What is Regenerative Ag anyways? Soil Health Principle 1
July 25, 2020
I'm putting my teaching/sharing hat on today and will be going over 1 of the 5 principles of soil health. As you know, we are super proud farmers and love what we do. We love it because we are so passionate about it and believe in what we do. In the next few blog posts, I want to share a little about the why and the how. I hope you pull up a chair and want to learn!
Why is pasture-raised food better and why regenerative ag? You may already know the different benefits of pasture raising and all the benefits of regenerative ag, but just in case you didn’t or need help explaining to a friend or family member I want to unwrap it a little bit in this blog post for you today. I’ll unpack this into several parts (or blog posts) so that it isn’t too long. We believe it’s the love and care we give to both our land and our animals. Good soil, rich grass, and happy grazing critters play not only a huge part in forming the flavors and nutrients in your food, but also heal the planet and make a huge impact on our ecosystem in a powerful way. Let’s talk quickly about good soil (i.e. regenerative agriculture).
What is Regenerative Agriculture? Regenerative agriculture is a system of farming principles and practices that focus on healthy, mineral-rich, biologically-diverse soils that grow healthy, mineral-rich food. Mentors of ours, Gabe Brown and Ray Archuleta introduced us to the five principles of soil health that nature has created and we try to follow. The principles apply to every corner of the world that the sun shines and plants grow. Even your back yard. Today I'll introduce Principle 1.
Principle 1- Limit Disturbance.
Limit mechanical, chemical, and physical disturbance to the soil. Nowhere in nature do you see tillage or chemical sprays. Tillage and chemicals destroy soil structure and function. Water doesn’t get filtered down into the ground efficiently and underground aquifers can dry up if continued tillage is used. They also destroy soil aggregates, decreases water infiltration rates (hello drought and deserts), and accelerates the breakdown of organic material. It also infuses oxygen into the soil which stimulates types of bacteria that multiply and consume the highly soluble carbon-based biotic glues. Don’t let me lose you there…. The natural “glues” hold the micro and macro aggregates (composed of sand, silt, and clay particles) together. When the glues are gone the silt and clay particles fill the space creating compacted soils that can’t exchange air and water (that's basically a death sentence to everything above and below the ground)
Once you have lost the glues and create an anaerobic condition in the soil this may lead to an increase in pathogens and loss of nitrogen. Carbon Dioxide is released into the atmosphere, microbes die, releasing nitrate nitrogen, increasing the weeds (Nature's natural emergency ground-cover), and the whole network to deliver complex amino acids fails and you get fewer nutrients to your plants. Bottom Line- Fewer Nutrients to the plants also means fewer nutrients for animals and people.
Here's a 3.5-minute video if you're a visual learner
OK - now for some fun!- Try this easy example to replicate the effects of tilled soil that you can do in your kitchen:
-Gather two plates, two slices of bread, and 2 cups of all-purpose flour
-Stack two slices of bread on one plate - this represents a healthy soil with forage on top to keep the carbon cycle flowing.
And place the 2 cups of flour on the second plate. This represents the tilled soil with no structure or aggregates.
- Next, take a cup of water and slowly pour it over the two slices of bread. Continue with more cups until you have completely saturated the bread and have a pool of water around the plate’s surface. COUNT AND TRACK HOW MANY CUPS OF WATER IT TOOK.
- Do the same thing to the plate with the flour on it. Again, COUNT HOW MANY CUPS IT TAKES UNTIL THERE IS A RING OF WATER ON THE PLATES SURFACE.
- - What you’ll find is that the water doesn’t filter through the flour. It sits on top and spills out over the sides, just pooling around the place. You can get 5x the amount of water into the soil that has a good structure (no flash flood), isn’t compacted, and the carbon cycle can continue, exchanging valuable resources and nutrients.
SOME TAKEAWAYS :
The health of the soil and crops contributes to the health and livelihood of you and our animals. Since we grow the food our cattle eat, let our pigs forage through the woods and pasture, and let our chickens browse and eat bugs, we have a more nutrient-dense food, just as nature prescribed.
- Weeds are a clue. If you see too many weeds think of them this way: it’s a sign that your soil is hurt or lacking in one of the 5 principles of soil health. (You now know 1 of the 5) They are nature’s way of creating balance or trying to fix something or a symptom of a cause.
- Chemicals (roundup and many others) are even worse for soil health and completely destroy all the microbes and systems in place leaving soil defenseless and unable to perform. Dr. Zach Bush MD is doing some powerful research on roundup and the long term effects it caused our planet. He is also an advisor for Kiss the Ground, a group that advocates regenerative agriculture.
- Our whole planet and climate can be drastically changed by the Carbon Cycle alone. It’s such an easy fix once you know the 5 principles of soil. I encourage you to read more about carbon cycling if this is new to you. Kiss the Ground has great resources and as well as many others.