Take a moment today and remove your shoes. Go out and walk barefoot on the earth. See how you feel. Likely you will feel a bit better… calmer… relaxed…
Because the earth under your feet is alive and full of energy or Mana. It is an active component of our existence, teeming with life and providing the foundation for all the food we grow and the air we breathe. According to Kathey Merrifield, a retired nematologist at Oregon State University, a single teaspoon (1 gram) of rich garden soil can hold up to one billion bacteria, several yards of fungal filaments, several thousand protozoa, and scores of nematodes. Maintaining healthy soil and all this biological life within it is a critical part of the life cycle of the planet.
How does that relate to regenerative farming and what does regenerative farming do to help maintain the life of our soils? Read on to learn how important this kind of farming actually is and why we are such passionate advocates of its use in the cannabis space.
Regenerative agriculture is an approach to food and farming systems that ensures food production for future generations. It is predicated on conservation and rehabilitation of the soil. It focuses on topsoil regeneration, increasing biodiversity, improving the water cycle, enhancing ecosystem services, supporting bio-sequestration, increasing resilience to climate change, increasing the nutrition of food and strengthening the vitality of farm soil.
Most regenerative farming practices originate from indigenous farming methods and are being adapted to our current food systems with the added benefit of technology and soil science.
Regenerative agriculture on small farms and gardens is often based on philosophies like permaculture, agroecology, agroforestry, restoration ecology, keyline design, and holistic management.
Large farms tend to be less philosophy driven and often use “no-till” and/or “reduced till” practices. Other practices incorporated by large farms include maintaining soil cover during winter months with cover crops, crop rotation, and moving away from GMO crops that need constant chemical applications.
On a regenerative farm, yield should increase over time. As the topsoil deepens, production may increase and fewer external compost inputs are required. Many studies show that moving to regenerative practices allow farmers to be just as economically productive after only 3 years of transition from industrial agriculture.
Organic farming is just one step on the journey towards less chemical fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides. It’s a positive step no doubt however organic agriculture can still be very destructive to the soil web. Organic agriculture does not dictate the use of cover crops, or no/low till practices. Unfortunately large scale organic farming can still employ the use of mono cropping as well as a large amount of plastic to prevent the growth of weeds to lessen the pesticide use, which is a significant downside.
To sustain is to maintain what is necessary for a system to survive, not necessarily thrive or grow. Regeneration is about improving and enhancing a system so all aspects of it and what it supports can thrive. One of the main ideas of regenerative agriculture is to leave more in the soil than you remove through the farming of the land. At this point in our human evolution, science shows we need to rehabilitate many of our soils not just sustain the soils we’ve inherited with decades of misuse.
Regenerative farming is the antidote to extraction based industrial farming that strips the soil of its nutrients then tries to pour them back in using chemical fertilizers.Over time, extraction farming depletes the soil of its inherent structure, microbial life, and its Mana. On the other hand, regenerative agriculture is a kind of agriculture that ensures the soils we grow our food in maintain their fertility for generations to come. This kind of farming also naturally sequesters carbon back into the soils which is one piece of the climate puzzle.
Topsoil has many important jobs. It stores nutrients, maintains microbial life, prevents evaporation and holds moisture so there’s more water for plants, even when you have a drought. Topsoil also helps retain added nutrients with its intricately webbed structure preventing run-off and erosion.
Sequestered, or stored, carbon is a critical piece of the climate solution. Trees and plants with deep roots help pull carbon out of the atmosphere. With deforestation and industrial farming carbon levels have risen and will continue to rise. Regenerative agriculture with its cultivation of the soil and root structure of plants helps remove carbon from the atmosphere and will reduce the greenhouse gas effect and lessen the impacts of climate change. Regenerative agriculture also encourages the recycling of carbon via compost, mulch, and cover crop crimping as ways to increase the levels of carbon in the soil.
Crops need nutrients just like people do to be strong and flourish. A fertile soil will contain all the major nutrients for basic plant nutrition (e.g., nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium), as well as other nutrients needed in smaller quantities (e.g., calcium, magnesium, sulfur, iron, zinc, copper, boron, molybdenum, nickel). They also need a soil structure that provides healthy growing conditions for root systems to anchor and uptake these nutrients. Regenerative farming builds soil fertility over time with composts, manures and by supporting and not disturbing the microbial life that plays a direct role in the transfer or nutrients to the plants from the soil. It can be said that regenerative farming practices help foster the growth of beneficial microorganisms including soil fungi which are critical to the soil nutrients being available for optimum plant growth and resilience.
Since the popularization of chemical industrial agriculture food has become less nutritious each decade. Between the loss of topsoil due to over tilling and the deterioration of soil structure with loss of microbes from the regular use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides much of food now has a fraction of the nutrients it did prior to the mid 20th century. When the soil is fertile, moist and full of the needed microbes, plants can more easily flourish and uptake more nutrients. More nutrient dense plants mean more nutrition for the people and animals that consume them.
These are the most common regenerative farming and agricultural practices and techniques used today, many of which are utilized by our founder Steve on Honaunau Farm, the birthplace of Mana Artisan Botanics.
Regenerative farming practices incorporate perennial plants with long roots, which send carbon deep down into the soil profile. Industrial agriculture tends to compact soils beneath the till level and generates more shallow roots.
Practices also include recycling as much farm waste as possible and adding composted material from sources outside the farm. Composting enriches the soil with nutrients and leads to enhanced soil structure and microbial activity. Composting also adds additional carbon back into the soil.
Cover cropping is the practice of growing certain plants over the winter or fallow time. Cover cropping helps maintain soil nutrients and fix nitrogen, a key mineral for plant growth. It helps reduce soil erosion, leads to greater water infiltration and improves the water holding capacity of soils. It also helps control weeds and can increase the next season’s yields.
Mulch is another beneficial practice of regenerative farming. It is the simple application of a protective layer of material, sometimes leavers or fine wood chips, on top of bare soil to protect it. I can help reduce weeds, encourages earthworms and other microbial growth, it protects against temperature changes, helps retain water and nutrients and prevents soil erosion. Mulching is another regenerative practice that adds large amounts of carbon back on to the soil which has multiple benefits as we’ve described.
Low or no till farming has many benefits. Fewer passes across the field in no till farming will dramatically reduce fuel costs. No till seeding leaves plant residues from cover crops on the ground, which can help keep the soil moist and protect against evaporation caused by sun and wind and erosion caused by rains. It does not disrupt the soil structure which maintains its microbial life and soil fertility. In addition, by not tilling carbon is left in the soil instead of being exposed and released back into the atmosphere.
Crop diversification means planting a variety of crops vs a mono or single crop. This offers many benefits and provides solutions to some key problems such as financial security, reduction of the use of fertilizers and pesticides and disease management.
We all know industrial agriculture scaled to grow crops is to plant a single cultivar in a given area, leaving entire fields susceptible to a pest or disease. Most have seen the hundreds, if not thousands, of acres of corn or wheat as we’ve driven through agriculture areas. Diversifying crops means that no one pest or disease can destroy a farm’s entire harvest and income. Planting a variety of crops makes the soil healthier and more nutrient rich, reducing the need for large amounts of fertilizer. In addition, diversification ensures that crops are more resistant to disease and therefore require fewer pesticides.
To discover more about the critical benefits of regenerative farming and its powerful impact on climate change, check out the informative recently released movie, Kiss the Ground, available on Netflix.
Mana has been passionate about promoting regenerative farming from its inception and is proud to source our ingredients from farmers utilizing these beneficial practices. We truly believe regenerative farming practices play a critical role in our global effort to restore natural balance and bring greater health to humanity.
Here are some of our suggestions for supporting regenerative agriculture through your dollar and in your community.