It's easy to forget that at one point, not so long ago, all food was organically grown in a way that supported the ecosystem and environment. This all changed in the 1940s when the Green Revolution took hold and industrial, chemical-dependent farming techniques spread and quickly became the norm.
Unfortunately, industrial farming has created a series of unsustainable situations in less than 70 years, and evidence suggests we will not make it until the end of the century if we continue along the path of degenerative food and farming. Virtually every growing environmental and health problem can be traced back to modern food production. This includes but is not limited to:
Food insecurity and malnutrition amid mounting food waste
Promotion of foodborne illnesses and drug-resistant bacterial infections
Rising obesity and chronic disease rates despite growing health care outlays
Rapidly dwindling fresh water supplies
Toxic agricultural chemicals polluting air, soil and waterways, thereby threatening the entire food chain from top to bottom
Disruption of normal climate and rainfall patterns due to the destruction of ecosystems by pollution
The good news is there's a viable answer to all of these problems that does not merely scratch at the surface, and the answer hinges on the widespread implementation of regenerative agriculture and biodynamic farming. This is why I support the Organic Consumers Association and Regeneration International.
By learning from each other and educating consumers to affect change through your shopping habits, there's hope we may avoid a complete breakdown of our ecosystem and food production. One thing's for sure: We cannot wait for regulations to drive this change. We must push for it ourselves, and we do so by voting with our pocketbooks every time we shop for food.
While this is a very broad topic with many interlacing components that could cover several books, here, I summarize half a dozen of the top reasons to support regenerative and biodynamic farming, and provide resources where you can further your own education.
Reason No. 1: Regenerative Farming Rebuilds Topsoil
Topsoil destruction, erosion and desertification are exacerbated by tilling, monocropping and not using cover crops. Maria-Helena Semedo of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations has warned that at the current rate of topsoil degradation, all the world's topsoil will be gone in less than 60 years,1 at which point growing of food will become next to impossible.
Closely related problems are the loss of soil fertility and biodiversity, which is directly related to the loss of natural carbon in the soil. An estimated 80 percent of soil carbon in heavily farmed areas has already been lost,2 due to destructive plowing, overgrazing and the use of soil-destructive, carbon-depleting chemical fertilizers and pesticides.
Carbon management — pulling carbon out of the air and sequestering it into the soil — is a critical aspect of environmental health and the growing of food. A key strategy to sequester carbon in soil is to use cover crops. In other words, soil should never be left exposed, as without root systems holding the soil in place, soil erosion speeds up.
Mixed grasses also nourish the soil microbiome, which need the plant interaction. Nature abhors monoculture. In 1 square foot of pristine prairie land, you'll find about 140 different plants, and this is the type of natural biodiversity regenerative farmers aim to mimic. Regenerative farmers also understand the necessity of livestock.
An article3 by Pure Advantage notes how "there is no current or envisioned technology that can simultaneously sequester carbon, restore biodiversity and feed people. But livestock can …" Indeed, Gabe Brown, a regenerative land management pioneer, discussed this in-depth in our 2014 interview, covered in "How to Regenerate Soil Using Cover Crops and Regenerative Land Management."
The success of Will Harris' grass fed ranching operation in Georgia (detailed in my July 2016 interview with him), and thousands of other ranches across the U.S. and the world, also testify to the regenerative power of grazing animals. The percentage of organic matter in soil is a good indicator of quality, and Harris has been able to increase organic matter in his soil from less than 0.5 percent to as much as 5 percent in a 20-year period.
Reason No. 2: Regenerative Farming Protects Water Sources and Diminishes Water Demands
Industrial agriculture also promotes water waste through use of flood irrigation, destruction of soil quality and poor crop choices. As a result, one-third of the largest groundwater aquifers are already nearing depletion,4 as we're extracting water at a far faster pace than the aquifers can refill.
According to James Famiglietti, a senior water scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the majority of our global groundwaters "are past sustainability tipping points,"5 which means it's only a matter of time until we run out of fresh water. About 80 percent of U.S. consumptive water (and more than 90 percent in many Western states) is used for agricultural purposes.6
Large-scale monocrop farms and concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) are also a primary source of water pollution.7 According to a report8 by Environment America, corporate agribusiness is "one of the biggest threats to America's waterways."
Tyson Foods Inc. was deemed among the worst. Researchers have warned that many lakes around the world are now at grave risk from fertilizer runoff that feeds harmful blue-green algae (cyanobacteria)9,10 and, once established, it's far more difficult to get rid of than previously thought.
Regenerative farming addresses both water waste and water pollution. Not only are synthetic fertilizers and toxic pesticides not needed when you grow crops and raise animals in a symbiotic fashion that supports the health and balance of the environment, but the more organic matter there is in the soil, the more moisture it can hold.
For each 1 percent increase in organic matter, each acre of soil can retain another 20,000 gallons of water, thereby reducing the need for irrigation with precious groundwater.11