The Earth’s soils contain about 2,500 gigatons of carbon—more than three times the amount in the atmosphere and four times the amount stored in all living plants and animals.
However, Industrial farming practices hinder soil’s ability to store carbon. The use of pesticides and herbicides, tilling practices that churn up soil meant to stay in place and thrive, and the continuous grazing cycles of industrial livestock depletes soil health exceptionally quickly. As the soil degrades, this vast carbon sink loses its ability to hold onto carbon and emits it. In short, healthy soil keeps a healthy planet, and our mainstream agricultural practices threaten this soil’s health.
Regenerative Agriculture includes farming and grazing practices that, along with numerous other advantages, help counter climate change by rebuilding soil organic matter and restoring degraded soil biodiversity – resulting in an absorption of carbon from the atmosphere known as carbon drawdown. While most climate mitigation tactics like clean energy and improved infrastructure prevent emissions, only a handful of solutions draw carbon down by sucking it out of the atmosphere, Regenerative Agriculture included.
The below core practices of Regenerative Agriculture develop soil fertility and health, increase water percolation and retention, and result in clean and safe water runoff. They also increase biodiversity, improve overall ecosystem health, and resiliency to farmers and the local ecosystem.
Some of these practices include:
No-till/minimum tillage: No-till farming is an agricultural technique for growing crops or pasture without disturbing the soil through tillage. No-till farming decreases the soil erosion tillage causes in certain soils, especially in sandy and dry soils on sloping terrain.
Composting: Composting is the natural process of recycling organic matter, such as leaves and food scraps, into a valuable fertilizer that can enrich soil and plants.
Cover crops and Crop rotation: A cover crop is a crop you grow for the soil instead of your plate. Cover crops add organic matter to the soil and add nitrogen in a slow-release way that plants can handle, leading to less nitrogen volatilization (waste!).
Biochar Usage: Biochar is a granular carbon substance produced by pyrolysis or thermal decomposition of organic matter in an oxygen-starved chamber. The charcoal-like byproduct is highly porous, creating a microstructure for flourishing soil microbiology. Creating biochar fixes carbon in place, and using it in soil enhances the health of the soil.
Silvopasture: Silvopastoral systems combine tree growing with the production of livestock. These systems typically include pasture systems containing widely spaced or planted in clusters throughout the pasture. Livestock grazes on the tree’s fallen fruit/nuts and, in turn, fertilize the soil the trees are growing on, allowing the farm to produce more on a single plot of land while decreasing the need for external inputs like fertilizers.
“Regenerative agriculture is a more nature-friendly way of farming at its most basic level. It can be thought of as the next step beyond organic and sustainability. Although there is not yet an officially agreed-upon definition, regenerative agriculture employs farming and grazing practices that restore degraded soil, improve biodiversity among pollinators (especially bees and butterflies) and increase carbon capture in the soil to create long-lasting environmental benefits.” (Jack Uldrich, leading global futurist, best-selling author, and keynote speaker)
This way of farming is becoming more mainstream as current and future generations continue to move towards environmentally conscious buying habits. Companies like General Mills, Pepsi, and Cargill have already begun investing significant resources into farmers with these Practices. This is a start, but we can do more to support the proliferation of these practices.
If “organic” food is better for people’s health, think of regenerative agriculture as better for both people’s health and the planet’s health.
We vote every two years, but we vote with our wallets every day. Helping to transition farmers from industrial practices to regenerative ones while supporting smaller operations that are already instituting them is a significant way that you, as a consumer, can contribute to helping this solution grow. Agriculture most immediately impacts what you wear and what you eat. Wearing clothing grown regeneratively from companies like Eileen Fisher, The Northface (Renewed collection), Allbirds, and Patagonia can help increase and inspire more companies to use their resources to make significant changes. By eating food grown on local farms like The HEAL Project in The Bay Area, you can plug into many resources that not only make you healthier but make our planet healthy as well. Head to the Farmer’s Market for produce, or sign up for a CSA to receive affordable fresh food from your local farmers!
Want to learn more about soil health? Watch Kiss the Ground and show it to your friends and family to get started! These little things make a big difference, and the more we do, the better our futures will be. Interested in learning more about carbon drawdown in general? Project Drawdown is a fantastic resource to deepen your understanding.