Healthy food comes from healthy soil. Unfortunately, most soil today is far from healthy, thanks to years of industrial farming methods that pushed Mother Nature too far. It's over-tilled, over-fertilized, exposed, eroded and treated with chemically-based fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides and fungicides. What good food could come from land like that?
These degenerative, industrial practices have depleted the soil of life, making it difficult or impossible for it to support growing plants, and spurring frustrated farmers to rely more and more on chemical inputs.
We cannot continue to abuse our soil, nor can we simply sustain unhealthy land – we must to revive and restore it, and we can through Regenerative Agriculture.
Regenerative Agriculture is a farming method that relies on nature, not harsh chemicals or disruptive practices like tilling. When practiced, Regenerative Agriculture offers a multitude of benefits for our farms, our environments, and our food. It builds soil health, enhances ecosystem diversity, and captures carbon and nitrogen from the atmosphere, to name a few.
Constantly degrades the land
Neutral impact on the land
Constantly improves the land
Since it is dependent on working with and adapting to nature, there is no specific "formula" for Regenerative Agriculture; but, there are some guiding principles that we follow, including:
Soil should be alive and filled with microbes. A whopping 90% of soil function is mediated by microbes that:
In other words, soil doesn't work without microbes!
Healthy, living soil is also an important component of the carbon cycle, a critical part of any healthy ecosystem. When soil is degraded, the carbon cycle is disrupted. Dead soil cannot hold carbon, so it is released into the atmosphere as CO2, which contributes to global warming.
This video from Kiss the Ground gives a quick primer on how the soil can help reverse climate change:
Soil microbes depend on plants, and soil health depends on microbes, so how we manage plants is critical to restoring and maintaining the microbial health of the soil. Having a diverse mix of cover crops and other plants:
By introducing a diverse variety of plants to the soil, the microbial population in the soil becomes stronger. With soil life, ecosystems thrive.
When Europeans began settling in America, they brought with them the practice of tilling the land. The idea was that by tilling, they could "fluff" up the soil, mix in oxygen, and increase water infiltration. It turns out, they were very wrong.
Tilling is extremely destructive to our land and atmosphere. Tilling the land:
Image credit: Kiss the Ground
The use of chemicals, such as fertilizers, herbicides, fungicides and pesticides, is a relatively recent agricultural development. For hundreds of years chemicals were not needed or used in farming because, sensibly, chemical inputs aren’t needed when you are working with (not against) the systems Mother Nature already has in place.
Use of chemicals instead of nature’s own systems has resulted not only in poor soil health, but in other problems, such as:
Integrating livestock naturally into the ecosystem through adaptive grazing is a form of “biomimicry” – it simulates the way nature works when left on its own.
The way we do this at Joyce Farms is by mimicking the dense herds of grazing ruminants that used to roam across America, grazing and trampling plants into the soil. Our cattle and pigs are rotated to different areas of pasture for maximum grazing impact. The animals' trampling provides an armor of plant life for the soil and feeds the soil microbes. Our Heritage Poulet Rouge® Chickens are also pasture raised on land that is managed regeneratively, with no chemical inputs and a variety of plant life to foster soil health.
With adaptive, rotational grazing, large pastures are subdivided into smaller paddocks, and animals are rotated from one paddock to the next. As the animals graze in their new paddock, the natural grass and forage grow back in the previous paddock. This allows nature to recreate the ecosystem that existed before modern agriculture tried to “tame” the land and ended up contaminating and diminishing it. Read more in our blog post Adaptive Grazing: So Old It's New, written by Dr. Allen Williams.