Regeneration: Solving the Immigration and Climate Crises at the Same Time

Regenerative agriculture provides answers to the soil crisis, the food crisis, the health crisis, the climate crisis and the crisis of democracy.” — Dr. Vandana Shiva

Two of the most serious and intractable crises pressing down on us—in North America, Europe and worldwide—are the immigration crisis and climate change.

Most of the media coverage of these issues until now has focused on the bad news:

“Hottest Year Ever,” “CO2 Concentrations in the Atmosphere Rising,” “Trump Determined to Build a Wall,” “Thousands of Immigrant Children Separated from Their Parents and Locked Up,” “Another Boatload of African Refugees Sinks in the Mediterranean,” “Immigration Crisis Polarizes EU.”

Unfortunately, there’s been little or no discussion about the interconnected roots of these crises and, most importantly, the good news: that there are positive solutions at hand.

Almost nowhere will you find a news story or commentary that connects the dots, as Vandana Shiva puts it, between “the soil crisis, the food crisis, the health crisis, the climate crisis and the crisis of democracy.”

Yet, not only are these contemporary crises—forced migration, the climate crisis, and others—interconnected, but in fact there are shovel-ready, tried-and-tested solutions to these mega-problems right under our feet, at the end of our forks and knives, and ultimately in the way that we vote, not only at the ballot box, but with our consumer dollars.

Of course the long-term solution to the international crisis of forced migration—creating rural peace and prosperity in people’s home communities so they won’t want to leave their homes and families in the first place—will not solve the immediate emergency that millions of our neighbors to the South face.

The women, men and children currently fleeing violence and persecution in their home countries deserve humanitarian assistance and asylum as long as drug gangs, sectarian militias, and corrupt, authoritarian regimes threaten their very survival. Cruel and immoral treatment of so-called “illegal aliens” by the Trump Administration (and unfortunately the Obama, Bush and Clinton administrations before them), along with enforcement practices that criminalize refugees and deport undocumented workers, must be exposed, resisted and reversed.

The injustices of current immigration enforcement practices are especially hypocritical and cruel given that the primary drivers of the out-of-control crime, poverty and violence that plague Mexico, Central America, Africa and the Middle East are misguided and immoral U.S. and EU foreign policies, such as the so-called War on Drugs, Free Trade Agreements (NAFTA and the WTO), disastrous attempts at “regime change” in Iraq, Syria and Libya, and support for corrupt governments and corporations.

The global body politic, especially in the U.S. and Europe, needs to acknowledge that decades, indeed centuries, of imperial, racist, corporate greed and prejudice lie at the root of our current migration crisis.

On the other hand, the practical, long-term solution to the immigration crisis is not simply to “open borders” and grant asylum, in the U.S. or western Europe, to several hundred million persecuted and exploited people from the global South. The better solution is to reverse the foreign and domestic policies, especially trade, drug war, agricultural and land-use policies, that are driving people from their homelands in the first place. To do this, the global grassroots will have to work in cross-border solidarity to help people everywhere regenerate, not only their politics, but also their landscapes and agriculture in order to restore soil fertility, food quality and the livelihoods of small farmers. Beyond reducing the pressures driving forced migration, this regeneration process will allow us to draw down a critical mass of the excess atmospheric carbon into our soils—carbon that is heating up the planet, destabilizing the climate, and exacerbating poverty, soil degradation, crop failure, malnutrition and societal violence.

The recent election of Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO) and the MORENA (Movement of National Regeneration) Party in Mexico provides positive proof that decades of misrule and drug violence can be turned around through grassroots organizing, protest and electoral insurgency. President-elect Obrador and the MORENA party, who will take power in December, have promised to deal head-on with the migrant crisis, poverty, the failed war on drugs, political corruption, food sovereignty and the climate crisis.

If MORENA can launch a Regeneration Revolution in Mexico, under extremely adverse conditions, then so can we in the U.S., Europe and other affluent nations.

What are the regenerative solutions we’re talking about? Let’s review some of the basic concepts of regenerative food, farming and land use.

If you’ve never heard about the amazing potential of regenerative food, farming and land use (i.e. regenerative organic farming and grazing, reforestation and landscape restoration) to improve the quality of our food, our health and our environment, while simultaneously drawing down enough carbon from the atmosphere through enhanced photosynthesis to reverse global warming (when carried out in conjunction with the transition to 100-percent renewable energy) you’re not alone. One of the best-kept secrets in the world today is that the fundamental solution to global warming and climate change (as well as rural poverty, forced migration, nutrient-deficient food, deteriorating public health and civil strife) lies in rejecting degenerative agriculture, forestry and land- management practices and instead embracing regenerative alternatives. We need to jump-start a global process of re-carbonizing and restoring our soil and forests through qualitatively enhanced photosynthesis and regenerative organic practices, getting trees and perennial plants back into all of our landscapes, and drastically changing our food production, animal husbandry and consumption practices.

By bringing our soils, plants, forests, waters, biodiversity, animals (and humans) back to full life and vigor, we can regenerate over the next 25 years not only climate stability, but also public health. Additionally, a Regeneration Revolution will revitalize our rural and urban economies; alleviate poverty (most of the world’s poor live in rural areas); reduce forced migration, hunger and malnutrition; and rekindle a common sense of hope and solidarity in the global body politic.

Regenerative food, farming and land use (combined with the transition to 100-percent renewable energy), gives us our best and last chance to not only survive global warming and re-stabilize the climate, but to thrive—with healthier food, fiber, animals, people and local economies as our reward. By bringing together a critical mass of the world’s 750 million rural farmers, farmworkers, ranchers, herders and fishing communities with several billion of the world’s urban consumers—workers, students, policymakers, business leaders and investors—we can safeguard our common home and our common future, and resolve the interrelated crises of forced migration and climate destabilization.

Elsewhere we have provided a more detailed description of regenerative food, farming and land use.

Please review the materials on our website if the world-changing concepts of regeneration and carbon drawdown are new to you.

But for now, here are three basic steps we need to take if we are serious about solving the immigration and climate crises.

Step one: regenerate global solidarity

We need to support national and international politicians and policies that promote rural prosperity and peace, so people are not forced to migrate.

We need policies and subsidies that keep the world’s 3 billion small- and medium-sized farmers and rural villagers on the land. These farmers need to receive an equitable wage or Fair Trade price for their products in exchange for producing healthy, organic and regenerative food and fiber in an environmentally and climate-friendly manner.

We need to educate consumers and reward farmers, ranchers and rural communities for producing healthy food, building up soil health, sequestering carbon from the atmosphere and restoring our forests and wetlands. Unfortunately, what we have today are domestic policies and international trade agreements that subsidize giant polluting factory farms, multinational corporations, unhealthy processed food, GMOs and agro-industrial exports—policies that have driven millions of desperate rural families into forced migration or have left them little choice but to join drug cartels or sectarian militia groups like ISIS or the Taliban.

We need to focus on food sovereignty and self-sufficiency instead of corporate globalization and GMO, chemical-intensive agriculture—both at home and abroad.

Step two: regenerate food, farming and land use

We must move to reverse, not just mitigate, global warming by adopting organic and regenerative food, farming and land use practices. Cook organic, not the planet.

Climate scientists repeatedly have warned us that we must stop burning fossil fuels and destroying our environment and soils—thereby supersaturating our atmosphere and oceans with greenhouse gas emissions—or else we are doomed.

If we are going to avert catastrophic global warming, we must change our energy, agricultural, land use and consumption practices so as to drawdown as much carbon as possible from our overheated atmosphere and transfer this excess load of carbon, through enhanced photosynthesis, into the living soils of our croplands, pasturelands, forests and landscapes, where it will improve food quality, environmental health and rural livelihoods.

The only way we can possibly carry out this Great Drawdown quickly enough to avert runaway global warming is to help the world’s 3 billion farmers and rural villagers stay on the land and farm regeneratively—especially in the world’s warm, sub-tropical and tropical areas, where billions of acres of soils and forests can absorb and sequester the most carbon, and where poverty and desperation are the worst.

In other words, through our political activity and our food choices as consumers, we must help the world’s farmers and rural villagers become self-sufficient peacemakers and regenerators, instead of forcing them to choose between becoming growers, smugglers or soldiers for the drug cartels, or risking their lives and their liberty as forced migrants, undocumented workers and refugees.

We must help create the conditions for peace and rural prosperity in the impoverished conflict zones in the Global South or we will never solve the immigration or the climate crisis. With the regeneration of rural communities and landscapes, and a move away from counter-productive drug laws and foreign policy support for corrupt and criminal governments and corporations, we will see not only a massive reduction in the number of forced migrants across the world, but a surge of reverse migration, with millions and millions of forced refugees voluntarily returning back home to their rural communities and families.

Step three: regenerate politics

As members of global civil society we must plant peace, not poverty and war. End the drug wars. Legalize marijuana and all drugs. Treat drug addiction as a medical problem, rather than a criminal offense. Stop the war on nature waged by out-of-control transnational corporations. Stop supporting corrupt governments and corporations. Get political. Throw corrupt politicians out of office with a ballot box revolution. Use your consumer dollars to promote positive change. Stop subsidizing industrial agriculture, factory farms and GMOs. Rebuild soils, restore forests, watersheds, biodiversity and perennial eco-systems along with regenerating your own and society’s personal health.

Together, North and South, we can draw down enough carbon from the atmosphere to reverse global warming, re-stabilize the climate, create rural prosperity and end forced migration. Join the growing global Regeneration Revolution. Sign up for our Regeneration International and Organic Consumers Association newsletters and action alerts today.

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

Main Street Project Hosts Carbon Farmers and Ranchers to Share Midwest Regenerative Agriculture Model

Each year, Northfield-based Main Street Project has made strides in its goals to develop community-based, regenerative, sustainable agriculture in and around Northfield. It’s made enough progress now to be an example for others.

Main Street Project Chief Strategy Officer Reginaldo Haslett-Marroquin, left, stands with Aaron Clare, of Nebraska Forest Service, at Main Street’s demonstration farm. Photo credit: Philip Weyhe/Northfield News

At the end of June, a few dozen people from all across the Midwest made their way to Northfield to see and learn about Main Street’s systems and consider how they might bring elements of the operation back home. The visitors saw Main Street’s new 100-acre demonstration farm, just north of Northfield, and one of its free-range poultry units, just south of Northfield. Then they stayed the night downtown and gathered there in the morning to talk about what’s happening and what’s in the future.

Read the full article at www.southernminn.com/northfield_news/news/article_d822c4a2-9813-57bd-9d67-371c02142906.html. The article requires a subscription to read. Subscription options, including a one-day $1.99 digital pass, can be found at www.southernminn.com/subscription_options.

What is No-Till Farming?

The Earth loses roughly 23 billion tons of fertile soil every year. At this rate, all fertile soil will be gone within 150 years, unless farmers convert to practices that restore and build soil organic matter, an essential component of soil fertility.

Many industrial agricultural practices are lethal to soil fertility, including deforestation and burning, and excessive use of synthetic fertilizers and other toxic chemicals. One of the biggest contributors to soil degradation is the common practice of soil tilling. Fortunately, a growing number of farmers realize the importance of preserving and improving their soil by adopting no-till practices.

Young soybean plants thrive in the resiue of a wheat crop. This form of no till farming provides good protection for the soil from erosion and helps retain moisture for the new crop. Photo credit: USDA NRCS Photo Gallery

The invention of the plow—progress or problem?

No-till farming is nothing new. It was used as far back as 10,000 years ago. But as plow designs and production methods improved during Europe’s Agricultural Revolution in the 18th and early 19th centuries, tilling became increasingly popular. Farmers adopted the method because it allowed them to plant more seeds while expending less effort.

Tilling involves turning over the first 6 – 10 inches of soil before planting new crops. This practice works surface crop residues, animal manure and weeds deep into the field, blending it into the soil. It also aerates and warms the soil. Sounds like a good thing, right? Unfortunately, in the long run, tilling does more harm than good. Here’s why.

Tillage loosens and removes any plant matter covering the soil, leaving it bare. Bare soil, especially soil that is deficient in rich organic matter, is more likely to be eroded by wind and water. Think of it this way: Undisturbed soil resembles a sponge, held together by an intricate structure of different soil particles and channels created by roots and soil organisms. When the soil is disturbed by tilling, its structure becomes less able to absorb and infiltrate water and nutrients.

Tilling also displaces and/or kills off the millions of microbes and insects that form healthy soil biology. The long-term use of deep tillage can convert healthy soil into a lifeless growing medium dependent on chemical inputs for productivity.

The case for a no-till farming future

From a soil perspective, the benefits of no-till farming far outnumber those of tillage-based systems. No-till practices allow the soil structure to stay intact and also protect the soil by leaving crop residue on the soil surface. Improved soil structure and soil cover increase the soil’s ability to absorb and infiltrate water, which in turn reduces soil erosion and runoff and prevents pollution from entering nearby water sources.

No-till practices also slow evaporation, which not only means better absorption of rainwater, but it also increases irrigation efficiency, ultimately leading to higher yields, especially during hot and dry weather.

Soil microorganisms, fungi and bacteria, critical to soil health, also benefit from no-till practices. When soil is left undisturbed, beneficial soil organisms can establish their communities and feed off of the soil’s organic matter. A healthy soil biome is important for nutrient cycling and suppressing plant diseases. As soil organic matter improves, so does the soil’s internal structure—increasing the soil’s capacity to grow more nutrient-dense crops.

It’s clear that adopting no-till practices is good for the soil. But what’s in it for the farmer? Remember, tilling became popular because it meant farmers could plant more seeds, faster. Modern no-till tractor implements allow farmers to sow seeds faster and cheaper than if they tilled their fields. Conventional tillage practices require the farmer to make several passes over the field, first tilling the soil and then returning to plant seeds. No-till removes the step of tilling the soil and therefore saves the farmer time and money. According to a report published in Scientific America, this decreases the fuel expense by 50 to 80 percent and the labor by 30 to 50 percent.

Conventional vs. organic no-till farming

One of the common misconceptions about no-till farming is that farmers can use this practice only if they grow genetically engineered (GMO) crops, which require the use of herbicides. To clear up this confusion, it’s important to understand that there are two types of no-till farming: conventional and organic.

In conventional no-till farming, farmers use herbicides to manage the weeds before and after sowing the seeds. The amount of herbicides used in this approach is even higher than the amount used in tillage-based farming, which causes a threat to the environment and human health.

Organic no-till farming uses a variety of methods to manage weeds and reduce or eliminate tillage without resorting to the use of chemical herbicides. These methods include cover crops, crop rotation, free-range livestock and tractor implements such as the roller crimper, which farmers can use to lay down a weed-suppressing mat that can be planted through in one pass.

Organic no-till farming on its own isn’t an all-cure solution to the world’s soil crisis. But it’s one of the many important practices that move us toward a regenerative agriculture model that is better for human health and the environment.

How no-till farming fits into the bigger climate solution

Until recently, the “how do we solve global warming” conversation focused almost exclusively on the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It’s absolutely critical that we do that, and that we do it fast.

But it’s equally, if not more critical, that we figure out how to draw down the carbon that’s already in the atmosphere. Thankfully, climate scientists now recognize that healthy soil plays an essential role in drawing down and sequestering carbon.

According to Rodale Institute, adopting regenerative agricultural practices across the globe could sequester global annual greenhouse gas emissions, which is roughly 52 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide.

Where does no-till farming fit into the carbon sequestration story?

Soil naturally stores carbon. When soil is plowed under, carbon, in the form of organic material such as plant roots and microorganisms, rises to the soil’s surface. This temporarily provides nutrients for crops. But as the soil carbon is exposed to oxygen in the atmosphere, it transforms into carbon dioxide, contributing to the greenhouse gas emissions that warm the planet.

No-till farming minimizes soil disturbance, which helps keep carbon in the soil. It also enriches soil biodiversity, reducing the need for chemical fertilizers that emit greenhouse gases. Studies have shown that organic no-till practices, when combined with cover cropping and organic management, help increase soil organic carbon by up to 9 percent after two years and 21 percent after six years.

No-till practices, when combined with other regenerative methods, such as cover cropping, agroforestry and the rotation of multispecies livestock, can help establish truly regenerative and climate-resilient farms.

Read next: Why Regenerative Agriculture?

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Regeneration Guatemala Seeks to Transform Rural Guatemala Agriculture

In 2017, several members of Social Lab Guatemala, an incubator for social business, were inspired to build a national model for regenerative agriculture in Guatemala. Their inspiration led them to strategic partnerships with Regeneration International (RI) Main Street Project (MSP) and ultimately to the formation of Regeneration Guatemala.

Regeneration Guatemala’s mission is to rebuild the deteriorated social, ecological and economic systems in Guatemala by transforming the agricultural landscape through regenerative agriculture and land-use practices, with a focus on Poultry-Centered Regenerative system design.

The organization is off to a strong start. This year, a team of young entrepreneurs, farming cooperatives and rural community members are in the process of establishing five regenerative poultry farms. These five pilot projects form the centerpieces of five regional demonstration models for how to scale regenerative poultry production while simultaneously developing the regional infrastructure needed to grow a national regenerative agriculture industry. 

RI and MSP both played key roles in the launch of Regeneration Guatemala. Reginaldo Haslett-Marroquin, principal architect of the MSP poultry-centered regenerative agriculture model and an RI founding partner and steering committee member, had this to say about working with the team in Guatemala:

“As a Guatemalan immigrant living mostly in the U.S., but as someone who owes most of my training and professional capacity to the teachings of our elders and our rural community leaders in Guatemala, being able to turn around and bring all of the experience accumulated through years of learning and capacity-building back to Guatemala is really a dream come true. One must not be confused as to what I am bringing back, it is not a foreign idea, it is an idea that was born in Guatemala, in the forest and in the rural communities, which I have been able to further develop with support from people all over the world.”

Haslett-Marroquin says that Regeneration Guatemala is a story of resilience. He explains that the threat to survival caused by the agricultural systems that came out of the “green revolution” can be reversed by reclaiming and adapting traditional and ancient knowledge.

“The answer to poverty and hunger and to developing the capacity of communities to feed themselves, was right there in the communities all along. The time has come to recover what we know, use what we have learned and recall the falsehood of empty promises that corporate factory foods will nourish the world. It is time to engage nature at its best and to unplug from degenerative systems that are destroying our forests and the very ecosystems on which we depend to feed the country.”

Regeneration Guatemala is starting out with five strategically located regenerative poultry projects. But the organization envisions many more as it works to fulfill its long-term vision for achieving high-impact, large-scale change in Guatemala.

A big part of the organization’s commitment involves saving and restoring ancestral knowledge developed and curated by indigenous Mayan cultures throughout the Mesoamerican region. Their practices, production systems and native species have been handed down through generations, and conserved by their descendents, through struggle and resistance. Despite colonization and violence, history and contemporary circumstances make it critical that this ancient knowledge be preserved and put back into practice.

It isn’t just the future of Guatemala that motivates this new organization. By becoming an active contributor to the international regeneration movement, the founders and members of Regeneration Guatemala hope to do their part to help address global warming, feed the country and the world, promote public health and prosperity, and provide the foundation for creating the conditions that ensure global peace and wellbeing.

Stay tuned in for more news from Regeneration Guatemala and the growing regeneration movement around the world by signing up for the RI newsletter here

What is Biochar?

Biochar technology shows promise in mitigating climate change and improving soil quality, as well as reducing waste and producing energy as a byproduct. But what exactly is biochar and what is it made of?

Biochar is a charcoal-like substance that’s made by burning organic material from agricultural and forestry wastes (also called biomass) in a controlled process called pyrolysis. Although it looks a lot like common charcoal, biochar is produced using a specific process to reduce contamination and safely store carbon. During pyrolysis organic materials, such as wood chips, leaf litter or dead plants, are burned in a container with very little oxygen. As the materials burn, they release little to no contaminating fumes. During the pyrolysis process, the organic material is converted into biochar, a stable form of carbon that can’t easily escape into the atmosphere. The energy or heat created during pyrolysis can be captured and used as a form of clean energy. Biochar is by far more efficient at converting carbon into a stable form and is cleaner than other forms of charcoal.

In terms of physical attributes, biochar is black, highly porous, lightweight, fine-grained and has a large surface area. Approximately 70 percent of its composition is carbon. The remaining percentage consists of nitrogen, hydrogen and oxygen among other elements. Biochar’s chemical composition varies depending on the feedstocks used to make it and methods used to heat it.

Photo credit: Rob Goodier/E4C

The concept of biochar is rooted in an ancient Amazonian practice

Although biochar technology is considered a more recent strategy for carbon sequestration, the practice of adding charred biomass to improve soil quality is not new. This process is modeled after a 2,000-year-old practice in the Amazonian basin, where indigenous people created areas of rich, fertile soils called terra preta (meaning “dark earth”).

Whether these soils were intentionally made or are simply a by-product of farming and/or cooking practices is still unclear. But one thing’s for sure: The fertility of terra preta is significantly higher than the otherwise famously infertile soils of the Amazon. This explains why plants grown in terra preta soil grow faster, and are more nutrient-dense, than plants grown in neighboring soils. In fact, terra preta soils continue to hold carbon still today.

How to make biochar: A closer look into biochar production

Biochar is produced during pyrolysis, a thermal decomposition of biomass in an oxygen-limited environment.

The quality of feedstocks, or materials burned, have a direct impact on the quality of the final biochar product. Ideally, clean feedstocks with 10 to 20 percent moisture and high lignin content must be used—some good examples are field residues and woody biomass. Using contaminated feedstocks, including feedstocks from railway embankments or contaminated land, can introduce toxins into the soil, drastically increase soil pH and/or inhibit plants from absorbing minerals. The most common contaminants are heavy metals—including cadmium, copper, chromium, lead, zinc, mercury, nickel and arsenic—and Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons.

Biochar can be manufactured through low-cost, small-scale production using modified stoves or kilns, or through large-scale, cost-intensive production, which utilizes larger pyrolysis plants and higher amounts of feedstocks. One of the most common ways to make biochar for on-farm use is through pyrolysis using a top-lit updraft biochar machine.

Applications of biochar in agriculture: enhancing soil and compost properties

Soil degradation is a major concern in agriculture globally. To address this burgeoning problem, researchers suggested applying biochar to degraded soils in order to enhance its quality. Some of the ways that biochar may help improve soil quality include:

  • enhancing soil structure
  • increasing water retention and aggregation
  • decreasing acidity
  • reducing nitrous oxide emissions
  • improving porosity
  • regulating nitrogen leaching
  • improving electrical conductivity
  • improving microbial properties

Biochar is also found to be beneficial for composting, since it reduces greenhouse gas emissions and prevents the loss of nutrients in the compost material. It also promotes microbial activity, which in turn accelerates the composting process. Plus, it helps reduce the compost’s ammonia losses, bulk density and odor.

How to use biochar to improve soil quality

Biochar is applied to agricultural soils using a variety of application rates and preparation techniques. The rate of application and preparation of the biochar will largely depend on specific soil conditions as well as on the materials used to make the biochar. It is often recommended to mix biochar with compost or other materials to inoculate it with nutrients and beneficial organisms.

The recommended method for applying biochar will vary depending on how healthy or nutrient-depleted your soil is. Before you use biochar in your own garden or farm, you should first consider the state of your soil. For more information on how to apply biochar on different kinds of soils, check the guidelines on International Biochar Initiative and Wakefield Biochar.

Biochar: an environmental solution

Biochar may seem like a simple material, but it can help solve a variety of global problems simultaneously. For instance, the process by which it’s manufactured may help sequester a billion tons of carbon annually and hold it in the soil for thousands of years, where it’s most beneficial.

During the production of biochar, clean and renewable energy is produced as a byproduct—this can be used as an alternative to burning fossil fuels, which has exacerbated global warming by adding greenhouse gases to the atmosphere.

Some of the other environmental benefits of biochar include decreased groundwater pollution, lower cost of water filtration, reduced amounts of waste and higher profitability for farmers. This technology also contributes to food security by increasing crop yields and retaining water in areas prone to drought.

The role of biochar in sequestering carbon and mitigating climate change

Biochar production is a carbon-negative process, which means that it actually reduces CO2 in the atmosphere. In the process of making biochar, the unstable carbon in decaying plant material is converted into a stable form of carbon that is then stored in the biochar. When biochar is applied to the soil, it stores the carbon in a secure place for potentially hundreds or thousands of years. To put it simply, the feedstocks that were used for making biochar would release higher amounts of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere if they were left to decompose naturally. By heating the feedstocks and transforming their carbon content into a stable structure that doesn’t react to oxygen, biochar technology ultimately reduces carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Biochar also contributes to the mitigation of climate change by enriching the soils and reducing the need for chemical fertilizers, which in turn lowers greenhouse gas emissions. The improved soil fertility also stimulates the growth of plants, which consume carbon dioxide. The many benefits of biochar for both climate and agricultural systems make it a promising tool for regenerative agriculture.

Read next: Why Regenerative Agriculture?

Click here to subscribe to Regeneration International’s newsletter.

Changing the World—One Chicken at a Time

The chicks have arrived! A 6 a.m. phone call from the Northfield, Minnesota, post office alerted Eric Foster and others at the Main Street Project to the arrival of the first training flock of 2018. A new cohort of aspiring Latino farmers from the south-central region of Minnesota were about to start their poultry-centered regenerative agriculture training.

Their mission? To become part of a southeastern Minnesota cluster of farms designed to change the way poultry is produced in Minnesota and beyond, by joining dozens of other families in the region who have received similar training from Northfield-based Main Street Project.

Why Do We Need to Change How Poultry Is Produced?

The current poultry-production system has failed ecologically, economically and socially. It has caused ecological destruction, displacement of rural people and destroyed ancient resilient and healthy food security systems for communities worldwide. It has loaded animal production with pharmaceuticals, then hidden this information from consumers. The system has also built a massive global exploitative infrastructure that cheats farmers and consumers.

Today’s system never intended to deliver solutions. It was designed and structured to be extractive, degenerative and profit-driven. Through massive, well-funded campaigns, today’s poultry producers create the illusion that they can deliver large amounts of healthy food at very low prices. But the true cost of industrial food is hidden behind the convoluted systems the industry has created.

Some of those costs are obvious, yet we have no legal recourse to demand payment. Who pays for the ever-expanding list of food-related diseases? Or water contamination? Who pays the social cost of pushing food and agriculture workers into poverty?

The Real Cost of Cheap Food

Consumers pay the real cost of our food through a vast array of channels that have become untraceable, from our taxes that primarily subsidize a handful of large corporations through the Farm Bill—a cyclical federal agricultural subsidy program—to the public subsidies, volunteers and local taxes that go to clean up rivers, lakes and even oceans polluted in the name of feeding the world.

Some of this cost materializes when residents of cities where agriculture runoff has now impaired drinking water are taxed to pay for the cleanup of toxic levels of nitrates and other agricultural chemicals.

We need to change the system: It is not in its DNA to change itself. We, the billions of small farmers, consumers, scientists and students, need to reclaim control of our food production and redeploy under a regenerative design. In my book, “In the Shadow of Green Man,” I describe the life experiences and pathways that led me to this work and to this point in my life.

In this autobiographical book, I lay the foundation for why we need to fight for large-scale change, and why we should always look with distrust at anyone or any structure that seeks to degenerate the foundation of our well-being through our food, the most sacred foundation of nutrition, health and well-being.

Before publishing “In the Shadow of Green Man,” I did an interview with Dr. Mercola, where I laid out the principles for how we are redesigning a new poultry system. Our design process takes us back to the source of how nature provides a magnificent blueprint for energy transformation processes that deliver food out of air and soil.

Defining a Regenerative System

A regenerative system is one that can continually recirculate the natural energy from the soil and air to deliver not only a healthy environment, but also healthy foods, fiber and other vital outcomes of a regenerating landscape. Livestock on the landscape is critical to this process. And when it comes to livestock, chicken reigns supreme.

Poultry production offers the shortest economic cycle and lowest up-front investment cost. It is the only livestock that is accepted culturally in every region of the world. It is a healthy protein source and is easily scalable. If we design a system according to the chicken’s natural jungle environment, poultry can also serve as the foundation for a massive new agroecological and agroforestry model, capable of reforesting and restoring large amounts of conventionally farmed and degenerated landscapes.

We looked at the chicken’s original natural environmental blueprint in the jungles of southeast Asia and followed it across the world. The ancestors of the modern chicken (Gallus gallus, aka red jungle fowl) have adapted to most ecological condition. Like most other animals, chickens were never meant to be confined indoors—and they don’t have to be.

The only reason to confine animals is for ownership and control and to maximize profits. The industry did this, whether intentionally or not, at the expense of the welfare of the animals, the health of consumers, the environment, farmers and workers.

As a child, I watched a big fight roar around us as the Guatemalan civil war carried on. That was the Guatemalans’ way of attempting to remove from power the oligarchs and their army that ruled and controlled the land, under a system based on extraction, exploitation and abuse. As a child within this environment, my stories were defined by poverty and hunger and the need for more food. My understanding of its value and our right to it grew out of that environment, as did my desire to work for this inalienable right.

Today, as I hear Native American elders talk about food sovereignty as one challenge to their freedom, it confirms my decision to spend the rest of my life dedicated to this fight. One freedom that should not be compromised is the freedom to collectively own and control our food and agriculture system. Today we have a new plan, and as you may have guessed, it starts with a chicken-led revolution.

Starting From the Bottom Up

At Main Street Project, the focus on Latino families as a strategic starting point for launching regenerative poultry and grain systems was not coincidental. It became key to our strategy for movement building and market development. It was important to start with the natural geo-evolutionary blueprint of the chicken. But it was equally important that the starting point take into consideration the natural ability of immigrant farmers, especially Latinos, as a social impact foundation of our theory of change.

Each production unit that now serves as the foundation of this system was designed from the perspective of an aspiring immigrant or low-income farmer. We believed that by taking this approach, we would make the system structurally compatible with any farmer in the world and especially in the U.S.

The key was to design the production unit as simple and as complete as possible so that any farmer could start, grow and scale production systemically under a controlled and managed process. To analyze existing ideas, we developed a set of core principles, criteria, indicators and verifiers that guided the discovery of what others were doing, while also guiding our own design process.

Establishing the Foundation of the Poultry-Centered Regenerative Design
To design, you need a standard. But to get to a standard, you first need to know the departing and destination points. From the beginning, in 2007, we were clear on two things. First, we were going to design from the perspective of nature to the extent that we could decipher it. Second, we wanted to design with people in mind: consumers, farmers and farmworkers as the primary beneficiaries of the system.

If we did these two things right, we would get the farm economics right. Contrary to what some believe, we don’t get regenerative farming right by getting the economics right. As Charles Walters of Acres U.S.A. said in 1970, “To be economical agriculture must be ecological.”

Following this logic, we used our system-level principles, criteria, indicators and verifiers to organize an ecological, economic and social high impact design framework. The production unit details result from this process and give the farmer a concrete project-level engagement platform.

We base the farm-level strategy on the number of production units a farmer wants to deploy on his farm. A region of farm clusters within a state serves as the foundation for building support infrastructure such as processing facilities, value-added products and distribution. Clusters linked and structured within a larger multistate regional strategy anchor the building of industry-level infrastructure such as trade, commerce, financing and governance.

We don’t create the process by which one organizes an industry; we simply weave our system into existing and known processes, with the proper adaptations, to lead to our own predefined destination—a regenerative agriculture and food industry. Critical to this process is the fact that a farm is not a system.

A farm is a project that if properly designed and aligned, can become part of a system design. For this to happen, the farm must meet a set of standardized practices, procedures, accountability, scientific protocols and measurable outcomes. It must consistently produce a predictable scalable output (food or raw material product) no matter where it is located. Then, production can be aggregated with other producers and form the basis for a system design.

The Poultry-Centered Regenerative System Standard

Our standard fully integrates the environment for the chicken, the social foundation for the system deployment and the economics of farming and food industry management. Starting with nature’s blueprint, we weave the economic and social together to build a framework that delivers an integrated standard.

By design, our poultry production model breaks out of the traditional mold of the fossil-based industrial revolution that delivered us the current system. We have created a blueprint for a broad and synchronized model that can integrate fully with the new “internet of things” revolution.

Similarly, global trends are rapidly coming to life as a “third industrial revolution” emerges out of Europe and China. What this does is link the ecosystems benefits while integrating tracking and management technology that can aggregate ecological, social and economic data at virtually no aggregated costs to the system. This delivers a fully transparent system that consumers, farmers and everyone else can access.

The Production Unit

A production unit (PU) represents a snapshot of the system at a point where the farmer can make basic economic and social sense of what he/she is about to deploy. Ecologically, the PU allows the farmer to calculate the inflow of energy into the production process in the form of feed, grain and other inputs, and the amount of outflow of energy in the form of eggs, meat, nuts and fruits.

This forms the foundation for business planning at all levels. The PU comprises a shelter, two fenced-in paddocks, perennial and annual crops and other common poultry-related infrastructure to manage feed and watering. The paddocks are designed to vertically integrate as much production as possible while providing a multitude of other benefits that will be outlined later.

The PU is critical when calculating ecological impact. Anything that goes through the production process can be measured across the board no matter if a PU is in Minnesota, Mexico or Guatemala—wherever operations are already underway and the PU design has undergone full adaptation to those specific ecological, economic and social conditions. The cornerstones of the PU are the:

  1. Shelter: primarily protects the chickens during the night and during inclement weather
  2. Paddocks: provide ranging area
  3. Protective perennial and annual canopy11: directly defines the distance the chickens roam from their shelter and creates the foundation for management of chicken behavior. This includes stress management, ranging distance and temperature to name a few
  4. Sprouting systems: probably the most important of all, given that the cost of raising a pound of meat or a dozen eggs is significant (upward of 70 percent of the total cost)
How Cheap Grain Has Influenced America’s Food System

To understand this last point properly, it is important to clarify the role of cheap grain in the takeover of America’s food system. Taxpayer-subsidized grain production—mostly corn and soybeans—keep feed grain prices low for conventional farms.

The “external costs” are passed on to future generations in the form of degenerated landscapes, polluted groundwater systems and health issues related to the use of toxic chemicals. Taxpayers foot the bill under a system that transfers all the costs to society, and all the benefits to industry.

As for farmers, today’s farm bill subsidies12 don’t really help farmers. Instead, they represent the systematically structured flow of public funding that primarily enriches agribusiness disguised as a public benefit. Farmers across the country are left holding the risky part of the farm industry. According to Christopher Leonard, author of “The Meat Racket,”13 only about 5 cents of the price a consumer pays at the store for a pound of chicken ends up reaching the farmer.

The rest stays in the industrial chain. From that meager operating income, the farmer has to pay for the full cost of production such as their own salaries, farm labor, the interest to the bank, and building improvements and fixes—some of them mandated by the industry. This system effectively creates a firewall so no one can accuse a corporation of getting direct payments from the government.

Shifting the process by how grain is turned into eggs or meat, how farmers, farm and food-chain workers benefit from the system is critical to redesigning any sector of the food industry. Along with proper engineering and careful integration of natural efficiencies, we can deliver a blueprint for a different way of producing poultry that can be standardized and replicated, and that is fully adaptable to the regenerative nature of different ecologies, cultures and economic landscapes.

The Importance of Protective Canopy When Raising Free-Range Chickens

Each PU we design, and the standard that goes with it, has been carefully structured to deliver ecological, economic and social returns on investment. It is from that position of strength, transparency and integrity that we plan to launch a “chicken revolution” as our Guatemalan counterparts have renamed this idea.

Chickens are extremely responsive to and aware of their environment. As we fine-tuned the production unit’s management process, we learned that the canopy was not only essential for them to relax and roam most of the day outside, but also to protect them from aerial predators. The canopy also cools the soil by blocking the sun, which increases the relative humidity.

When all of these conditions are added up, the result is a perfect environment for large-scale natural sprouting of grain exactly where the chickens want it. Not only did we find ways to scale that source of food, but the chickens also supplement their diet more significantly by taking in more biomass, nutrients and water volume from sprouts, thus reducing the extra feed that they need when free-ranging.

By eliminating the need for industrial GMO grain production, this system not only reduces pollution, but actually mitigates it. The trees’ uptake of nutrients from the soil reduces and eventually eliminates pollution of water, soil and air. Trees also add value by helping to reverse climate change. The chemicals they emit into the atmosphere help stabilize rain patterns. In addition, trees sequester carbon from the atmosphere and produce oxygen, fiber, fruits, nuts and many other foods and ecological benefits.

A Return to Slow-Growth Poultry Breeds

For meat bird PUs, we selected slow-growth breeds that range well rather than the genetically degenerated industrial chickens. The industrial meat bird has lost its ability to properly range and live a healthy natural life. These birds are bred for confinement. Their body proportions and the way their organs develop make them unfit for free-ranging systems.

They have an incredible capacity to gain weight and with it, the need for a sedentary confined life. All of these characteristics are counter to the foundational principles and concept of regenerative agriculture.

In our system, the maximum stock density per PU for broilers is 2 square feet per bird. No more than 1,500 birds are permitted in each building. In northern cold climates, up to three slow-growth flocks (harvested at 70 days on average) can be raised delivering a total of around 4,500 birds per PU. For the Midwest ecology (different outdoor spacing and density is required for different ecologies), each bird must be allowed at least 42 square feet of ranging space or a total of 21 square feet per paddock.

In general, the unit must be laid out so that the farther corners are not further than 200 feet from the shelter’s exit doors. Ranging paddocks with perimeter fences farther than that will require more weed control, and birds will exceed the expected use of the areas closer to the shelter. Feed is not allowed indoors except during their four-week brooding period and during inclement weather. The rest of the time, feeders are fanned out farther and farther from the building to encourage ranging.

For egg layers, the PU consists of 3 acres of ranging area divided into two paddocks. Shelter requirement is set at a minimum of 1.8 square feet per bird. Maximum flock size is 3,000 hens. Shelter must be equipped with perches and other related infrastructure that is spelled out in the production manual provided to farmers after they complete their training.

A Farmer’s Cluster

With the PU defined, farms can be designed and other parts of the system integrated. First comes poultry processing or egg processing, then value-added processing and then distribution. In most of the country, there are no small custom processors that can handle more than a few thousand chickens a day.

Most of the processing infrastructure in the country is owned and controlled by the industrial system and unavailable to serve alternative systems. The need to plan clusters of farmers instead of single-farm operations emanates from these challenges.

Compared with a concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO), one of our clusters represents a small number of animals. Unfortunately, the weakest link defines the strength of the whole chain, and so it is with food chain design. In the case of our regenerative poultry and grain system, the weakest link is processing.

Under the current system, it is impossible to dream of setting up a large-scale poultry processing facility. However, it is possible to design a starting point that allows for a group to focus their energy on this area for each farm cluster.

Taking the System to Scale

As we approach the 2018 growing season, we sit on a significant number of accomplishments. We moved from prototyping and proof-of-concept to the launch of the Main Street Project’s central farm14 out of Northfield. This farm will train and develop the capacity of a new generation of farmers throughout the Midwest with a focus on training the first farmer cluster in Southeast Minnesota.

Another important achievement we are ushering in this year is the launch of Regeneration Farms,15 the first commercial farm utilizing the system.

But we still face some challenges when it comes to scaling up the system. To scale means more than to deploy a regional cluster of farmers. We can’t just assume what scale in the poultry industry is—it has to be studied, measured and defined. The magnitude of each little detail in the industrial poultry system is simply breathtaking, from how many tens of thousands of birds are confined in a building to the millions of egg layers that go into a single caged egg production facility.

We studied this model and came to the realization that in order to scale up, we also need to organize at scale. Back in 2015, I became a founding member of Regeneration International,16 a global network of scientists, farmers, business leaders and grassroots organizations that also saw the need to organize at scale with an industry redesign at the center of their thinking.

Late October 2017, and throughout the first quarter of 2018, in partnership with these new organizations, we started organizing Regeneration Midwest.17 The operating goal of this initiative is to organize a 12-state coalition to bring together a regenerative agriculture industry leadership team. This team will then set forth the direction and assemble the infrastructure to bring regenerative agriculture to scale in the Midwest.

To accomplish its purpose, Regeneration Midwest will seek to move resources and acquire market presence at a scale sufficient to unleash not only a Southeast Minnesota farmers cluster, but a multitude of clusters networked and supported across the 12 Midwest states. The blueprint for each of these clusters is the same, and the only limit is the market and the combined ability to expand, capture and sustain it.

The Regeneration Midwest platform also brings together other regenerative agriculture sectors and combines them for a higher impact across the region. Within the Regeneration Midwest organizational structure, a larger team has been engaged to organize and deploy regeneration chapters in each state. From this effort, we are now engaging farmers in Nebraska,18 Iowa, South Dakota, Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesota. Other states are also in process of organizing and consolidating their state-based coalitions.

Our current estimates are that with at least one farmers cluster per state, and 250 meat chicken production units per cluster, we can reshape the flow of around $450 million of poultry-centered commerce. To this plan, we would aggregate the economic impact brought about through grain production and the integration of other regenerative sectors such as grass fed cattle, pork and turkey.

How You Can Participate in Building a Regenerative Agriculture System

You can help us finance the people working to organize this system by making sure you know your farmer, know your food and “vote with your fork.” Consumer choice is the foundation of the path to a better system. No matter where our compass places us, we need to start investing our daily food dollars, our retirement funds, our school, university and hospital budgets in a different system.

Every year, farmers are joining the regenerative movement because consumers choose to support them. Some start by buying from their local Community Supported Agriculture programs, farmers markets and the like. Others start urban gardens, or switch to organic foods, or become members of a food cooperative.

For farmers who want to join the system or nonprofits willing to engage in state-level organizing within the Midwest states, please reach out to the organizers of Regeneration Midwest by emailing Info@regenerationinternational.org. You can support Regeneration Midwest by making a tax-deductible donation to Regeneration International.

About the Authors: Reginaldo Haslett-Marroquin is chief strategy officer at Main Street Project and founding member of Regeneration International. Ronnie Cummins is board chair of Regeneration International and international director of the Organic Consumers Association.

This article was originally published on Mercola.com.

RegeNErate Nebraska Workshops Inspire Farmers, Consumers to Go Regenerative

Nebraska and surrounding states have some of the richest soil in the world. Yet throughout the state, Nebraskans have little access to locally produced food.

RegeNErate Nebraska wants to change that. How? By reclaiming local control of the food system, and removing it from the grip of corporate agribusiness.

“Many people have been left behind as industrial agriculture has replaced cooperation with competition, separating us from our connection to the soil and to each other,” said RegeNErate Nebraska founder and local farmer Graham Christensen. “RegeNErate Nebraska is a community of Nebraskans who are bucking the system, in favor of the solution which lies in the soil. Regeneration is about going back to the way farming was.”

“The solution lies in the soil,” said Christensen. “Everything comes from the soil—all that feeds us, nourishes us, provides us with strength and community. It’s who we are. Nebraskans know that soil is soul.”

RegeNErate Nebraska held a series of workshops March 24 – March 27 focused on building regenerative alternatives to the state’s dominant industrial ag system. The workshops took place over a four-day period across four cities: Lincoln, Fremont and North Omaha, Nebraska; and Sloan, Iowa.

The events brought together local and national leaders and members of the community to discuss the benefits of transitioning from a conventional, degenerative agriculture system to a regenerative organic model that increases access to locally produced, nutrient-dense food, restores soil health, promotes biodiversity, treats animals humanely, revitalizes local economies and prioritizes farmworker fairness.

Nebraska’s soil is on life support

If there were a category for soil on the endangered species list, it would be number one—”our soil is on life support,” said regenerative rancher Del Ficke.

Ficke, aka the “Graze Master” of Ficke Cattle Company, based in Pleasant Dale, Nebraska, has practiced no-till farming since the late 1980s, when he transitioned from conventional agriculture to regenerative. That process included downgrading the amount of land he managed from 7,000 acres to less than 600 acres. He told attendees those 600 acres are 70 percent more profitable under regenerative practices than they were under conventional farming methods.


Ficke was one of several presenters who spoke about the human health and environmental benefits of regenerative food, farming and land use at a workshop

‘People have no idea’

RegeNErate Nebraska’s workshop series kicked off in Lincoln, Nebraska, with John Fagan, PhD, of Health Research Institute Labs,  based in Fairfield, Iowa. HRI Labs conducts scientific research and laboratory testing to identify and quantify environmental contaminants in food, water, soil and the human body.

Fagan’s presentation served as a wakeup call to the fact that most Americans have trace amounts of glyphosate, the key active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup weedkiller, in their bodies. “People have no idea,” said Fagan, that the primary route of exposure is through industrialized food.

HRI Labs offers human urine test kits for people concerned about glyphosate. The weedkiller has been found in human breast milk, urine,  drinking water and countless foods. A recent study found that glyphosate levels in humans increased 500 percent from 1993 to 2016.

Fagan also talked about how to get chemical contamination out of humans and the environment. The good news, he said, is that our food and farming system is currently undergoing a massive transformation, one that’s driven by two things: concern about soil degradation and the demand for pure, safe healthy food.

The growing demand for clean, healthy and chemical-free food grown from nutrient-rich soil was an underlying theme at the workshops, which attracted a diverse audience that included local, regenerative farmers and ranchers, agroforestry and urban gardening experts, food co-op leaders, refugee farmers, conservationists, prairie restorationists, tribal representatives and even conventional farmers in search of guidance on how to farm with nature, instead of against it.

Transforming vacant lots into food forests

Local afro-soul music group Wakanda One set the mood for the RegeNErate North Omaha workshop at the Metropolitan Community College, Institute of the Culinary Arts.

Urban Forester Graham Herbst of Omaha Permaculture kicked off the event by talking about urban food forests, a sustainable plant-based food production and agroforestry system based on woodland ecosystems that incorporate fruit and nut trees, shrubs, herbs, vine and perennial vegetables.

Omaha Permaculture specializes in transforming vacant city lots into beautiful, functional food gardens of edible plants, trees, art and flowers. The gardens serve as a food pipeline, providing lower-income residents access to affordable and locally grown health food.


Craig Howell of Alliance For A Better Omaha delivered a similar message. Howell stressed the importance of including local and nutritious fruits and vegetables in the federal government’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

“When we grow food locally, we will end hunger,” said Howell.  “We can’t solve hunger without expanding community, and we can’t expand community without sustainable land stewardship.”

Through his organization’s SNAP outreach, Howell has helped put nearly 2 million meals on the tables of food insecure households across metropolitan Omaha.


‘We’re not making any money’

At the RegeNErate Fremont event I sat next to a couple who operate a conventional farm outside of Fremont, Nebraska. “We’re not making any money,” they said. They told me they want to move away from toxic crop chemicals and toward a regenerative agriculture system that builds soil health—but they also need their farm to be profitable, in addition to sustainable. They’ve already starting planting cover-crops, a step Christensen describes as the perfect segue into restoring soil health through regenerative agriculture.

One key revelation that emerged from RegeNErate Nebraska’s workshop series is the importance of thinking outside the box, while at the same time building strong community networks that support regenerative food, farming and land use.

Regenerative agriculture is a native concept

The final workshop took place at the WinneVegas Casino Resort, owned by the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska. RegeNErate Native, which emphasized native food sovereignty and the need to create opportunities among tribes and on native land, featured presentations from experts on a range of topics including the Native Farm Bill,  regenerative poultry and bison, sacred seed saving and pollinator protection.

The RegeNErate Native workshop focused on connections with native communities and how to facilitate the development of local food pipelines that ultimately establish food-sovereign communities. The event kicked off with Thunder Valley Community Development Corporation leader, Ernest Weston, Jr., who is a member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe and was born and raised on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.

Weston, a local food activist, spoke about the importance of natives achieving food sovereignty. Up to 98 percent of the farmland in native communities is used to grow feed for livestock, the majority of which does not return to the reservation. Weston said that of the 2.7 million acres of farmland on the reservation, 95 percent is farmed by non-natives.

Weston told attendees that regenerative agriculture is good for communities, it essentially equates to being a good neighbor. View his presentation here.


Get live Instagram updates from the RegeNErate Nebraska workshops

Watch videos of RegeNErate Nebraska workshop speakers

Julie Wilson is communications associate for the Organic Consumers Association. She attended the RegeNErate Nebraska workshops. To keep up with news on regenerative agriculture subscribe to the Regeneration International newsletter.

Plans Take Shape for Regeneration Midwest

Last month, Regeneration International and our partner organizations hosted a meeting at the MOSES Organic Farming Conference in La Crosse, Wisconsin, to gauge interest in forming a 12-state Regeneration Midwest Alliance in the heart of America’s “breadbasket.” (The 12-state region includes: Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Kansas, Missouri).

Our team showed up expecting some interest—only to be met by an enthusiastic crowd ready for a regeneration revolution!

The coalition of RI partners, which included Main Street Project, Organic Consumers Association (OCA), Regenerate Nebraska and Midwest Organic Services Association(MOSA) presented a vision for what the Midwest could look like if we were to take a systems-change approach to redesigning the future of how our food is produced.

We asked what the future of Midwest agriculture would look like if instead of food production being the underlying cause of economic, social and ecological destruction, we redesigned it to be the source of clean water, healthy soil, and a toxin-free environment.

What if family farms began to thrive again? What if agriculture became part of the climate solution, instead of a big contributor to the problem?  

For several hours we shared ideas for realizing our vision of a food system that builds resilient and prosperous farms while regenerating our economies and communities.

“We’re learning more every day about how regenerative farmers and ranchers around the world are contributing to climate and food security by building soil health,” said Patrick Kerrigan, who represented OCA at the meeting. “The question is, how do we connect consumers who want to buy healthy local and regional foods with these farmers? And how do we build the systems infrastructure to ensure that these farmers are successful economically?”  

So what’s next for the newly forming Regeneration Midwest (RMW)? Here’s the scoop moving forward:

  • We’re recruiting state representatives from the 12 states that will form the Regeneration Midwest Alliance.
  • Once we confirm the 12 state representatives, we’ll invite all interested parties in each of the 12 states to help build out their state alliances by reaching out to neighbors, organizations they work with, church leaders, businesses—anyone who will listen! As these state coalitions grow, so will our ability to find the farmers, the business partnerships and resources we’ll need to achieve lift-off in the coming year.
  • RMW representatives from the 12 states will first participate in a joint planning session by phone, then follow up (probably in June) with an in-person meeting to plan the official RMW launch (probably in October). Each state representative will walk away from that meeting with a clear set of priorities for how to organize key industry sectors in each state so that we can coordinate at the regional level.

This state-by-state coordination will give us a clear picture of the resources we have and the challenges we face as we build the infrastructure needed to scale up regeneration at the regional level.

A huge priority in the coming months is for the 12-state alliance to agree on how regenerative products will be differentiated in the marketplace. We will want to hear from all of you on to accomplish this without compromising or “whitewashing” the foundation of regenerative farming.

In the coming months, we’ll collaborate to create rules and standards by which RMW can abide and by which we will differentiate the agriculture system we hope to deploy throughout the region. We must avoid what happened with “sustainability” as industrial agriculture co-opted that term—as it is already trying to do with “regeneration.”

A final note on our vision for the RMW: We want all farmers who have already gone beyond organic and those who are organic certified but are not willing to bend to the industrial corruption of our organic standard to have a new platform, one created to support and scale regenerative farming and reward those who want to reclaim the idea of grassroots-based movements.

RMW will focus on unclogging the rivers of regeneration, which have been clogged for far too long. We will stand not for purity, but for integrity, our platform will be non-negotiable because it will be nature-based and people-centered—around consumers, farmers and workers.  (especially consumers, farmers and workers).

Stay tuned for more news as the Regeneration Midwest Alliance prepares for lift-off!

Watch this video from the Regeneration Midwest Alliance planning meeting (Watch on YouTube, or on Facebook).

Interested in learning more about the Regenerative Midwest Alliance? Fill out this short form with your contact information and we will send you updates.

To keep up with future developments, please sign up here for the Regeneration International newsletter.

Reginaldo Haslett-Marroquin is chief strategy officer for the Main Street Project and a member of the Regeneration International steering committee. Sign up here for news and updates from Regeneration International.

Regenerative Farming Starts Here—with Chickens

Are you ready to say goodbye to the monocrop industrial approach to agriculture and hello to regenerative farming?

Check out this Main Street Project video which tells a story about restoring our land and our relationship with plants and animals, and valuing the power of small farmers—all while deploying a small-scale system that is “accessible, productive and economically viable.”

How does the Main Street Project do all that? As the makers of this video explain, “the path to healing our food and agriculture system is a path walked on by chickens.” That’s right. Main Street Project has developed a poultry-centered regenerative agriculture system that can change how food is produced around the world.

Well-managed paddocks and rotational grazing—practices that regenerate soil, eliminate erosion and increase production—play a big role in Main Street’s well-planned 100-acre farm ecosystem in Northfield, Minnesota.

According to the video, chickens “contribute to the farm ecosystem by providing an affordable entry point for long-term economic investment and help transform that investment into a wide array of marketable products,” all while contributing to a “vibrant farm economy.”

Main Street Project’s goal is to provide a “revolutionary approach to eliminating harmful practices in the poultry industry while healing the land and relationship to the labor force.” The project’s founders want to solve the nation’s food crisis by equipping and uplifting the “next generation of consumers, farmers and investors in regenerative agriculture practices.”

Main Street Project’s Reginaldo Haslett-Marroquin describes the project’s approach:

“We are advocating for a farming approach that brings back ancient knowledge, wisdom and techniques that farmers have survived on for a long time. What we are doing is restructuring those techniques so we can meet current demands in a way that the farming system that we deploy is good for the people, good for the landscape and the ecology, and is good for the economy.”

It’s part of the project’s “ecological, economic and social triple bottom line.” And the beauty of it is that the regenerative-poultry and grain model can be adapted to different climates in different parts of the U.S and the world. And it can operate on a small scale, or can be scaled up to meet the growing demand  for organic, regenerative poultry.

If a lot of this sounds familiar, it’s because of the steady drumbeat led by Regeneration International (RI), which works to build a “healthy global ecosystem in which regenerative agriculture and land-use practices cool the planet, feed the world, and promote public health, prosperity and peace.”

As Organic Consumers Association’s International Director Ronnie Cummins explains in a recent blog post, the regeneration movement is “the one movement that we believe has the power to address all our individual and collective concerns, the movement that holds the most hope for resolving the multiple and deepening global crises of hunger, poverty, crumbling political systems and climate change. The movement that begins with healing our most critical resources—soil, water, air—through better farming and land management practices. And ends with healing our local communities and global societies and restoring climate stability.”

Want to get involved? Help us rapidly scale up the signatories of Regeneration International’s 4 per 1000 initiative, which calls for countries to draw down more carbon than they emit, and to store it in the soil. Connect us with your local farmers, NGOs, agencies and companies that would be interested in signing on.

Increasing the number of those committed to healthy soil is the first step toward building a regeneration movement in your community.

Sign up here to keep up with news and alerts from Organic Consumers Association. Posted in full with permission.

Let’s Make 2018 the Year We Rise Up and Regenerate!

“…the care of the earth is our most ancient and most worthy and, after all, our most pleasing responsibility. To cherish what remains of it, and to foster its renewal, is our only legitimate hope.” – Wendell Berry, “The Art of the Commonplace: The Agrarian Essays”

It was a soil scientist who reminded me recently of something we self-obsessed humans often forget: We don’t need to worry about saving the planet. The planet will save itself.

Planet Earth will survive in one form or another, no matter what damage we humans inflict on it. The question is, will we survive with it?

Or will we destroy Earth’s ability to sustain life, all life, as we know it?

We had that conversation sitting around a table in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, where about 100 people from 22 countries gathered in September for the second Regeneration International (RI) General Assembly. We were there to evaluate what the group had accomplished since our last gathering in June 2015, when we launched RI, and what we wanted—and needed—to do next.

We came from different organizations, different countries, different backgrounds. We were scientists, farmers, activists, business leaders, policy wonks, writers.

Our concerns ranged from environmental pollution, health, food safety and food sovereignty to economic and social justice, the global refugee crisis and global warming.

We had come together to renew our commitment to the one movement that we believe has the power to address all our individual and collective concerns, the movement that holds the most hope for resolving the multiple and deepening global crises of hunger, poverty, crumbling political systems and climate change.

The Regeneration Movement. The movement that begins with healing our most critical resources—soil, water, air—through better farming and land management practices. And ends with healing our local communities and global societies and restoring climate stability.

A movement by any other name

When the founders (Organic Consumers Association is a founding partner) of RI first came together to formalize the organization, we struggled with the word “regeneration.” It was too long. Not memorable. No sex appeal.

In the end, we decided it was the right word. Turns out, it was also the right time.

The word—and the movement—have taken off far faster than we anticipated, and spread farther than we dared hope.

Increasing numbers of farmers, consumers, environmental and animal welfare activists, economists and scientists are talking about the potential power of regeneration.

Many aren’t just talking, they’re doing.

In the U.S. where industrial agriculture has dominated (and degenerated) for far too long, a growing number of farmers are reclaiming their independence by returning to their roots.

It’s happening In Nebraska. In Colorado. In Iowa. In California.

In Maine, Wolfe’s Neck Farm, recently renamed Wolfe’s Neck Center for Agriculture & the Environment, has not only gone regenerative, it has hired a scientist who’s developing tools to measure how much carbon the farm is sequestering through its soil-management practices.

Consumers and citizen activists are directly and indirectly supporting organic, regenerative agriculture more than ever before.

Last year saw the citizens of Tonganoxie, Kansas, fed up with factory farms ruining their communities, take on Tyson, one of the largest factory farm operators (and largest polluters). They shut down Tyson’s project.

In Nebraska, a group of citizen activists who support regeneration, with help from the Nebraska Farmers Union, are working to keep a giant Costco factory farm out of their state.

Activists and politicians in Iowa and Wisconsin are calling for moratoriums on the construction of new industrial factory farms.

An Idaho court just ruled against industrial agriculture by striking down most parts of an Idaho “ag-gag” law prohibiting undercover investigations at livestock facilities aimed at exposing animal abuse and violations of environmental laws.

At the federal level, despite the current pro-corporation administration, lawmakers are proposing new laws and programs to help more farmers transition from industrial to organic regenerative agriculture.

In an effort to fix the Farm Bill in a big way, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) has introduced the Food & Farm Act. The bill focuses on programs designed to promote healthy food and reduce industrial agriculture’s impact on the environment by providing greater assistance to producers of organic and regenerative food.

Representatives Sean Duffy (R-Wis.) and Peter Welch (D-Vt.), recognizing that organic farming equals economic prosperity for struggling rural communities, recently introduced the Organic Farmers Access Act.

On the policy level, OCA has always and will continue to advocate for policy reforms that shift agricultural subsidies and appropriations away from industrial monoculture commodity crop farming and industrial meat and dairy production toward support for farmers transitioning to an organic regenerative paradigm that improves public health, revives strong local economies, renews biodiversity, reduces environmental pollution and restores climate stability.

But we’ll need an engaged consumer and citizen base to make this movement a success.

Consumers will drive the transition to regeneration

Concerns about chronic illness and rampant obesity have a growing number of consumers looking to change their diets.

Consumer demand is behind record sales of organic food in the U.S. and in other countries. But as consumers demand better quality and greater transparency, they’re taking a more critical look at what organic means, and whether a product lives up to what has always been considered the gold standard—USDA organic.

Many organic producers do adhere to those standards. Unfortunately, some don’t. Skepticism about “Big Organic” has led some consumers to look for more local suppliers, including farms they can inspect in person, in their own communities.

Distrust of big organic brands has also led to the creation of new certifications and standards for consumers who want to support regenerative producers. A collaborative effort with the Rodale Institute and other groups produced the new Regenerative Organic Standard (ROC). The Savory Institute recently announced its new Land to Market (L2M) Program. And earlier last year, the American Grassfed Association announced new standards for grass-fed dairy products.

As more consumers demand higher standards, brands will have to respond. After all, when McDonald’s starts talking “regenerative” it signals a recognition—and validation—of consumers’ changing preferences.

Exercising our purchasing power to move markets toward regeneration is one way consumers can propel the Regeneration Movement forward. We can also support policy change, at the local, state and federal levels, that supports the transition to regenerative agriculture.

But it will take more than that to scale up regeneration fast enough to restore Earth’s health. It will take actively engaging in building the movement in our own communities—a call-to-action that both OCA and RI will emphasize and prioritize in 2018. (Sign up here for more information).

The future of the Regeneration Movement depends on all of us. Will we rise to the occasion?

Ronnie Cummins is international director of the Organic Consumers Association and a member of the Regeneration International Steering Committee. Sign up here for news and more articles by Ronnie.