, we can revitalize our communities and restore our beautiful planet.

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