The Need to Restore the Soil
Healthy food comes from healthy soil. Unfortunately, most soil today is far from healthy, thanks to years of industrial farming methods that push Mother Nature too far. It’s over-tilled, over-fertilized, exposed, eroded and treated with chemically-based fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides and fungicides. What good food could come from land like that? These degenerative, industrial practices have depleted the soil of life, making it difficult or impossible for it to support growing plants, and spurring frustrated farmers to rely more and more on chemical inputs.We cannot continue to abuse our soil, nor can we simply sustain unhealthy land – we must to revive and restore it, and we can through Regenerative Agriculture.
What is Regenerative Agriculture?
Regenerative Agriculture is a farming method that relies on nature, not harsh chemicals or disruptive practices like tilling. When practiced, Regenerative Agriculture offers a multitude of benefits for our farms, our environments, and our food. It builds soil health, enhances ecosystem diversity, and captures carbon and nitrogen from the atmosphere, to name a few.
Principles of Regenerative Agriculture
Since it is dependent on working with and adapting to nature, there is no specific “formula” for Regenerative Agriculture. However, there are some guiding principles to follow, which include:
Build soil health
Soil should be alive and filled with microbes. A whopping 90% of soil function is mediated by microbes that:
- Bind the soil together, allowing it to draw in more water and oxygen, which results in less runoff.
- Solubilize minerals in the soil and slowly feed them to plants, helping them grow.
Diverse cover crops and plant life
Soil microbes depend on plants, and soil health depends on microbes, so how we manage plants is critical to restoring and maintaining the microbial health of the soil. Having a diverse mix of cover crops and other plants:
- Increases microbial population and organic matter in the soil, allowing it to draw in more carbon and nitrogen
- Covers and protects the soil, regulating its temperature during extreme hot or cold
- Adds flavor and nutrients to our food
When Europeans began settling in America, they brought with them the practice of tilling the land. The idea was that by tilling, they could “fluff” up the soil, mix in oxygen, and increase water infiltration. It turns out, they were very wrong.
No chemical inputs
The use of chemicals, such as fertilizers, herbicides, fungicides and pesticides, is a relatively recent agricultural development. For hundreds of years chemicals where not needed or used in farming because, sensibly, chemical inputs aren’t needed when you are working with (not against) the systems Mother Nature already has in place. Use of chemicals instead of nature’s own systems has resulted not only in poor soil health, but in other problems, such as:
- Killing off large populations of beneficial species, like bees (important pollinators)
- Causing chemical runoff that pollutes ground water, rivers, lakes and oceans with harmful toxins
Integrating livestock naturally into the ecosystem through adaptive grazing is a form of “biomimicry” – it simulates the way nature works when left on its own. The way to do this is by mimicking the dense herds of grazing ruminants that used to roam across America, grazing and trampling plants into the soil. This trampling provides an armor of plant life for the soil and feeds the soil microbes.
With adaptive, rotational grazing, large pastures are subdivided into smaller paddocks, and animals are rotated from one paddock to the next. As the animals graze in their new paddock, the natural grass and forage grow back in the previous paddock. This allows nature to recreate the ecosystem that existed before modern agriculture tried to “tame” the land and ended up contaminating and diminishing it. Tilling is extremely destructive to our land and atmosphere. Tilling:
- Destroys the soil structure (aggregates) which are critical for soil function
- Decreases water infiltration
- Reduces soil organic matter
- Increases weeds
- Releases harmful carbon into the atmosphere as CO2
*This content is sourced from Joyce Farms and can be seen by clicking here.