Some Ways to Frame “Regeneration”

I have been working with the Regenerative Communities Network to cultivate bioregional-scale projects that do this very thing. One of our challenges is that most people have not been trained in regenerative design practices — including how we frame regeneration itself.

The purpose of this article is to lay out some of the ways that regeneration can be framed… helping us conceptualize what we are doing and communicate more effectively with our partners in the field. My intention is not so much to be comprehensive as it is to stimulate further discussion. We need to have conversations about the language we use to work together, especially when conflicts arise and it becomes necessary to navigating through diverse points of view.

For starters, to re-generate means there must previously have been processes or mechanisms for generating outcomes in the first place.

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To Fix the Climate, We Have to Fix Our Soil

“One of our most important solutions to the global challenge posed by climate change lies right under our feet.” That’s according to Asmeret Asefaw Berhe, a soil biochemist at the University of Merced, and she’s talking about soil, which isn’t acknowledged as a key factor in the fight against climate change.

When it’s healthy, soil is incredibly effective at storing carbon, Berhe said on the stage at TED in Vancouver. Soil stores around 3,000 billion metric tons of carbon, which is double the amount stored in vegetation and in the atmosphere, combined. The ability of natural ecosystems like soil to capture and sequester carbon is essentially bailing us out of experiencing the effects of excessive amounts of CO2 that human activities produce. Around half of the 9.4 billion metric tons of CO2 released into the atmosphere every year are captured in soil, plants, and the ocean, and soil is doing the bulk of that heavy lifting.

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Is Regenerative Agriculture the Answer to the Guilt-Free Burger?

In sustainability circles familiar with programs such as Meatless Monday and author Michael Pollan’s often quoted words — “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants” — the message to eat less meat is a known adage. The recent update on dietary guidelines from medical journal Lancet reinforces this message and stresses that agriculture accounts for roughly a quarter of all greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, most produced by raising of cattle and lamb.

In early April, the Grassfed Exchange conference provided a different message, that restorative or regenerative agriculture — which includes grass-fed, pasture-raised beef — is part of the solution to climate change. I must confess that my body craves a good hamburger every once in a while, and when I indulge this craving, I often feel a twinge of guilt. Last weekend, when I ordered a Marin Sun Farms grass-fed, pasture-raised burger, here are three reasons why I didn’t feel guilty:

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Grassland Ecology 101 for Vegans and Synthetic Meat Marketers

First, congratulations on your commitment to making the world a better place. It’s not always popular (or safe) to take a stand on principle when the rest of the world is unaware or insensitive to matters you find extremely important.

However (you knew that was coming), many of your arguments and statements about global ecology have been clouded by a misunderstanding perpetuated by biotech and global corporate agricultural interests. Briefly, let’s look at the two big Red Herrings. Afterwards, I will suggest a path forward to bring strength and resilience to the plant-based movement. [Read Part 2 at https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/grassfed-ecology-101-vegans-calling-change-makes-sense-alan-lewis]

Grassland ecology is quite simple.

  1. Grass puts green leaves upward and roots downward during the growing season. The leaves use air, water and sunlight to make sugars. The carbon and water are stored in the roots as carbohydrates: carbon + water.
  2. If the plant is a food crop, we can often eat the leaves, stem and roots and derive lots of nourishment from them. If the plants are mainly cellulose, our stomachs have no way to digest them.
  3. Grasses (and other plants) evolved with ruminant animals. Ruminants have extra stomachs and sturdy mouths to break down, ferment and digest the cellulose in grasses so the nutrients in them can be absorbed and converted to meat, fat and energy for the animal. What’s left is piss and poop, burps and farts.
  4. Grass must be eaten down by ruminants to survive. Without grazing, grasses grow high, desiccate and oxidize. They slough off their roots and after a few years stop growing altogether. By grazing most of the plant leaves and moving on to new pastures,ruminants revitalize grasslands. Without grazing, the land dies.
  5. Grass is not just what you see above ground. Perennial grasses put down deep roots during the growing season; around the roots a universe of biological activity occurs. The roots exude sugars to attract the previously unconnected microbes and fungi underground. These organisms network themselves and begin to breakdown bedrock into minerals the plant’s roots can absorb. The plant can signal for nutrients and water, or tell the underground miners it is under attack and to create substances to help the plant fight insects and diseases
  6. After a grazing animal eats its leaves, the plant lets most of its root system go dormant. Later it begins growing new roots to reestablish its nutrient and immune support system underground. Here is the magic: the old roots, made of carbon and water, serve as the foundation of new topsoil. Carbon rich soil continues to generate biological activity underground. It forms a sponge that can absorb huge amounts of water from rainfall or flooding, which it slowly releases over time: drought tolerance and flood resilience. This process is critical to carbon sequestration. Health grasslands take carbon from the atmosphere and place it safely underground.
  7. Grasslands without ruminant herds moving from place to place are called deserts. The grass cannot survive. Herds that are left to roam and graze at will don’t hack it. Grasslands need animals to trample the soil crust, digest the leafy matter, deposit poop and pee, and then move on so it can resurrect itself and the soil below: managed grazing.

So where does that leave us? The Big Lie you have been told over and over is that plant-based foods will save the environment. Don’t eat meat! But notice that Mother Earth disagrees. She needs those animals, whether humans eat them or not. The Big Lie depends on you dismissing the natural laws of grassland ecology and focusing solely on industrial livestock practices. You know this one, so I’ll summarize.

Most meat animals are fed by growing GMO corn and soybeans in vast chemical-intensive monocultures that devastate the land (and farmers and rural communities, but I’ve covered that elsewhere). The animals are kept in concentrated feeding areas, served rations that are inappropriate to their digestive systems, fed antibiotics and hormones to make them grow faster, given medications to keep them somewhat healthy in horrible circumstances, then led off to slaughter without ever having set hoof on vegetation or having grazed fresh grass. Their contaminated manure is collected in fetid lagoons until it floods into waterways or is sprayed on fields. Yeah, that’s all horrible and it rightfully has led many folks, including not a few ranchers, to swear off meat. Agreed.

The problem is, many vegans and vegetarians have become convinced that concentrated animal feeding operations described above are the only standard by which to judge plant-based foods and synthetic meat. Nope. We need to judge what we eat based on the best practices of livestock husbandry as it is done in concert with natural systems that we as a species on this planet are fundamentally dependent on. We must have managed ruminant grazing to stop and reverse desertification. We must integrate livestock into agriculture to place atmospheric carbon back underground and provide protection against floods and droughts brought on by climate change. A plant-based diet, and anti-livestock advocacy, fails to take this ecological science into account.

After considering this article, take another look at the marketing messages used by synthetic meat companies like Impossible Burger. They state their product is fundamentally better than beef, but their measures are all based on bad industrial livestock practices. Let’s be blunt: if we all ate Impossible Burgers and abandoned livestock husbandry, the planet would die within a few years. Impossible Burger depends on your ignorance of Grassland Ecology 101. Comparing lab-grown meat only to industrial beef is the Red Herring that keeps the plant-based food movement from being taken seriously by real farmers and ranchers. When you repeat the claims of the makers of synthetic food, especially meat, you are repeating nonsense created by marketing teams and tested on people just like you.

Synthetic meat (and “heme”) is grown by organisms that have been genetically modified, and which are fed steeps derived from genetically modified crops. These are things the human species has never eaten or digested before. They are unregulated, unlabeled and undisclosed. It’s not normal, which is why the global biotech lobby is spending hundreds of millions of dollars on influence campaigns to make it seem normal.

Here’s what’s normal: ruminant animals grazing in a herd and moving along when the grass is sufficiently low. Happy health animals with no need for medicines or grain. Healthy soil with no need of fertilizers or herbicides. So, sure, go plant-based. But don’t fail to respect the plants.

It makes sense to advocate against the terrible practices of the livestock industry. It also makes sense to advocate for regenerative humane practices that global ecology depends on. And it’s not a bad idea to reduce consumption of good meat, too. The Earth can support a finite number of grassland animals.

Last word, to head off some comments. It’s true that there is no such thing as “humane” slaughter. I get that. I’ve seen cattle “put down” (shot through the head with a .357 magnum, in case the euphemism is offensive). You don’t get used to it. However (you knew that was coming), animals are going to die one way or another. It’s not “humane” either when an old cow or young calf is left to be attacked by predators, or when disease takes hold and an animal suffers at the edge of the pasture. If we are not going to kill and eat the animals, but we want to save our planet, we must accept their deaths either way. And if ranchers can’t harvest animals to pay the cost of managing herds and improving the soil, eating vegan will require a hefty tax to keep those farmers on the land and providing those services.

Otherwise, we better get used to a dry, sandy planet.

Reposted with permission from Alan Lewis

Andrea Asch: Healthy Soils, Healthy Farms

The snow in Vermont is slowly melting and the woods and fields are springing to life with shoots of new growth. The soil is also re-awakening and is rich with an abundance of organisms and nutrients. Vermont relies on its soil for its most important economic driver – agriculture, and dairy farms. To keep that engine strong, many dairy farmers have turned to regenerative agriculture. More than just a set of practices, regenerative agriculture broadly supports many important environmental benefits.

Regenerative agriculture is a system of farming that develops the soil as a habitat for organisms, making the soil robust and resilient for the production of healthy crops that ultimately support good animal nutrition and contribute to quality milk.

The foundation of regenerative agriculture is a set of practices based on concepts that improve soil health:

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Will Soil Save Us? Carbon Sequestration Through Agriculture

When I taught kindergarten many years ago, I remember when 6-year old Flo fixed her china-blue eyes on me one morning and said she had just figured something out: “Everything in the world is alive,” she declared, “but in its own way.”

Flo’s words come to mind this spring as I get my hands into the earth. I am always awestruck in nature, but these days there’s also an undercurrent of dull grief and panic about climate change. All life, present in all of its variation and complexity, is cherished more than ever before. Every bee and butterfly that enters my garden will get the best seat at the table.

I’m also mindful of my grandfather, a Dutch immigrant who acquired land in southwestern Minnesota in the late 1800s and “broke the prairie” with a sharpened plow and a team of good horses.

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Opinion: Pesticide Safety Unproven (André Leu)

It might surprise you to learn that there is no scientific proof of safety for the majority of the pesticides, additives or chemicals that companies put in our food and our body care and household products. Most are not tested, and when there is testing, it misses the vast majority of diseases at the normal rates at which they occur due to faulty protocols.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there is a global epidemic of non-communicable chronic diseases: “Non-communicable diseases (NCDs), such as heart disease, stroke, cancer, chronic respiratory diseases and diabetes, are the leading cause of mortality in the world. This invisible epidemic is an under-appreciated cause of poverty and hinders the economic development of many countries. The burden is growing — the number of people, families and communities afflicted is increasing.”

You cannot catch these diseases from other people. Their multiple causes are a result of environment and lifestyle.

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Farmers Are Excited about Soil Health. That’s Good News for All of Us

“When we think about the challenges in agriculture, carbon—and how to sequester it—is near the top.” So said Roger Johnson, the president of the National Farmers Union (NFU), in opening the grassroots organization’s 2019 annual convention in March. Storing carbon in farm soils is an important climate change solution, but building the health of those soils is also critical for ensuring clean water for communities and helping farmers be productive while coping with the consequences of a climate that is already changing. And throughout the NFU’s three-day gathering, the phrase “soil health” and talk about strategies to achieve it seemed to be on everyone’s tongue.

Though it is hard to quantify, surveys suggest that many US farmers are already taking steps to build soil health and store carbon in their soils.

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Making the Most of the ‘UN Decade on Ecosystems Restoration’: Bioregional Regenerative Development as a Deep Adaptation Pathway

Ecosystem Restoration Camps is a non-profit organisation founded by a movement of people who wanted an action-based solution to address accelerating climate change. The camps are a practical, hands on way to restore land degraded by humans. Our mission is to work with local communities and build camps that transform degraded landscapes into lush, abundant, life-giving ecosystems. We are committed to preserving our planet for future generations. (Source)

On a crisp and frosty April morning in the North of Scotland in 2002, at the Findhorn Foundation ecovillage, some 250 activists and landscape restoration practitioners from all over the world declared the 21st Century as the ‘Century for Earth Restoration’. The conference was called by Alan Watson Featherstone who set up Trees for Life, a project that has since planted close to two million native trees to restore Scotland’s great ‘Caledonian Forest’.

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Ecological Agriculture Needs to Be Made a Priority

The number of farmers moving to ecological agriculture in its various forms — agroecology, organic, biological, biodynamic, regenerative — continues to grow as farmers and consumers become more aware of the harm pesticides and synthetic fertilisers cause to health and the environment.

Alan Broughton takes a look at this phenomenon and asks why the majority of farmers are still holding on to chemical methods and what can be done to increase the ecological uptake.

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At an organic soil management class that I taught in Shepparton, Victoria, I asked each of the dozen participants why they were interested in organics. Everyone of them told me their prime motivating factor was personal and family health.

Secondary reasons included concern for the environment, animal health, the high cost of inputs and a desire to be proud of their produce.

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