The thing we forgot as a people, in the United States and around the world, is that as we change the environment, we change ourselves — literally — physically. We have changed the water, the air, the food, etc.
I think food is THE epitome of everything. We ARE what we eat! We rebuild our cells and tissues every day, and the nutrients in our food is what the tissues are literally built WITH. You want to build a house? You need building materials. Same for a body, except, we build the ‘house’ over and over again. Our cells grow and then they die, and are replaced by new cells and new tissues. We rebuild our body’s tissues any times over throughout life. To me, and to many cultures in the past I think, food is/was not entertainment…not simply carbohydrates or calories. To me, food is not simply something I consume to avoid running ‘out of steam’ and thus, dying. To me, food is information — food turns our genes on and off. Food is our phenotype!
And HOW we grow and obtain our food is one of the most important aspects when considering our role in the environment.
What is our role in the environment? Really, I think the question should be – what is the environment’s role in US? The ‘environment’ is us — you and me! The environment is the food we eat to build our tissues…the food we eat, which is information, which turns our genes on and off. The environment is the air we breathe. The environment is the water we drink.
Shamans talk about the way the natural world reflects our inner world, and that by working in conjunction with nature for extended periods of time, we start understanding the patterns of nature, and by understanding the patterns of nature, we start learning how those patterns are reflected in ourselves. I believe this is true metaphysically as well as physically.
The question is – are we living in harmony with OURSELVES? Meaning, are we living in harmony with the environment? It is time to ask ourselves ‘why are we doing this or that?’ ‘Does it serve me?’ ‘Does it serve our children?’ It is time to examine the things we do, which we consider ‘normal,’ and ‘standard.’
For example, let us ask ourselves, why do we spray pesticides?
We spray 1.5 billion pounds of glyphosate on our soil every year. A lot of this is agricultural because we don’t want to pick weeds, but a lot of it is used on lawns, because we don’t like to LOOK at weeds.
Why don’t we like to look at dandelions? What if the dandelions are there to regenerate the soil? Dandelions start growing when the soil is compacted. The dandelions have a large root, and as the plant dies, the root shrivels up, and leaves in it’s place an empty space where worms and microorganisms can do their work regenerating the soil. It’s FREE AERATION! you don’t even have to spend the money renting a confounded aeration machine!
And if we don’t kill the ‘weeds’ with chemicals, we mow them down. I almost cried as a watched someone mow down all the vibrant yellow dandelion tops on a big expanse of lawn in my city. I thought of all the bees who were relying on those flowers for honey and pollen (their food), and how confused they would be the next day when they came back to find….no food.
Why do we kill the ‘weeds’? This is just one question out of hundreds that we need to ask OURSELVES. We need to change our habits, and once we have done so, we begin to demand that others change their habits – their manufacturing standards or processes, their laws. But it starts with me. It starts with you.
In this post, I’d like to share some mind-blowing information, mostly in the form of video, that have helped me shift my knowledge, my worldview, and my belief systems, which in turn, allows me to ask the right questions about the environment, about colonialism, about ownership, about responsibility, and about society and government.
How did the millions of native inhabitants of North America live in harmony before they were terrorized, enslaved, killed, indoctrinated, oppressed, and kidnapped? Before their ability to live in harmony was destroyed? This series called 500 Nations provides many incredibly insights.
I grew up hearing the same old lies – that Native Americans were depraved, and wandering around the woods, starving and suffering. Although Native Americans are human with all the failings and idiosyncrasies of humans across the globe, they were NOT starving and depraved before they were destroyed by the conquistadors and colonists. That they were depraved is a lie that has been repeated over and over – why? I don’t know, maybe to make the people who destroyed them feel better about jailing them on reservations and forcing dependence upon government for their very sustenance. If you want to hear the TRUTH about Native Americans, hear it straight from them – through the “Tribal Histories” series, available on the Wisconsin Public Radio website. Search for “tribal histories” in the search box.
So, how can we feed ourselves without destroying the land?
We’ve all heard about organic farming, and sustainable farming, but we need to know about regenerative agriculture, which uses tools such as permaculture design, agroforestry, keyline design, biodynamics, biological farming, holistic planned grazing or holistic management, etc, all through which soil is created and ecosystems improved and activated, through the solar cycle, the water cycle,
If we stop killing the biota in the soil with chemicals (poison), and we increase the amounts of plants, which act like solar panels — turning the sun’s energy into sugars, which increases the amount of carbon in the soil — the amount of water the soil can RETAIN dramatically increases. Research shows that if the carbon in the soil is increased by merely, 1%, the soil can RETAIN or STORE 37,000 MORE gallons of water per ~ 2.5 acres than it could before! This feeds all of the involved cycles positively — it increases biological activity, which in turn increases the amount of carbon in the soil, which increases plant health and growth, which in turn feeds biological activity – it is a beautiful cycle.
Here are a few videos showing how several conventional industrial farmers have begun transitioning their farming practices to innovative, permacultural, holistic management. In the process, they no longer have to ‘pick weeds,’ because the weeds are no longer PERCEIVED as weeds…because the land regenerates and becomes balanced, and there is no one plant that is ‘getting out of hand.’ Currently, 1/3 of the agricultural pesticides used in the USA are used in the growing of cattle feed (corn and soy). The farmers in the videos below demonstrate the opportunity the USA has RIGHT NOW, to eliminate this third of the agricultural pesticides, herbicides, fungicides and insecticides, as well as synthetic fertilizers used in agriculture. They also demonstrate how incredibly quickly the amount of carbon in the soil can be increased, garnering all of the benefits mentioned above!
For example, Gabe Brown utilized holistic planned grazing, and he has
- TRIPLED the amount of organic matter in the soil (that means carbon!). That means he doubled the amount of carbon in his soil every 6.66 years. And that included all of the learning curves that came with learning a new way of managing his animals and acreage!
- When he started in 1993, the soil could only infiltrate or store 1/2″ of rain per hour, but 20 years later, in 2013, the soil could store 8″ of rain per hour!
- Their soil is able to absorb 19″ of rainfall, per day!!
- They have ‘grown’ 47 inches of top soil!!
Check out more metrics from Gabe Brown’s farm here.
- Soil Carbon Cowboys, 12-minute film, searchable on Vimeo.com. This film features three different broad-acre farms, in three varying climates with varying amount of annual rainfall.
- One Hundred Thousand Beating Hearts, 15-minute film, searchable on Vimeo.com. This farmer in economically-depressed town of 150 people (Bluffton, GA), pastures over one hundred thousand animals simultaneously. He had a conventional cattle feed operation previously.
- 5,000 acre ranch in North Dakota: www.brownsranch.us. “We do not use GMOs or glyphosate [herbicide]. Our ever evolving grazing strategy allows most of our pastures a recovery period of over 360 days. These strategies have allowed the health of the soil, the mineral and water cycles to greatly improve. In other words, the natural resources have benefited. This results in increased production, profit and a higher quality of life for us. We are moving towards sustainability for not only ours but future generations as well.”
All of these farmers are utilizing in some form, aspects of Holistic Planned Grazing. As you can see in the video below, Holistic Planned Grazing is the modern mimicry of how megafauna moved and regenerated landscapes during the centuries native peoples lived well in North America.
I witnessed aspects of desertification in grasslands in South Dakota on the Lakota reservation, as shown to me by the Lakota rancher who was leasing some 300 acres from the Bureau of Indian Affairs (this is how they have to do it on the reservation…they can’t really own land). This is where the Lakota rancher taught me about how the buffalo used to regenerate the land and how the government’s recommendation to let the fields rest has only made the land worse. The Lakota then taught me about Allan Savory’s Holistic Planned Grazing method, which he was starting to practice. here is a video of a couple of guys who switched from conventional industrial farming to Holistic Planned Grazing. they are more profitable and happy than they were before they made the switch, and the land is healing.
And to be clear, holistic planned grazing is NOT rotational grazing. Holistic planned grazing involves reducing paddock size, increasing ‘mob’ size, or herd size per the area grazed upon, and moving the animals quickly. Both of these aspects result in longer recovery times for each area of vegetation.
To find out even more about holistic planned grazing, here is a TED talk from Allan Savory. you can also learn the techniques in Allan Savory’s Holistic Management books. Holistic management is being used with amazing success, reversing desertification, and building soil, on almost every continent, right now.
Masanobu Fukuoka shows us how to feed ourselves through his non-machine agricultural methods, in Japan. As Larry Korn says in the following video: “the were flooding the rice paddies for so long they forgot why they were doing it.” Fukuoka proved that rice can be grown more abundantly and more harmoniously without paddy flooding.
Another legend (still living today) is Sepp Holzer, hailing from the Austrian mountainside. His techniques, including but not limited to such as connected ponds, hugelkultur beds, planting techniques, creating microclimates, underground animal housing, and the use of terraces and perennial wheat, are widely loved, copied and adapted throughout the world. Numerous videos can be found on YouTube, and his books are incredible. And of course, www.permies.com is potentially the best place to learn about Sepp Holzer’s techniques, as many of the forum members are experimenting and sharing their experiences on the forum, real time.
Another legend we cannot forget, particularly important in arid climates is P.A. Yeomans. He developed the Keyline Design water management system, widely used in permaculture broad acre farm design in various ways. His book, Water for Every Farm, is not the easiest read, but there are many others who have distilled the information for us. One of the best resources I’ve found that explains Keyline Design is Richard Perkins, who developed his farm in a northern part of Sweden. He offers online educational resources, in addition to his book “Making Small Farms Work“, which offers an incredible and detailed tutorial on how they employed Keyline Design on their land. If you are considering developing land for farming and agroforestry, this is a MUST READ.
Geoff Lawton is another person who has distilled numerous techniques which can be accessed through internship on Zaytuna farm, online training courses, and free resources available in his online community ‘The Permaculture Circle’ website http://www.discoverpermaculture.com, like this tutorial on how to create an ‘instant’ garden bed, anywhere.
Geoff Lawton is prolific in his offerings through his website and YouTube. So much offered, and so much to learn and be inspired by.
One of my favorite local permaculture, agroforestry, and food producing fruit and nut tree heroes is Mark Shepard of New Forest Farm in Viola, Wisconsin. He also has many video on YouTube, as well as a book ‘Restoration Agriculture,’ which I haven’t yet read. The Savannah Institute interviews innovative farmers, such as Mark Shepard and posts the interviews on YouTube – they are called ‘Nutshell Discussions.’
The Savannah Institute also offers other videos on their channel as well which are packed full of amazing information about agroforestry.
Another local farm I love is Mastadon Farm. The owners of Mastadon actually worked on New Forest Farm before they started their own farm. Here is one of my favorite blog posts written by them, called “Starting a Regenerative Farm…” Here is an excerpt that really spoke to me:
“We wanted to live on the land, build a non-toxic home, raise a family, grow our own food, and feed as many people in the cities with our meat as possible. With those goals, there was no time for either of us to get a job. For us the value of freedom, clean air, clean home, and clean food was worth the financial trade-off. The only way to make it work in that situation was for us to get used to lower living expenses. We don’t go out to eat, we don’t have a television, we don’t have grid-powered electricity or even internet in our home. We don’t go to movies or on vacations. We carry water up to our house from the spring and chop firewood by hand. Sometimes we joke that we’re on a permanent backpacking trip. Good thing we both loved backpacking before we embarked on this journey.
We also made the decision to access as much land as possible, so that meant we purchased a larger parcel with no house instead of a smaller parcel with a house and buildings. So the first month we lived in a tent while we built a yurt which we lived in while we built a cabin which we’re living in now while we build a house. For us, it is definitely worth the sacrifice of modern conveniences in order to achieve our goals. …. It is easy to feel a sense of resentment and boredom with these tasks. We’re highly educated people that grew up experiencing privilege in a modern world where we never had to experience the mundane tasks of basic living that our ancestors had to experience throughout our species’ entire evolution, and many in the third world still experience today. Chop wood and carry water. We made the conscious decision to leverage our privilege in a way that required us to have to experience the mundane. After a few years, when the romanticism fades, it’s not easy to keep it up. But in it, we have been able to find incredible contentment, happiness, and purpose. And because of that experience, we’ll be able to afford to build a house with running water and a larger off-grid energy system that will make our next stage in life a bit easier. And we’ll appreciate those benefits have achieved them on our terms, within our own self-determined context.”
To continue in the food forest vein, Stefan Sobkowiak is one of the leading innovators in growing orchards and fruit-focused food forests.
You will find innovation in the most unexpected places — even at the USDA. Ray Archuleta, Soil Health Spokesperson for the NRCS is a dynamic and amazing advocate for truly health soil. I’ve seen him and heard him speak in person, and he is full of innovative information! Watch his videos online:
There are so many innovators and heroes – it’s impossible to mention them all, but many of them, including Mark Shepard, participate in and offer extensive webinars on the Economic Action Team forum. And of course, the most up to date information can always be found on the http://www.permies.com forums. If you’re into pasturing animals, check out Greg Judy, Joel Salatin, and Full Circle Farms. If you’re into compost teas take a course from Elaine Inghram and check out biodynamic farming. If you want to keep chickens check out Justin Rhodes. So many heroes.
Sadly, the majority if not almost all of the knowledge the native peoples of North America had has been lost, due to the genocide, enslavement, and severe oppression of these people, as you will learn about in the “500 Nations” series on YouTube. Even though that knowledge is lost forever, we still must attempt to rediscover a harmonious way of living with the environment — with ourselves.
If you know of other great resources, mention them in the comments below! Let us discover harmony and regain balance!
Here are some resources taken from Gabe Brown’s website. Check it out for an up to date list.
Growing a Revolution: Bringing Our Soil Back to Life, David Montgomery
The Soil Will Save Us: How Scientists, Farmers, and Foodies Are Healing the Soil to Save the Planet, Kristin Ohlson
The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Michael Pollan
How to Not go Broke Ranching, Walt Davis
The One Straw Revolution – An Introduction to Natural Farming, Masanobu Fukuoka
Holistic Management – A New Framework for Decision-Making, Allan Savory and Jody Butterfield
Holistic Management Handbook – Healthy Land, Healthy Profits, Jody Butterfield, Sam Bingham, and Allan Savory
For the Love of the Land – Global Case Studies of Grazing in Nature’s Image, Jim Howell
The Soil and Health, Sir Albert Howard
Teaming with Microbes – Guide to the Soil Food Web, Jeff Lowenfels & Wayne Lewis
Managing Cover Crops Profitably – Sustainable Agriculture Network
Farmacology, Daphne Miller, M.D.
Cows Save the Planet – And Other Improbable Ways of Restoring Soil to Heal the Earth, Judith D. Schwartz
In future posts, I will share more resources about how to take the nutrient-dense foods grown through these innovative and regenerative methods, and turn it into foods that we have evolved to asorb and use to our health and benefit! As a teaser, I’ll share information about truly authentic methods of preparing traditional healthy foods. New levels of trade, migration, and swapping of customs between cultures have resulted in whole grain recipes, for example, that appear superficially traditional, but do not in fact remove or transform grain toxins, as was in the case in the truly traditional recipe.
To health, goodness and happiness!