By Leah Zerbe
When you close your eyes and think of the ideal farm, what do you see? Rolling hills, lush crops, happy farm animals grazing on green grass under blue skies?
The truth is most of our food today doesn’t arise from such an idealistic scene, but there’s a growing movement to change that.
And at the heart of this shift is regenerative agriculture, a farming system that proves what’s growing and grazing above the surface is only part of the story. What lies beneath in the soil — a balanced, complex web of beneficial microorganisms — is where the real magic occurs.
What Is Regenerative Agriculture?
“Regenerative agriculture” describes farming and grazing practices that help stall or reverse climate change by rebuilding soil organic matter and restoring degraded soil biodiversity — resulting in both carbon drawdown and improving the water cycle.
In short, this farming system adopts principles and practices that aim to rehabilitate and enhance the entire farm ecosystem by placing the prime focus on soil health. Water management is also a key feature. According to the Rodale Institute, a pioneering organic regenerative research farm in Pennsylvania, it’s a way of farming that “improves the resources it uses, rather than destroying or depleting them.”
Think of it as a more closed-loop system that builds resilience practices into the farming plan to reduce the need for energy-intensive inputs that often pollute and create health threats. Instead of exhausting the soil using intensive farming methods like monoculture (growing the same crop), excessive tilling,
Recent data suggests that we could sequester 100 percent of current annual CO2 emissions with a widespread switch to regenerative organic agriculture. This is huge for not just reducing air pollution, but for the economy, too. Recent estimates suggest crop losses, flooding, drought and infrastructure issues related to climate change could cost the global economy $7.9 trillion by 2050.
With regenerative agriculture, we don’t have to wait for some technology to be developed to deal with the many impacts of climate change. We just have to go back to our roots …
Combining the practices below helps build a more resilient farm with increased biodiversity, enriched soil, improved water quality and enhanced ecosystem services. Together, this system is better able to withstand harsh storms and droughts.
Here are some other classic hallmarks of regenerative organic farming practices:
- Enhanced crop rotations
- Cover crops (and retaining cover crop residue)
- Holistic grazing and livestock management
- Building biodiversity in soil and plant species
- Conservation tillage/organic no-till
- Complexity and biodiversity
These practices help build up ideal levels of beneficial microbes in the soil, including mycorrhizal fungi. Underneath the surface of the soil, there’s a delicate dance and interconnection unfolding between this soil inhabitant, carbon and plant and soil nutrition. As it turns out, mycorrhizal fungi helps facilitate nutrient exchange for plants while playing a key role in the carbon cycle.
Parallels to Gut Health
If all of this talk of beneficial microbes is reminding you of probiotics and gut health, you’re onto something! Just like our digestive tract requires a balanced array of different microbes in the gut to function properly, the same idea holds true for the soil.
And just like the modern American diet is shown to diminish healthy probiotic populations in the gut, modern farming practices have decimated key microorganisms needed to maintain soil health and nutrient levels.
Healthy soil (and exposure to it) is so important that Ancient Nutrition co-founder Dr. Josh Axe wrote an entire book on the topic called Eat Dirt. That’s one reason Ancient Nutrition developed soil-based, or SBO Probiotics. These are in keeping with the same beneficial bacteria strains our great-grandparents ingested when they’d pull a carrot straight out of the soil, give it a quick dusting off and eat it right there in the garden. We are made for these microbes, just as the soil thrives in regenerative agriculture systems.
Ancient Nutrition's Growing (!) Commitment
Axe and fellow Ancient Nutrition co-founder Jordan Rubin are walking the talk when it comes to investing in regenerative agriculture.
The company leaders own and operate the 4,000-acre Beyond Organic Ranch and Heal the Planet Farm in Missouri. Heal the Planet Farm uses permaculture practices to create regenerative food forests in concert with holistic grazing and livestock management to build soil organic matter, capture carbon and transform the environment.
One company regenerative practice to highlight is its practice of composting all of the accessible waste material and by-product from manufacturing its fermented collagen ingredient and using it to grow crops — some of which become ingredients in other Ancient Nutrition products.
But the founders say this is just the beginning, and they look forward to even greater regenerative farming initiatives to come.
With a B.A. in journalism from Temple University and a M.S. in exercise science from California University of Pennsylvania, Leah Zerbe covers health news and functional fitness topics. She’s also a certified personal trainer and corrective exercise specialist through the National Academy of Sports Medicine and is a certified yoga teacher through Yoga Alliance. Leah resides on her family’s organic farm in Pennsylvania.