The great terrain robbery
According to Woody Harrelson, in a new documentary, Kiss the Ground®, "The solution’s right under our feet… and it’s old as dirt.” The filmmakers criss-cross the globe, in search of answers about ways that each of us can play our role in important environmental issues that affect our planet. Mitigating the climate crisis is not only possible, it’s within our grasp. Through regenerative agriculture, humans can apply the scientific method (also known as common sense to our ancestors) to the way we plant, grow and harvest our food.
The “growing community” is growing How the Bambara groundnut can save the future
Regeneration, contrasted with its opposite: degeneration, when applied to agriculture takes on many forms. Farmers, ranchers, land stewards and citizens like you and me, are increasing crop yields by reintroducing biodiversity. Simultaneously, soil and plants capture carbon, year 'round. In turn, nature’s critters remain part of the process, pollinating plants and eating each other so that no one species takes over a growing region. The film shows a dramatic side-by-side example of farmers’ fields. One shows lush vegetation (in the “off season”), while the other is practically barren, devoid of life. The field in which plants continue growing in colder weather have root structures that capture carbon from the air and deliver it deep into the soil, where microorganisms restore the biologic balance needed to deliver healthy nutrients into crops planted in the Springtime.
According to a Scientific American article, 180 lbs. of nitrogen, per growing acre, must be added, to match the same output achieved by the same area of land which is maintained via biodiversity and natural carbon-capture. That’s a huge reduction on cost for a single chemical. Yet, isolating and dealing with one chemical in the growing process is not enough to turn the tide. Instead, organizations like Earthjusticle legal are increasing the pace of success through advocacy that helps eliminate pesticides. In one instance, a chemical associated with birth-defects, required seven years of litigation by thoughtful citizens to finally rid American farms of vinclozin. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) relented, and acknowledged that residue from food, due to this fungicide, was detrimental to babies in the womb.
Thanks to Rachel Carson, and her 1962 book, Silent Spring, DDT is a well-known organochlorine pesticide that was banned by federal environmental laws in the 1970’s. Yet, it took another three decades to get endosulfan off the market. During that time, chemical companies pushed forward the idea that cotton and tomato crops needed this pesticide, which is not found anywhere in nature, to maximize harvests. Intended to control insects (eg. fruit worms, leafhoppers, beetles, moth larvae and aphids), apparently this cyclic sulfite ester was determined to pose significant risks to humans and wildlife,when it intersected with natural reproduction and development. Once again, the EPA stepped in, thanks to litigation, to ban this harmful insecticide.
The fight for safe soil continues, as Earth Justice battles well-funded chemical companies and big corporations to phase out; and where possible, ban, chlorpyrifos and flame retardants. As a not-for-profit law organization, the group protects the public interest, working directly with scientists, health advocacy groups and farmers who grow the crops that feed our American population.
The Bambara groundnut can save humanity’s future
Our global system is suffering from an increasingly narrow handful of crops on which it relies. The only problem - and it’s a big one, according to the United Nations - is that this process can not be sustained, due to a changing climate, growing seasons and the rapid growth of human populations throughout the globe. Scientists, farmers and nutrition experts have begun viewing “future-fit” crops as a path forward. Interestingly, in Sub-Saharan Africa, subsistence farmers have been growing the Bambara ground nut, which is simultaneously resilient to climate change and dense with nutrition.
The next thirty years will see an increase in our human population, projected to be as much as 30%. Since rice, corn and wheat comprise 60% of our caloric intake, and farmers' fields are already pushing the eightieth percentile of their potential yields, the UN’s warning, issued in a report is sobering. It states: "“Even if […traditional] staple crops […] prevent hunger, they do not provide all the nutrients necessary for a healthy diet,” Thus, now is the time to reexamine underused and neglected cops, such as the Bambara groundnut, to prepare for future food needs in a way that goes beyond simply providing "enough calories”. When this, some would argue, necessary shift occurs, benefits begin to appear:
- greenhouse gas emissions are reduced
- foliage from the plants go right back into the ground to reverse soil degradation
- landscapes on the edge of growing zones are made fertile, as water is retained below the earth’s surface
Ideally, government policy makers, nutritionists and public health experts will heed advice of food scientists, and see the value of these crops with their own eyes as monoculture farms become a vestige of the past. However, as countries implement through these farming developments, it makes sense to provide financial guarantees to farmers who begin experimenting with their land. If food production companies incorporate future-fit crop outputs into their recipes, whole populations will benefit. With its corporate headquarters in Singapore, Namz has used moringa and the Bambara groundnut into everything from soups and noodle to shakes.
Home gardening solves societal problems
Good for you, times two. Researches at Princeton University, in the Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering, have researched the emotional well-being of Minnesotans who home-garden. You can’t get any more locally grown than your own backyard. The benefits to this growing community are being measured not just physically, but emotionally. In a Princeton press release, the authors indicate that this sliver of American home-growers is virtually ignored by policymakers.
Graham Ambrose, the study’s first author, published findings of the “high(est) levels of meaningfulness”… particularly for members in the 370-person study who grew vegetables for the dinner table; rather than solely ornamental gardening. He advanced the idea that, for policymakers wanting to determine the most efficacious projects to fund, consideration of home gardeners is important. After all, quality food initiatives and livable communities are a net bonus for society, since everyone benefits. Emotional well-being improves as people garden; and there is no significant difference when the planting is done by individuals or with partners. Nor did it matter whether people live in the countryside, small towns or dense cities. Various racial groups all enjoyed similar levels of both meaningfulness and happiness. The two groups that spiked upward in these life-affirming qualities are females, and those in low-income situations. Notes Ambrose, “Why spend money on a rec center when some dirt [seeds,] and a trowel [can help solve society’s ills]?” Read the full study and Landscape and Urban Planning .
Anu Ramaswami, a corresponding author, suggested that a cycle is created when health benefits for gardeners produce physical health, including that of activity in nature; which, in turn, supports emotional well being. Her reasoning indicates that people “reinforce [their own] healthy behavior” by gardening, even moreso than “walking and biking”.
Cultural preservation can be achieved with seeds
Freelance Journalist Andrew Wight interviewed Rosalia Asig Cho, who, along with her neighbors in Guatemala, have been losing their traditional crops in recent years. Between upheaval caused by armed conflicts, and overseas intervention by agrochemical companies pushing hybrid seeds, foods that were once part of Guatemalan dinner tables have been disappearing.
As a way to reclaim this important part of their culture, Rosalia and more than five hundred members of a growing organization have been spreading the word - and native seeds - throughout an area of Guatemala, populated by the indigenous Maya Achi group. They are systematically (re) introducing not only the seeds, but the traditional farming practices that ensure local farmers are part of the preservation effort.
From Rabinal, Guatemala to America’s Cherokee Nation, this rebirth of seeds are also finding their way to the Svalbard Global Seed vault. This amazing, long-term seed-storage facility was created in "recognition of the vulnerability of the world’s genebanks”. As more seeds are stored, our global population benefits from the seed backups, in case of future disasters, natural or man-made. As a species, we need this “ ultimate insurance policy” for our options in our food supply.
Meanwhile, the Cherokee has managed to distribute over a hundred types of seeds in more than ten thousand packages to U.S. growers, improving the biodiversity that has long ben in decline. According to Nora Castañeda-Álvarez, a to Colombian scientist at NGO Crop Trust, says, simply, that food security is strengthened by seed banks which conserve crops. Plus, ancestral seeds can often fend off malnutrition because their nutritional properties are more robust than GMO crops which are often modified for larger output, rather than healthy nutritional components.
It’s not just about food
University of Oxford researchers published a study indicating that animal agriculture is taking up an unhealthy amount of our land resources. Since cattle graze land that can produce vegetation suitable for human diets, approximately 75% of global land could be repurposed. Desserto is one company that’s taking an innovative approach to reducing humans’ seeming dependence upon all things animal has created a durable leather alternative. Founders Adrián and Marte figured out a way, over two years, to manufacture an eco-friendly material that is also cruelty-free. In effect, a win-win.
"The idea of using this raw material” which the two grow in Mexico, "was conceived because this plant does not need any water to grow, and there is plenty of it throughout the Mexican Republic. Also, symbolically, it represents all of us Mexican[s]," the founders reported to International fashion industry network, Fashion United. Desserto won an Innovation Award for their creative work, and the company is busy customizing its cactus-leather for shoes, bags, car seats, and more. The different textures, colors and thicknesses offer a seemingly endless array of applications.