“Every bit of nature is designed to help regenerate and rejuvenate itself. As humans we know that we can actually be the stewards that are helping to have the land come back to function.” – Finian Makepeace, Co-Founder, Kiss the Ground
One potential solution to the climate crisis is right below your feet, literally. Many of us attribute soil to gardens and houseplants, but it does so much more than provide nutrients to plants. Healthy soil is a vital foundation for food, water, and energy security, human health, biodiversity, and climate change mitigation, adaptation, and resilience.
Healthy soils also store carbon in the earth, sequestering it from the atmosphere where it can be a harmful contributor to climate change. Carbon has a bad reputation due to its heat-trapping effects in the atmosphere. However, carbon is actually incredibly useful. It is life’s building block. The earth needs carbon; the problem is where carbon is stored, according to Kiss the Ground. Soil holds more carbon than the atmosphere and all vegetation combined. While an overabundance of greenhouse gas in the atmosphere is detrimental, it is incredibly beneficial to the environment when stored safely in the ground. Keeping carbon in the soil is the key to combating climate change and creating a more sustainable future.
Even if humans reduced carbon emissions to zero right now, we’d still have too much carbon in the atmosphere. This means that in order to slow or reverse climate change, we need to pull carbon from the atmosphere into the soil. We can’t just be sustainable; we have to be regenerative. It is not enough to fight to preserve what is left; we must also restore what has been lost, whether it’d be biodiversity, forests, fertile soil – you name it.
Regenerative agriculture is one way farmers around the world are restoring and protecting healthy soils. Many of these practices, including intercropping and polycultures, have been used for hundreds of years by Indigenous peoples. Industrialized agriculture often uses methods like monocropping, chemicals, pesticides, and deforestation to “efficiently” grow crops and boost yields. However, many such practices strip soil of nutrients. Farmers must then pump chemical fertilizers into the soil, so it can support crop growth. As this cycle continues, alarming and ever-increasing levels of toxins enter our ecosystems.
Alongside environmental concerns, soil degradation is a major public health issue. Agriculture workers are exposed daily to chemicals and pesticides. What’s more, the majority of agricultural workers in the United States are Latinx, most of whom are low-income and not protected by health insurance. The pesticides they work with can cause a multitude of dangerous health problems, especially in children, as well as causing issues in the broader communities. In the southwestern United States, Valley Fever is on the rise, which occurs when soil is overworked by industrial tilling and heavy pesticide use. The dry soil becomes airborne, spreading a fungus if inhaled. Nutrient pollution is another side effect of soil mismanagement, leading to dead zones like those present in the Gulf of Mexico. Additionally, the mismanagement of soil releases mass quantities of greenhouse gases that reverse the natural process of carbon sequestration and further contribute to climate change.
One healthy soil practice is conservation crop rotation. Instead of planting the same crop every year, farmers rotate different crops to increase organic matter in the soil. It also helps limit pests, improves air and water quality, and increases plant pollination. Another practice gaining popularity is no-till agriculture. Tills break up soil to get rid of weeds and air out the ground. However, this can also strip necessary nutrients. By not tilling, soil remains undisturbed and improves plant health, air quality, and saves non-renewable resources.
Organic applies to foods ranging from produce to grains to animal products. Meat and dairy that is labeled and marketed as organic must come from livestock that has lived under continuous organic management from the last third of gestation. Most organic cattle are raised in open-air fields or pastures, and are free to move around, and are treated in a much more humane way than their conventional counterparts in CAFOS (concentrated-animal feeding operations). Additionally, organic meat helps the environment, as the grass pastures that feed the cattle aren’t fertilized by pesticides. We humans also benefit from organic meat and dairy: as we are not ingesting pesticide residue, and the meat and milk we consume has higher levels of Omega-3 than conventional. Our partner, Applegate, upholds the principles of organic livestock: animals never receive antibiotics, growth hormones or beta agonists, are fed 100% vegetarian diets, and have more space to engage in natural behaviors that promote growth. We too live by the words of their mission — that the way food is raised can change and transform lives, from the farmer who grows it to the person who eats it.
Regenerative agriculture has the potential to sequester dozens of metric tons of carbon per year if implemented worldwide. Regenerative methods require the following practices: organic certification, soil carbon sequestration measurement and improvement, zero tillage, humane treatment of livestock, and living wages and health protections for farmworkers. There are many solutions to get carbon back into the soil! Our partners, Kiss the Ground, Organic Center, Applegate, and others, work tirelessly to advance research on soil health and promote regenerative organic agricultural practices through business, research, and advocacy.
You too can also promote soil health! One way to begin is by supporting local, organic, regenerative farms in your community. Supporting places that employ these techniques is a great way to invest in, bolster, and encourage the movement. When buying produce, look for the Regenerative Organic Certification (ROC). This is a new seal for businesses that consistently implement regenerative farming methods. One major reason regenerative agriculture is not yet widely practiced is that people simply don’t know about it. Finally, compost and encourage your school to do the same. Organic materials thrown into landfills contribute to greenhouse gas emissions and become toxic themselves. By composting, you redirect valuable nutrients that can create healthy soil. Use compost in your garden or a school garden, drop it off at a nearby community garden, or find a local pickup service that puts it to good use.
Help heal our planet by saving our soil!
When we talk about climate change, soil is often left out of the conversation — yet it is one of the most important solutions! As environmentalists, it is critical to understand the relationship between agriculture, soil, carbon, and climate change. Furthermore, it is imperative to learn about and honor the deep traditions and roots of sustainable and regenerative farming practices that BIPOC communities have practiced for centuries. Soul Fire Farm, Rock Steady Farm, and Harriet Tubman Freedom Farm are but a few inspirational examples.
Your first task is to get educated. Read this article on BIPOC farms practicing regenerative agriculture. Then, watch one video on Soul Fire Farm’s YouTube channel and write a short reflection on what you learned and how the video has inspired you.
In 200 words or less, respond to the following:
- What are your three biggest takeaways from the video?
- Did the video inspire you to learn more about the topic?
- If so, in what ways?
Now that you’ve been introduced to the wonders of soil, we encourage you to dig deeper. Knowledge is power!
It’s time to complete your very own Soil Quest. Our partner, Kiss the Ground, has created a training module to help you advocate for healthy soil. You can go at your own pace with this brief training and by the end, you’ll be ready to advocate for soil in your community!
After completing the Soil Quest, reflect on which aspects you can apply locally.
Create a visual to advocate for healthy soil.
THINK (PART ONE)
Gardens promote climate resiliency and personal resilience! Not only does planting a garden reduce your carbon footprint, but it also allows you to provide food for yourself and others. Regenerative gardening can also be a great way to replenish the soil around you — for healthy plants, air, and animals too!
It’s time to get your green thumb on!
First: Plant a seed — any kind of seed that you can tend to and nurture — in your dorm room or home. Share what you planted and tell us what positive impact this plant will have on the planet.
With what you have learned about the importance of healthy soil and regenerative agriculture practices, you’re ready to put your knowledge to use. Start thinking about where you could plant a whole garden, whether indoors or outdoors. Think about what would work best for your space and lifestyle. Are there seeds that you could grow indoors for a few months and then replant outside in the spring? Could your kitchen use an herb garden?
Now, create a plan for your garden. Consider what you would plant and why you would select those items. If you need extra guidance, check this beginner’s guide on gardening.
In a document, describe the following in about 500 words:
- What will you plant? Include at least 6 varieties.
- Share the attributes of each plant. Tell us why you are planting it and how it will contribute to healthier soil, climate and you.
- What agricultural and climate-friendly practices will you take into account, given the changing landscape of our climate? Share at least 3 and their impact.
- Draw a sketch of your proposed garden.
THINK (PART TWO)
Our partner released a full-length documentary by the same name, Kiss the Ground, that unearths truth about the devastating impacts of industrial agriculture on our planet and the potential of regenerative agriculture to balance our climate, replenish vast water supplies, and feed the world.
Gather friends and family for a screening of Kiss the Ground either in person or remotely. It is available on Netflix and other streaming services. If you cannot access it, please email us for a special link.
Discuss and record answers to the following questions:
- What was your main takeaway from the film? Did anything surprise you?
- What was the most powerful or impactful scene for you?
- What are the limitations and challenges of regenerative agriculture? How do you think these can be overcome?
- After watching the film, do you think regenerative organic agriculture could be a solution in the fight against climate change? Why or why not?
- Where do we go from here? What steps do you think we can take, both individually and collectively, to advance this movement and work towards implementing regenerative agriculture on a larger scale around the world?
ADDITIONAL ACTIONS AND RESOURCES
You can even begin implementing regenerative practices in your own backyard. A small garden can draw down carbon when managed properly, while also providing tasty, fresh produce at a very small cost. no extra cost to you. Imagine if every garden implemented regenerative practices – that would be a whole lot of drawdown! Check out this video from Kiss the Ground for five easy ways to make your garden regenerative and download the regenerative living guide to make informed decisions that support soil health and a regenerative lifestyle.