The Seeds of Vandana Shiva

Meet Precious Phiri who spends her days teaching farmers in Zimbabwe how to mitigate climate change.
Specifically, she instructs them in holistic land management, a method that rejuvenates depleted water and degraded soil while drawing climate-changing C02 out of the atmosphere.
Originally trained by the Savory Institute, the enthusiastic Ms. Phiri explains that a cornerstone of holistic management is that eco-systems without animals create ecological imbalance. Grasslands, for example, deteriorate when the food chain that keeps them alive is disturbed. Deprived of a symbiotic relationship with ruminants, grass dies and then soil dies. And, in the process, climate-disrupting carbon discharges into the atmosphere.
It’s simple but not obvious: Ecosystems need both fauna and flora to thrive. Think of the oceans without whales or Yellowstone National Park without wolves. It’s the great web of life.
The phenomenon, sometimes described as a “trophic cascade,” is a biological process that flows between every part of the food chain.
Here Precious explains it:
Here’s another obvious but often-overlooked fact: Healthy humans come from healthy food that originates in healthy soil. And there is no way to support this synergy between our health and the biosphere in an industrial food system: Big Ag and Big Food disrupts precious water cycles, destroys biodiversity, pummels the biosphere with toxic pesticides, and imprisons innocent animals that should be on the land. This isn’t mere sentiment; it’s actually climate science.
In a regenerative world, it’s OK to eat meat, but if you’re going to do so, it’s imperative to transition to organic, grass-fed and free-range–and not in the quantities Big Ag and Big Food would have you do. Any other way and we are contributing to global warming, impacting our health and, by the way, engaging significantly in animal cruelty. Of course it’s more than OK to be vegan or vegetarian but, ecologically speaking, there is also an argument for conscious meat eating.
Vandana Shiva is vegetarian and also a founding member of Regeneration International, an organization that promotes and researches this stuff. Here’s a clip of her talking about the animals at her Navdanya farm.
And here are some books to read if you’d like to know more:
It’s a whole new world of hope for the environment, the climate and our own health. Perhaps the most hopeful story ever that too few people have heard.
P.S: About progress on our film about Dr. Shiva’s life story: We’ve just completed laying in additional dialogue, now we’re working on music and B-Roll. Onwards we go!
Please contribute to this next phase of our film about Dr. Shiva’s life story here: Every bit helps to get the film completed (and into your hands) sooner rather than later!

‘Four for 1000’: A Global Initiative to Reverse Global Warming Through Regenerative Agriculture and Land Use

“Four for 1000”: Burning Questions

Question One: What is the “Four for 1000: Soils for Food Security and Climate” Initiative launched by the French government at the Paris Climate Summit in December 2015?

Answer: “Four for 1000: Soils for Food Security and Climate” is a global plan and agreement to reverse global warming, soil degradation, deteriorating public health and rural poverty by scaling up regenerative food, farming and land use practices.

Under this Initiative, over the next 25 years, regenerative agriculture and large-scale ecosystem restoration can qualitatively preserve and improve soils, pastures, forests and wetlands while simultaneously drawing down (through enhanced plant photosynthesis) billions of tons of excess carbon from the atmosphere, turning it into biomass and sequestering it in our soils.

In simplest terms, 4/1000 calls for the global community to draw down as much CO2 from the atmosphere as we’re currently emitting, and at the same time stop emitting other greenhouse gases.

Question Two: How many countries and regions of the world have signed on to the 4/1000 Initiative?

Answer: Approximately 40 countries and regions of the world have already signed on to the 4/1000 Initiative. Hundreds of grassroots civil society organizations also have signed on.

Proponents of 4/1000 expect most nations, regions and cities will sign on to the Initiative before the end of this decade, to meet their INDC (Intended Nationally Determined Commitments) obligations under the Paris Climate Agreement.

Countries already signed on include: France, Germany, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Bulgaria, Costa Rica, Ivory Coast, Denmark, Finland, Hungary, Ireland, Japan, Morocco, Mexico, New Zealand, Poland, Portugal, and Uruguay.

Question Three: Does the 4/1000 Initiative propose that we can reverse global warming and feed the world without drastically reducing fossil fuel emissions?

Answer: No. The proponents of the 4/1000 Initiative believe that we need to achieve both zero fossil fuel emissions and maximum drawdown of excess CO2 from the atmosphere over the next 25 years.

Question Four: Why is this global Initiative called the “Four for 1000 Initiative?”

Answer: 4/1000 refers to the average percentage of soil carbon increase that we need to achieve every year for the next 25 years in order to stabilize the climate and reverse global warming.

A 4/1000 increase in the amount of carbon stored in global soils (currently 1.5-2.5 trillion tons, depending on how deep you measure the carbon) over the next 25 years, combined with zero fossil fuel emissions, will enable us to sequester enough additional carbon (150-250 billion tons, or 6-10 billion tons per year) in our soils and forests to bring the atmosphere back to the pre-industrial level of 280 ppm of CO2 required to stabilize the climate, increase soil fertility, improve public health, secure food sovereignty, reduce global strife, and reverse global warming.

Question Five: Is it really possible to achieve the 4/1000 carbon drawdown goal of sequestering 6-10 billion tons of carbon per year, and continuing this for the next 25 years?

Answer: Yes, it is possible for global regenerative food, farming and land use (including forestry) practices to sequester 6-10 billion tons of carbon per year. How do we know this? Because the earth’s 22 billion acres of farmland, pasture and forests—even in their currently degraded condition—are already sequestering a net 1.5 billion tons of carbon annually. And because millions of organic or transition-to-regenerative farmers and ranchers and—“best practitioners”—are already sequestering far more than 4/1000 percent in additional soil carbon every year. Some report sequestering as much as 600 times this amount.

Question Six: What are the respective roles of consumers, farmers and other sectors in moving to a regenerative system of food, farming and land use?

Answer: Regenerative food, farming and land use will require a radical transformation in consciousness and in purchasing habits among a critical mass of 3-4 billion food and fiber consumers in the global North and the South.

On a global scale, consumers will need to move away from purchasing trillions of dollars of chemical, GMO and energy-intensive industrial agriculture foods, including meat, dairy and poultry from factory farms, and highly processed and packaged foods. Consumers also will need to eliminate food waste.

Reversing climate change and feeding the world will also require a transformation in production practices by a critical mass of the world’s 500 million small farmers, 200 million herders and 50 million large farmers. Regenerative farming methods include: holistic management and planned rotational grazing of livestock; cover-cropping; no-till practices; agro-forestry; diverse crop rotations, including integrating livestock grazing; use of compost, manure and biochar; and use of deeper-rooting plants and perennials. Synthetic fertilizers and herbicides, and GMO monocultures are not included in regenerative farming methods.

Forest and fishing communities, homeowners and the approximately one billion urban food producers, gardeners and landscape managers also have a major role to play in the transition to regenerative agriculture and land-management system.

Question Seven: Is regenerative food and farming the same as organic, agro-ecological farming or rotational grazing?

Answer: No. Most practitioners of organic, agro-ecological and rotational grazing methods, certified or not, can be described as “potentially regenerative” or in “transition to regenerative.”

There are a number of terms used to describe ecological farming and ranching practices across the world, including agro-ecology, agro-forestry, permaculture, biodynamic, holistic management or grazing, conservation agriculture, organic, and others. All these agricultural systems support soil conservation practices to a certain degree. However, only regenerative food and farming has as its central focus the maximization of soil health, carbon sequestration and biodiversity.

Question Eight: What are the main driving forces of global warming and climate instability? What roles do industrial agriculture, factory farming, GMO seeds, food processing, packaging, food waste, and mindless consumerism play in emitting greenhouse gases and degrading the soil and forests’ ability to sequester carbon and enhance biodiversity?

Answer: If you look closely at the entire process (often called the “carbon footprint”) of global food, farming and land use, our current chemical- and GMO-intensive, industrial, globalized, wasteful and highly processed system of food and fiber produces an alarming 44%-57% of all greenhouse gas emissions, including CO2, methane and nitrous oxide.

Of this 44%-57% figure, the majority of emissions come from the world’s 50 million large industrial, chemical and GMO-intensive farmers and factory farms, who control 75% of all farm and, and produce 30% of the world’s food. (These figures contrast sharply with the role played by the 500 million smallholder farms and 200 million small herders who cultivate crops and graze animals on 25% of the land, while producing 70% of the world’s food).

In terms of the categories of food and farming greenhouse gas emissions this 44%-57% figure breaks down as follows:

• direct use of oil and gas in farming: 11%-15%

• deforestation 10%-15%

• transport 5%-6%

• processing and packaging 8%-10%

• freezing and retail 2%-4%

• waste 3%-4%.

We’ll never reach zero fossil fuel/greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, much less sequester a critical mass of excess atmospheric CO2, without a fundamental transformation of our entire food, farming, and land use system.

Question Nine: What is the current market share of Regenerative food and farming versus degenerative?

Answer: Global consumers living beyond the bare subsistence level (approximately 50% of the world’s population), as opposed to those three billion or more living at subsistence level, now spend $7.55 trillion on food. Much of that food is produced by the world’s 50 million large farmers and ranchers, who use degenerative, rather than regenerative practices.

Of course many of the world’s 700 million small subsistence farmers and herders are also using chemicals, grazing animals improperly, undermining soil fertility, and destroying wetlands and forests under the pressures of poverty and because they lack of access to good land, technical assistance, financing, markets and other resources.

About 75% of all food sold today in the Global North and among the middle classes of the developing world is low-nutrient processed food. And almost half of total food produced is either wasted or overconsumed.

The hidden costs of our degenerative food and farming system are staggering: $4.8 trillion in annual expenditures for social, health and environmental damages. (ETC Group, “Who Will Feed the World?” 2017)

There is very little food and fiber produced today that can genuinely be described as 100% regenerative. In terms of less degenerative or potentially “transition to regenerative,” the global certified (or non-certified) organic food, grass-fed and sustainably produced food market is considerably less than $1 trillion.

Question Ten: What is most important in terms of driving food, farming and land use in a regenerative direction: public policy or marketplace demand?

Answer: Both are essential. So far marketplace demand and the survival of traditional farming and animal husbandry practices are driving regenerative and potentially regenerative food, farming and land use, although support for organic and grass- fed production is increasing in some regions, especially the U.S. and Europe. In some countries most of the beef production is currently 100% grass-fed (Australia and Uruguay for example), and therefore at least semi-regenerative.

Unfortunately, governments of the world provide $600 billion a year or more in subsidies to industrial agriculture, GMOs, globalized exports and factory farms. Only a fraction of government subsidies go to organic, grass-fed, or what can be called “transition-to-regenerative” practices.

In the long run we will need both marketplace pressure and billions of dollars in annual public policy/public financing to move the majority of the world’s 750 million farms and ranches in a regenerative direction, as well as to carry out large-scale ecosystem restoration, reforestation and wetlands preservation.

Question Eleven: How can conscious consumers and the current minority of regenerative farmers, ranchers and land managers get more of their counterparts on board?

Mass public education for consumers, farmers and land managers on the health, environmental, social, economic, and climate benefits of regenerative food, farming and land use, combined with free technical assistance, training and financial incentives for farmers will be necessary to move from degenerative consumption and production practices to regenerative.

In each local area, region and nation best practices and practitioners will need to be identified and publicized. We also will need to establish regenerative pilot projects, provide farmer-to-farmer education, and scale up of public policy reform and financing.

Question Twelve: How many farmers, herders, ranchers and land managers are currently carrying out regenerative, or potentially regenerative, as opposed to degenerative, practices?

Answer: There are 2.5 million certified organic farms in 120 nations that can be characterized as potentially regenerative or transition-to-regenerative. There are probably 10-20 times more who are farming organically (but are not certified) and are supplying their families and local markets.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations estimates that 25-50 million of the world’s 750 million farms are utilizing traditional, sustainable practices, and could potentially make the transition to regenerative practices with sufficient technical and financial assistance.

Question Thirteen: What percentage of consumers and farmers will have to adopt regenerative production and consumption practices if we are to meet the goals of the Four for 1000 Initiative?

Answer: Focusing on the world’s current 25-50 million “potentially regenerative” farmers, herders and ranchers, we need to move these sustainable producers into full or near-full regenerative mode over the next five years (2017-2022). At the same time, we need to move another 50 million from chemical or degenerative practices into transition-to-regenerative practices (organic, whether certified or not, grass-fed, permaculture, agro-ecological). Then we need to double this pace between 2022-2027, so that we end up in 10 years with 100 million regenerative producers and another 100 million “transition-to-regenerative” producers.

By 2032 we need to accelerate this process so as to have the majority of the world’s farmers, herders and land managers (400 million or so farms and ranches) involved in regenerative or near regenerative practices. During this same time periode, 2017-2032, we will have to make a rapid transition to 100% renewable energy, and convert the majority of the world’s consumers to regenerative thinking and purchasing.

All of this presupposes strong marketplace pressure on food and fiber corporations to transfer from degenerative to regenerative supply chains, and fundamental changes in government policy by cities, counties, nation states and international agencies and funding institutions.

Question Fourteen: What are the major obstacles to achieving the goals of the 4 for 1000 Initiative?

Answer: The main obstacles to achieving the goals of  the 4/1000 Initiative are:

• lack of public knowledge, not only of the 4/1000 Initiative, but of the drawdown/regeneration agriculture, consumption, and land use perspectives in general

• massive taxpayer subsidies in most of the countries of the world of corporate-controlled degenerative food, farming and land use practices

• lack of unity and cooperation between food, farming, climate, environmental, peace, democracy, natural health, and justice movements, both within national borders and across borders internationally

• lack of public policy initiatives and financing for regenerative initiatives such as 4/1000.

All these degeneration drivers are related to corporate control of the national and international economy and corporate corruption of the political process.

Question Fifteen: How can I persuade my organization, city, county, state or nation to sign on to the Four for 1000 Initiative?

Answer: We need to carefully build strategic core groups and coalitions at our organizational, local, county, state and national levels, with participation from food, farming, climate, environmental, peace, democracy, natural health, and justice movements. Additionally, we need to use public education and grassroots lobbying to get our local, county, state and national governments to sign on to the 4/1000 Initiative and to generate and support significate change in marketplace dynamics and public policy.

Question Sixteen: Where can I find out more about regenerative food, farming and land use, so that I can become an effective citizen lobbyist and activist?

Answer: Visit the Regeneration International website.

And check out the resources at Bio4climate.org.

Question Seventeen: Where can I find out more about the Four for 1000 Initiative?

Answer: Visit the 4/1000 website.

Read this policy brief.

DOWNLOAD THE PDF HERE

First Steps Toward Building a Regeneration Movement in Your Local Community

The paradigm shift from degenerative food, farming and land-use practices toward regenerative practices—those that regenerate soil, biodiversity, health, local economies and climate stability—is arguably the most critical transformation occurring throughout the world today.

Regeneration practices, scaled up globally on billions of acres of farmland, pasture and forest, have the potential to not only mitigate, but also to reverse global warming. At the same time, these practices provide solutions to other burning issues such as poverty, deteriorating public health, environmental degradation and global conflict.

The promise of regeneration lies in its ability to increase plant photosynthesis on a large scale. Plant photosynthesis, which draws down CO2 from the atmosphere and releases oxygen, transfers carbon into the plant roots and soil. Fundamental changes in farming, grazing and land use practices across billions of acres of land, as well as the shift to 100- percent renewable energy, has the potential to draw down enough CO2 from the atmosphere into our soils, plants and forests to reverse global warming and re-stabilize the climate.

As this great drawdown and re-carbonization of the soil and biota occurs, civilization will reap a wide range of other benefits. These include increased soil fertility, increased soil moisture (rainfall retention), the return of regular rainfall and weather patterns, increased food production, nutrient-rich food, enhanced biodiversity, rural and urban economic development and millions of new “green” jobs.

The biggest obstacle we face in scaling regenerative agriculture is educating the public on a global scale. Only a small percentage of citizens, farmers, scientists and policymakers understand the benefits of regenerative food and farming. Some haven’t even heard the term. Therefore, our initial task is to educate folks on the message of regeneration. From there, we can organize core groups, coalitions, pilot projects and policy reforms in every town, city, state and nation.

The following action plan is designed to jumpstart an educational campaign on regenerative food, farming and land-use.

Step 1. Learn the basic principles of regenerative food, farming and land-use.

 Learn how to explain regenerative food, farming and land use as a solution to climate change, global food insecurity, biodiversity loss, water scarcity, public health and more. Be sure to avoid the “doom and gloom” climate change talk, and instead focus on the solution: regeneration.

Once you understand the principles of regenerative food, farming and land use, get excited! Your inspiration will inspire others to join the cause. Over time, you’ll improve your outreach and your ability to recruit others. A good place to start is to engage in conversations with people you already know, and who are concerned about the crises we currently face.

Avoid those closed off to the concept of regeneration. Focus instead on people who are open minded and interested in solutions. You’ll know you’re ready to spread the message of regeneration on a larger scale once you’ve inspired those closest to you, i.e. friends, family members, co-workers.

For more information on regeneration, visit http://regenerationinternational.org.

For the latest research on regenerative agriculture, visit http://regenerationinternational.org/annotated-bibliography/

For trending news on regenerative agriculture, visit http://regenerationinternational.org/news/

Step 2. Develop a core group of 4-5 regenerators. Then join or create your local “Regenerate” Facebook group

 Candidates for these groups include but aren’t limited to local food, climate, farm and political activists; environmentalists; local church members; students; teachers; gardeners; and artists.

Plan a potluck or study group to build your core group’s understanding of our most pressing issues and brainstorm ways to grow your mission. Ask your members to join a local “Regenerate” Facebook group. Or create one if there isn’t an existing group in your area. Click here to find your local “Regenerate” group: http://orgcns.org/2wF6Yn2

You may also register as an affiliate of Regeneration International here: http://regenerationinternational.org/join-us

Step 3. Get familiar with the Global 4/1000 Initiative on Soils and Food Security.

 The 4/1000 initiative is the only global local-to-national climate strategy to sequester excess carbon from the atmosphere as a means of reversing climate change.

Think of the 4/1000 initiative as sort of a Global Declaration of Interdependence, an acknowledgement and a pledge, from people all over the world, to commit to a plan to regenerate our planet.

Activists in dozens of countries worldwide are now using the 4/1000 initiative as an outreach tool for recruiting individuals and organizations to join the regeneration movement. Our hope is that these coalitions will lobby representatives at the city, county, state, national and international levels to pass resolutions supportive of the 4/1000 initiative.

Regeneration International’s goal is to get 50,000 community-based organizations and NGOs (non-governmental organizations) to sign on to the 4/1000 Initiative by 2020, ultimately inspiring a global grassroots movement.

Step 4. Develop a plan of action for reaching the masses.

 For the regeneration movement to take root, individuals and groups will need to understand the importance of connecting the dots between what they or their organizations are already working on, and the global campaign to regenerate the Earth’s natural systems, including climate, and soil and water cycles—and ultimately the health of the planet and all who inhabit it.

Target groups include: food, environmental, farm, climate, peace, immigration and faith-based groups, as well as students and others with an open mind and interest in regeneration.

How will you reach out to these groups? How will you identify people within the groups who are receptive to regeneration as an over-arching solution to multiple crises? Suggestions include attending their meetings, listening to their concerns, then finding an opening to introduce the concept of regeneration. Some groups like to have speakers/presentations at their meetings—can you get on the schedule? Or maybe invite a few people from multiple groups to a separate gathering, to discuss their work, and how it fits in with the regeneration movement?

Step 5. Contact Regeneration International to learn how to arrange regional and national meetings.

 Once your core group has educated other groups and individuals in your area, built a critical mass of organizations signed on to the 4/1000 initiative, and begun lobbying local representatives to pass 4/1000 resolutions, contact Regeneration International info@regenerationinternational.org to learn how to arrange regional and national meetings to spread the message of regeneration even more widely.

Regeneration International can also provide resources for promoting and scaling regenerative plot projects http://www.regenerationhub.co/en/ and best practices for your region.

Ronnie Cummins is international director of the Organic Consumers Association and member of the Regeneration International steering committee.

Regeneration International Second General Assembly Addresses State of the Regeneration Movement

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

September 22, 2017

English: Katherine Paul, 207.653 3090, Katherine@regenerationinternational.org

Spanish: Ercilia Sahores, +52 (55) 6257 7901, ercilia@regenerationinternational.org

SAN MIGUEL DE ALLENDE, Mexico – About 105 experts in soil, water and land management, agriculture, media and campaign strategy assembled today in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, for a three-day international conference on how to scale up organic and regenerative agriculture, land management and livestock grazing to address global warming, global food insecurity and public health.

Representatives from 21 countries are attending the three-day strategy meeting organized by Regeneration International (RI), a project of the Organic Consumers Association (OCA).

The conference is being held at OCA’s Vía Orgánica teaching farm and conference center. It is RI’s first global strategy meeting since the organization’s initial launch in June 2015, in Costa Rica.

“We are in the terminal phase of a degenerative food and farming system which forms the underlying basis for war, poverty, poor health and food insecurity,” said Ronnie Cummins, OCA’s international director and a member of the RI steering committee. “The hundreds of millions of small-scale farmers and herders around the world have the power to turn things around. They need our support to scale up regenerative farming and land-management practices that will draw down and sequester carbon, produce abundant, nutrient-dense food and regenerate local economies.”

“This is a gathering about the future of the world, pure and simple, said Larry Kopald, co-founder of The Carbon Underground, a founding partner of RI. “If we don’t quickly draw down carbon and restore our soil, we will lose the chance to keep feeding the planet and to deal with climate change.”

Andre Leu, president of IFOAM International and an RI steering committee member said: “This is the beginning of one of the fastest-growing movements in the world. The word ‘regeneration’ is resonating. We have the science now to scale up regenerative farming. We have the responsibility to scale it up. If we don’t, we face a real threat of extinction by the end of this century.”

Participants of the General Assembly will attend sessions on how to fund and scale up the Regeneration Movement, how to support the France’s 4/1000 Initiative: Soils for Food Security and Climate, and how to build a grassroots movement around regenerative food, farming and climate.

Regeneration International is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization building a global network of farmers, scientists, businesses, activists, educators, journalists, governments and consumers who will promote and put into practice regenerative agriculture and land-use practices that: provide abundant, nutritious food; revive local economies; rebuild soil fertility and biodiversity; and restore climate stability by returning carbon to the soil, through the natural process of photosynthesis.

Sowing the Seeds of Earth Democracy in Trump Times : The Planetary Crisis, Responsibilities and Rights

5th of June is World Environment Day – a day to remember that we are part of the Earth, and that we all have a duty to care. That two centuries of fossil fuel driven development is pushing humanity to the brink. And we need to change course.

This environment day is dominated by President Trump walking out of the Paris agreement. A “concrete-ist” afraid of the “winds of change”. What does Trump’s cowardice imply for international obligations to protect the earth, for a future based on ecological justice, for sowing the seeds of Earth Democracy?

Environmental laws at the national level were created in the 1970’s to protect the Earth from harm, and because we are part of the Earth, to protect people from harm.

In 1992, at the Earth Summit, the International community adopted two major ecological principles – the precautionary principle and the polluter pays principle, and signed two legally binding agreements – The UN Convention on the Conservation of Biodiversity,(CBD) and UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC).

Both treaties were shaped by the emerging ecological sciences and the deepening ecology movement. One was a scientific response to the ecological impact of pollution of the atmosphere due to use of fossil fuels.The second was a scientific response to the genetic pollution caused by GMOs and the erosion of biodiversity due to the spread of industrial, chemical monocultures. Three years after Rio, the UN Leipzig Conference on Plant Genetic Resources assessed that 75 % biodiversity had disappeared because of the Green Revolution and Industrial farming.

Interdisciplinary science and democratic movements created the momentum for International Environmental law. Science and Democracy continue to be the forces challenging the mindless threat to the Earth because of corporate greed.

In the case of Climate Change the key issue is reduction of emissions and strategies for adaptation. In the case of Biodiversity Conservation the key issues are Biosafety and promotion of practices that conserve Biodiversity.

Both treaties connect in agriculture, our daily bread. How we grow our food has a major impact on the health of the planet and the health of people.

Industrial agriculture is based on fossil fuels and the chemicals it uses are derived from fossil fuels. As I have mentioned in my book “Soil not Oil” 50% of the atmospheric pollution linked to excess carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxide, methane comes from and industrial, globalised food system. The same fossil fuel intensive, poison intensive industrial agriculture is also destroying the biodiversity of our seeds and crops, soil biodiversity, killing pollinators, destroying water resources. It is also responsible for 75% of the disease epidemic related to bad food produced by oil.

The alternative, a biodiversity intensive, ecology intensive, localised food system, rejuvenates the health of the planet, and our health. Through biodiversity of plants fixing atmospheric carbon and nitrogen, excess gases are removed from the atmosphere where they cause pollution and climate instability, and are put in the soil where they rejuvenate fertility and produce more and healthier food.

The same food and agriculture systems that conserve and rejuvenate biodiversity also mitigate climate change. They contribute to health and to increased livelihoods in regenerative living economies.

People and communities everywhere are giving up poisons and adopting agroecology. They are shifting from an agriculture destroying the health of the planet and our health to a regenerating healing agriculture. They are obeying the laws of Gaia and waking up to the Rights of Mother Earth, simultaneously enhancing human well being. They are not waiting for governments to trump each other just to see who gets what share of a divided planet. Some governments are also waking up to both their obligations, and with it the possibilities of creating post fossil fuel economies through regenerative agriculture and renewable energies.

The most basic contest today is between the laws of the Earth and the lawlessness and irresponsibility of greed combined with ignorance. By backing out of the Paris agreement on Climate, President Trump has acted against the planet and our common humanity. He has supported irresponsibility, greed and lawlessness. Surprise? No.

He is of course not the first US President to have tried to undermine the UN treaties. Senior President Bush in the lead up to Rio said “Our Lifestyles are not negotiable”. To protect the GMO industry and the poison cartel, he refused to sign the Biosafety protocol to the CBD to regulate GMOs. President Obama continued to put pressure on India to undo its patent laws (which do not allow patents on seeds) – to assist Monsanto establish seed monopolies – to serve the empire. That is when I wrote the open letter to Obama and Modi to uphold our laws.

President Obama flew into Copenhagen and undid the legally binding UNFCC, replacing it with voluntary commitments. That is why President Morales took the initiative to initiate the Draft of the Universal Declaration on the Rights of Mother Earth, a process I was involved in.

So there are two processes at work today – one is going beyond fossil fuel industrialism, beyond anthropocentrism, to create Earth Democracy based on the Rights of all beings.

The second process is the intensification of the processes of destruction based on greed, and destructive power of a small minority of powerful “league” of men.

The highest laws that govern our lives, and allow us to live, are laws of the Earth, of Gaia, of ecology.

As members of the Earth Community, our rights to her seeds and biodiversity, her soil and land, her water and air, are derived from our responsibility to protect and rejuvenate her resources.

And the rights of each being, including every human being are defined by the rights of other beings.

As the ancient Isha Upanishad states, all beings have the rights to the earth’s resources, and any person taking more than their share is nothing but a thief. A league of extraordinary thieves.

KEEP READING ON SEED FREEDOM

Regeneration: The Next Stage of Organic Food and Farming—And Civilization

Regenerate—to give fresh life or vigor to; to reorganize; to recreate the moral nature; to cause to be born again. (New Webster’s Dictionary, 1997)

When a reporter asked him [Mahatma Gandhi] what he thought of Western civilization, he famously replied: “I think it would be a good idea.”

A growing corps of organic, climate, environmental, social justice and peace activists are promoting a new world-changing paradigm that can potentially save us from global catastrophe. The name of this new paradigm and movement is regenerative agriculture, or more precisely regenerative food, farming and land use.

Regenerative agriculture and land use incorporates the traditional and indigenous best practices of organic farming, animal husbandry and environmental conservation. Regeneration puts a central focus on improving soil health and fertility (recarbonizing the soil), increasing biodiversity, and qualitatively enhancing forest health, animal welfare, food nutrition and rural (especially small farmer) prosperity.

The basic menu for a Regeneration Revolution is to unite the world’s 3 billion rural farmers, ranchers and herders with several billion health, environmental and justice-minded consumers to overturn “business as usual” and embark on a global campaign of cooperation, solidarity and regeneration.

According to food activist Vandana Shiva, “Regenerative agriculture provides answers to the soil crisis, the food crisis, the health crisis, the climate crisis, and the crisis of democracy.”

So how can regenerative agriculture do all these things: increase soil fertility; maximize crop yields; draw down enough excess carbon from the atmosphere and sequester it in the soils, plants and trees to re-stabilize the climate and restore normal rainfall; increase soil water retention; make food more nutritious; reduce rural poverty; and begin to pacify the world’s hotspots of violence?

First, let’s look at what Michael Pollan, the U.S.’s most influential writer on food and farming, has to say about the miraculous regenerative power of Mother Nature and enhanced photosynthesis:

Consider what happens when the sun shines on a grass plant rooted in the earth. Using that light as a catalyst, the plant takes atmospheric CO2, splits off and releases the oxygen, and synthesizes liquid carbon–sugars, basically. Some of these sugars go to feed and build the aerial portions of the plant we can see, but a large percentage of this liquid carbon—somewhere between 20 and 40 percent—travels underground, leaking out of the roots and into the soil. The roots are feeding these sugars to the soil microbes—the bacteria and fungi that inhabit the rhizosphere—in exchange for which those microbes provide various services to the plant… Now, what had been atmospheric carbon (a problem) has become soil carbon, a solution—and not just to a single problem, but to a great many problems.

Besides taking large amounts of carbon out of the air—tons of it per acre when grasslands [or cropland] are properly managed… that process at the same time adds to the land’s fertility and its capacity to hold water. Which means more and better food for us…

This process of returning atmospheric carbon to the soil works even better when ruminants are added to the mix. Every time a calf or lamb shears a blade of grass, that plant, seeking to rebalance its “root-shoot ratio,” sheds some of its roots. These are then eaten by the worms, nematodes, and microbes—digested by the soil, in effect, and so added to its bank of carbon. This is how soil is created: from the bottom up… For thousands of years we grew food by depleting soil carbon and, in the last hundred or so, the carbon in fossil fuel as well. But now we know how to grow even more food while at the same time returning carbon and fertility and water to the soil.

A 2015 article in the Guardian summarizes some of the most important practices of Regenerative Agriculture:

Regenerative agriculture comprises an array of techniques that rebuild soil and, in the process, sequester carbon. Typically, it uses cover crops and perennials so that bare soil is never exposed, and grazes animals in ways that mimic animals in nature. It also offers ecological benefits far beyond carbon storage: it stops soil erosion, re-mineralizes soil, protects the purity of groundwater and reduces damaging pesticide and fertilizer runoff.”

If you want to understand the basic science and biology of how regenerative agriculture can draw down enough excess carbon from the atmosphere over the next 25 years and store it in our soils and forests (in combination with a 100-percent reduction in fossil fuel emissions) to not only mitigate, but actually reverse global warming, read this article by one of North America’s leading organic farmers, Jack Kittridge.

If you want a general overview of news and articles on regenerative food, farming and land use, you can follow the newsfeed “Cook Organic Not the Planet” by the Organic Consumers Association (OCA), and/or sign up for OCA’s weekly online newsletter (you can subscribe online, or text “Bytes” to 97779.)

You can also visit the Regeneration International website, where you’ll find this list of books on regenerative agriculture.

Solving the soil, health, environmental and climate crises

Without going into extensive detail here (you can read the references above), we need to connect the dots between our soil, public health, environment and climate crisis. As the widely-read Mercola newsletter puts it:

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
  • Rising obesity and chronic disease rates despite growing health care outlays
  • Diminishing 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

Connecting the dots between climate and food

We can’t really solve the climate crisis (and the related soil, environmental, and public health crisis) without simultaneously solving the food and farming crisis. We need to stop putting greenhouse gas pollution into the atmosphere (by moving to 100-percent renewable energy), but we also need to move away from chemical-intensive, energy-intensive food, factory farming and land use, as soon as possible.

Regenerative food and farming has the potential to draw down a critical mass of carbon (200-250 billion tons) from the atmosphere over the next 25 years and store it in our soils and living plants, where it will increase soil fertility, food production and food quality (nutritional density), while re-stabilizing the climate.

The heavy use of pesticides, GMOs, chemical fertilizers and factory-farming by 50 million industrial farmers (mainly in the Global North) is not just poisoning our health and engendering a global epidemic of chronic disease and malnutrition. It’s also destroying our soil, wetlands’ and forests’ natural ability to sequester excess atmospheric carbon into the earth.

The good news is that solar and wind power, and energy conservation are now cheaper than fossil fuels. And most people are starting to understand that organic, grass-fed and freshly-prepared foods are safer and more nutritious than chemical and GMO foods.

The food movement and climate movements must break through our single-issue silos and start to work together. Either we stop Big Coal, Big Oil, fracking, and the mega-pipelines, or climate change will soon morph into climate catastrophe, making it impossible to grow enough food to feed the planet. Every food activist needs to become a climate activist.

On the other hand, every climate activist needs to become a food activist. Our current system of industrial food, farming and land use, now degenerating 75 percent of all global farmland, is “mining” and decarbonizing the soil, destroying our forests, and releasing 44-57 percent of all climate-destabilizing greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and black soot) into our already supersaturated atmosphere, while at the same time undermining our health with commoditized, overly processed food.

Solving the crisis of rural poverty, democracy and endless war

Out-of-touch and out-of-control governments of the world now take our tax money and spend $500 billion dollars a year mainly subsidizing 50 million industrial farmers to do the wrong thing. These farmers routinely over-till, over-graze (or under-graze), monocrop, and pollute the soil and the environment with chemicals and GMOs to produce cheap commodities (corn, soy, wheat, rice, cotton) and cash crops, low-grade processed food and factory-farmed meat and animal products. Meanwhile 700 million small family farms and herders, comprising the 3 billion people who produce 70 percent of the world’s food on just 25 percent of the world’s acreage, struggle to make ends meet.

If governments can be convinced or forced by the power of the global grassroots to reduce and eventually cut off these $500 billion in annual subsidies to industrial agriculture and Big Food, and instead encourage and reward family farmers and ranchers who improve soil health, biodiversity, animal health and food quality, we can simultaneously reduce global poverty, improve public health, and restore climate stability.

As even the Pentagon now admits, climate change, land degradation (erosion and desertification), and rural poverty are now primary driving forces of sectarian strife and war (and massive waves of refugees) in places like Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Libya and Somalia. U.S. military intervention in these regions, under the guise of “regime change” or democratization, has only made things worse. This is why every peace activist needs to become a climate and food activist and vice-versa.

Similarly corrupt, out-of-control governments continue to subsidize fossil fuels to the tune of $5.3 trillion dollars a year, while spending more than $3 trillion dollars annually on weapons, mainly to prop up our global fossil fuel system and overseas empires. If the global grassroots can reach out to one another, bypassing our corrupt governments, and break down the geographic, linguistic and cultural walls that separate us, we can launch a global Regeneration Revolution—on the scale of the global campaign in World War II against the Nazis.

One thing we the grassroots share in all of the 200 nations of the world is this: We are sick and tired of corrupt governments and out-of-control corporations degenerating our lives and threatening our future. The Russian people are not our enemies, nor the Chinese, nor the Iranians. The hour is late. The crisis is dire. But we still have time to regenerate our soils, climate, health, economy, foreign policy, and democracy. We still have time to turn things around.

The global Regeneration Movement we need will likely take several decades to reach critical mass and effectiveness. In spreading the Regeneration message, and building this new Movement at the global grassroots, we must take into account the fact that most regions, nations and people (and in fact many people who are still ignorant of the facts or climate change deniers) will respond more quickly or positively to different aspects or dimensions of our message (i.e. providing jobs; reducing rural and urban poverty and inequality, restoring soil fertility, saving the ocean and marine life, preserving forests, improving nutrition and public health, eliminating hunger and malnutrition, saving biodiversity, restoring animal health and food quality, preserving water, safeguarding Mother Nature or God’s Creation, creating a foundation for peace, democracy, and reconciliation, etc.) rather than to the central life or death message: reversing global warming.

What is important is not that everyone, everywhere immediately agrees 100 percent on all of the specifics of regenerative food, farming and land use—for this is not practical—but rather that we build upon our shared concerns in each community, region, nation and continent. Through a diversity of messages, frames and campaigns, through connecting the dots between all the burning issues, we will find the strength, numbers, courage and compassion to build the largest grassroots coalition in history—to safeguard our common home, our survival, and the survival of the future generations.

Ronnie Cummins is international director of the Organic Consumers Association and a founding member of Regeneration International.

How to Cultivate a Career in Regenerative Agriculture: Interview with TGI’s Ethan Soloviev

Ever thought about starting a business or building a career in regenerative agriculture? Prepare to get creative—and to get some dirt under your fingernails.

Ethan Soloviev is a founding team member of Terra Genesis, an international regenerative design consultancy. He helps create resilient and profitable businesses by redesigning supply chains to make them regenerative.

How did Soloviev find his way to his current career? Let’s just say that the guy who in his early 20s traveled the world to study apples, didn’t exactly follow a linear career track.

In this interview with Regeneration International, Soloviev covers several topics related to regenerative agriculture, including what types of experiences you might want to get under your belt if you’re contemplating a career in the fast-growing field of regenerative food, farming, and natural products.


Interview: March 3, 2017
This interview has been edited for brevity and readability.

Regeneration International (RI): Tell us about yourself.

Ethan Soloviev (ES): I’m a designer at Terra Genesis International. We grow th e field of regenerative supply by working with companies around the world to transform supply chains into networks of resource production. I am also the EVP of Research for HowGood, which assigns sustainability ratings to food, personal care products and cleaning products. We’re working to change the overall direction of the marketplace, and also to empower consumers to purchase and choose the best products that they can.

RI: How did you build your career in regenerative supply networks, agriculture and design?

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Ethan and his wife Dyami pruning in their 28-acre permaculture orchard in New York.

ES: It’s been 15 years now. I did a degree in biology and afterwards I traveled around the world studying apples. I visited some amazing places—Sweden, Kazakhstan, Japan, New Zealand, Chile, Central America—and I got to see a global picture of how apples are grown. That really woke me up to agriculture and the damage that monoculture chemical industrial agriculture systems around the world are doing. That led me to permaculture. I took a Permaculture Design Course (PDC) and started a permaculture business back in 2005. I grew that business (AppleSeed Permaculture LLC) for a decade. It’s still one of the largest Permaculture Design businesses in the northeast of North America.

We started doing small-scale edible landscapes and eventually built up to larger design work, doing 300-1200-acre farms. I learned a lot about farm design and startup. People would often say, “It’s great to create food forests and ponds and biointensive vegetable gardens but it’ll take time, investment and energy to get this going—can it really make a return?” So we started running the numbers. We schooled ourselves very quickly in agronomics, and built a series of enterprise budgets to check if an enterprise was going to be economically viable. We found that a lot of the brilliant ideas of permaculture need to be checked against the economic reality of whatever place you’re working in to see if there’s something that can be sustained beyond the initial excitement.

RI: Right, the big question in the regeneration movement right now is “how do we scale regenerative agriculture?”

ES: It’s interesting, I go back and forth about whether “scaling” regenerative agriculture is the right thing to do. Part of me really wants to do it and wants to do it as fast as possible. It’s early and we’re heading towards the birth of a new industry. The supply of regenerative goods and massive landscape restoration that regenerative agriculture enables can produce multiple forms of profit. So it is exciting to think, “How fast can we scale this?”

However, another part of me has a different perspective. Regenerative agriculture is not a machine. We’re actually seeking to regenerate whole living systems. All of the language in the startup and venture capital communities is derived from a mechanical paradigm, where “scaling” means adding more machines to do more of the same work. Humans, and landscapes, are not machines. So I don’t think “scaling” is the appropriate metaphor for regenerative agriculture.

At the same time, I think now is a moment when we can and should work to quickly grow the community. How can we reconcile the two perspectives?

RI: What are the biggest gaps in knowledge in the movement right now that young people looking to get into the industry could fill?

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Walkers Quarry, agroforestry regeneration

ES: The biggest gap is investable enterprise —enterprises that have proven business models that actually capture carbon in the soil, increase biodiversity and generate financial capital returns. Proven business models and experienced teams will be required to metabolize the slow money and venture capital that is out there looking for a place to land.

Most of what I see in the regenerative movement is big ideas and excitement but not a lot of reality about how to pull off those ideas. That’s another big gap. There are many things that we can do to create enterprises worth investing in. Whether we’ll see exponential or linear or logarithmic growth, I’m not sure, but I do believe that working with the current system ofaccepting investment capital is going to be the fastest route to move forward and set the foundation for the real birth of a new industry.

The movement needs people who have depth of knowledge in what they’re doing. We need people who have experience running and growing businesses, or who want to go and get that experience. Even more, we need people who can do the farming. People who can actually get out there and run a holistic management livestock operation with multiple species on multiple pieces of land, who can successfully repair the land and grow food. We also need people with experience growing nut trees and fruit trees—perennial crops have already proven to be profitable, and they are our best bet for rapid global carbon sequestration. Then we need to integrate the two, bring together livestock operations and perennial tree crops—that’s where the fun really starts.

RI: For people who don’t have that in-depth knowledge or experience, where should they start?

ES: People would do well to hone in on what they’re really excited about. If it’s nut crops, great! Go for that. If it’s animals, great! Go for that. If a number of people can get depth in these functional farming enterprises and collaborate with other people who have gone and acquired the business skills along the way, that will lead to the creation of new enterprises. We could call this integrative depth. We’re really going to need teams of people working together to move regenerative agriculture forward.

I think we need about 1000 companies to really take this on. The restraint and challenge with that right now is that there are only about 10 businesses that have even said that they want regenerative supply systems. Those companies are great. Some of them are large and moving in this direction quickly. But there aren’t enough.

The 1000 companies need to be a combination of one, existing companies who agree to pick up and take on regenerative agriculture, transform their supply systems into regenerative supply, and two, new ventures with totally fresh perspectives, drawing from fresh investment sources.

RI: What is TGI doing to get those other 990 companies on board? And how does that relate to developing your client base?

ES: Terra Genesis focuses primarily on the natural products industry—food, consumer packaged goods and cosmetics. The exciting thing for our clients is there’s actually a real business case for regenerative agriculture. We carry out risk assessments where we look at a company’s supply chain, which includes all of the ingredients in their portfolio whether it’s 5 or 500. Then we ask, “What are the risks right now?” “What are the opportunities?”

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A TGI design: Walkers Reserve Sand Quarry Regeneration

A lot of times the opportunities come from where a company is purchasing from of the commodities marketplace, whether it’s cocoa butter or citric acid or almonds. We hone in on those and look for ways to go directly to producers who are really pushing the edge on regenerative practices. By cutting out the multiple middle-people that are implicit in the commodity supply chain you can get prices that are similar or even better, while simultaneously offering real living and cultural capital profits on the ground for farmers. There are actual cost saving potentials in doing this inside a supply chain! And then we help our clients leverage the story of doing this.

Businesses that take a step in this direction, especially now, they get to be leaders. They’re early adopters and they will fully shine at the top. Patagonia, Nutiva, Lush Cosmetics and Epic are all talking about regenerative agriculture. They have real leadership in the marketplace.

Fortunately there’s a lot of room in a lot of different categories for businesses to step up and head towards regenerative agriculture.

RI: Which categories have the most potential right now?

ES: Cosmetics. Cleaning products. Sunscreen. Clothing. In food, there are so many opportunities! I don’t think there’s a potato chip company that is doing regenerative agriculture yet. How about an ice cream company? Tea. Soda. Almonds. Any kind of fruit. Olive oil. Salt. Bread. Beer. In any category brands are always looking for ways to position themselves as #1 (that’s one of the immutable laws of marketing). I think regenerative agriculture is a powerful tactic for this—it almost creates a new category for brands to step into and lead.

RI: What are your top favourite design courses that you recommend, to help people build the right skills to work in this industry?

ES: If you’re new to this realm, take a Permaculture Design Certification (PDC). You can do that while working your job that you don’t really like, at a bank or at a software company. The reason I say that is that while it is useful to grow and build skills in certain practices, what’s more useful if you want a career in regeneration is to evolve your paradigm. To do this, you have to disrupt your current paradigm. The PDC will do that. PDCs are an emersion in ecosystem thinking and whole systems design. Go get the certification. It’s a great start.

The next level of depth I recommend is taking a REX course from Regrarians, which is really the best training in regenerative agriculture that’s out there. In the past our team has run Carbon Farming Courses, and we’ll be re-starting some carbon farming education later this year. Also excellent would be any trainings in holistic management, from Savory Institute, or Holistic Management International. They’re different, but both are good.

RI: After taking some of these training courses, what next?

ES: Go work on a farm. You need to actually work, and then ideally manage a perennial agriculture or an agroforestry or a livestock-based system. If you’ve got a great idea and are trying to go out there and pitch people on it and get venture capital to fund an idea, unless you have proven experience and a proven business model, it’s not really going to work.

Go get some experience! Dig in. Spend a year or two on the farming side of things actually farming and producing food or fiber. You could also explore growing crops for the personal care industry. There’s something very interesting about growing for personal care: the margins are much better than they are in food. And for single ingredients (e.g. essential oils or nut butters), if you’ve got a really good story, then you can gain leadership and sales.

L’Oreal has a plan to be carbon negative by 2020. It’s one of the five largest personal care companies in the world. They’re going to need to be purchasing fair trade regenerative agriculture products in order to meet that. But there’s not enough supply for that anywhere on the planet. Maybe 1/1000th of it currently exists. So get to work!

RI: What about supply chain management courses or MBAs to complement on-the-ground experience?

ES: I’m a big fan of on-the-job learning and training. There’s one masters degree I highly recommend, from Gaia University, that allows on-the-job training. It’s accreditation is through a global action learning system that encourages people to be working at their jobs while learning and getting accredited while they do it. You could for example do an online supply chain optimization course while working for a personal care or food products company, and get credit for it.

As for an MBA, while I’m not 100 percent sure, I’m going to go ahead and say, “yes.” We need some people who are excited about regenerative agriculture to go get an MBA and report back on how useful it’s been. As we discussed earlier, I think there’s a danger in getting addicted to the “scale or die” mechanical model so popular in current business. It looks nothing like how natural systems actually work. Make sure to take your PDC as you do your MBA. Or volunteer on a local organic farm every weekend to keep it real. If there’s anybody who’s got an MBA who wants to play in this realm, let’s go for it, I’d love to talk to them and hear their experiences. I haven’t seen MBA graduates turn into leaders of regenerative enterprises or regenerative agriculture systems (yet). But I would love to!

There’s an upswell of venture capital seeking to invest in regenerative enterprises but I don’t think there’s enough farm businesses that are ready. I think this asymmetry of demand and supply has emerged partially because it’s easier to invest money than it is to farm. Overall, I think the abundance of capital is a good thing. I see it as an activating force in this whole situation. For example, Renewal Funds, Cienega Capital, Sonen Capital are doing excellent work to grow the field. There’s also a handful of family offices that are investing in some of the few regenerative agriculture enterprises that are ready for investment. So there are examples to learn from and work from… but still a ways to go.

RI: What kind of resources people should prioritize studying?

ES: Dirt and trees. Chickens and cows. Spend time in forests. Follow the closest stream to the top of the watershed. Those are really the best “resources.”

Online resources are great for quickly getting content and gaining intellectual capital, but what’s more important is taking the intellectual capital and grounding it into experiential capital. I stopped going to organic farming conferences four years ago because I realized I had gathered more intellectual capital than I had put into use. When I can really and truly say that I’ve put everything I’ve learned into practice, then I’ll go back for more.

That said, there is a difference between gathering informational content and growing your ability to vision, design and execute. There is always room for growth in these realms—especially if we are aiming to regenerate whole living systems. To work here, you need to engage in a community of practice. Ideally, it’s one that can disrupt your current paradigm and help you evolve a new one. And then disrupt your paradigm again.

RI: What “communities of practice” do you recommend?

ES: There are two communities of practice that are effective in this realm. The one I’m closely linked to is the Carol Sanford Institute and the Regenerative Business Summit. Carol Sanford is an incredible mentor and guide and she’s been working in this realm for four decades. Her lineage coined the term “regenerative” more than 40 years ago and put it to work inside companies like Procter & Gamble, Colgate Palmolive and Clorox. She’s now working with companies like Google on whole-systems paradigm shifts. Her school is amazing. Joining is by invitation only. You’ve got to make a real human connection with someone who is in the school. Being part of the school is not easy. It’s disruptive, intellectually confronting and definitely not a “comfortable” experience. That said, I would be happy to talk with anyone who wants to learn more.

There is also a simpler path. If you are the leader of a business and you want your company to be one of the 1000 that will move the world, then you can apply to come to the Regenerative Business Summit. It happens every year, in the fall, in Seattle. It’s an amazing event to get a sense of what a new paradigm of work looks like, and feels like. If you want an effective path towards regenerative business, this is a good place to start.

The other group that I recommend is Regenesis. They offer a series called “The Regenerative Practitioner,” which leads to connection with an international community of practice that’s putting the regenerative paradigm to work. It’s more focused on design, architecture and development but there’s great learning you can get there that can be applied to regenerative agriculture.

If you want to head into business, check out the Carol Sanford Institute and Carol Sanford’s books, especially for case studies. The Responsible Entrepreneur is really amazing. Her two books, the Responsible Entrepreneur and the Responsible Business actually should be called the Regenerative Entrepreneur and the Regenerative Business but the publishing company (many years ago) basically thought that nobody would know what the word means… so they’re called responsible but they’re really about regeneration. They’re the best books out there on the subject.

RI: I remember being introduced to Regenesis in Mexico City last year. They ask you to commit to attend several workshops, at least four.

ES: It’s an amazing group, definitely worth attending—but as I said, not necessarily “easy.” It’s important to commit over time, because regeneration takes a while to get going. It takes some time to disrupt your paradigm so that you can step into a new one. It takes some disturbance in a landscape for a the soil to start holding water and growing trees and really regenerating. JJust going to a one-off workshop, you may get some inspiration. Reading a bunch of things on the internet, you may get some cool ideas. But committing to a school of practice that’s actively working on regeneration is a whole different world.

RI: One of the feasible ways to scale up or help the movement grow is to help others replicate frameworks that are working. Is TGI thinking of doing that, of helping other people do what you’re doing?

ES: TGI is definitely growing and adding new clients and team members rapidly. If you want to come engage, let us know. Formal education to train other consultants to do what we do doesn’t really make sense yet. I could see that potentially happening in the future. If anyone is interested in learning how TGI is working with clients, contact us and we’ll look for an opportunity where there’s space to play. Anybody can always come work with us if they bring a client.

I want to push back against the idea of “replicating” as a goal. This stems from that same perspective of a mechanical paradigm. TGI doesn’t do the same work with any client, ever. Every business is a unique business that has its own essence that we reveal. Nobody else has it. And if a company can use that, grasp it and work with it, then they become non-displaceable in the marketplace. There is a process that we use that has internal coherency from one client to the next, but it isn’t “replication”. Part of regenerating whole living systems is that, like real natural systems, you never do the same thing twice.

RI: It’s really skills for facilitating businesses through a process.

ES: Yes, but no. Do you know what the root word of facilitate is?

RI: Facil. To make easy.

ES: We don’t always make it easy for our clients. Making it easy isn’t always the right thing to do. Of course we have to “facilitate” from time to time, but our main work is more in what we call “resourcing.” Resourcing is supporting businesses and executives to re-source themselves: To become the source of their own fresh thinking. This is not based on trends in the marketplace or customer surveys. Using whole living systems frameworks, it is based on their own image of what’s emerging in the world and how to head in that direction. That is not an easy process. People don’t like doing it. Most businesses aren’t willing to do the hard work it takes to be regenerative.

When TGI works with a company we ask people there to commit for a good chunk of time, usually our contracts are three to five years, because it takes that long to break out of old ruts and really disrupt and innovative. Like the personal growth and development we discussed before, it requires commitment over time.

RI: Any closing words you’d like to add?

ES: You originally asked “how do you find a career in regenerative agriculture?” You can’t. They don’t exist. You have to go make them. And that means you’re either, one, growing an integrative depth of experience in particular area that you have connection to and real commitment for and then start your own company, or two, figuring out how to contribute value to an existing business that is heading in that direction.

RI: Anything else?

ES: Let me just make a quick note about NGOs and nonprofits. They’re great, there are lots of them and there are more NGOs talking and thinking about regeneration than there are businesses currently—for example Kiss the Ground, The Carbon Underground, Carbon Drawdown, Savory Institute, Soil Carbon Coalition, Green America, Biodiversity for a Livable Climate, International Living Future Institute, Holistic Management International, Regenerative Agriculture Foundation, Rodale and of course Regeneration International. All these organizations are doing excellent work and we partner with them wherever appropriate. That said, TGI has the belief that business is the most effective route through which large systemic world changes can occur. Therefore, we focus on business.

So… go get that integrative depth! Join a company that’s headed in this direction or start your own. The key is not to focus on the “practices” of regenerative agriculture, but instead to disrupt, shift and evolve your paradigm and continue to do that in an ongoing way. If we have enough people doing it and taking their own unique paths to do it, then we can head towards that 1000 companies focused on regenerative agriculture. When we do that we’ll be well on our way to birthing a new industry, and that’s really what I think is the bigger direction here for anyone interested in having a career in regenerative agriculture and regenerative supply. We have to think big and beyond what’s currently there and work together, intensively, quickly to make it real.

Learn more about TGI:
Terra-genesis.com

On the Frontlines: Training Small-Scale Farmers in Regenerative Agriculture

The world’s small-scale farmers are key to safeguarding our most vulnerable ecosystems, and to leading the global transition to regenerative agriculture.

Sustainable Harvest International, a partner of Regeneration International (RI), is on the frontlines in Central America training small-scale farmers in regenerative agriculture and land management. Sustainable Harvest International’s holistic training model empowers small farmers by providing, over a period of several years, the knowledge and resources they need to successfully transition regenerative agriculture and develop markets for their products. Training areas include growing, processing and marketing.

Sustainable Harvest International’s work is in contrast with international agricultural development where small farmers are often provided genetically modified seeds and chemical fertilizers as a way to boost production and adapt to climate change. As they have seen first hand, chemicals harm farmers and the environment, and create dependence on expensive external inputs.

RI interviewed Sustainable Harvest International founder Florence Reed to learn more about the organization’s work and the obstacles they face.

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Regeneration International (RI): Tell us about Sustainable Harvest International’s work.

Florence Reed (FR): Sustainable Harvest International’s mission is to preserve the environment by partnering with families to improve their health and well-being through regenerative farming.

Since 1997, Sustainable Harvest International has provided individuals, families and schools in Central America with the education, training and materials they need to create regenerative farms. As a result, natural forestland has been saved from slash-and-burn farming, and families have been able to remain together on their land growing organic produce to feed themselves and take to market.

RI: Where does SHI work and how were these areas selected?

FR: We currently work in Panama, Honduras and Belize. We also worked for many years in Nicaragua. Those countries all meet Sustainable Harvest International’s primary criteria of having large numbers of low-income families in rural areas, and high rates of tropical deforestation. Beyond that, it was honestly circumstantial. I just happened to be working in these countries immediately prior to founding Sustainable Harvest International. Going forward we have clearly delineated criteria in a matrix to help determine where we will work in the future when additional funding allows us to expand again.

Clemente Mejía and his family pose in their organic garden in Monte de Dios, Honduras. Families who partner with Sustainable Harvest International diversify their crops, improve their nutrition, increase their income, and preserve the environment. Photo by Victor Arboleda.

RI: Why did you choose regenerative agriculture as the avenue to combat rural poverty in Central America?

FR: I am first and foremost an environmentalist, because without a healthy environment that will sustain human life, nothing else matters. I founded Sustainable Harvest International as a missing but necessary way to stop tropical deforestation. We built the organization on the premise that environmental degradation and rural poverty are unavoidably linked, so the solution must also be linked.

With 3.1 billion people in the developing world living in poverty, and 70 percent of the people who go hungry living in rural areas where land is available for farming, it only made sense to help those populations grow the food to feed themselves, rather than leave them to rely on money that comes and goes so easily in these communities.

At first, I was partial to ecological farming practices because I figured nature knew how to sustain itself. But I was originally open to any alternative to slash-and-burn farming, including chemicals, if there wasn’t a natural solution. At the time, I didn’t understand the damage that chemical fertilizers do to soils. I didn’t realize that the harm caused by pesticides is as serious as the damage caused by slash-and-burn farming. Over time, I learned a lot from colleagues, board members and others and came to the conclusion that any agriculture that degrades soils, pollutes water, decreases biodiversity and puts more carbon into the atmosphere is a threat to life as we know it. So I concluded that, if the human race wants to keep feeding ourselves, we must move to regenerative agriculture that builds up and maintains healthy ecosystems on and below the ground, while storing as much carbon as possible in the soil. Sustainable Harvest International has been around long enough now that we can always find a natural alternative to the regular use of agrochemicals or other harmful practices.

RI: How many farmers do you work with?

FR: Over the past 19 years, we’ve partnered with just over 2,800 farmers and their families. We’ve taught them how to farm sustainably, how to build wood-conserving stoves and solar driers, how to set up chicken coops and fish ponds, and how to establish micro businesses to bring organic farm products to market.

RI: Are you able to measure the impact of your work on the lands being worked by these farmers?

FR: Absolutely. Our model provides low-income farmers with alternatives to slash-and-burn agriculture, so they can build strong, self-supporting communities, and sustain the land for future generations of farmers.

Our locally hired field trainers teach farmers how to build erosion-control barriers from rocks, living trees, pineapples or other natural materials. They also teach farmers how to use cover crops, mulch and compost to improve soil health, and to make their crops more pest- and disease-resistant. To prevent mineral depletion, we teach farmers about crop rotation. We also educate them about integrated pest management techniques, including the production of natural pesticides made from local plants and inexpensive household products.

Over the years, with our help, farmers have converted over 17,700 acres of degraded land to sustainable farms, and restored 15,000 acres of devastated forest land by planting over four million trees.

As treasurer of the rural bank Sustainable Harvest International helped found in Los Alonsos, Panama, Nancy Alonso (right) connects community members to micro-loans for income-generating projects. Photo by Dayra Julio.

As treasurer of the rural bank Sustainable Harvest International helped found in Los Alonsos, Panama, Nancy Alonso (right) connects community members to micro-loans for income-generating projects. Photo by Dayra Julio.

RI: What are some of the biggest obstacles that small-scale farmers face when transitioning to or starting regenerative agriculture production?

FR: For farmers not in our program, I would say the biggest obstacle is lack of regular technical assistance over the course of several years. Regenerative agriculture requires a multi-faceted approach combining many skills and practices. It is not nearly as simple as burning a field or throwing down some chemicals. It also takes more time and physical labor to build up the healthy soils and ecosystems that are the basis of regenerative agriculture. Once the initial work is done, however, the farmers generally find that maintaining their regenerative farms is less work and less costly than other methods of farming.

RI: What challenges does Sustainable Harvest International face when training families in regenerative production?

FR: Among small-holder farmers in the global south, there is a huge demand for the type of training Sustainable Harvest International offers. Farmers are ready, willing and able to make the transition with our assistance. But communicating across four countries and cultures is challenging. So is setting up organizational structures that make the work as effective and efficient as possible, and finding the funding to meet even a fraction of the demand for this service that is so critical to people and the planet.

RI: Your organization is on the front lines training small-scale farmers in regenerative agriculture. We talk about how small-scale farmers will lead the global transition to regenerative agriculture. How do you see the work SHI is doing being rolled out on a global scale?

FR: Members of our board and staff, together with some expert advisors, have just begun to seriously look at this question in recent months. I expect we will have a solid initial plan for tackling this question soon, and that it will be based in great part on finding larger organizations, businesses and government agencies whom we could train to adopt our methodology, as well as big funders and intergovernmental agencies who could help facilitate this paradigm shift.

Ultimately, to be sustainable, I think this transition needs to be taken on by governments and businesses that have the staying power and steady income, not dependent on charity. For now, however, I think Sustainable Harvest International and organizations like ours need to be the levers to get this ball rolling before it’s too late.

Isabel Rodriguez of Bella Florida, Panama demonstrates how to make organic pesticides and fertilizers from locally acquired ingredients. Photo by Florence Reed.

Isabel Rodriguez of Bella Florida, Panama demonstrates how to make organic pesticides and fertilizers from locally acquired ingredients. Photo by Florence Reed.

RI: What does the regenerative agriculture movement need to expand on a global scale?  

FR: It needs more resources, which means big funders like USAID and Gates Foundation shifting funding from support of chemical-dependent monoculture systems for growing commodity crops for the export market, to programs that let farmers transition to regenerative farming to grow food for themselves, as well as to sell to local and regional markets.

To learn more about Sustainable Harvest International and how you can support their work, visit their website www.sustainableharvest.org.

Contact:

Florence Reed

Founder and President

Sustainable Harvest International

http://www.sustainableharvest.org/

Beyond Monsanto’s GMO Cotton: Why Consumers Need to Care What We Wear

As the linked article below this article points out, Monsanto’s new super-toxic GMO dicamba-resistant cotton is already wreaking havoc across the U.S. But even beyond Monsanto’s latest “Frankencotton,” there are a myriad of reasons why we need to start paying as much attention to what we wear as we do to what we eat.

We are not only what we eat, but also what we wear. The U.S. is the largest clothing and apparel market in the world, with 2016 sales of approximately $350 billion. The average American household spends about four percent of its income on clothing, more than one-third of what we spend on food.

If Americans are what we wear, then we—even the most rebel youth, conscious women, organic consumers, and justice advocates—judged by what we wear (not just what we say) are increasingly corporatized. The fashion statement we’re apparently making with what we wear is that we don’t care. A look at the labels in our clothing, or the corporate logos on our shoes, reveals that the brand name bullies, the transnational giants in the garment and apparel industry, reign supreme.

Walk into any department store or clothing retailer. Look for a label that says “certified Organic Cotton or Wool and Fair Trade.” Search through rack after rack, in store after store, but you aren’t likely to find very many items that are non-GMO, organic and Fair Trade certified.

There are, however, a growing number of online and retail clothing companies and brands, which offer non-sweatshop, natural fiber and organic clothes, accessories, and textiles. These companies include Patagonia, PACT, Under the Canopy, Fibershed, Savory Institute, TS Designs, Maggie’s Organics, Indigenous, Hempy’s, and many others.  Unfortunately, most U.S. consumers, even organic consumers, have never heard of these socially and environmentally responsible clothing companies.

Given the importance of clothing and fashion in American culture and the economy, there are a number of rarely discussed, yet crucial issues we need to consider—health, environmental, and ethical—before we pull out our wallets to purchase yet another item of clothing or a textile product.

1.Synthetic fibers in clothing and textiles pollute the environment, the ocean, and ultimately the food chain. Clothes and textiles are made from both natural fibers, like cotton, hemp and wool, and synthetic fibers, like fleece, rayon or polyester. Synthetic fibers, often marketed as wrinkle-resistant, durable or easy-to-clean, are industrially produced, utilizing large amounts of energy and toxic chemicals. Polyester, for example, is made from petroleum, a non-renewable fossil fuel. Rayon, technically “semi-synthetic,” is derived from wood pulp and transformed into fiber through a highly water- and chemical-intensive process in notoriously polluting factories.

Once manufactured into fleece sweaters, bath towels or sheets, and brought home by consumers, synthetic fibers pollute the natural environment in the form of “micro-plastics.”

Whereas natural fibers, including cotton or wool, biodegrade over time, synthetic fibers do not. Scientists and marine biologists have begun sounding the alarm that clothing and other consumer products containing synthetic fibers (such as polyester, nylon, fleece and acrylics) release plastic-like micro-particles when washed, passing through sewage treatment plants, polluting surface waters and the oceans, where they are eaten and bio-accumulate in fish and other marine life, eventually contaminating the seafood that we eat.

 “[S]ynthetic fibers are problematic because they do not biodegrade, and tend to bind with molecules of harmful chemical pollutants found in wastewater, such as pesticides or flame retardants.”

 As Reynard Loki pointed out in Alternet last year:

Finished apparel products contain large quantities of chemical substances . . . many of which are released from garments during consumer washing. This indicates that microfibers are of particular concern regarding their potential to transport hazardous chemicals into the environment. Wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) receive large amounts of microfibers daily. While most of these microfibers are removed, a significant amount is still released into the local environment. Aquatic organisms throughout the food chain consume micro-plastics and microfibers both directly and indirectly. Within the food chain, these particles have been found to cause physical and chemical impacts, resulting in starvation and reproductive consequences in species. Synthetic fleece jackets release an average of 1.7 grams of microfibers with every wash. Older synthetic fleece jackets shed nearly two times the amount of microfiber than new ones.

If you already have clothing or textiles containing synthetic fibers, and certainly most of us do, please consult the articles below for how you can safely and responsibly wash these garments, by using a washing laundry bag called “Guppy Friend”  or by installing a filter in your washing machine.

But perhaps the safest thing to do is to stop buying clothing and textiles containing synthetic fibers.

2. Non-organic cotton is one of the most genetically engineered, pesticide- and chemically-contaminated crops in the world. Over 90 percent of the cotton grown in the U.S. is genetically engineered, spliced with the Bt toxin and modified to survive the spraying of large quantities of Monsanto’s controversial herbicide, Roundup. GMO cotton is grown on 70 million acres across the world, including the overwhelming majority of cotton grown in the U.S. India, Pakistan and China. While occupying a relatively small percentage of arable land globally (2.4 percent), GMO/chemical cotton crops account for a staggering 25 percent of global insecticide sales. In the U.S., it typically takes a third of a pound of toxic agricultural chemicals to produce a pound of cotton—that is, the amount of cotton it takes to make one T-shirt. Several pesticides used on cotton are known carcinogens, including Roundup.

Not only do these pesticides linger on the clothes worn next to human skin, but the fish, marine and wildlife surrounding or downstream from cotton fields also suffer from pesticide pollution. Non-organic cotton crops utilize large amounts of chemical fertilizers that routinely pollute groundwater and emit nitrous oxide, the most destructive of all greenhouse gases—300 times more destructive per weight than CO2. Non-organic cotton requires large amount of irrigation water and is typically processed and dyed with synthetic chemicals. Routine spraying of non-organic cotton fields with herbicides such as Roundup, and application of chemical fertilizers, not only kill soil fertility, but also destroy the soil’s’ ability to properly infiltrate and store rainwater and to naturally sequester excess carbon from the atmosphere.

3. GMO and toxic cotton: You’re eating it. Keep in mind that most of the world’s highly contaminated cotton seeds and cotton gin trash end up in animal feed (especially non-organic dairy) and in low-grade vegetable cooking oils, purchased by consumers or used in fast food restaurants and school cafeterias. Non-organic cotton is one of the most toxic crops on the planet.

Government regulatory agencies, prompted by large cotton farmers and the garment industry, falsely claim that cotton is not a “food crop,” (in spite of the fact that 60 percent of what is harvested by weight ends up in the food chain). This means that super-toxic pesticides and herbicides are allowed to be sprayed, in copious quantities, on the cotton plant. So-called cotton by-products—cotton seeds, cotton seed oil and cotton gin trash—end up being sold and consumed as ingredients in both animal feed and human food. The pesticide residues in cottonseed accumulates in the fatty tissues of dairy cows, and are passed on in the milk and dairy products consumed by humans. Cottonseed oil is routinely laced into a variety of food products, from vitamins to potato chips, and is often addes to olive oil without being labeled. This means that GMOs and pesticide residues from cotton crops find their way into a wide range of non-organic food products, triggering health issues including food allergies, cancer and liver, kidney and immune system damage.

4. Agricultural workers are being poisoned by toxic cotton. Farmers, farm workers and residents of rural communities who work and live in closest proximity to cotton fields suffer from exposure to pesticides, GMOs and chemicals. Many of these agricultural workers suffer from acute pesticide poisoning. Rural cotton farmers in particular lack the necessary safety equipment and training for handling the hazardous pesticides, leading to chronic and acute health issues. Pesticides used in cotton farming have been shown to cause endocrine dysfunction, with farmers in rural and poor areas especially at risk.

5. Millions of cotton farmers in the developing world are exploited in the global marketplace. Small cotton farmers in developing countries struggle financially, unable to compete in the global market because of multi-billion dollar (taxpayer-financed) U.S. cotton subsidies. The result is both economically and socially devastating. Subsidies allow U.S. cotton farmers to sell cotton at less than the price of production, lowering market prices for cotton, while production costs continue to rise along with the cost of seeds and pesticides. Thus, cotton farming in some developing countries is no longer financially viable, due to U.S. subsidies. Developing countries dependent on agricultural production falter economically, as farmers fall into debt. India’s cotton farmers are committing suicide at an alarming rate in response to this phenomenon, its once-thriving cotton belt since renamed the “suicide belt.”

6. Most garments are manufactured in sweatshops, such as those in Bangladesh, Cambodia, Pakistan and Viet-Nam, that routinely abuse and exploit their workers. Paid less than minimum wage, less than a living wage, and often deprived even of these wages, garment factory workers suffer from unsafe working conditions, physical, psychological and sexual abuse, 18-hour work shifts and other illegal labor practices in an industry that prospers from the dehumanization of its labor force. Women make up the overwhelming percentage of garment factory workers who are forced to work in these conditions under the threat of extreme poverty. Obscured by the maze of global industry, labor laws remain unenforced in sweatshops, while those who sell these garments to consumers claim ignorance of the exploitation from which they profit.

7. Chemical-intensive clothing poses dangers to human health. Skin is the body’s largest organ. One of its major jobs is to protect internal systems. But skin also acts as a conduit, a way of entering the bloodstream through absorption. Chemicals and pesticides from synthetic materials and non-organic cotton make their way into human bodies through our skin. If you care about what you put in your body, you must also care what you put on your body. Health issues from such toxic chemical exposure range from headache to asthma to cancer.

8. The dangers of GMO/ chemical cotton and synthetic fibers increase the more your clothing promises. “Easy care” garments are especially saturated by chemicals, such as formaldehyde, triclosan and pre-fluorinated chemicals, to give clothes features such as anti-microbial, anti-odor or anti-wrinkle characteristics. Formaldehyde, used to eliminate wrinkles, static, odor and bacteria from clothes, is highly toxic and known to cause cancer, skin ulcerations, heart palpitations, eczema, asthma and other health issues. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency classifies pre-fluorinated chemicals—which make fabric stain resistant—as cancer-causing agents. Triclosan is another chemical used in clothing to prevent the growth of bacteria on athletic clothing. These chemicals in “easy care” garments enter the bloodstream via the skin. Clothing containing nanoparticles, often marketed as stain- or odor-resistant, represents a new and ominous health and environmental threat. Nanoparticles in consumer products are neither labeled nor safety-tested.

9. What women wear “down there” is not as innocuous as you may think. Because feminine hygiene products are considered “medical devices,” those who manufacture pads and tampons are not required to disclose their ingredients. Bleached and made from the chemical- and pesticide-drenched materials of non-organic cotton and rayon (wood pulp), pads and tampons contain various ingredients that may be toxic and absorbed through skin and mucous membranes. The FDA regulates the process through which tampon materials are bleached, claiming that levels of dioxins (toxic, chemically-related compounds common in environmental pollutants) are at or below the “detectable level” and that such trace amounts do not trigger health concerns. The World Health Organization explains that “dioxins are highly toxic and can cause reproductive and developmental problems, damage the immune system, interfere with hormones and also cause cancer.” Dioxins are present in environmental pollution, and commonly consumed by humans through food. Alhough new bleaching procedures for tampon materials generate a significantly less amount of dioxins, trace amounts remain.

Cotton used in pads and tampons also contain the pesticide residue from the highly treated crop, as well as genetically modified ingredients. What looks like cotton can also be bleached wood pulp, or rayon, a semi-synthetic material made in a chemically-intensive process. Toxic Shock Syndrome, a rare and dangerous illness caused by a bacterial infection from Staphylococcus aureus, has been linked to super-absorbent tampons made of a blend of synthetic materials including rayon. Toxic Shock Syndrome occurs from leaving such tampons inserted for long periods of time, creating both an environment for the bacteria to grow as well as tears and abrasions inside the vagina.  As with anti-odor clothing, tampons with fragrance or anti-odor properties contain more chemicals that may be harmful to health. Safer alternatives to conventional feminine hygiene products include organic tampons and pads.

10. The choices you make regarding your clothing and textiles are not only expressions of style or identity, but are vital to personal health as well as environmental and ethical responsibility. You should feel good in your clothes—good about the way your clothes were produced and made, good about their effects on your health, and good about the way they make you feel. Consumerist culture is toxic in the way it encourages people to constantly buy and replace clothing produced through unethical conditions. It can be difficult to divorce yourself from this toxic culture, to establish your clothing choices outside of this pressure. To not care about clothes and textiles is not the solution. The solution, rather, is to care what you wear. The solution is to care how fibers are produced and processed, to care how your clothes are made, to care what is in the garments you wear next to your skin, and ultimately, to care how you feel wearing them.

It’s time to care about what we put on or in our bodies and into the environment. It’s time to address the issue of sweatshops in the fields as well as sweatshop factories. It time to Care What We Wear as we consider Clothes for a Change.

Regrarians: Changing the ‘Climate of the Mind’

For over 20 years, Lisa Heenan, Darren J. Doherty and their three children, Isaebella, Pearl & Zane, have been traveling the world sharing their knowledge and infectious passion for regenerative agriculture and the regenerative economy. Together they have worked on thousands of projects with over  2,000 clients. In 2016 alone, they held 13 x 10 day Regrarians (REX) conventions in six countries, training 350 people.

A REX convention includes training in all aspects of regenerative farming, including design, business management and hands-on farming practices.

Darren is a fifth-generation farmer, developer, author and trainer who has worked on projects in about 50 countries. He has trained over 15,000 farmers in regenerative agriculture. Lisa Heenan is a multi-award-winning producer/co-director, actor and singer/songwriter. She recently produced “Polyfaces,” a film that has won multiple awards around our Global Village. Most recently she won the WWF Award for Best Awareness Documentary at FICMA, the oldest Environmental Film Festival in Barcelona.

Darren and Lisa, along with their daughter, Isaebella, are directors of the organization Regrarians Ltd., which provides design and training for farmers and other stakeholders who have an interest in  regenerating, restoring, rehabilitating, rekindling and rebooting communities, landscapes, farms and most importantly soils. As Darren explains it:

Our primary responsibility is to the regenerative enhancement of the biosphere’s ecosystem processes. Our secondary responsibility is to provide the potential for people to be informed about the regenerative economy, whether it involves their work in agriculture, land management, corporate life, domestic services, manufacturing or other activities that are within the reasonable domain of humans.

The term “Regrarians” also refers to a growing movement that has sprung up around the REX conventions.

Regeneration International (RI) talked with Darren and Lisa at last year’s fifth REX convention in Sierra Gorda, Mexico in May 2016. In this interview, Darren and Lisa walk us through the principles and methodologies behind the Regrarians platform, Regrarians as a tool for farmers to mitigate climate change, the climate of the mind and how keyline is a game changer.

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Interview with Darren Doherty and Lisa Heenan

Watch the video

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Regeneration International (RI): How did you come up with name Regrarians?

Darren J Doherty (DJD): Regrarians was conceived in about 2012 as a word. It was something that we’d been working towards for a long time trying to actually give ourselves an identity that fit with our values and what our interests were. The word comes from regenerative agrarian. “Agrarian” is  a very old word.  So is “regenerative,” although we see this word being used a lot more these days. We’ve been involved with the regenerative agriculture field for a long time, so those two words combined sort of fit as a brand to identify the work we do.

RI: What are the defining principles of Regrarians?

DJD: That there’s a process to all of this, at least there has to be . . . that there is not so much a start and a finish but, at least when you’re looking at design and projects, there is a starting point. And for us that’s the climate, both in the literal sense, and in the more figurative sense—the climate of the mind. A lot of our work is based on keyline design which was developed by the late great P.A. Yeomans back in the 40s and 50s. Yeomans wrote a book in 1958 called the “The Challenge of Landscape: The Development and Practice of Keyline,” and in that book he talked about the ‘Keyline Scale of Permanence’. So we found that as a really good basis for what we then called the Regrarians Platform, which is based on the scale of permanence. But we also added economy and energy, and brought in the emphasis from holistic management and other social and economic methodologies.

Lisa Heenan (LH): As Darren says, the climate of the mind is the hardest thing to change. It can be especially so when you’re working with farmers. So the climate of the mind is a really important part of the work that we do. What do we love to do, what is our passion, how can we bring our skills, talents and pas

DJD: We also wanted to create something that was quite thorough and that people could see a process to, a methodology. Our approach is really that we’ve created a methodology of methodologies.

RI: How does Regrarians help farmers mitigate climate change?

DJD: To start with, Regrarians helps farmers identify the concerns in their immediate environment. We start with the climate. Climate has such an influence over what agricultural outputs and management strategies producers choose to undertake. But then there is also the climate of the mind. How are we going to mentally deal with the adversity of climate change?

For us in Australia, climate change is a real and current threat. It’s something we are very familiar with. Australia also has a reliably unreliable climate because of its geography since it’s surrounded by sea. Overall, climate change is getting worse and getting harder, especially as soil carbon levels decrease. The capacity of the soil and the landscape to remain humid and retain water becomes even more difficult with less carbon. So for us, it’s about adaptation and mitigation. Focusing on the soil, but also focusing on the economics. What is going to give us the biggest bang for the buck? How can we use the resources that we have – economic, social, landscape – so that we can work within the restrictions of climate change? What can we do to mitigate climate change?

RI: You’re giving farmers a toolkit to increase their resiliency.

DJD: Correct.

LH:  Many tools. Darren says you’ve got to have blue, which is water, before you have green, which is vegetation…

DJD: And money, cashflow. Before you’re green and black. So, black meaning profit and carbon. So you have to be blue before you’re green and black. That is a climate change adaptation strategy.

RI: One of the critical components of the Regrarians Platform is this notion of Keyline. Could you tell us about Keyline and why it is so important?

DD: When P.A. Yeomans released his first book, “The Keyline Plan,”  in 1954, it was an instant best seller which is unusual for an agricultural book. And it was the first book ever written on broad scale functional landscape design. That was pretty revolutionary.

Keyline is fundamentally a farm planning system whose primary objective is the control of water. The control of water within an agricultural landscape is the control of your destiny, as much as anything else. Obviously your management is very important, your attitude, the way that you manage your books, all of those things are important. But the management of water is absolutely critical, particularly in seasonal rainfall environments, which basically all of Australia is. And now that climate change is accelerating, more places are becoming like Australia. So  we are finding that Keyline is taking a place in a lot of other environments. Rainfall patterns were much more reliable than they are now.

That said, most farms are not well designed. In fact, they are not designed. They just happen. They are the result of incremental development of positioning of fencing, positioning of roads, ponds, or dams and all sorts of other infrastructure. Keyline creates a plan which is based on the climate and its relationship to the geography and the topography around where you place water, where you place roads, where you put trees, where you put buildings, where you put fencing. And then how do you quickly create living soil out of dead topsoil which Yeomans was another great exponent of through his keyline pattern cultivation techniques and also as an early adopter of Voisin’s rotational grazing and electric fencing and all of those sorts of things. That’s the fundamental basis of it.

RI: So you use the Keyline plow to create disturbance in the soil, that’s a part of this Keyline process?

DJD: It is one part, I wouldn’t say it’s the whole part. When people think of Keyline, they think of the Keyline Plow, and I think that’s reasonable. But for me, Keyline is a farm planning system. It’s not about the tool, it’s about the management and the practice of farm planning.

RI: What methodologies tie into Regrarians?

DJD: Regrarians believes that there is no one methodology that a producer or a person should have to follow. There have been some great minds and communities who have come up with some fantastic methodologies such as permaculture, biodynamics and holistic management. Most people tend to follow a single methodology, whereas Regrarians encourages people to use a combination.

LH: Think of Regrarians as a toolbox. You don’t usually have just one tool. The thing with the Keyline Plow that’s different from other ploughs is that it’s not turning the soil, it’s going in and aerating. It’s a totally different style of plough, it’s much gentler.

Watch the full interview

Learn more about Regrarians.

Stay tuned for part 2 of the interview series with Lisa Heenan and Darren J.Doherty.

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Alexandra Groome is on the coordination team for Regeneration International, a project of the Organic Consumers Association.