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According to Josh Tickell, the solution to climate change is right under our noses. Or more specifically, right under our feet.
In his new book, Kiss the Ground, the producer, author, and environmentalist dives into the potential and promise of regenerative agriculture—a farming practice that renews the health of soil so that it can actually absorb carbon from the atmosphere.
"Everywhere you look, farmers are losing their farms," Tickell explains of the realization that led him to the book. "If you look at the underlying issue, it's ultimately that their productivity is suffering because their soil is blowing away. The biggest misconception about U.S. agriculture is that we can somehow make it work without dealing with the soil."
Why is regenerative agriculture so much better for our health and the environment?
Through the text, Tickell interviews people from Native American chiefs to farmers to politicians to explore regenerative ag's multitiered promise: reducing climate change by extracting carbon from the atmosphere, and boosting soil health to bring us healthier food. Along the way, he discovers that, if tended to correctly, soil could sequester most of the CO2 that has been emitted by humanity to date.
Healthy, nutrient-dense soil arises when farmers put processes in place that essentially let the land tend to itself. Like organic farming, regenerative agriculture forgoes the use of herbicides and pesticides and protects crops naturally. But it takes this holistic approach a step further by using practices like conservation tillage (leaving the previous year's crop residue out on the field), using cover crops (planting certain crops to prevent soil erosion), and promoting crop rotation (growing different crops in the same area to ward off pests and disease). All of these practices speak to the poetic notion that nature knows how to heal itself—we just have to step aside, pack up our chemicals, and let it do so.
How you can support regenerative agriculture.
"There are various regenerative certification schemes in progress, and I am certain we will see some version of a regenerative logo in the next year, but it's all a work in progress. We need to get to the point where regenerative agriculture is the standard." Until then, Tickell says we all need to seek out a dialogue with the people growing our food.
"Consumers need to continue to question the brands, farmers, and food producers they're buying from. Let's face it: We live in a time when we can," he stresses. "You can tweet at a food company and ask why they're not on the regenerative bandwagon. People are busy; I get it. But if you're on Facebook and you're posting updates, you have enough time to tweet at the people who make your food. If you already go to a farmers market, you have enough time to say, 'Hey, how are you growing this food?'" Three brands that he's seen welcome a healthy, transparent dialogue with consumers about regenerative practices are Dr. Bronner's, Nutiva, and Annie's.
When you're in a pinch, Tickell says to at least avoid factory-farmed meat and food that contains corn and soy. These cornerstone crops of convention in U.S. agriculture are almost never rotated and are likely sprayed with chemicals.
Tickell believes that bringing life back to dry, unhealthy soil is one of humanity's more pressing jobs, and we are all responsible for helping out. "What we really need is a million soil warriors. People who understand this information, are able to articulate the issue, and choose to go into every level of their community."
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