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Putting animals back onto the land: one practice of regenerative agriculture.

Voices / Viewpoint

Work with the land to restore health to all

Pesticides and chemical fertilizers do not create health in the food, the consumer, the soil, the air, or the water. We need for all of our systems to be healthy again.

Caitlin Adair is a founding member of Living Earth Action Group.

Westminster West

There is going to be a revolution in farming, and it’s going to happen soon. It has to.

The revolution is called regenerative agriculture, and the winners will be farmers, soil, bees, and everyone who eats.

The only losers will be the pharmaceutical and petrochemical companies that have taken over our food supply. Their wares (expensive GMO seeds, billions of pounds of pesticides, chemical fertilizers) will not be in demand.

What we are finding out is that 70 years of chemical farming has killed our topsoil and washed it into our waterways, along with a toxic load of chemicals, causing massive red tide in Florida and dead zones at the mouths of our rivers.

The promised increases in yield from Roundup Ready GMO seed have turned out to be short-lived, expensive, and unsustainable.

As it turns out, a great deal more food is produced and a great deal more profit realized per acre by interplanting diverse crops between rows, reducing or eliminating tilling, and putting animals back onto the land. (Remember when we used to see cows on pasture in Vermont? I do.)

* * *

Tilling the soil is a practice nearly synonymous with agriculture, whether it’s the pioneer behind the horse-pulled plow breaking sod, the farmer on his 1949 John Deere tractor sowing and harvesting, the modern Midwestern farmer in the air-conditioned cab of his 500 horsepower $500,000 tractor, planting 24 rows at a time, 15 acres per hour.

As it turns out, tilling kills soil microorganisms, the complex networks of mycorrhizal fungi, bacteria, earthworms, and other tiny creatures that create the porous living structure of good topsoil. Tilling exposes the soil community to sun and water and wind. Tilling has created a slow-motion Dust Bowl all over the world.

The United Nations has estimated that only 60 harvests remain in the United States, because for every bushel of corn harvested in this country, {1/2} to 1 bushel of topsoil is lost to erosion.

* * *

Then, there is the effect of pesticides on the health of ecosystems, including insects and children. As it turns out, glyphosate — the most popular chemical in the world and the main ingredient in Roundup — is actually doing a great deal of harm to the human gut, where it kills the microbiome just as it kills the microbiome of the soil.

“[S]ince 1974, when Roundup was first commercially sold, more than 1.6 billion kilograms (or 3.5 billion pounds) of glyphosate has been used in the U.S."[1] with the rate of use increasing every year,” according to an article on the website EcoWatch. “In 2016, Vermont’s GMO corn crops received a 194,631 pound bathing of pesticides...up from 142,604 pounds used in 2014, a 27% increase in 3 years,” writes Michael Colby, a cofounder of Regeneration Vermont.

Glyphosate is a water-soluble carcinogenic neurotoxin that has been found recently in samples of air, water, breakfast cereal, California wine and breast milk, according to “Glyphosate Testing Report: Findings in American Mothers’ Breast Milk, Urine and Water,” issued in 2014 by Moms Across America and Sustainable Pulse.

It is safe to say that glyphosate is poisoning our people as well as our soil, and is implicated in the epidemic of chronic disease in the U.S. population. According to Zach Bush M.D., on farmersfootprint.us, in 1965 only 4 percent of U.S. citizens suffered from a chronic disease. Today, 46 percent of U.S. children do.

* * *

Healthy soil holds the key to solving so many of our human-created global problems: the carbon balance in our atmosphere, flood, drought, erosion, and the very health of our people, because people are much healthier when they eat foods grown with the full complement of naturally occurring phytonutrients, as nature intended.

Our food can be our medicine, if we let it. Pesticides and chemical fertilizers do not create health in the food, the consumer, the soil, the air, or the water. We need for all of our systems to be healthy again.

Farmers and food consumers, I hope you will take the time, now that it is winter, to learn about regenerative agriculture.

Perhaps read Dirt to Soil: One Family’s Journey Into Regenerative Agriculture by the wildly successful Gabe Brown, the North Dakota farmer who went cold turkey no-till and no-spray.

Read Vermonter Judith Schwartz’s excellent book Cows Save the Planet. Look into the new website farmersfootprint.us, and you will see a plan for clusters of farmers to change the landscape, change the paradigm, change the very likelihood of the continuation of the human species on a thriving revitalized Earth.

Learn how powdery “dead” agricultural soil can be brought back to life in only 18 months by planting multiple species of cover crops, inviting back the community of microorganisms, earthworms and fungi that make up healthy soil.

Learn how the soil-carbon sponge pulls carbon out of the air and stores it in the ground in the form of roots and stable humates.

Learn how for every 1 percent of organic matter (humus) added to a field, 1 additional inch of rainfall can be absorbed per hour without runoff or flooding.

Learn how holistic management of grazing animals is the fastest way to grow soil and improve the health of the land.

Learn from Allan Savory’s TED talk that careful holistic management of grazing livestock might be the only way to reverse widespread desertification of Earth’s grasslands. (Stonewall Farm in nearby Keene, N.H., is a Savory Hub, a place for farmers to learn holistic management and regenerative techniques.)

* * *

In our garden in Westminster West, we grow as much as we can: vegetables, fruit trees, berries, flowers, herbs, shrubs — everything.

Being intimately involved with every corner of the garden gives me a great deal of satisfaction as well as food. Because of my deep connection to the Earth through our one-acre property, I can only begin to imagine the heartbreak of losing the farm, the stress that most farmers are under in these times.

It is with humility and a great deal of respect that I now look to farmers to reverse the downward spiral into disease, ecological degradation, and climate derangement. But farmers cannot do it alone.

Every one of us must step up to the plate and do everything we can to restore our damaged ecosystems, regenerate our soils, and heal our Earth.

We need especially to support farmers in making the changes necessary to work with nature instead of against it.

What would help? On-farm education. Pasture walks such as used to happen when we had an Extension agent from the University of Vermont or the University of New Hampshire in every county. Loans for new no-till machinery. Armies of young people, Soldiers of the Soil, to help with all manner of work with the land to restore health to all.

I call upon legislators, bankers, investors, land owners, parents, and teachers to leave behind support of chemical farming practices in favor of regenerative practices that will restore health to our soils, our air, our water, our food, our people, and our planet.

Together we can do this.

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