I have a confession.
Until I watched actress Kaiulani Lee kick off the Beyond Pesticides 34th National Pesticide Forum this weekend in Portland, Maine, I had only vaguely heard of Rachel Carson, marine biologist, environmental activist and author of “The Silent Spring.”
But Lee’s keynote performance, “A Sense of Wonder,” brought Carson to life for all of us who attended this important conference. Using Carson’s own words, Lee gave voice to the struggles Carson faced—the backlash she endured from the chemical industry, and the personal sacrifices she made in order to change the conversation around how we regulate chemicals, and how as a nation we address environmental issues.
It was a lesson in where we came from and where we are today.
If Carson's struggle in the 1950s and 1960s sounds all too familiar, it’s because we are fighting the same circular battle with today’s chemical industry and agribusiness giants—one product at a time, with a new, often worse, one always just around the corner.
This year’s Beyond Pesticides forum had something for everyone. Scientists, lawyers, lawmakers, farmers, journalists and activists came together to share notes on the state of the movement.
And they all agreed—we have a pathway to finish what Rachel Carson started.
Presenters Kristin Ohlson and Jonathan Lundgren discussed the coming shift in the way we farm. Ohlson, author of “The Soil Will Save Us,” spoke about the limitless potential of regenerative agriculture. She profiled farmers who have discovered that healthy soil isn’t just good for the environment, it’s good for business. Cultivating healthy soil creates farms that are more resistant to drought, pests and other calamities. It also bolsters long-term yields and exponentially decreases water consumption. And best of all, healthy soil has the power to sequester billions of tons of planet-warming carbon.
Lundgren, a former USDA scientist, presented pesticide research that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) tried to muzzle. But the moral of Lundgren’s presentation wasn't about pesticides. It was about regenerative agriculture.
“Pesticides are a symptom of the problem,” Lundgren said. “And the source of that problem is a chemical farming system that relies on vulnerable monocultures that destroy the soil.”
There was no shortage of activists at the conference, all of whom were looking for ways to bring about meaningful change, either locally or on a national scale. George Leventhal, a councilman from Montgomery, Md., Montgomery County, Md., which successfully passed a widespread ban on pesticides, shared tips on how to fight the chemical companies at a local level.
There were many other speakers who provided expert advice and shared critical updates on the movement to end pesticide use. Keep checking back at the Beyond Pesticides website, where videos of the presentations will soon be posted.
Meanwhile, my take-away from the conference? The regenerative movement has officially begun. We can win the battle against Monsanto and tackle climate change at the same time. We’ve got an endgame!
Support OCA’s Regeneration International project here.
Brian Jordan is a communications assistant with the Organic Consumers Association.