How Soil Can Improve Food Security While Combating Climate Change

Author: Brian Frederick | Published: March 30, 2018

Dr. Kristine Nichols was the Chief Scientist at the Rodale Institute, an independent research institute for organic farming, from 2014 to 2017. Her training and research focus on the microbes living in soil and how to make soil more productive.

The Rodale Institute was founded in 1947 in Kutztown, PA by J.I. Rodale. Inspired by the nitrogen fertilizer shortages during World War II, Rodale wanted to develop practical methods of rebuilding soil fertility. Today, the institute focuses particularly on compost, soil health, weed and pest management, livestock operations, organic certification, wastewater treatment, and climate change. It is home to the longest running comparative study of organic and chemical agriculture, started in 1981.

Food Tank had the opportunity to talk to Dr. Kristine Nichols about how soil microbes affect agriculture and about some of the trials the Rodale Institute are conducting.


Regenerative Farming Trailblazers: How Reintegrating Livestock and Restoring Soils Can Lead to More Resilient Farms

Author: Marcia DeLonge | Published: March 29, 2018

Across the United States, more farmers are finding that practices that have worked in the past are no longer cutting it. Persistent low prices for common crops (especially corn) paired with high production costs (for example, expensive equipment and fertilizers) have made it hard to stay afloat. At the same time agriculture has also moved increasingly toward systems dominated by a few annual crops—typically corn and soybeans—often with fields left bare between growing seasons. This trend has degraded core resources like soil and water, endangering the long-term viability of many farms.

Faced with growing pressures, some farmers are exploring their options, including testing regenerative farming practices that can rebuild soil health, conserve water, improve water quality, and more. For example, farmers are diversifying their crops and animals, implementing more complex crop rotations, and protecting soil year-round by using cover crops. Such changes come with both challenges and opportunities.


Cape Town is Out of Water: What Can Living Soils Do to Help?

Published: November 28, 2017

Rainfall over 2017 in Cape Town, South Africa has been dismal. The city is experiencing the worst drought in over a century, and the city has about 10% of its usual water capacity available. The water is estimated to last the city until mid-July, with strict usage regulations already in place.

Regenerative agriculture rebuilds degraded agricultural soils and increases the soil organic matter in those lands. Just 1% of soil organic matter in an acre of land can hold as much water as a backyard swimming pool, serving as a reservoir of water in dry times like the current conditions. This can help reduce the water pressures caused by agricultural irrigation, which could instead be diverted to drinking water for residents. Unfortunately, lands farmed using conventional farming methods have gotten down into the 1–3% soil organic matter range, when they should be in the 6–8% range. That’s a shortage of 60,000–140,000 gallons of water per acre that the soil should be holding.


Designers of Paradise Podcast

RASA and soil activist Erik van Lennep are launching a podcast series, Designers of Paradise, bringing you into conversations with people changing how we produce our food, care for our soil and water, and protect our climate. These are the stories of the people dedicating their time and brilliance to reversing the impacts of our industrial food systems.

Naturally, we’ll be speaking with both farmers and consumers, but also with innovators and entrepreneurs, city planners and funders, across the spectrum of an emerging new ecosystem of regenerative practitioners. This Next Generation of agriculture is regenerating soils, food quality, local economies,communities and significantly, hope; hope for a better, healthier and more equitable future for all.

Over the coming weeks and months, we’ll be posting interviews here on a regular, as-made basis. So check back often to see what’s new. And if you have suggestions, please let us know in comments on the episodes or via twitter.


UK to Set Goal of Restoring Soil Health by 2030

Author: Sami Grover | Published: March 14, 2018

Incredibly, this appears to be the first time the government has really tried to tackle this crucial issue nationwide.

Michael Gove, the UK’s Secretary of State for the Environment hinted at this in his ‘Green Brexit’ speech, but Rebecca Pow, parliamentary private secretary to environment ministers, appears to have confirmed to The Guardian that the upcoming agricultural bill to be published later this year will include a specific segment on soil health, and is likely to set a nationwide goal of restoring degraded soils across the country by 2030.

The specifics of what that means are still being ironed out, but the bill is likely to include soil health targets for soil health for farmers, as well as incentives for soil-friendly practices like crop rotation, cover crops, and the planting of hedgerows, wind breaks and other natural guards against erosion.


How to Change the Climate Story: Paul Hawken

Want to avoid climate disaster? Abandon the “wussy” language of climate mitigation as well as war metaphors, and develop more positive ways of thinking about the issue, said American environmentalist Paul Hawken at a recent conference in Sydney.

Author: Vaidehi Shah | Published: March 14, 2018

To generate effective, universal action that will solve the problem of climate change, the global community needs to abandon the “wussy” language of climate mitigation and rethink the “negative” sports and war metaphors that are pervasive in discussions about the issue.

This was the advice offered by American environmentalist, author and activist Paul Hawken at the recent Purpose conference in Sydney.

Speaking to a 500-strong audience at Commune in Sydney, Hawken said that the term “climate mitigation”, which is commonly found in government policies, international negotiations in the annual United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) conference, and scientific reports isn’t strong enough.

“When you are heading down the wrong road towards a cliff, the only thing that makes sense is not to slow down and go over the cliff slowly, but to stop and turn around,” said Hawken.

This is why, instead of the prevailing narrative of mitigating climate change, Hawken champions the notion of reversing global warming. Last year, Hawken co-founded the Drawdown Project, which maps, measures, models, and describes the 100 most effective, economically viable and scaleable solutions to reverse global warming.


Note to USDA: The Time for Regenerative Agriculture Is Now

Lessons taught by a Kansas farmer continue to guide Blogger Ron Nichols years later about the importance of soil to agriculture.

Author: Ron Nichols | Published: March 12, 2018

It was Kansas farmer Gail Fuller who “took me to school.”

“You should be ashamed,” he told me bluntly.

As an employee (at the time) of USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, I had assumed our 80-plus years of conservation work would insulate us (and me) from such a scathing rebuke. I assumed we were the ultimate “good guys” when it came to soil stewardship.

“Your agency came up with ‘T,’” Gail said in a tone that rang of indictment. (“T” is a concept developed by the Soil Conservation Service, now the NRCS, that established the minimum soil loss or erosion rate required to sufficiently reduce soil organic content and harm crop productivity. That rate, which is still used today, is measured in tons of soil per acre.)

“Tolerable loss of soil? Do you really think there’s such a thing as a ‘tolerable’ loss of soil?” he asked. “We should be rebuilding our soil.”.

After absorbing the initial impact of Gail’s candid reprimand, I realized he was right. “Okay,” I said, “but can soil regeneration be done profitably on a large scale without reducing productivity? “

“It can and it is. Right here on my farm,” he said.



Rodale Institute to Launch Much-Anticipated Regenerative Organic Label

Author: Emily Monaco | Published: March 7, 2018

The Rodale Institute plans to unveil its new Regenerative Organic Certification (ROC) at this week’s Natural Products Expo West trade show in Anaheim, California. ROC was developed by the Regenerative Organic Alliance, a coalition of organizations and businesses led by the Rodale Institute and spearheaded by brands like Patagonia and Dr. Bronner’s.

The USDA organic standard is the “bedrock” of the new certification, notes a recent press release. Only USDA farms and ranches that have already achieved the organic certification will be eligible for ROC, which boasts higher-bar standards for soil health, ecological management, animal welfare, and fairness for farmers and workers.

“I don’t think it’s going to replace organic, that’s not our goal, but rather to build on it,” says Jeff Moyer, Executive Director of the Rodale Institute.

The Alliance recognizes standards such as Global Animal Partnership, Animal Welfare Approved, Certified Humane, Fair for Life, Fairtrade International, Agricultural Justice Project, and multiple others, and many of the policies covered by these certification programs have been incorporated into the ROC standard.

“By already having some these certifications, farmers, and ranchers will be on their way to achieve ROC certification,” explains an Alliance rep.


Regeneration Project Granada – a New Approach to Migration

Author: Sam Allen | Published: March 1, 2018

I am part of a group of 12 people living in the village of Saleres, Valle de Lecrín, close to Granada in Spain. We come from Europe, West Africa, South America and the Middle East. Some of us are called refugees, others expats, some locals, others migrants and some foreigners. We have a diversity of identities, legal statuses and professional trainings. Some of us are religious, queer, wealthy, poor, some of us speak many languages and others are learning to speak Spanish for the first time. What brings us together is a common willingness to co-create (and practice) a shared vision around three core values;

  • integration
  • sustainability
  • regeneration

For the last year and a half we’ve been setting up a project while living and working as a collective that celebrates its diversity.

I am still navigating how to talk about Regeneration Project Granada without succumbing to the simplified version ‘it’s a project with migrants and refugees’; because in reality it’s much more than that – it’s a project about people learning to live in response to the particular time and place they find themselves in.


Regenerating Soil Can Double Corn Farmers’ Incomes

Author: Emma Bryce | Published: March 2, 2018

Farming sustainably isn’t just good for the planet: if it’s done right it can double profits too, finds a new study published in PeerJBut this requires a paradigm shift that champions crop diversity over monoculture, and quality over quantity–a way of growing food that’s known as ‘regenerative agriculture’.

Currently in the United States and many other countries, farming is characterised by monoculture, heavy pesticide use, and tillage to rid the soil of weeds. These contribute in different ways to several environmental ills–such as climate change, water and soil pollution, and the quashing of biodiversity. A fraction of farmers practice regenerative methods, designed to boost biodiversity and increase soil nutrients by reducing tillage, planting cover crops on exposed soil, enabling livestock to graze amongst crops, and cutting out pesticides.

But little has been done to explore whether the perceived benefits of these regenerative methods really stand up to the test.