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The Solution Under Our Feet: How Regenerative Organic Agriculture can Save the Planet

Farmer's hand holding healthy soil.

One critical and virtually unknown issue is still missing from today’s conversation about food, and it’s literally under our feet. It’s also a solution to climate change.

Through the past century, we’ve increased our rate of digging carbon-rich matter for fuel, disrupting the balance in the “carbon triad” by clearing rainforests, degrading farmland, and burning coal and oil. The three main carbon sinks are the atmosphere, the oceans, and the humus-sphere — the decaying organic material that’s essential to the Earth’s soil fertility.

If you take away one thing from this article, let it be this quote from esteemed soil scientist Dr. Rattan Lal: “A mere 2 percent increase in the carbon content of the planet’s soils could offset 100 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions going into the atmosphere.”

Quote from Dr. Rattan Lal, Ohio State Soil Scientist

Of all manmade greenhouse gases, 20 to 30 percent come from industrial agriculture. In his recent Huffington Post piece “Nature Wants Her Carbon Back,” Larry Kopald wrote, “How is it possible that with the entire planet focusing on reducing CO2 emissions we're not even paying lip service to the single largest contributor?”

Regenerative organic agriculture removes carbon from the atmosphere and oceans and sequesters it into the soil, expanding the soil’s water-holding capacity and building organic matter. Organic is better than conventional, but organic plus regenerative is best, for it enhances soil fertility vs. merely maintaining it.

Tom Newmark of the Carbon Underground Project states: “Many NGOs view carbon and agriculture as the ‘enemy.’ The regenerative movement sees carbon as our friend, and agriculture as our natural ally to help our friend carbon return to the land.”

Chemical Ag: A Leading World Problem

Industrial ag via chemical fertilizers and confined animal feedlot operations (CAFOs) give off more greenhouse gases than all transportation methods combined.

Excess carbon is falling into our oceans and creating acidic conditions, disturbing the oceanic ecosystem in major ways that include reducing the plankton that feeds whales and provides oxygen. (Did you know that more than 60 percent of oxygen is produced by phytoplankton?)

As National Geographic has reported, “...new research is finding that the introduction of massive amounts of CO2 into the seas is altering water chemistry and affecting the life cycles of many marine organisms.” Researchers are concerned that shell-forming organisms — from Maine lobsters to the tiny plankton that are key links in the food chain — are now less able to produce the calcium carbonate needed for their shells.

Quote from John W. Roulac, Nutiva Founder & CEO

Foodies, Unite!

Regenerative organic agriculture understands the interconnected biology of soil and views soil as a holistic system. In Grass, Soil, Hope: A Journey through Carbon Country, Courtney White writes:

"Once upon a time all agriculture was organic, grass-fed, and regenerative. Seed saving, composting, polycultures, and raising livestock entirely on grass was the norm.

“We all know what happened next: the plow, the tractor, fossil fuels, mono-crops, nitrogen fertilizer, pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, feedlots, animal byproducts, E. coli, CAFOs, GMOs..."

Luckily, bloggers, activists, and the booming pure food movement hold the promise of positive change. A new generation of ranchers is growing grass while building carbon and organic matter into the soil, as seen in the video Soil Carbon Cowboys, which features several such “grass ranchers.” Carbon Cycle Institute is teaching people carbon literacy, Los Angeles-based Kiss the Ground is producing an animated video, “The Story of Soil,” California’s governor and legislators are working to fund carbon-friendly ag practices, and Richmond, California, will host a “Soil Not Oil” conference September 4-5, 2015.

There’s a groundswell realization that the way forward is to support regenerative organic while reducing animal consumption. If you eat meat, it’s important to support pasture-based ranchers. Consider consuming 50 percent less meat, and avoid suppliers who use carbon-intensive GMO corn and soy.

It’s time to revive the ancient wisdom of honoring the land, and in so doing heal our soil, our oceans, our atmosphere, and ourselves.

John W. Roulac, founder and CEO of the superfoods company Nutiva, has also founded five nonprofit ecological groups, including GMO Inside and the Nutiva Foundation. John has written four books, including Backyard Composting and Hemp Horizons.

The preceding has been excerpted from a longer article published on EcoWatch.

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Patrick Maulsby says …

My soil has a pH level of 8. I need it lowered for blueberries. They said to use sulphur and I want to lower it permanently.

michael Zimmerman says …

Great and informative article. Clear and easy to understand

Vyctorya says …

Thank you so much, Mr. Roulac. I learned something new, important. I eat mostly vegetarian.

Anna C. says …

I have composter in my back yard it's doing great job for my garden .Highly recomended for organic gardens,soil is very reach with many worms and you turn kitchen and some of the yard waste into rich soil enhancing compost.

Theresa geyer says …

I would love to learn more about this. I know that the way things are going now is creating many allergies and hurting all of us. I live on 4 acres in Michigan and would love to get back to the way things should be done. Do you have any suggestions or books I could read