Regenerative Agriculture Is Transforming Heifer Ranch into the Garden of Eden

“I love to go down into the bottoms [to] check on the cattle and the land and watch the sun rise,” Kilpatrick said. After 25 years of farming in places from Massachusetts to Ecuador, Kilpatrick knows a thing or two about the connections between a farmer and livestock, and livestock and the land.
Kilpatrick is putting that expertise to work as the manager and land steward of Heifer Ranch, a 1,200-acre working farm in Perryville, just 40 miles to the west of Arkansas’ state capital in Little Rock.

Once a place for visitors to learn about and experience a version of our global work, the Ranch keeps education at the core as Kilpatrick creates a living classroom for farmers learning about the symbiotic relationship between livestock and land. The work has put the Ranch at the heart of Heifer’s programming in the United States.

“One of my biggest goals for the Ranch is that we become a diverse, robust, vibrant destination — a living, breathing, learning lab,” Kilpatrick said.

It’s a big task, but one that is clearly already working.

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Farmers Should Act Now to Become Market Leaders in Regenerative Agriculture

New Zealand is better placed than other countries to embrace regenerative agriculture due to its existing pastoral systems, but lack of a clear definition is holding it back, new research has found.

Research commissioned by Beef and Lamb New Zealand and New Zealand Wine Growers looked at how well positioned the country was to take advantage of a growing global tend towards the adoption of regenerative farming practices.

The research was conducted by Alpha Food Labs with funding support from the Ministry for Primary Industries Sustainable Food and Fibre Futures fund and focussed on the future market potential of regeneratively produced food and wine in three key markets – the US, Germany and Britain.

It found positioning regenerative agriculture as part of the solution to climate change had the potential to capture consumer interest. However, linking regenerative production to health and product taste would drive even greater consumer interest.

Beef and Lamb chief executive Sam McIvor said, while still in its infancy, regenerative agriculture was gathering momentum and was set to become a significant trend in food internationally. Farmers needed to act before competitors took the opportunity.

 

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‘Corporate Colonization’: Small Producers Boycott Un Food Summit

Hundreds of civil society groups, academics and social movements are boycotting the first UN global food summit amid growing anger that the agenda has been hijacked by an opaque web of corporate interests.

Called the people’s summit by UN organisers, groups representing thousands of small-scale farmers and Indigenous communities, which produce 70% of the world’s food through sustainable agriculture, are among those to withdraw from Thursday’s event saying their knowledge and experience has been ignored.

The declaration, signed by about 600 groups and individuals, states: “[We] reject the ongoing corporate colonization of food systems and food governance under the facade of the United Nations Food Systems Summit … The struggle for sustainable, just and healthy food systems cannot be unhooked from the realities of the peoples whose rights, knowledge and livelihoods have gone unrecognized and disrespected.”

Some have criticized the prominence of corporations, such as Nestlé, Tyson and Bayer, in the summit’s efforts to identify food system solutions.

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Regenerative Food and Farming: Survival and Revival

“Regenerative agriculture provides answers to the soil crisis, the food crisis, the climate crisis, and the crisis of democracy.” Dr. Vandana Shiva, Co-Founder Regeneration International

Regenerative agriculture and holistic livestock management represent the next, crucial stage of organic food and farming, not only avoiding toxic pesticides, fertilizers, sewage sludge, GMO seeds, and excessive greenhouse gas emissions, but regenerating soil fertility, water retention, carbon sequestration, and rural livelihoods as well.

Regeneration has now become the hottest topic in the natural and organic food sector. At the same time, climate activists regularly discuss the role of organic and regenerative practices in reducing agricultural greenhouse gas emissions and sequestering excess atmospheric carbon dioxide in soils and agricultural landscapes.

Inside Regeneration International, which now includes 400 affiliates in more than 60 countries, our primary focus is  moving beyond the basics of Regeneration to identifying regenerative and organic “best practices” around the globe and figuring out how to utilize farmer innovation, marketplace demand, policy reform, and public and private investing to qualitatively spread and scale these best practices up so that organic and regenerative becomes the norm, rather than just the alternative, for the planet’s now degenerative multitrillion-dollar food, farming and land use system.

Either we move beyond merely treating the symptoms of our planetary degeneration and build instead a new system based upon regenerative food, farming and land use, coupled with renewable energy practices and global cooperation instead of superpower competition and belligerence, or we will soon pass the point of no return.

In 2010 Olaf Christen stated, “Regenerative agriculture is an approach in agriculture that rejects pesticides and synthetic fertilizers and is intended to improve the regeneration of the topsoil, biodiversity and the water cycle.”

This corresponds almost exactly with the stated principles of the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM) or Organics International.

Since 2014, the Rodale Institute, IFOAM, Dr. Bronner’s, Dr. Mercola, Patagonia, the Real Organic Project, the Biodynamic Movement, the Organic Consumers Association, Regeneration International, Navdanya and others have also been discussing and implementing organic standards, practices and certification, which incorporate regenerative principles.

Changing the Conversation: Regenerative Food and Farming

In September 2014 a group of food, natural health and climate activists, including Vandana Shiva, Andre Leu, Will Allen, Steve Rye, Alexis Baden-Meyer and staff from Dr. Bronner’s, Dr. Mercola, Organic Consumers Association and the Rodale Institute, organized a press conference at the massive climate march in New York City to announce the formation of Regeneration International and to set for ourselves a simple, but what seemed like then ambitious, goal.

We all pledged to change the conversation on the climate crisis in the U.S. and around the world — then narrowly focused on renewable energy and energy conservation — so as to incorporate regenerative and organic food, farming and land use as a major solution to global warming, given its proven ability to drawdown and sequester massive amounts of excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store it in the soil, trees, and plants.

Now, seven years later, it appears that our growing Regeneration Movement has achieved this goal. Regeneration is now the hottest topic in the natural and organic food and farming sector, while climate activists including the Sunrise Movement and Extinction Rebellion regularly talk about the role of organic and regenerative practices in reducing agricultural greenhouse gas emissions.

More and more people now understand that we can achieve, through enhanced photosynthesis and drawdown, “Net Zero” emissions by 2030, a figure will be necessary if we are to avoid runaway global warming and climate catastrophe.

Identifying Regenerative and Organic ‘Best Practices’

Inside Regeneration International, which now includes 400 affiliates in more than 60 countries, our conversation has shifted from promoting a basic discussion about organic and regenerative food, farming, and land-use to identifying regenerative and organic “best practices” around the globe.

Our discussions and strategizing are not just an academic exercise. As most of us now realize, our very survival as a civilization and a species is threatened by a systemic crisis that has degraded climate stability, our food and our environment, along with every major aspect of modern life.

This mega-crisis cannot be resolved by piecemeal reforms or minor adjustments such as slightly cutting our current levels of fossil fuel use, reducing global deforestation, soil degradation and military spending.

Either we move beyond merely treating the symptoms of our planetary degeneration and build instead a new system based upon regenerative food, farming and land use, coupled with renewable energy practices and global cooperation instead of belligerence, or we will soon (likely within 25 years) pass the point of no return.

A big challenge is how do we describe the crisis of global warming and severe climate change in such a way that everyday people understand the problem and grasp the solution that we’re proposing, i.e., renewable energy and regenerative food, farming and land use?

Enhanced Photosynthesis Is All-Important

The bottom line is that humans have put too much CO2 and other greenhouse gases (especially methane and nitrous oxide) into the atmosphere (from burning fossil fuels and destructive land use), trapping the sun’s heat from radiating back into space and heating up the planet.

And, unfortunately, because of the destructive food, farming and forestry practices that have degraded a major portion of the Earth’s landscape, we’re not drawing down enough of these CO2 emissions through plant photosynthesis, soil carbon sequestration, and perennial above ground carbon storage in biomass (forest, grass, and plants) to cool things off.

In a word, there’s too much CO2 and greenhouse gas pollution blanketing the sky (and saturating the oceans) and not enough life-giving carbon in the ground and in our living plants, trees, pastures, and rangelands.

Increasing plant and forest photosynthesis (accomplished via enhanced soil fertility and biological life, as well as an adequate amount of water and minerals) is the only practical way that we can draw down a significant amount of the excess CO2 and greenhouse gases in our atmosphere that are heating up the Earth and disrupting our climate.

Through photosynthesis, plants and trees utilize solar energy to break down CO2 from the atmosphere, release oxygen, and transform the remaining carbon into plant biomass and liquid carbon.

Photosynthesis basically enables plants to grow above ground and produce biomass, but also stimulates growth below ground as plants transfer a portion of the liquid carbon they produce through photosynthesis into their root systems to feed the soil microorganisms that in turn feed the plant.

From the standpoint of drawing down enough CO2 and greenhouse gases from the atmosphere and sequestering them in our soils and biota to reverse global warming, qualitatively enhanced photosynthesis is all-important.

Agave Power: Greening the Desert

As RI, OCA, and our Mexico affiliate Via Organica’s contribution to the global expansion of regenerative and organic food and farming practices, we have spent the last several years working with Mexican farmers and ranchers, the Hudson Carbon Project, consumer organizations, elected political officials (mainly at the local and state level), and socially and environmentally-concerned “impact investors.”

Our goal is to develop a native agave agroforestry and livestock management system that we believe can be a game-changer for much of the 40% of the world’s pasturelands and rangelands that are arid and semi-arid, areas where it is now nearly impossible to grow food crops without irrigation, and where the land is too overgrazed and degraded for proper livestock grazing.

We call this Mexico-based agave and agroforestry/livestock management system Agave Power: Greening the Desert, and are happy to report that its ideas and practices are now starting to spread from the high desert plateau of Guanajuato across much of arid and semi-arid Mexico.

We now are receiving inquiries and requests for information about this agave-based, polyculture/perennial system from desert and semi-desert areas all over the world, including Central America, the Southwestern U.S., Argentina, Chile, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Australia, Lebanon, and Oman.

You can learn more about this Agave Power system on the websites of Regeneration International and the Organic Consumers Association.

Primary Drivers of Regeneration and Degeneration

What I and others have learned “on the ground” trying to expand and scale-up regenerative and organic best practices is that there are four basic drivers of regenerative (or conversely degenerative) food, farming and land use.

The first driver is consumer awareness and market demand. Without an army of conscious consumers and widespread market demand, regenerative practices are unlikely to reach critical mass. The second driver is farmer, rancher and land stewardship innovation, including the development of value-added products and ecosystem restoration services.

The third driver is policy change, starting at the local and regional level. And last, but not least is regenerative finance — large-scale investing on the part of the public and private sector, what is now commonly known as “impact investing.”

In order to qualitatively expand organic and regenerative best practices and achieve critical mass sufficient to transform our currently degenerative systems, we need all four of these drivers to be activated and working in synergy.

Let’s look now at four contemporary drivers of degeneration, degenerative food, farming and land use, in order to understand what the forces or drivers are that are holding us back from moving forward to regeneration.

 

1-Degenerated grassroots consciousness and morale — When literally billions of people, a critical mass of the 99%, are hungry, malnourished, and/or stuffed and supersized with ultraprocessed foods and empty calories, revolution is all but impossible. When billions are scared and divided, struggling to survive with justice and dignity… when the majority of the global body politic are threatened and assaulted by a toxic environment and food system; when hundreds of millions are overwhelmed by economic stress due to low wages and the high cost of living; when hundreds of millions are weakened by chronic health problems, or battered by floods, droughts and weather extremes, regenerative change — Big Change — will not come easily.

Neither will it happen if we continue to allow endless wars and land grabs for water, land and strategic resources to spiral out of control, or fail to organize and resist on a mass scale while indentured politicians, corporations, Big Tech, and the mass media manipulate crises such as COVID-19 to stamp out freedom of expression and participatory democracy in order to force a “Business-as-Usual” or “Great Reset” paradigm down our throats.

Disempowered, exploited people, overwhelmed by the challenges of everyday survival, usually don’t have the luxury of connecting the dots between the issues that are pressing down on them and focusing on the Big Picture.

It’s the job of regenerators to connect the dots between the climate crisis, COVID-19, elite control and people’s everyday concerns including food, natural health, jobs, and economic justice, to globalize awareness, political mobilization and, most of all, to globalize hope.

It’s the job of regenerators to make the connections between personal and public health and planetary health, to expose the truth about the origins, nature, prevention and treatment of COVID-19 and chronic disease, and to mobilize the public to reject a so-called Great Reset disguised as fundamental reform, but actually a Trojan Horse for a 21st Century Technocracy that is profoundly antidemocratic and authoritarian.

Regenerators have to be able to make the connections between different issues and concerns, identify and support best practitioners and policies and build synergy between social forces, effectively lobby governments (starting at the local level), businesses and investors for change, all the while educating and organizing grassroots alliances and campaigns across communities, constituencies and even national borders.

But of course this long-overdue Regeneration Revolution will not be easy, nor will it take place overnight. Our profoundly destructive, degenerative, climate-destabilizing food and farming system, primarily based upon industrial agriculture inputs and practices, is held together by a multibillion-dollar system of marketing and advertising that has misled or literally brainwashed a global army of consumers into believing that cheap, ultra-processed, artificially flavored, “fast food” is not only acceptable, but “normal” and “natural.”

After decades of consuming sugar, salt, carbohydrate-rich and “bad fat”-laden foods from industrial farms, animal factories and chemical manufacturing plants, many consumers have literally become addicted to the artificial flavors and aromas that make super-processed foods and “food-like substances” so popular.

2-Degenerate “conventional” farms, farming and livestock management  

Compounding the lack of nutritional education, choice, poverty, inertia and apathy of a large segment of consumers, other major factors driving our degenerative food and farming system include the routine and deeply institutionalized practices of industrial and chemical-intensive farming and land use (mono-cropping, heavy plowing, pesticides, chemical fertilizers, GMOs, factory farms, deforestation, wetlands destruction) today.

These soil-, climate-, health- and environmentally-destructive practices are especially prevalent on the world’s 50 million large farms, which, in part, are kept in place by global government subsidies totaling $500 billion a year.

Meanwhile, there are few or no subsidies for organic or regenerative farmers, especially small farmers (80% of the world’s farmers are small farmers), nor for farmers and ranchers who seek to make this transition.

Reinforcing these multibillion-dollar subsidies for bad farming practices are a global network of chemical- and agribusiness-controlled agricultural research and teaching institutions, focused on producing cheap food and beverages (no matter what the cost to the environment, climate and public health) and agro-export agricultural commodities (often pesticide-intensive GMO grains).

What we need instead are subsidies for organic and regenerative practices, research and technical assistance for farmers and ranchers to produce healthy, organic and regenerative food for local, regional and domestic markets, rewarding farmers with a fair price for producing healthy food and being a steward, rather than a destroyer, of the environment.

3-Monopoly Control — Another driver of degeneration, holding back farmer adoption of regenerative practices and determining the type of food and crops that are produced, is the monopoly or near-monopoly control by giant agribusiness corporations over much of the food system, especially in industrialized countries, as well as the monopoly or near-monopoly control by giant retail chains such as Walmart and internet giants like Amazon.

The out-of-control “Foodopoly” that dominates our food system is designed to maximize short-term profits and exports for the large transnational corporations, preserve patents and monopoly control over seeds, and uphold international trade agreements (NAFTA, WTO) that favor corporate agribusiness and large farms over small farms; factory farms over traditional grazing and animal husbandry; and agro- exports instead of production for local and regional markets.

Food and farming is the largest industry in the world with consumers spending an estimated $7.5 trillion a year on food. In addition, the largely unacknowledged social, environmental and health costs (i.e., collateral damage) of the industrial food chain amounts to an additional $4.8 trillion a year. https://www.organicconsumers.org/sites/default/files/etc-whowillfeedus.pdf

4-Degenerate public policy and public and private investments  

Agriculture is the largest employer in the world with 570 million farmers and farm laborers supporting 3.5 billion people in rural households and communities. https://www.organicconsumers.org/sites/default/files/etc-whowillfeedus.pdf In addition to workers on the farm, food chain workers in processing, distribution and retail make up hundreds of millions of other jobs in the world, with over 20 million food chain workers in the U.S. alone (17.5% of the total workforce).

This makes public policy relating to food, farming and land use very important. Unfortunately, thousands of laws and regulations are passed every year, in every country and locality, that basically prop up conventional (i.e., industrial, factory farm, export-oriented, GMO) food and farming, while there is very little legislation passed or resources geared toward promoting organic and regenerative food and farming.

Trillions of dollars have been, and continue to be, invested in the so-called “conventional” food and farming sector, including trillions from the savings and pension funds of many conscious consumers, who would no doubt prefer their savings to be invested in a different manner, if they knew how to do this.

Unfortunately, only a tiny percentage of public or private investment is currently going toward organic, grass fed, free-range and other healthy foods produced by small and medium-sized farms and ranches for local and regional consumption.

Healthy soil, healthy plants, healthy animals, healthy people, healthy climate, healthy societies — our physical and economic health, our very survival as a species, are directly connected to the soil, biodiversity and the health and fertility of our food and farming systems. Regenerative organic farming and land use can move us back into balance, back to a stable climate and a life-supporting environment.

It’s time to move beyond degenerate ethics, farming, land use, energy policies, politics and economics. It’s time to move beyond “too little, too late” mitigation and sustainability strategies. It’s time to inspire and mobilize a mighty global army of Regenerators, before it’s too late.

 

Ronnie Cummins is co-founder of the Organic Consumers Association (OCA) and Regeneration International. To keep up with RI’s news and alerts, sign up here.

Time to Transition to Agroecology in Africa

As COVID-19 threatens farming communities across Africa already struggling with climate change, the continent is at a crossroads. Will its people and their governments continue trying to replicate industrial farming models promoted by developed countries? Or will they move boldly into the uncertain future, embracing ecological agriculture?

It is time to choose. Africa is projected to overtake South Asia by 2030 as the region with the greatest number of hungry people. An alarming 264 million people in Africa now suffer from “undernourishment,” the U.N. term for chronic hunger. If policies do not change, experts project that number to soar to 433 million in 2030.

The evidence is now convincing that the Green Revolution for Africa, with its heavily funded promotion of commercial seeds and synthetic fertilizers, has failed to bring progress for Africa’s farmers. Productivity has improved marginally, and only for a few chosen crops such as maize. Others have withered in a drought of neglect from donor agencies and government leaders. Small-scale farming households, the intended beneficiaries of Green Revolution programs, seem scarcely better off. Poverty remains high, and severe food insecurity has increased nearly 50% in Sub-Saharan Africa since 2006.

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How Grassroots Organic Seed Saviours Challenge Monopolies, Promote Sustainable Farming

Dehradun: “When I die I am not going to leave behind gold or currency for my grandchildren. I will leave for them organic seeds that I have saved over the years which they will remember as their grandmother’s legacy. They must know that this biodiversity is the symbol of our culture,’’ Pranita Hendwe of Maharashtra said in an impassioned speech at Vasundhara 2021, an event held here on saving biodiversity, organic farming, healthy living and farmers’ livelihoods.

Leading the discussion several grassroots women farmers recalled their struggle in persuading their family to convert hazardous, chemical-driven conventional farming into environment-friendly organic farming. The going-back-to-the-roots methodology of the 1960s uses natural organic inputs and biological plant protection measures for growing almost everything from cereals to spices, pulses, millets, coarse cereals, oilseeds, fruits, vegetables and herbs on regenerated soil.

COVID-19 pandemic through 2020-21 hit the livelihood of millions of people but it generated awareness about organic foods and herbs as a preferred cuisine during the calamity.

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Composting and Mulching to Build Healthy Soils

When weather conditions are dry, it is a good time to explore ways to conserve water. Organic material is essential to good soil. Well-decomposed organic matter helps increase water and nutrient holding capacity of the soil. Undecomposed material like leaves and clippings used as surface mulch can help conserve moisture and keep weeds under control. Nematodes, those little microscopic worms that feed on your roots, will do less damage in a high organic soil. Organic matter may also increase the minor element and microbiological activity of your soil.

For these reasons, save your grass clippings and leaves. They are like money in the bank. You can store these materials in a corner of the garden. Decay of plant material deposited in a compost pile can be hastened through the use of fertilizer.

For each bushel of leaves, grass clippings or pruning tips, add two cups of balanced fertilizer and one cup crushed coral or hydrated lime. Build the compost pile in layer-cake method, a layer of plant material 6 inches deep.

Farmers Eye Towards Regenerative Agriculture to Fight Dry Summer

VANDERHOOF—This dry summer is creating problems across the province with wildfires, but it’s also taking a toll on farmers. With the lack of rain, it’s tough for farmers to maintain their soil to produce healthy crops. On Thursday, farmers met together to discuss possible solutions.

It’s been a tough summer for rancher Larry Garrett of Garrett Ranches. One that closely resembles what he experienced a few years ago. He says that grasshoppers and the drought hurt his crop growth.

To fix this problem, Garrett has been practicing regenerative agriculture.

“The newest part of science is we need to add ruminates back to the ecosystem. A ruminate expels about 80% of what it eats as manure, so it’s a really key way to build soil health,” said Garrett.

A ruminate is a mammal–such as cattle–that can specially process nutrients from grass. They expel the nutrients through their manure and the nutrients return into the soil, which is a process called grazing.

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What about Our Grasslands? Abandoning Meat May Spell Disaster for Vital Ecosystems

Recent opinion articles advocate eliminating meat from human diets, or using artificial meat substitutes, to fight climate change. However, many experts believe that grazing animals used for meat are the key to the future health of the most altered, destroyed and endangered ecosystems on earth: grasslands.

That makes plant-based diets potential ecological disasters.

Of the 1.9 billion acres in the lower 48 U.S. states, 788 million are grassland. Globally, grazing animals and grazing land ecosystems evolved together through mutual adaptation. Human history has demonstrated that improperly grazed grasses become unhealthy, and leaving grasslands alone actually degrades them, whereas properly grazed lands become healthier.

Grasslands provide vital “ecosystem services” by sequestering carbon underground in extensive root systems, using up carbon dioxide, producing oxygen, filtering and storing water, providing habitat for other important species, and when grazed, converting cellulose that we cannot digest into high-quality protein that we can digest.

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Pairing Agroforestry with Livestock: The Major Benefits

‘Ecology’ is the study of relationships between plants, animals, people and the environment, with a specific focus on how these elements work together. ‘Agroecology’, then, is the application of these ecological concepts to farming, specifically: using nature and natural relationships to boost your farm’s yields, productivity and more.

We have a lot of faith in agroecology, and there’s evidence to suggest that, by making agroecological practices more mainstream, we could make our food and farming systems more sustainable and healthy. It doesn’t have to be complicated to get involved in agroecological methods, either. In fact, agroforestry – the process of combining trees with crops or livestock – is something you can get started with straight away, according to farmer Nikki Yoxall. Nikki runs Howemill Farm and Grampian Graziers, and has been using agroforestry on her farm for over two years. We talked to her about what her experience of this nature-friendly farming practice has been like, the benefits to her cattle and more below…

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