Indianapolis’ Urban Farms Help Tackle Urban Problems

Author: Andrew Amelinckx 

When you think of urban agriculture many people tend to picture cities like New York or San Francisco. But in Indiana, a state more associated with large farms growing commodity crops like wheat and soybeans, there’s a quiet revolution taking place in Indianapolis. Mission-driven urban farm programs are trying to solve the big city problems of urban renewal, job opportunities for the disenfranchised, and feeding the hungry who live in so-called “food deserts” without access to fresh, wholesome food.

In this city of a little less than a million people, Indianapolis has an outsized problem with food insecurity. In 2014, it topped the real estate company Redfin’s list of worst cities for food access. Over the last few years a number of diverse organizations have banded together to deal with the issue, creating unique partnerships that have resulted in an urban farm that donates all its produce to food banks, a restaurant—complete with micro-farm—where the proceeds go to feeding food-insecure students, and a high-tech hydroponic farm that provides jobs for folks who need a second chance. Modern Farmer spoke with several of the people involved in these projects to see how they are dealing with food insecurity in their city.

Indy Urban Acres

In 2011, Indy Urban Acres was born out of a partnership between the Indianapolis Parks Department, the non-profit Indianapolis Parks Foundation, Indiana University Health, Gleaners Food Bank, and with the support of The Glick Fund, Indianapolis Power & Light and CLIF Bar Family Foundation. According to Tyler Gough, the farm manager for Indy Urban Acres, these groups pulled together “whatever resources they had” to provide organic produce for the 150,000 food-insecure residents of the city. The 35,000 pounds of fruits and vegetables they grow each year on five acres of an eight-acre organic farm (the other three acres are used as educational space) goes to local food pantries.


Meet Abdellah Boudhira, Third-Generation Moroccan Farmer

Abdellah Boudhira, a third-generation farmer in Morocco, has experienced first-hand the downside of conventional farming. Boudhira watched his family farm suffer for decades under the false promises of higher yields, combined with the high costs of chemical inputs like synthetic fertilizers and toxic pesticides.

In 2012, Boudhira began his farm’s transition to regenerative agriculture in order to save his family farm. Restoring his land’s soil, rescuing local seed varieties and rebuilding a market for local organics in Morocco has been challenging, Boudhira said. But the decision was the right one, he said, after witnessing the damage expensive hybrid seeds and toxic chemicals had inflicted on his most precious resource—soil.

Agriculture is the backbone of Morocco’s economy. But Morocco’s farmers, like so many farmers in other parts of the world, are suffering from recurring drought. Still, according to a 2014 GRAIN report, small farmers like Boudhira are producing 70 percent of the world’s food on less than a quarter of all farmland. And they are producing this food despite the challenges of dwindling natural resources, increasingly extreme and unpredictable weather patterns and the economic impacts of rapidly expanding industrial farms that are crushing local food systems.

Regeneration International invited Boudhira to share his story on November 18, at an event we helped organize for the upcoming COP22 Climate Summit in Marrakesh. Read the interview we conducted with him to learn more about his farm, his transition to regenerative agriculture and his plans for the future.


Interview with Abdellah Boudhira, October 20 , 2016

Regeneration International: Tell us about your story, how did you get involved in regenerative agriculture?

abdellah_morocco_farmerAbdellah Boudhira: I switched from conventional to regenerative agriculture for many reasons. As a small farmer who works my land by myself I needed to avoid and protect myself from chemicals, which I used to spray nearly four times a week. The second reason is because our land became exhausted from growing only tomatoes year after year. I’m a specialist in growing tomatoes and for more than 20 years my father only grew tomatoes in the same place and eventually our land became exhausted from it. Soil diseases like nematode and fusarium developed and affected the productivity of our tomatoes.

The third reason is to avoid debt to seed suppliers, chemical companies and synthetic fertilizer companies. If I kept working the same “conventional” way, I would always be indebted. The fourth reason is that I wanted to change the way I market my produce. I wanted to sell directly to families, directly to the “consumer,” so that I could benefit from the real advantages of growing organic food. I wanted to find and maintain customers who seek healthy food and care about what they eat. When farmers sell to wholesale markets, there are intermediaries who don’t care how the produce is grown in the field. They only care about the quantity and look of the produce. Their only goal is making money. There is no interaction between farmers and consumers. Farmers sell their produce at low prices while the consumer buys it at a high price because the same produce passed through the hands of three to four middlemen before it reaches the consumer.

RI: Hybrid seeds were introduced in your region in the 1980s, what impact have they had on farmers in your region?

AB: Before hybrid seeds were introduced to Moroccan farmers, farmers were saving their own seeds and traded them with each other. For example when we save seeds from heirloom tomatoes we give some to our neighbor farmers and they give us green beans, squash, carrots, onion seeds, so no one ever purchased seeds during that time. But when hybrid seeds came and some farmers purchased them, because of the high yield they gave and the uniform size and color and look they have, their popularity and demand increased. Eventually all farmers were growing hybrid seeds and lost the seeds that had been passed down to them by generations of farmers. Years later more hybrid seeds were invented to resist diseases as such TMV whitefly, fusarium, verticillium wilt and nematodes. These seeds were introduced here by some well known international seed companies as such Royal Sluis, Vilmorin, Deruiter Seed, Syngenta. This caused the price of seeds to rise and the price has kept rising, and now tomato seeds are more expensive than gold here in Morocco.

RI: Really, more expensive than gold?

AB: Yes 1kg of tomato hybrid seeds is expensive than 1kg of gold here in Morocco.

RI: What other challenges do you and other farmers in your region face?

AB: The first challenge is drought, desertification and big agriculture which have depleted the underground water table. In the early 1960s my father was pumping water from a well 8 meters deep and today we pump water from a well 120 meters deep. Secondly, due to climate change, the majority of the year the climate is now warm and dry, which creates the perfect environment for harmful insects to breed quickly. Tuta absoluta, whitefly and another virus that appeared this year called New Delhi which attacks cucurbitaceae are some examples.

The emergence of these pests has forced big farmers to grow crops that are susceptible to these viruses in isolated greenhouses. Small farmers simply cannot afford to build these types of greenhouses, so they’ve shifted to growing easy greens as such lettuce, beets. So small farmers have flooded the market with the same produce because they have no alternatives.

Another challenge is that the land is tired because farmers are not rotating their crops and they’re using harmful chemicals to kill soil diseases. Finally, both small and big farmers have such high debt, every year we hear that some farmer has to sell his property.

I am a farmer by choice. My soul gets inspired when I touch the soil and water and when I plant seeds and watch them grow.

RI: What tools are you using in response to these challenges and to build your farm’s resiliency in the face of climate change and extreme weather?

AB: I am a farmer by choice. My soul gets inspired when I touch the soil and water and when I plant seeds and watch them grow. Today it is more difficult to grow things than it was years ago. Since 1998 I’ve felt that there is something abnormal occurring in farming systems. Farming needs more care and attention and requires more planning than it used to.  In order to sustain myself as a farmer I had to change the way I farm and the way I market my produce. Now I grow different types of vegetables, herbs and greens in a rotational program. This builds soil fertility and protects against soil diseases. Growing biodiverse crops makes my farm more resilient in the face of extreme weather or pests. My farm was less resilient when we only grew one type of crop. For example wet weather can cause white powdery mildew on squash but not on onions, radishes, tomatoes and green beans.

I also make compost from my garden waste and aged manure and mix it in the soil to build fertility. I obtained heirloom seeds and now save my own seeds that I save for the next season. I don’t have to buy expensive hybrid seeds anymore.

I focus on controlling illness in plants when it first begins, because it’s easier to control than to treat. For pest control I use chili solution to burn cutworms as they hatch from the moth eggs, I spray ashes on cucurbitaceae leaves to reduce the development of white powdery mildew, I practice what is called intensive gardening so to get good quantity of food in a limited area of land. This also saves me land and reduces weeding. And for plants that need partial sunlight, I grow them beside tall plants to give them shade in the afternoon. This year I started to look for customers in the city of Agadir to buy my produce so I can keep improving my farming.

RI: What advice do you have to other farmers seeking to increase their farm’s resiliency?

AB: The best advice I have for farmers is to open their minds and be open to changing their practices. I shared my ideas with some young farmers here but I’ve found they’re afraid of new ideas. They’re stuck in their ways.

abdellahYou know, farmers are close to nature and in nature everything teaches you lessons, but unfortunately not everyone learns. A real farmer who loves his land and finds joy in working it, a farmer who creates life and food that nourishes both body and soul, a farmer whose heart is firm no matter what challenges they face, this farmer will find a way.

Farmland is farmer potential. A farmer should handle his/her land with care. Farmers should run away from anything which labeled wear a muzzle, gloves, or glass before using it. Farmers should stay away from banks that offer to provide loans. Farmers should practice rotational growing. Farmers should revise their marketing strategy to create a better and honorable ways to market their produce.

RI: Tell us about your vision for the future of your farm?

AB: My vision for the future of my farm has great promise. I am very pleased with the results I have achieved after many years of hard work, but what looks unclear to me is the future of our farm because our land is shared between our relatives. I farm on my father’s share of land. The neighboring land I rent will expire in 2018. I don’t know if my landlord will extend it… Anyways let’s be optimists. A farmer should always be an optimist or he won’t be a farmer anymore.

RI: The Lima Paris Action Agenda (LPAA) states “agriculture is a key sector to achieve both food security and the 2 degree target,” how do you feel Morocco fits into this context?

14875250_1422664627761161_2103620316_nAB: Without a doubt agriculture is the key to achieving food security, but we must practice an agriculture that regenerates natural resources, water and soil fertility.

In Morocco there are only two regions that feed the entire country. These two regions even supply Europe, Russia, USA, Canada and China with citrus and other vegetables. Due to the compaction of the soil by big agriculture in these regions,, water tables have depleted by almost in half of one region. Here, where I live, soils are also degrading. Without heavy use of synthetic fertilizers, farmers can’t get the yields they need in order to keep up with growing input costs.

There is an abundance of water and lush land in the north of the country but people there made the choice decades ago to immigrate to Europe and to the big cities in Morocco instead of working on the land. Now it is hard to convince young people there to become farmers. Farming is not an easy job especially if you are small farmer.

RI: How can consumers help to support the growth of regenerative agriculture in North Africa?

AB: In order to encourage farmers to grow healthy food in a regenerative way, consumers must buy products from farmers at a price that will allow them to farm that way. Local farmers need that support so they can keep their land and keep working their land instead of selling it to move to overcrowded cities.


Contact Abdellah:

Location: Agadir, Morocco


Alexandra Groome is Campaign & Events Coordinator for Regeneration International, a project of the Organic Consumers Association.

Griffin Klement is the Organic Consumers Association Latin American Project Director.

Agriculture Must Transform to Feed a Hotter, More Crowded Planet, UN Says on World Food Day

Author: UN News Centre | Published on: October 16, 2016

To mark World Food Day 2016, the United Nations is highlighting the close links between climate change, sustainable agriculture, and food and nutrition security, with the message: “The climate is changing. Food and agriculture must, too.”

“As the global population expands, we will need to satisfy an increasing demand for food,” said Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in his message commemorating the Day.

“Yet, around the world, record-breaking temperatures, rising sea levels and more frequent and severe droughts and floods caused by climate change are already affecting ecosystems, agriculture and society’s ability to produce the food we need,” he added.

Mr. Ban pointed out that the most vulnerable people are world’s poorest, 70 per cent of whom depend on subsistence farming, fishing or pastoralism for income and food.

“Without concerted action, millions more people could fall into poverty and hunger, threatening to reverse hard-won gains and placing in jeopardy our ability to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs),” he emphasized.


Hope for the Future: How Farmers Can Reverse Climate Change

Author: Rachel Kastner | Published on: July 13, 2016

This is an edited and revised transcript of the author’s presentation to the Center for Global Justice, San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, in August 2014.

Thank you to the Center for Global Justice for hosting us today. My passion and life’s work is regenerative agriculture and I am here today to share with you a message of hope: how farmers can reverse global climate change. I’ve been learning about and working with organic agriculture over the past seven years. I was born and raised in rural Oklahoma and moved to San Miguel de Allende, Mexico four years ago. I studied International Area Studies at the University of Oklahoma. After graduating from university, I spent a year working in rural South Africa where I first experienced agriculture being used as an avenue for social and environmental change. Since that time, about seven years ago, I’ve dedicated myself to studying and employing organic and regenerative agriculture. It’s been a learning experience for me, and I’m fortunate enough to be able to partner and work with a local organization here in San Miguel, called Vía Orgánica. Most of you probably know Vía Orgánica as a local store and restaurant in Centro San Miguel. Via Organica’s mission is education and supporting the organic movement here in Mexico. Later on I’ll be sharing a little bit more about what we do on an educational level in San Miguel.

I am here to share with you how regenerative organic agriculture is a game-changing solution for global climate change. Regenerative agriculture, modeled after natural systems, has the potential to reverse climate change by drawing billions of tons of carbon out the atmosphere, and locking it down to the soil, where a lot of it came from, and where it belongs.

Most of us know the gloom and doom story of the industrial food system. We know it as the culprit responsible for deforestation, environmental degradation, soil loss, pollution of our waterways, pollution of our food, large companies destroying local food markets and in the end making our environment, animals, farmers and consumers sick. What many people may not know is how greatly our global food system is contributing to annual greenhouse gas emissions and global climate change. The entire global food sector is responsible for over half of global greenhouse gas emissions. Agricultural food production accounts for 11%-15% of all greenhouse gas emissions. Land-use changes and deforestation – lands and fields being cleared, forests being cut down and native prairies being tilled to produce food –contribute 15%-18% annually. Processing and transportation contribute of food contribute 15%-20% and 3% to 4% of emissions are due to the waste stream produced by the global food system.

When talking about climate and the food system, agriculture is often seen as a necessary enemy. We know industrial agriculture creates negative effects on our environment and also on consumers’ health, yet it’s often not openly recognized and talked about as being a major contributor to climate change. There are a few reasons the harm caused by the industrial agricultural system is not openly talked about. One is that the global industrial farming industry has bought many politicians, universities and global world leaders. And the second reason is the sense of fear, that we have to keep producing food this way in order to feed the world. If we look at the science and the research comparing conventional and organic agriculture’s productivity we see that organic systems produce equal to or more food than conventional systems and have far more benefits for the environment, farmers, consumers and food security. The industrial farming system is not necessary to feed the world. So, let’s talk about how agriculture can be a solution to climate change instead of the culprit.

We know that we have to stop emitting greenhouse gases, and at the same time we must reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. The reality is that these transitions are not happening fast enough. We must reduce the amount of carbon that’s currently in our atmosphere, and we have to do it very quickly. It is estimated greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere are currently at a level of 400 parts per million. Largely, scientists have agreed that we need to reduce this number to 350 parts per million to avoid catastrophic climate change events.

So, how are we going to get this carbon out of the atmosphere? We’re going to do it by creating a global movement to regenerative, organic agricultural production systems; systems that remove the carbon causing global climate change from the atmosphere and return it to the soil where it belongs.

What is regenerative, organic agriculture? Organic agriculture can be defined as production systems that do not use synthetic chemicals, fertilizers, and genetically modified organisms. Organic is qualified by the absence of harmful substances. Regenerative agriculture goes a step further than organic standards and designs agriculturally productive systems that model natural ecosystems and regenerate their own nutrients. These regenerative agricultural methods, because of their ecological and biological focus, also regenerate degraded or depleted ecosystems into productive, stable, biologically diverse food production systems. In the words of a visionary farmer: regenerative organic agriculture is “Farming like the Earth matters.” Regenerative agriculture recognizes the important connections between plants, soil microorganisms and carbon in the atmosphere. This connection between plants, microorganisms and carbon is the key to how regenerative agriculture is a solution to climate change.

Plants through the process of photosynthesis draw carbon out of the atmosphere. A portion of this this carbon energy absorbed by the plant is used for aboveground plant growth and some of this carbon is respired, or exhaled, back into the atmosphere. Around 20% to 40% of the carbon absorbed by the plant is transferred into the soil as “liquid carbon” primarily in the form of sugars. The plants emit these sugars into the soil through their root systems. These sugars play an incredibly important role in the soil as they are food for the billions of soil microorganisms. As microorganisms in the soil feed on this carbon sugar they stabilize the carbon in the soil and create nutrients for the plants. The sugars released by plant roots also help improve soil structure, increasing its capacity to hold and filter water. As carbon moves from the atmosphere through plant roots and is then processed by microorganisms some of this carbon becomes stabilized and “locked” beneath the soil’s surface for years to come. The soil thus functions as a carbon sink. When we begin to recognize the earth’s soil as our largest available carbon sink we see that how we manage the Earth’s soil could lead us out of the climate crisis. Every green plant, tree and grass has the ability to pull carbon from the atmosphere and store it into the soil, long-term. The healthier the plants and soil biological communities are the more carbon is sequestered. This means large-scale carbon sequestration at our fingertips and what we need are agricultural systems that move this carbon underground.

We’ve known about carbon sequestration via plants for a many years. That’s why we’ve been talking about reforestation as one of the solutions to global climate change. As we learn more about how healthy plant and soil interactions can remove large amounts of carbon from the atmosphere we see this has huge implications for sequestering large amounts of carbon when applied not only in forest systems but in in agricultural systems including annual production and grazing systems.

In a short video by an organization called Kiss the Ground, which is a partner of Regeneration International, and also the Organic Consumers Association, we learn more about the relationship between soil and carbon sequestration. The video, The Soil Story, is a fantastic explanation of the soil carbon cycle. And it encapsulates the message of hope with regard to agriculture and climate change.

In the video we learn how the soil is a natural system that sequesters carbon. I want to talk about what that actually looks like in large scale farming systems, and also what rolling this movement out on a global scale looks like. It’s important to look at some of the numbers. The Earth’s soil currently holds 2,500 billion tons of carbon. The atmosphere holds 800 billion tons and plant and animal life hold 650 billion tons. Scientists estimate that, since the dawn of agriculture, we’ve released 50% to 70% of the original carbon stock in our soils up into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide. The Earth’s soil is a massive carbon sink, and we have the potential of returning carbon back to the soil. After all humans released half of the soil carbon into the atmosphere. This is a half-empty carbon sink is readily available to us. When we compare soil carbon sequestration to other geo-engineering carbon sequestration techniques, we see that soil carbon sequestration is a more readily available, economic, and scalable, solution.

So how much carbon sequestration are we talking about? By measuring carbon sequestered in regenerative agricultural systems, it is estimated that regenerative agriculture could sequester 100% of current human greenhouse gas emissions, or more. According to researchers, if we put the Earth’s four-billion acres of crop lands and pastures, 14-billion acres of rangelands, and 10-billion acres of forests into regenerative agriculture and land management we could reduce our atmospheric carbon concentration to 350 parts per million in under five years. So we would be pulling 50 parts per million of carbon out of our atmosphere in under five years. This would be an ideal situation where the entire world would stop exactly what they’re doing, and turn over to regenerative agriculture.

By looking at this ideal situation, we can see the scale and importance of how much carbon could be sequestered through regenerative agriculture and land management. A third of the Earth’s surface is arable land and the majority is under agricultural production. The oceans are not available to absorb any more carbon; carbon is acidifying our oceans as it is. Our largest available natural resource for carbon sequestration is the soil. Farmers are already using carbon sequestering farming methods worldwide. The scientific and global communities are beginning to pay attention to the research that’s coming out of these systems. Regenerative agriculture systems not only are a solution to the problem of climate change, but also have a domino effect of beneficial changes for local communities, economies, and the environment.

Elements of Regenerative Agriculture

What do regenerative farming methods look like, and what are farmers using today on a large scale to do this kind of farming? One of the regenerative farming techniques used is no-till, or minimum till agriculture. Currently in the United States, 20% to 40% of all farms uses no-till agriculture. No-till agriculture uses tractors and implements to sow seed and harvest in a way that does not turn up or open the soil surface. This minimum soil disturbance releases very little if any, carbon that is stored in the soil as well as reduces soil erosion and increases soil organic material. The soil surface cover is maintained and soil structure is left intact. No-till systems have several beneficial effects. Because the soil is left intact carbon in the soil, in the form of organic material and microorganisms, does not become oxidized and is not released into the atmosphere. The soil structure that remains intact helps hold water in the soil making rainfall and irrigation more efficient. The microbial life that’s in the soil, instead of being oxidized and killed by tillage, remains alive in the soil, and forms beneficial relationships with plant roots, creating nutrients for crops and sequestering more carbon. With no-till agriculture the crop residue is left on the soil surface and acts as a mulch, conserving soil moisture. The roots from the crop decay and further feed microbial life in the soil increasing soil nutrition, structure and water infiltration.

As I was saying, up to 40% of agriculture in the United States uses the no-till approach. Why? This has primarily been put into place through natural resource and conservation agencies in the United States for the purpose of soil conservation. When a field is tilled and then rains come, a percentage of the topsoil washes off of the field, into lakes and rivers. Farmers are finding that their rain and irrigation go further when they leave the soil untilled. Many farmers have turned to no till because of drought.

In the past five years, the Midwest has seen severe droughts. Farmers have experienced that no-till systems dramatically improve the water-holding capacity of their soil. A disadvantage of the industrial agricultural system using a no-till agriculture is that it’s not organic. Non-organic no-till systems rely heavily on herbicides to remove weeds. If the soil is not being tilled you have to control weeds through other methods. In non-organic systems soils are drenched with herbicides, which then wash into local water systems, contaminating ground water, lakes and streams. In regenerative organic no-till systems other methods such as roller crimpers, cover crops and animals are used to manage weeds.

Another essential element of regenerative agriculture is that it recognizes the soil as a biologically active, living organism, and it acknowledges that these microorganisms are essential for carbon sequestration. No-till agriculture is one step in the right direction. However, if you apply large amounts of synthetic herbicides and chemicals to the soil it largely reduces soil microorganisms and therefore reduces carbon sequestration. Microorganisms in soils are killed off by synthetic inputs such as synthetic fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides. The microbial life in the soil can’t coexist with these inputs. In order to have healthy microbiological ecosystems in the soil, we have to give them the proper environment in which to live, that is, an environment that does not use pesticides and herbicides.

Crop diversity and agroforestry constitute another method of regenerative agriculture. Photo 1 (above) demonstrates this method on a large scale. The farmer is Mark Shepard of Wisconsin. On his 106-acre regenerative agroforestry farm, Mark harvests many crops including, fruits, nuts, vegetables, grains, honey, pork and trees. Systems like this, as you can see, don’t look like corn farms in Iowa; they look more like natural systems.

One of the greatest public misconceptions is that, “Organic agriculture cannot feed the world.” We know through research that this is simply not true. The international community is really coming out and saying, “Organic agriculture can feed the world”. And in fact, these regenerative agricultural systems are more resilient, they provide better food security for local global communities, and it’s scalable.

We see Mark Shepherd applying large scale regenerative agriculture, and there are many other large-scale, regenerative farmers who are implementing designs like this throughout the world, including here in Mexico. These farmers understand natural biological systems and many of them are also very good business people, who understand how to make multiple businesses off of one farm. This approach is improving the environment, improving local communities’ economies, and it’s an essential way to move forward.

Perennial grasses and crops: when we have greater root systems, we have more sugars going down to the soil, we have higher micro-organism communities in the soil, and we have higher carbon sequestration. We must take care of our grasslands and rangelands to ensure they are not overgrazed, and that they’re not under-grazed. Grasslands need animals moving across them to properly fertilize them, stimulate plant growth and in return create more grass and larger root systems. The grasslands are an ecology depend on animals moving across them. The important aspect here is that the animals are properly managed in a way that restores grasslands instead of destroys them

The Land Institute in Salina, Kansas, is doing groundbreaking and tedious work to breed a perennial grain crops for human consumption. They have already successfully created one grain, called Kernza. Kernza is a perennial grain, meaning it doesn’t need to be cultivated, and produces a grain for human consumption. The Land Institute is making great strides to create more regenerative crops; although they’re still several years down the road from making Kernza an extremely palatably grain. They’re working on breeding more desirable qualities into the lines.

The planned rotational grazing of livestock for regenerative land management is essential for sequestering carbon on a large scale. Cattle and other livestock are often identified as the culprits behind land degradation. Land conservationists have for many years been trying to get cattle off of land in order to preserve it. What we’re seeing now is that properly managed livestock can not only preserve grasslands but can be used to restore degraded ecosystems. It’s all in how the animals are managed on the land. Photo 2 (above) shows a dry, desert environment. On the left side of the picture, notice the amount of ground cover and biological diversity. On the right side, you see basically bare ground, and exposed soil. The landscape on the right is continually losing soil, and there’s obviously no fodder for animals. The conditions on the left were created by properly managing cattle through intensive rotational grazing.

In the 1960’s Zimbabwean, wildlife biologist and farmer Allan Savory, realized that land degraded landscapes could be restored to health by strategically moving large groups of animals across the land. Allen came to this conclusion by observing how elephants moved across the savannah in large, tightly packed groups that didn’t return to the same graze lands until the grass had time to recuperate. Allen began working with conservationists to manage animals in a way that mimicked their natural behaviors and discovered that degraded ecosystems quickly regenerated due to the beneficial impact of animals on the land. Allen founded the Savory Institute and developed a management system, Holistic Management, to teach farmers how to beneficially graze livestock. Holistic Management is being used across the globe and is creating astounding results. The grazing animals’ manure is a biological startup for the soil providing nutrients, moisture and a layer of protection, creating a desirable environment for seed germination and plant growth. According to the Savory institute, one third of the earth’s surface is in grasslands and 70% of these grasslands are currently degraded. Now that we know how important soil is for carbon sequestration, we see how important it is to use animals to restore grasslands and increase sequestration.

Another method of regenerative agriculture is compost application. Recent research has shown that a single application of a half-inch layer of compost on grazed rangelands increases forage production by 40% to 70%, increases soil water-holding capacity to up to 26,000 liters per hectare, and increases soil carbon sequestration by at least one ton per hectare per year for 30 years, without reapplication. So again, when we talk about scaling this movement up, and how significant this could be if we took half an inch of compost, and applied this on a large amount of land?  The results are one ton more, per year, per hectare of carbon sequestration.

How does compost help sequester more carbon? The compost that’s applied to the soil surface activates the biological community below the soil as well as, adds organic matter to the soil increasing nutrients and water retention. Again we see that if we improve soil health we sequester more carbon. This cycle creates a system that regenerates nutrients through the interaction of plants and microorganisms. It’s a whole secured system that’s feeding itself.

This all sounds great, right? I want you to know that this is not just a theoretical solution. The use of large scale regenerative food production is happening. Over 2,000 farmers in Eastern, Southern and Western Australia have adapted a method known as pasture cropping. Pasture cropping is an agricultural system where annual crops are sown directly into perennial grasses using no tillage. The perennial grass acts as a cap or mulch on the soil, holding in moisture and carbon. The roots of the perennial grasses are continually pulling carbon down into the soil. This system functions with the strategic use of livestock to eat down the perennial grasses before sewing an annual crop. Crops such as corn and wheat are sown directly into perennial grass pastures. The annual crop grows well in the carbon and nutrient-rich soil, which have thriving bacteria and fungi because the soil is never tilled. And you also have grass to bring your animals back into graze after the annual grain harvest.

Pasture cropping is also gaining popularity in the United States. It was pioneered by Australian farmers who were dealing with highly degraded lands and little rainfall. Pasture cropping has proven to be as productive and in most cases far more productive than industrial farming methods.

The Savory Institute presents a photo contrasting the same piece of land before and after introducing regenerative management. A photo of totally degraded and desertified landscape in Mexico in 1963, is compared with a photo of the same location in 2003. Between these photos the land was put into holistic management and the rotational grazing of cattle alone was used to regenerate the area. The contrast between the photos is incredible. The same piece of land is barely recognizable. If this piece of land had been left as it was in 1963, it would have degraded even further into soil erosion and would still be a bare decertified space. The picture of the land in 2003 shows a lush green area full of a diversity of plants trees and shrubs. Thanks to the work of the Allan Savory this method of regenerating landscapes through the proper management of animals is being used all throughout the world. The Savory Institute’s goal is to have one billion acres in holistic grazing by 2025. They know degraded landscapes contribute to global warming and they are strategically spreading Holistic Management as a way to sequester carbon and restore landscapes.

The Benefits of Regenerative Agriculture

Regenerative Agriculture is not only solution to climate change but has many extending benefits for our world and society. One of the largest environmental benefits of regeneratively managed lands is their water-holding capacity is greatly increased. We’ve seen in recent years, global climate change is happening: droughts and dramatic flooding are affecting communities and agricultural production all over the world. Rainfall is changing, becoming more sporadic and clean drinking water is becoming harder to find. When soils are regeneratively managed they hold and filter rainwater more effectively, increasing productivity and reducing runoff and soil erosion. The water that infiltrates through the soil more effectively reaches below ground water sources. This has a large potential to alleviate the global water crisis as it is today.

Here are some numbers on how that water-holding capacity is increased: we can measure soil carbon, and we can measure water-holding capacity and water recharge. A 1% increase in soil carbon increases water holding capacity  to 27,000 gallons of water per acre. Multiplied over thousands of acres throughout the world that adds up to a lot of water!

Regenerative production systems in comparison to industrial production systems are far more resistant to fluctuations in climate and rainfall, have more resistance against pests and diseases and are more often more productive. Healthy biological soils have higher nutrient and mineral values which grow crops with a greater concentration of nutrients.

It’s true that if you take synthetic nitrogen and you pour it on a plant in the soil, that plant takes the nitrogen up, grows and creates fruit. However, the nutrient quality of the fruit produced from the plant only given synthetic inputs is much less than that of a plant grown in a biologically rich and healthy soil. A healthy soil not only provides the plant essential nutrients that it needs to grow, but it’s also providing the plant nutrients which then transfer to the fruit we eat. The industrial food system can get by creating fruit by just giving a plant enough of these essential nutrients to create a perfect, red, plump apple. When we look at the nutrient content of that apple however, we find that it’s largely degraded from what it was 50 years ago on our grandparents’ farm.

So when we talk about food security issues, creating nutrient-dense food is absolutely essential. Regenerative systems are creating foods with higher nutrient values as well as farms that are more resilient in the face of climate change. Natural systems – like forests, wetlands, or prairies – are so biologically diverse that they have the capacity to recuperate and regenerate after catastrophic climate events. A regenerative food system is resilient in the face of global climate change and can absorb changes in climate because they function as ecosystems not as monocultures. The soil microorganisms create more favorable conditions for plants to be able to recuperate and grow. Heirloom seeds pass down environmental information, from plant generation to plant generation, about changing climates and changing temperatures. In contrast, industrial food systems which relies on industrial inputs, specialized seed, fertilizer, herbicide and pesticide, are not resilient to changes in inputs or climates.

There’s more good news. Regenerative agriculture not only has environmentally positive impacts, but it also has the potential to end global poverty and hunger. The social and economic benefits of regenerative agriculture include, healthy food for local communities as toxic pesticides, herbicides, and genetically modified organisms are removed from food and environments. It’s simply providing people with clean healthy food.

These farm systems also restructure the global food system, returning work to small farmers. Smaller farms generate a significant economic multiplier effect in the community, creating real wealth beyond the agricultural business. Regenerative farming systems demand more skilled labor, the diversification of farming enterprises, and improve the economic resilience of farming operations through diversified production. It’s about taking our food system out of the hands of large corporate, agricultural companies and returning it to communities and farmers. We’re talking about large-scale regenerative farms that feed the world and are owned by individuals and communities rather than corporations.

The Problem of Scale

So how are we going to scale up our global food system using regenerative agriculture? The studies that have been conducted measuring carbon sequestration in soils and the extending benefits of Regenerative Agriculture are being heard on a global level. For the first time, in December 2015, at the UN Climate Summit in Paris, agriculture was on the agenda as a major solution for climate change.

One of the agreements that came out of the Paris-Lima Agreements in December 2015 is the “4 per 1,000” initiative, proposed by the French Ministry of Agriculture. It suggests that a 4% annual growth rate of soil carbon would make it possible to stop the present increase of atmospheric carbon dioxide. Many countries have signed on to the “4 per 1,000” agreement, including Mexico. We have governments diving in saying, “How do we make this possible? We see the potential for drawing down the amount of carbon dioxide; let’s make it happen. Let’s get it into practice.”

Developing the Change Makers

Another necessary step in scaling this movement up is to stop subsidizing the degenerative agriculture industry, and incentivize regenerative agriculture. Researchers are focusing on how we can best measure the amount of carbon being sequestered in soils. We are also creating definitions for what methods of production qualify regenerative agriculture. This is being developed as we speak, so that we can qualify “Regenerative farms”. In the future farmers will be able to be certified “Regenerative” and have clear standards of production. We will measure how many tons of carbon the farmer returns to the soil annually, and farmers will receive carbon credits for doing the global service of pulling carbon out of the atmosphere, and at the same time, farmers and consumers will benefit from healthier ecosystems and food.

There’s a lot of research to be done in the area of measuring carbon sequestration. As with any biological system, it doesn’t come in a nice neat package of exactly how to measure carbon, but the studies are being done, the work is being developed. So who’s going to carry out this transition? Small farmers.

Currently, small farmers grow 70% of the world’s food on 25% of the world’s land. So when I talk about going back to the small farmers, this is still within our reach. We’ve seen small farms disappear in the United States, but globally speaking small farmers are still there, and a lot of them still have land. Many of these small farmers are subsistence farmers who are producing food but are struggling to survive. Smaller farms and conscious consumers have the potential to feed the planet.

In order to build this movement we need to connect all the dots. The great thing about what we see coming together right now with the regenerative agriculture movement is that not just soil conservationists or permaculture hippies who are into this idea. All across the board, activists for health, environment, justice, peace and democracy are saying, “Hey, this is a real solution, we’re going to start talking to our governments about it, and we’re going to start developing global initiatives and programs to address it.” Each one of you has your place in this movement, as well.

Part of our strategy must be to recognize that, as I mentioned earlier, we’re currently subsidizing degenerative agricultural systems. One of the biggest threats to a regenerative agriculture system is the hold that corporate farms and factory farms have. The amount of livestock produced in industrial factory farms by far controls the market in the Americas and in Europe. It’s time for consumers to hold factory farms accountable for the damage they do to our environment, to animals and our health. It’s time consumers and governments say, “we’re not allowing this anymore” Ranchers and cattle-raisers can be our greatest allies in the fight against climate change. There are beautiful relationships forming all over the Midwest, in the United States, of environmentalists and ranchers coming together, learning techniques for proper animal management on grasslands. Farmers make more money, because they have healthier grasses, are able to put more animals on their land, and their lands are healthier, are protected against erosion and are sequestering more carbon.

We also need to push the organic community to go beyond the minimum of the organic standards. Just because an agricultural system is organic, doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily regenerative. True organic farmers know these regenerative methods, and they’ve been using them- minimum tillage, cover cropping, rotation of crops, etc. However, organic standards don’t necessarily include regenerative practices, so we need to push the organic community to start recognizing and start measuring more ecological standards. Yes, these production systems are organic, but are they regenerative? Are they healthy for the environment? We need to make sure production systems aren’t degrading our soils in any way.

Become a leader in the movement. Every time we eat at a restaurant, every time we buy food for our family, every time we have a lawn or a garden we make choices that support degenerative or regenerative systems. This movement is global, and it involves all of us. So, I urge you to become a leader in this movement, wherever you are.

The climate movement offers doom and gloom news, and what we need is hope that we can reverse climate change. If regenerative agriculture is scaled up to the potential that it has, we’re talking about pulling more carbon out of the atmosphere than we are emitting, which would be bringing our carbon dioxide levels down annually, reversing the effects of global climate change. I haven’t heard of any other climate solution that has offered us that potential as well as a long list of other benefits to the environment and to humans.

It is absolutely necessary that this movement become globalized, replicated on large amounts of land very quickly. A new initiative, launched at the climate talks in Paris this past December, is an organization called Regeneration International, which is a group of world leaders in various environmental movements who have come together to solve problems in agriculture and climate change. Some of the founding members are Ronnie Cummins from the Organic Consumer Association, Vandana Shiva, Andre Leu from IFOAM Organics International, Hans Herren from the Millennium Institute, and Steve Rye from We have major political and global leaders, who are from all different sectors — the health sector, the agricultural sector, the environmental sector — all coming together to say regenerative agriculture needs to be heard, focused on, developed, and rolled out on a large scale.

I urge you to go to the Regeneration International webpage. They’ve done an amazing job at collecting articles, research, videos and information surrounding agriculture, climate, health, and the environment. It’s an amazing resource to educate yourself and your community with the latest research and progress.

So, you are part of your movement. As you know, you vote with your dollar. Your political pressure on our politicians, many of whom have been bought by the large agriculture industry, is necessary. It’s time to put pressure on them and say, “Enough is enough.”

There are several ways you can join the movement. In the United States join the Organic Consumers Association (OCA), the a sister organization of Vía Orgánica. OCA is comprised of over two million members. It is an online, grassroots-advocacy group representing organic consumers in the United States. They are very politically active in the United States representing consumers. I urge you to get connected with the OCA, on their webpage and their newsletters.

Vía Orgánica here in Mexico, includes an organic store and restaurant that supports hundreds of local producers, educational programs and an ecological ranch and learning center. Via Organic offers free workshops every week from their location in Centro. They also have a radio program every Tuesday that talks about agriculture, environmental issues, and health. The Via Organic ecological ranch is a model and training center in regenerative organic agriculture. Via Organica is doing very exciting education with urban and rural communities, and is developing international partners in regenerative agriculture.

Regenerate means to give fresh life or vigor, to revitalize, to recreate nature, to cause to be born again. And when we look at the state of our world, the state of our societies, political environments, our environmental state, I think we can all agree that a regenerative approach is absolutely necessary. It’s an exciting message of hope that I’m very grateful to share with you today. Thank you.

Feeding the World

Authors: Anne Weir Schechinger & Craig Cox | Published on: October 5, 2016

The United Nations has forecast that world food production must double to feed 9 billion people by 2050. That assertion has become a relentless talking point in the growing debate over the environmental, health and social consequences of American agriculture.

America’s farmers, we are told, must double their production of meat products and grains to “feed the world.” Otherwise, people will go hungry.

Agribusinesses such as Monsanto sometimes cite the so-called “moral imperative” to feed a hungry world in order to defend the status-quo farm policy and deflect attention from the destruction that “modern” agriculture is inflicting on the environment and human health.

The real experts know better. Jose Graziano da Silva, director-general of the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization argues instead that the current conditions of “modern” agriculture are “no longer acceptable.”

The key to ending world hunger while protecting the environment is to help small farmers in the developing world increase their productivity and income, and to promote “agro-ecology” everywhere, including in the U.S.


Can Agroecology Feed the World and Save the Planet?

Author:Henrietta Moore | Published on: October 9, 2016

You wouldn’t necessarily know it, but right now Africa is facing a food crisis. With Brexit, global terror attacks, the war in Syria and the seemingly endless string of sporting fixtures vying for our collective attention in 2016 so far, the fact that up to 50 million people across east and Southern Africaare at risk of hunger seems to have largely escaped mention.

The continent has been wracked by drought following one of the strongest ever El Niños. And while a natural phenomenon is the immediate cause, however, Africa’s food security has been undermined over recent decades by the rise of monocropping – the planting of single-crop tracts across vast swathes of scarce arable land.

Starting in the 1960s, the “green revolution” saw industrial farming practices transplanted to poorer nations. In the second half of the 20th century, its success seemed unassailable: the global harvest of maize, wheat and rice trebled from 640 million tonnes in 1961 to almost 1.8 billion tonnes by 2000.

Africa, in particular, embraced new maize varieties with alacrity. Corn now covers up to 70% of some African nations’ farmland and accounts for about 50% of calories consumed by humans.

But the enormous cost to the land and people is now becoming clear. A recent report by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) summed up the problem bluntly, stating: Past agricultural performance is not indicative of future returns”.

The meticulously-researched document concludes that the green revolution’s “quantum leap” in cereal production has come at the price of soil degradation, salinisation of irrigated areas, over-extraction of groundwater and the build-up of pest resistance. Add climate change into the mix and you have a recipe for disaster. While Africa’s population is set to double to 2.4 billion by 2050, the FAO warns that maize yields could fall by nearly 20% over that period.

The problem is affecting not just quantity, but quality. Lack of rotation and over-use of phosphates and nitrates has degraded the nutrient content of the soil, leaving 2 billion people globally suffering micronutrient malnutrition, many in sub-Saharan Africa.


Resistance Is Fertile: It’s Time to Prioritize Agroecology

Author: Colin Todhunter | Published on: August 29, 2016

Food is becoming unhealthy and poisoned with chemicals, while diets are becoming less diverse. There is a loss of plant and insect diversity, which threatens food security, soils are being degraded, water tables polluted and depleted and smallholder farmers, so vital to global food production, are being squeezed off their land and out of farming.

Over the last 60 years or so, Washington’s plan has been to restructure indigenous agriculture across the world. And this plan has involved subjugating nations by getting them to rely more on U.S. imports and grow less of their own food. Agriculture and food production and distribution have become globalized and tied to an international system of trade based on export-oriented mono-cropping, commodity production for the international market, indebtedness to international financial institutions (IMF/World Bank) and the need for nations to boost foreign exchange (U.S. dollar) reserves to repay debt.

This has resulted in food surplus and food deficit areas, of which the latter have become dependent on agricultural imports and strings-attached aid. Food deficits in the global South mirror food surpluses in the West.

Whether through IMF-World Bank structural adjustment programs, as occurred in Africa, trade agreements like NAFTA and its impact on Mexico or, more generally, deregulated global trade rules, the outcome has been similar: the devastation of traditional, indigenous agriculture.


5 Food Systems Lessons the U.S. Can Learn from Africa

Author: Jennifer Lentfer| Published on: September 7, 2016

A recipient of the 2016 Food Sovereignty Prize from Ethiopia shares his insights on food and farming in the U.S., threats to smallholder farmers in Africa, and communicating across ideological differences.

As food activists work to localize food systems in the United States, small farmers who sell their food locally still produce around 80 percent of the food in sub-Saharan Africa. But that does not mean that farmers and food activists on the African continent can be complacent. Quite the opposite. Corporate industrialization of African agriculture is resulting in massive land grabs, destruction of biodiversity and ecosystems, displacement of indigenous peoples, and destruction of livelihoods and cultures.

Yonas Yimer works to create a united voice for food justice across more than 50 countries in Africa. He leads communications for the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa, a policy advocacy group that fights to protect small family farming and community-based food production, and is a recent recipient of the 2016 Food Sovereignty Prize.

Despite the recurring argument that a “green revolution” is needed to feed Africa’s growing population, Yimer says, “we’re here to say that agroecology already feeds Africa.” He describes agroecology as a set of practices that integrates scientific understanding about how particular places work—their ecology—with farmers’ knowledge of how to make their local landscapes useful to humans.

Agroecology also encourages people to think about their own relationship to land, to the ecosystem, and with other people. We sat down with Yimer during his recent visit to San Francisco to talk about what we in the U.S. can learn from the wealth of knowledge that exists within African communities about how to defend and build upon sustainable and indigenous approaches to growing food. Here are the five key lessons that emerged.


Pulses: Nutritious Seeds for a Sustainable Future

The aim of raising global awareness on the multitude of benefits of pulses was integral to the International Year of Pulses. This coffee table book is part guide and part cookbook— informative without being technical. The book begins by giving an overview of pulses, and explains why they are an important food for the future. It also has more than 30 recipes prepared by some of the most prestigious chefs in the world and is peppered with infographics.

Part I gives an overview of pulses and gives a brief guide to the main varieties in the world.

Part II explains step-by-step how to cook them, what to keep in mind and what condiments and instruments to use.


Valuing What Really Matters: A Look at Soil Currency

Author: Randall Coleman | Published: July 2016

We have all heard the expression “cheaper than dirt.” But many experts disagree. Soil is a vital resource that the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates contributes about USD $16.5 trillion in ecosystem services annually. In fact, FAO named 2015 the International Year of the Soils in order to highlight the importance of soils in our food system.

Unfortunately, arable soil is depleting very rapidly due to erosion, by around 24 billion tons each year. This rate of erosion is 10 to 100 times greater than the rate at which soil is being replenished. The major contributing factors are urban development, desertification, and industrial agriculture. The use of chemicals, intensive machinery, and monoculture are increasing productivity in the short term but leading to fallow soil and desertification over the long term. The most widely discussed solutions around these issues include polyculture, reforestation, and climate-smart agricultural practices. But, what if the reason we do not see soil being replenished is because we are not properly valuing it? I believe soil can provide a way to increase food access in urban food deserts, increase healthy diets among low-income communities, and shield communities from increasingly volatile global markets. To do this, we can look to the world of economics for a solution.

Some practitioners, artists, and scholars are exploring the idea of soil as a currency. Economists, agronomists, and ecologists have already agreed and estimated the economic benefits we receive from soil ecosystem services. Because we can create certain types of topsoil and because we know how valuable it is, we can create an economic system that is based on the value of soil.