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Regenerative Farming: Single Solution to a World of Problems?

What if there were one solution that could fix a lot of the world’s problems?

That’s how organic farmer Ben Dobson began his TEDxHudson talk a few years ago. “Appropriate organic farming techniques and properly planned grazing can reverse climate change,” Dobson told his audience.

Dobson has been a farmer his entire life. But it wasn’t until six years ago that he made the connection between agriculture and climate change:

“We emit carbon dioxide in many more ways than just out of our exhaust pipes, out of coal plants, out of factories. We emit potentially more from our soils and by cutting down trees. Carbon is the skeleton of what’s under our feet and we’ve been taking that skeleton out of the ground bone by bone and putting it in the atmosphere.”

In Dobson’s opinion, photosynthesis is another word for carbon sequestration.

“Photosynthesis is the process by which plants breathe in carbon dioxide. They keep the carbon and they breathe the oxygen back out. The carbon then becomes the stock of the plant, the leaves, the roots. The extra carbon goes out of the roots into the soil—and in a proper farming system, it stay there.”

Dobson, who spent time farming in Maine, Haiti and the Dominican Republic, in addition to his family’s land in Hillsdale, New York, now works at Stone House Farm in Livingston, New York. He joined the 2,200-acre farm when the owners were planning to completely transition from conventional corn and soy production to a diversified organic farm.

Today, Stone House Farm is a model for regenerative organic agriculture that uses holistic management and long-term crop rotation to rebuild healthy soil and minimize the use of inputs from outside the farm.

And, Dobson says in his talk, “We’re really making it organic. We’re taking carbon dioxide from the air and putting it in the soil.”

How do they do that? After a crop is harvested, they grow cover crops, using crops that will live through the winter. They never leave the soil bare, so they are photosynthesizing all year long, bringing carbon out of the air and putting it in the soil.

“Having more carbon in the soil gives a better home for all the microbes in the soil to live in. They then can make more nitrogen available to plants naturally. That’s right nitrogen, that $40-billion industry that they pollute a lot to make and it’s ruining our oceans with runoff. That can be made naturally with bacteria under our feet while we’re sequestering carbon dioxide.”

Dobson is referring to the $40-billion fertilizer industry, responsible for the widespread nitrate-contamination of U.S. and global waterways and water supplies.

Stone House Farm has figured out “how to grow major commodity crops without chemicals, without pesticides and come close to conventional production targets while sequestering carbon dioxide,” the young pioneer said.

And grow major commodity crops is exactly what Stone House Farm is doing. The farm sells certified organic, non-GMO grains, seeds and animal feeds to local farms and food businesses. It also grazes black angus cattle, which are 100% grass-fed and free of growth hormones or antibiotics.

Ronnie Cummins, international director of Organic Consumers Association, and Steve Rye, CEO of Mercola Health Resources, visited Stone House Farms last month.

“I’ve been steadily visiting organic, biodynamic and regenerative or transition-to-regenerative farms and ranches across North America for the past several years,” Cummins said. “I must say that the several-thousand-acre Stone House Farm is the most impressive biodynamic and regenerative farm and grazing operation (and research center on carbon and methane sequestration) that I’ve ever seen. Ben Dobson is an agronomic genius and a true leader in the U.S. regeneration movement. Watch this TEDx Talk and you’ll see what I’m talking about.”

Rye was most impressed with Dobson’s ability to combine historical best practices and modern technology on a large scale:

“Accelerating soil improvements needs to happen quickly. Along with other innovative farmers like Will Harris, Gabe Brown and Joel Salatin, Ben is proving there’s reason to be optimistic.”

Dobson hopes that everyone listening to his TEDx Talk can understand the point he is trying to make:

“This one solution I’m talking about can make more money for farmers, produce the food we need and treat the earth in such a way that we can hold more water in it.

“We can sequester our carbon dioxide. We can reinvigorate local economies by taking corporate suppliers of chemicals, too much equipment and herbicides off the table and keep that money local where we can trade seeds. We can trade manure. We can sell crops locally to bakers who need it, to local farms who want food with no GMOs in it. This is what can be done. This is what we’re doing.”

Organic Consumers Association is a nonprofit consumer advocacy and grassroots organization. Keep up-to-date with OCA’s news and alerts by signing up for our newsletter.