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International Symposium in Johannesburg Will Highlight the Role of Soil as the Solution to Food Security and Climate Stability

It all started over lunch during the COP 23 Climate Summit in Bonn, Germany, in November 2017. An idea shared over lunch led to a few back-and-forth emails—and here we are: announcing the “4 per1000 Africa Symposium on Soil for Food Security and Climate.” The Symposium will be held October 24-26 (2018), in Johannesburg, South Africa.

During its third meeting, held in Bonn, the Consortium (governing body) of the French government’s “4 per 1000: Soils for Food Security and Climate” Initiative met to discuss next steps, or as they referred to it, their “Roadmap 2018.” (Never heard of the 4 per 1000 Initiative? Learn more here.) Consortium members highlighted the need to organize regional networks that could draw attention to the global policy initiative, and pressure policymakers to incorporate the initiative’s climate solution into their overall strategy for meeting the goals established by the Paris Climate Agreement.

That’s when I, representing Regeneration International (RI), suggested that we find allies to host an African “4 per 1000” symposium—and now that suggestion has become a reality. We are about to spread the news, to a wide audience in South Africa, about the great potential of regenerative agriculture and land management to heal South Africa’s soils, increase food security in the region, and restore climate stability.

It’s been important for RI to find a platform to bring together players in soil health, food security and climate health. However we also realize the importance and power of partnerships. That’s why we’re thrilled and honored to be organizing this symposium in partnership with the South Africa-based NEPAD Agency, through its Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP), and France’s The 4/1000 Initiative. The timing is perfect for partnering with the NEPAD Agency’s programs—the partnership anchors RI within the CAADP framework which African governments, under the African Union, have signed onto to promote and mainstream the concept of agro-ecological organic regenerative agriculture.

This symposium is much needed at this time, when South Africa, and all of the global south, faces a series of crises. Landscapes are deteriorating every day due to poor management decisions. Year after year, we see a continuous downward spiraling in food security, wildlife habitat, healthy societies and livelihoods.

Small-scale food producers are especially vulnerable to climate disruption, including droughts and flooding. In the restoration of soil carbon, we see tremendous opportunity to build resilience and to not only mitigate, but eventually reverse global warming. What a better way to regenerate both the environment and societies in a continent where agriculture still holds a high place of importance?

The soil is a true ally on the climate crisis front, and Africa has potential to play a big role in this solution journey. Transitioning to regenerative agriculture and land management can help countries fulfill their pledges to meet the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) while nourishing the earth and their populations.

The “4 per1000 Africa Symposium on Soil for Food Security and Climate” will be the first event in South Africa dedicated to communicating the message and strategy behind the “4 per 1000” Initiative. The symposium will bring international stakeholders together with international experts and practitioners to engage in an open debate and to share experiences and lessons on the relationship between soil and climate and the benefits of soil health in supporting all forms of life.

Participants will also have the opportunity to learn more about the work and initiatives that are taking place in Africa, including CADDP and African Forest Landscape Restoration Initiative (AFR100), to name a few. We hope the symposium will help build strong support for the “4 per 1000” Initiative and the concept of regenerative agriculture in general.

The symposium is funded in part by RI, NEPAD, the 4 per 1000 Initiative, the German and French governments and registration fees.

Precious Phiri is a member of the Regeneration International (RI) steering committee and also serves as RI’s Africa coordinator. She is the director of IGugu Trust and founding director of EarthWisdom Consulting Co. To keep up with RI news, sign up here for our newsletter.

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.

Scientists Find Grasslands Important as Carbon ‘Sinks’

Author: David Reese | Published: July 9, 2018

With five of California’s most destructive wildfire seasons happening since 2006, that state should include grasslands and not just forests as promising carbon sinks, according to researchers at the University of California, Davis.

The environmental scientists found that California grasslands are better at storing carbon from the atmosphere than fire-prone trees and forests, which have transitioned from carbon sinks (reserves) to carbon generators.

Forests have been a major way to store atmospheric carbon, but when they burn they become carbon generators, and years of wildfire suppression and drought have increased wildfire risks.

Grasslands have the capacity to be more drought- and fire-resilient than forests, and should be considered in California’s carbon cap-and-trade market, which was established in 2012, according to the study published Tuesday in the journal Environmental Research Letters.

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Paul Hawken: Why We Need to Regenerate More Than Just Agriculture

In this talk, Paul Hawken, noted environmentalist and author, talks about why we need to regenerate more than just agriculture to heal our diseased earth and bodies. He discusses the difference between climate change and global warming and how our food choices impact the environment, before sharing innovative solutions to tackling some of our world’s biggest problems.

WATCH THE VIDEO HERE

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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Climate Change Could Lead to Major Crop Failures in World’s Biggest Corn Regions

Two new studies looking at corn and vegetables warn of a rising risk of food shocks and malnutrition with unchecked global warming.

Author: Georgina Gustin | Published: June 11, 2018

Climate change will increase the risk of simultaneous crop failures across the world’s biggest corn-growing regions and lead to less of the nutritionally critical vegetables that health experts say people aren’t getting enough of already, scientists warn.

Two new studies published Monday in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences look at different aspects of the global food supply but arrive at similarly worrisome conclusions that reiterate the prospects of food shocks and malnutrition with unchecked global warming. While developing tropical countries would likely be hardest hit, the destabilizing financial effects could reach all corners of the globe, the authors say.

One paper analyzed corn—or maize—the world’s most produced and traded crop, to project how climate change will affect it across the major producing regions. Much of the world’s corn goes into feeding livestock and making biofuels, and swings in production can ripple through global markets, leading to price spikes and food shortages, particularly for the 800 million people living in extreme poverty.

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This ‘Carbon Removal Marketplace’ Will Make Buying Offsets Easier

As companies like Lyft start to invest to make up for their carbon footprints, the world of offset buying needs more transparency and accountability.

Author: Adele Peters | Published: June 14, 2018

On his small family farm in Petaluma, California, Don Gilardi hopes to begin spreading compost over his pastures next year as a way to fight climate change. The technique helps plants pull more carbon from the air and store it in the soil. The farm will also use other “carbon farming” methods, like planting trees on pastures and managed grazing. In doing so, it could sequester an average of 295 metric tons of CO2 a year, more than the emissions of driving a Toyota Camry a million miles. In 20 years, the farm could sequester 32 times as much carbon.

A new “carbon removal marketplace” hopes to make it easier for consumers and businesses to directly support farmers who, like Gilardi, want to shift to climate-friendly practices. It will also later connect consumers to other types of carbon offsets, such as those from tree-planting projects. Called Nori, the new platform, which will launch by the end of the year, will use blockchain to streamline the process of buying and selling offsets.

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The Winner of Drawdown INNOVATE: Encouraging Regenerative Farming

Published: May 18, 2018

The 2018 Drawdown INNOVATE program supported members in developing original ventures that impacted climate change, and incubated the best ones, moving us all to a better climate future. Program participants developed ideas that sought to maximize the impact of Project Drawdown’s 100 most substantive solutions to reverse global warming, which range from the impact of educating women and girls to energy, among others.

From Korea to Costa Rica to Copenhagen, students and young professionals gathered locally, using toolkits and videos from Net Impact to explore Project Drawdown’s solutions. Then, using design thinking and business planning they imagined, tested, and refined product, service, and other venture ideas to bring solutions to reverse global warming to market.

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Can Farming Save Puerto Rico’s Future?

As climate change alters how and where food is grown, Puerto Rico’s agro-ecology brigades serve as a model for sustainable farming.

Author: Audrea Lim | Published: June 11, 2018

Our climate is changing, and our approaches to politics and activism have to change with it. That’s why The Nation, in partnership with the Food & Environment Reporting Network, is launching Taking Heat, a series of dispatches from the front lines of the climate-justice movement, by journalist Audrea Lim.

In Taking Heat, Lim will explore the ways in which the communities that stand to lose the most from climate change are also becoming leaders in the climate resistance. From the farms of Puerto Rico to the tar sands of Canada, from the streets of Los Angeles to Kentucky’s coal country, communities are coming together to fight for a just transition to a greener and more equitable economy. At a time when extreme-weather events and climate-policy impasse are increasingly dominating environmental news, Taking Heat will focus on the intersection of climate change with other social and political issues, showcasing the ingenious and inventive ways in which people are already reworking our economy and society. There will be new dispatches every few weeks (follow along here).

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Healthy, ‘Climate-Beneficial’ Soil Is the Next Supply Chain Frontier

Armed with millions of dollars and a new understanding of sustainable agriculture, Sallie Calhoun is activating a new frontline in the fight against climate change: regenerative soil.

Author: Risa Blumlien | Published: April 20, 2018

Investor and carbon farmer Sallie Calhoun is on a mission: to change our relationship to the earth beneath our feet. After selling her tech company in 2001, she quickly became the proud owner of 7,600 acres of California grassland called Paicines Ranch — plus enough money to leverage some serious change. Now, along with impact investing guru Esther Park, she co-manages a soil-health portfolio called Cienega Capital with $20 million deployed to-date, and has recently co-founded the No Regrets Initiative to build momentum toward climate-beneficial communities. Why is Calhoun so committed to turning dollars into dirt? We sat down with her to learn more and find out.

Why is regenerative soil important?

In a closed environment (like our planet), matter is neither created nor destroyed. So as atmospheric carbon steadily increases (in December 2017, it passed 410 parts per million for the first time in millions of years), carbon levels must steadily decrease somewhere else — and that somewhere else is our global soils. To reverse climate change, carbon in the atmosphere must return to the soil, a process that green, photosynthesizing plants are already perfectly designed to execute.

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