You don’t have to look far to see the term “sustainable” tossed around like so many other buzzwords that seem to have overtaken the marketplace. Early in my farming career, the term “sustainable farming” was in its infancy, and I embraced it like many of my friends in the agriculture world. No chemicals, No Pesticides, No GMOs, No Antibiotics, etc. – what’s not to like about that stance on food production? However, as I have grown as a grower, I started to take a more detached look at the term and what we are actually trying to accomplish. Is our goal in farming and food production to merely “sustain” a current system? As my knowledge of soils and soil health evolves, it is plain to see that we need to not just “sustain” but rather “regenerate” or improve the soils and ecosystem in which we work and live.
For example: if we take over a piece of arable land that has been farmed conventionally with aggressive tillage and chemical usage, do we want to “sustain” the health of the soil as we have found it by simply stopping the practices that have destroyed soil health? Of course not, we need to improve those soils so that they can support a vibrant and biologically active ecosystem.
One of the biggest mistakes I see new farmers make—and I too was a new farmer once—is to believe that the removal of the “bad” will automatically make the soils “good.” Over time (a long time) those soils will bounce back, but by that time the new farmer has already bankrupted themselves or given up due to low yields and poor quality. In order to get soils pumping again it takes a focused and determined effort.
Some of the things that can be done that will show quick results are:
- Complete removal of petrochemicals in the forms of fertilizers and pesticides
- Reduction of aggressive tillage techniques
- Introduction of active biology via manure and compost
- Planting of cover crops aimed specifically at soil health improvements
- Balancing macro & micro nutrient levels in the soil
These simple solutions cannot be practiced in a vacuum individually; like all biological systems, they must be implemented together to see the best return of the farmer’s investment. The removal of the bad only sustains the level that the bad has created.
Consumers should be talking to their food providers to understand how regenerative agriculture is being practiced on their farm. If you are comfortable with how that farmer is treating their land, environment, and livestock, I would hope you would commit to that farmer to purchase what they are growing. As the old saying goes, “money talks and bull…” well, we know how it ends.
Make a commitment to learn more about regenerative agriculture and support the farmers that are working towards the common goal of reinvigorating our soils and ecosystem. Remember, regenerating is greater than sustaining in the work of soil health and food production. Every dollar spent supporting regenerative agriculture is a dollar no longer supporting destructive food production methods.
John Place’s interest in pastured livestock began as a college student studying agriculture in New Zealand, where he learned the many benefits of a pasture-based system vs. America’s standard conventional grain-based, feedlot systems. In 2007, he decided to use this knowledge to found Keepsake Farm, a raw milk dairy farm in Nazareth, PA, which he still owns, operates, and calls home. In 2012, John teamed up with Paul Profeta and Joanne Malino to found Profeta Farms, where he is currently the Chief Operating Officer.