How Soil Health is Climate Health
Bethany Davis, Director of Social Impact and Advisory | April 2022
What does the word hope mean to you?
The dictionary defines it as ‘to cherish a desire with anticipation’. I think this is a beautiful way to put it. I am an optimist, naturally. I’m generally a happy person and have a positive outlook. A glass is half full-type of person.
But, I have to admit that over the last decade I started getting weary and worried. I feel like I’ve been watching planetary collapse happening in slow motion.
- Ecological decline
- Global warming
- Extreme weather causing droughts and floods
- Reliance on unsustainable means of transportation
- Plastic production
- Fast fashion
- More chemicals everywhere
- Copious EPA rollbacks on protective environmental laws from previous administration
The last few years have been tough all around, and it’s easy to feel helpless about the state of so many things. And for me talking year after year to our farm partners and hearing about how challenging things are from a climate perspective, it's been a bit overwhelming at times. All that to say, I have good news for you!
But first, I want to tell you the most hopeful, exciting thing I’ve learned over the last decade.
“We have about 60 harvests left”
About 7 years ago I went on a trip to an eco-farm in Costa Rica with one of my best friend’s to her families’ property. I had been with MegaFood for years and was working on organic and non-gmo agriculture in our supply chain. I went for a tour of the farm with her dad, Tom Newmark. We walked through the jungle and he showed me tons of trees and food that had been planted along the small pathway that we had been following. He explained biodynamic farming strategies (it wouldn’t be until years later that I’d become a full blown Selenophile, but this was definitely the start of it), highlighted how strategically they had used agroforestry to protect the soil.
“We have about 60 harvests left until we have dessertified the majority of the topsoil on planet earth and will no longer be able to grow food” he said to me. It stopped me in my tracks. I felt my stomach sink. (Don’t worry, I promise the hopeful part is coming, just hang in there). “What are you talking about?” I replied with disbelief in my voice.
At this point I got the most valuable and direct download of information that I have ever received. I remember where I was standing on the farm, the clothes I was wearing, and the look on my face and his. He soberly explained how the industrial, monoculture-focused, chemical-heavystyle of agriculture that we largely use globally is damaging to soil, and it releases carbon into the atmosphere that is supposed to be underground, keeping our soil healthy. That if we don’t change our ways, we will continue to release carbon from the soil into the atmosphere making climate change worse.
The World Health Food and Agriculture Organization had confirmed in a recent talk that they estimate topsoil desertification had on average about 60 years before we will turn most of our soil globally into nothing more than dirt. I think he could see me starting to panic. I thought of my children, who I certainly hope live longer than 60 years and ideally I want there to be food available for them to eat.
“Tom, what are we going to do?”
There is Hope Through Regenerative Agriculture
Here is the hopeful part. He explained the concept of regenerative agriculture. A style of agriculture that is focused on the health of the soil and drawing down carbon. Climate-smart agriculture.
It minimizes the need for chemicals like fertilizers and herbicides and pesticides which can damage the microbial and fungal balance in the soil. It focuses on low or no-till tactics which essentially means keeping the soil safe by not tearing it up for planting, harvesting or preventing weeds. It creates soil that works like a sponge so it can hold water to draw from during droughts and suck up all the extra water when it floods. And best of all, it draws down MASSIVE amounts of carbon.
Regenerative agriculture is a win-for all solution. It creates more nutrient-dense food, ensures a stable food supply, makes farming less risky for farmers and has the potential to REVERSE climate change if adopted at scale!
Tom’s farm now exists as a learning center and fully functional regenerative farm for farmers, brands and retailers alike. And the regenerative movement, although still emergent, is in full swing with determined hopefuls spreading the word all over the world.
Agroforestry, crop rotations and cover crops, rotational animal grazing and composting are all regenerative strategies that protect and build the soil, drawing down carbon back into the soil where it belongs and resulting in more nutritious food.
MegaFood on a Soil Health Mission
Needless to say, MegaFood started orienting itself around how to support this emerging Regenerative movement. Now, seven years later, restoring the health of the soil is our reason for being and it’s my sole job focus.
Since we have been founding members of the Soil Carbon Initiative, we are in our fourth year of the Healthy Farm Standard Program where we incentivize regenerative practices in our supply chain.
We also formed a partnership with Chico State Center for Regenerative Agriculture and Resilient Systems and Tim LaSalle, who runs the center and has become my mentor along with Tom. Tim is a soil scientist who is executing large-scale studies to prove how effective Regenerative Agriculture is for drawing down massive amounts of carbon. The science keeps rolling in. Regenerative ag results in more nutrient-dense food too!
At MegaFood it’s our strong desire to bring forth a world where everyone is truly nourished. We are hopeful. We are determined. With every new study pointing to more potential, hope gets to ride alongside science. So join us in supporting this movement! And our hopeful vision of a world where everyone is truly nourished!