Regenerative Agriculture Blogs

agroecologie

Why black and white thinking won’t work in a grey world

By now, you’ve hopefully read some of our blogs about regenerative agriculture (and if not, what are you waiting for? Click here to check out our latest pieces). If so, you’ve figured out that we’re trying to do things a little differently here at Mazi by implementing a forward-thinking agriculture which works towards a more resilient, happier, healthier tomorrow.

It may at first seem like that this kind of agriculture, with its focus on diverse polycultures, building soil health and using only organic inputs, is inherently at odds with conventional, industrial agricultural practices. It is easy to think of these systems as separate and opposing entities, non-compatible neighbours who argue over their high fences. But this ‘othering’ only serves to create animosity rather than the resilient food system we need.

 
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Yes, industrious, extractive and destructive farming exists, and this must be addressed- but so do many farmers that care for the earth and are just trying to get by and make a decent living.  From our experience here at Mazi, we know all too well that farm life brings with it complications. Sometimes, for whatever reason, compromises have to be taken and things don’t always go the way you wanted. It is not by pointing fingers that we will start transitioning our agriculture. Producing food, and providing the worlds vital sustenance, is no easy task and we have enormous respect for each and every farmer working to put food on our tables everyday.

It is for this reason that, far from being prescriptive, regenerative agriculture instead works to be a toolbox of farm-ready techniques and practices that can be chosen and adapted to different contexts.  Rather than a dogmatic approach, regeneration can take many shapes and sizes in the path to agricultural transition. Whether you are big, small, conventional, organic, regenerative or otherwise, there is something in regenerative agriculture for all.

It is the enormous potential of this hybrid approach which makes regenerative agriculture so exciting. Incorporating a few easily implementable, small changes can make a huge difference, regardless of your context.  For instance, research has shown that planting strips of wildflowers across fields of wheat monocultures drastically reduces pest pressure, therefore slashing pesticide use. Incorporating wildflowers in this way resulted in an increase in wheat yields of up to 10% (plus it comes with the added bonus of making the place look pretty at the same time!). Studies have also shown that planting strips of trees, or ‘shelter-belts’, around fields offer an array of benefits. For example, they can help protect plants against drought by modifying the microclimate around the crop by reducing wind speeds which removes moisture from the air. Research has shown that in this way, shelter-belts increase wheat yields by at least 3.5%. Trees can also help to reduce pesticide spray drift by trapping pesticides in their leaves, and even only a 10m tree belt has been shown to reduce ammonia in emissions by about 53%.  Lastly, only a 1% increase in organic matter in the top six inches of soil is enough to drastically change the soils water holding capacity by 20,000  gallons of water per hectare. Even without an overhaul in practices, all of these small steps can add up to a big difference not just for the environment, but your wallet.

Equally, regenerative agriculture must not automatically reject innovations gained through industrial agriculture. For all of its problems, industrial agriculture has brought with it a whole host of technologies and techniques which can be intelligently incorporated into regenerative agriculture for our benefit. Examples include smart mechanisation, such as tractors and keyline ploughs, which (unless we suddenly find millions of people struck with a serious case of green fingers) will be necessary to provide enough food for everyone. Other technologies we have borrowed here on Mazi include our drip irrigation system, which has saved time, water and many, many trees.  

There is a reason that we are called Mazi. Mazi in Greek means together, and we believe that it is only together, pooling knowledge and resources, borrowing tools and inspirations and adapting techniques to a range of contexts that we can create meaningful change. It is not our aim to separate ourselves with an ‘us vs. them’ mentality, but instead to unite, adapt and share.

‘Lettuce’ work together create the kind of tomorrow we’re working towards!

Thanks for reading,

Tash

Why Regenerative Agriculture?

Humanity, and the planet that we have the privilege to call home, is facing no shortage of problems. Climate change. Biodiversity loss. Peak Oil. Food insecurity. Chances are you’re probably familiar with at least a few of these. Any one of these issues alone threatens life as we know it on our planet. Unfortunately, much like buses, they have come along all at once.

Our best minds have been hard at work engineering solutions for these problems, which read like a playbook straight out of Orwell's mind. From pumping our skies full of sulphur, to flooding our fields with poisons (what could possibly go wrong...?), every technofix you can imagine, plus many more you cannot begin to, has been proposed. But humans, as we are so adept at doing, have missed a trick.

“Every problem has a solution. Sometimes it just takes a long time to find the solution- even if it's right in front of your nose”

- Lemony Snicket

And there is already a solution to all of these problems, one which relies upon already perfectly honed feats of engineering. But this engineering is not the work of humans, and it doesn’t involve us looking up into the sky- instead, we must look down at what lies beneath our feet.

There is one thing that lies at the crossroads of all of our problems; agriculture. The way we grow our food affects everything: our health, the health of our ecosystems, waters and wildlife, our atmosphere, our access to safe, nutritious food and thriving of our communities.

The way we choose to practise agriculture therefore has a huge impact on our world. Whether this impact is immensely positive or negative is our choice.

With our fondness for vast monocultures of crops, the use of tonnes of synthetic chemical inputs and the routine deep tilling of our soil, we are clearly currently on the negative side of things. So much so, in fact, that is has led the WWF to conclude that unsustainable agricultural practices present the greatest immediate threat to species and ecosystems around the world.

By treating our soils like dirt, we are making our food system - the one we depend upon every day to provide us vital sustenance - incredibly precarious. It has been predicted that with current rates of soil degradation and topsoil loss, there are only a meagre 60 harvests left. Furthermore, agriculture as it’s currently practised is completely dependent on a rapidly dwindling resource; fossil fuels, used for everything from transport to pesticides. This, combined with it’s appetite for deforestation, makes agriculture the second largest emitter of greenhouse gases after the energy sector.

But what if that impact doesn’t have to be negative? What if instead we could harness the power of agriculture to be a regenerative force instead of a degenerative one? What if there was a way to turn the problem into the solution?

FARMING FOR THE FUTURE

Regenerative Agriculture is a system of farming principles and practices that cultures more than just crops, but cultures also soil, biodiversity, a safer environment and a better world.

But, more than that, regenerative agriculture is a big picture, i.e. ‘holistic’, approach to farming which brings together new and old ideas to encourage environmental, social and economic innovation. Each of these three pillars are vital to create a truly sustainable food system able to stand the test of time.

Regeneration in action: before/after sowing cover crops on Mazi Farm

Regeneration in action: before/after sowing cover crops on Mazi Farm

Regenerative agriculture harnesses the intelligence of nature to satisfy our own for our own needs whilst respectfully cohabiting with the life around us. It does this by mimicking nature’s patterns, working with her rather than against. Regenerative agriculture understands that everything in nature has a function in the system and uses this knowledge to design our farms. This means, for example, including a diversity of crops instead of only one, or ensuring the soil is always covered, like in a forest ecosystem. In this way, our food systems can work independently without the need for costly inputs (including not only chemical and physical inputs, but also time and energy - for more information about that, check out our recent blog post on the efficiency of regenerative agriculture), much like a forest manages itself without any human help. In this sense, regenerative farmers become system managers rather than combatants.

In this way, regenerative agriculture works to fix the common underlying theme of many of our problems- the disconnect between humans and nature and the way she works. Instead fighting the way nature has evolved over millennia to manage itself, it puts us on the same team and allows us to go with nature’s flow. The problem is, nature is powerful - much more powerful than we humans like to think- and, regardless of the continual new and innovative repertoire of weapons at our disposal, this is a fight we will ultimately never win.

Regenerative agriculture goes beyond both organic and ‘sustainable’ practices by working to improve our resource base we use and depend upon, instead of merely maintaining it in its current state.  In doing so, it stores carbon in our trees and soils, protects our soils from erosion whilst actively building soil, provides much needed sanctuaries for depleted wildlife such as birds and insects and keeps our waterways and air clean. Regenerative agriculture works to make ecosystems healthy because when they thrive, we thrive.

SO WHAT DOES THIS LOOK LIKE IN PRACTICE?

There are many different ways that regenerative techniques are being applied to create productive systems capable of sustaining our populations both now and in the future. For example, it’s harnessing the power of livestock - the much maligned environmental enemy- for good, asserting animals’ place in the ecosystem as mobile composters through the intelligent use of grazing, championed by the likes of Allan Savory and Joel Salatin.

New Forest Farm, Wisconsin

New Forest Farm, Wisconsin

Ridgedale Permaculture Farm, Sweden

Ridgedale Permaculture Farm, Sweden

Instead of looking to complex carbon sequestering techniques, regenerative agriculture is incorporating fruit and nut bearing trees (i.e. ‘agroforestry’) to act as carbon sponges whilst nourishing both our ecosystems and humans, such as with the farms of Mark Shepherd and Ernst Gostch. It’s focusing on soil building techniques to help water retention in even the driest regions of the world, like at the Singing Frogs Farm in California. It’s using diverse enterprises and borrowing expertise from other sectors to make small farms streamlined and profitable, with the work of farmers like Ben Hartman and Richard Perkins. It’s transforming the idea of what market gardening can be, with the techniques perfected by Jean-Martin Fortier. It’s emphasising the power of microbiology in farming, with the work of Elaine Ingham. Finally, it’s helping to reconnect communities by pulling people from all walks of life, from musicians to professional surfers, back into the agricultural fold, regenerating rural communities such as at Moy Hill Farm and through associations such as the reNature foundation.

So here’s hoping we learn from the lessons of the past, and stop making the same mistakes time and time ‘a-grain’!

Thanks for reading,

Tash