Regenerative Agriculture for the Layman and Woman

For a long time, the hip word tossed around in the green movement was “sustainability”—sustainable forestry, living sustainably, sustainable goods, sustainable farming practices etc…More and more it has moved beyond just sustaining, into regeneration. And one of the biggest movements in altering our course toward a possible future for life as we know it on this planet is regenerative agriculture. 

We have surpassed 400 ppm of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere which means that steadily and surely the increasing level of gases in our atmosphere will make it too hot to live on planet earth. This number has almost doubled in just two centuries, mostly due to our burning of fossil fuels. Using cleaner energy is essential but so is sequestering the excess carbon that is already here.

Regenerative agriculture is the practice of providing conditions that enable plants to do their natural wonders, like sequester carbon in the ground. Creating gardens, ranches and farms that mimic nature as much as possible and allow the soil to regenerate its own nutrients has been *scientifically proven to decrease the levels of carbon dioxide in the air at an astoundingly rapid rate. This has many other positive repercussions as plants are multitaskers: the photosynthesis not only whips the atmospheric carbon down to earth, but the ground covers that plants and trees make keep the carbon in the ground and their intricate root system absorbs water so it does not escape as vapors into the atmosphere. Increase in atmospheric water vapors due to poor agriculture and oceanic practices have been a leading cause of amplifying temperatures worldwide. 

Some people call this carbon farming, as photosynthesis is the miracle worker that can take the greenhouse gases out of our atmosphere and transform them in the soil, where the lowliest of creatures do the most work.

In regenerative agriculture, Microorganisms cannot be overlooked. Their role in providing a healthy background for life to do its thing is fundamental. For too long, we have treated soil creatures as if they were low-life and not important. Shifting our mentality to the fact that soil is home to microbes that have evolved to not only sequester carbon well and rapidly, but provide food and clean air and water for the rest of creation is a basic starting point. Then we care and understand how important it is to implement practices that regenerate what we have damaged.

What does this mean on a large or small farm, garden or individual level? There are carbon farmers, carbon ranchers and carbon gardeners as the sayings go. We need all of us to turn this ship around. So how do we implement regenerative agricultural practices? Listed below are practices that we have used on this farm successfully. If you could have seen this land fifty years ago- it was red clay, bare ground, garbage all around. Now it teems with life and diversity.

10 Simple Ways to Implement Regenerative Agricultural Practices

1)Honoring all life is an essential first step. Love earthworms if you don’t already!

 2)Eliminate use of poisons and synthetic fertilizers.

3)Minimally till. Tilling disturbs the soil and overtime can wear the microbe inhabitants out, making it very difficult for them to do their work.

4)Plant a minimum of two crops, more if you can. Think companion planting. Perennial vegetables. Forest Gardening. Plant trees.

5)Sow cover crops. Encourage ground covers. 

6)Use bio-stimulant or biodynamic sprays.

7)Compost. Add compost to the soil regularly. Eventually, the more you implement regenerative agriculture, the less you will need to do this as the soil will have its own checks and balances.

8)Sheet mulch in between plantings. Keep the soil covered at all times.

9)When harvesting annuals, leave the roots in if you can (if it is not a root vegetable) as the roots decomposition continues to build the soil. 

10)Observe, and make as minimal disturbances as you can to the land. 

Imagine the potential of life on earth if all farmers, ranchers and gardeners implemented these practices. There is hope! Let it begin with you!

*Todd A. Ontl (Department of Natural Resource Ecology and Management, Iowa State University, Ames, IA) & Lisa A. Schulte (Department of Natural Resource Ecology and Management, Iowa State University, Ames, IA)