Feed the planet, improve the quality of the air and climate and make truly healthy food readily available in communities? I know it sounds too good to be true, but organic regenerative agriculture really can solve many of the problems we face today. And I visited Heal the Planet Farm in Missouri to learn about this way of farming firsthand.
My friend, author and Ancient Nutrition co-founder, Jordan Rubin, is at the forefront of using farming as a tool to create better personal and planetary health. His Heal the Planet Farm, an organic permaculture farm and regenerative retreat center is located in the base of the Ozark Mountains in Missouri, is taking organic farming to the next level.
Heal the Planet Farm: A Practice in Permaculture
Heal the Planet Farm is designed to create agricultural abundance while working with nature, not against it. Today, so many farms, even many organic ones, rely on growing monoculture crops using off-farm inputs.
Monoculture involves growing a lot of just one crop, in America, commonly corn or soy. It simply kills biodiversity. (1) And to make matters worse, chemical-based farming methods also rely on GMOs, pesticides and chemical fertilizers, while killing beneficial bugs and pollinators in the process.
To understand a smarter farming system better, I visited Jordan Rubin on his Heal the Planet Farm. He isn’t just practicing permaculture-centric, regenerative farming, but also sharing that knowledge with others, too. Heal the Planet Farm offers advanced training certifications in the areas of:
- Organic farming
- Holistic grazing
Jordan Rubin’s Heal the Planet Farm utilizes mixed-species rotational impact grazing. That means that a diverse group of animal species move together in a holistic grazing system that focuses on keeping the plants and the animals healthy. The idea is to monitor the forages in the pastures to make sure they’re not receiving too much pressure from the animals. It’s completely opposite of how most animals in America are raised: largely indoors, on an unhealthy grain diet and ingesting medications. The beauty of holistic grazing is that the different species eat different forages, and the nutrients they excrete are diverse and create and promote flourishing life in the soil.
Water buffalo, yaks, rare species of cattle, goats, sheep, donkeys and chickens function as a herd turn forage into topsoil gold, all without the use of off-farm inputs like chemical fertilizers or pesticides.
Other aspects of Heal the Planet Farm include:
- Keyline design
- No-till cover cropping in pastures
Jordan Rubin’s Heal the Planet Farm Goals
Jordan Rubin’s Heal the Planet Farm encompasses 350 certified organic acres within the 4,000-acre Beyond Organic ranch. The farmers there aim to take some of the worst soil on the planet — the joke is that nothing can grow in the Ozarks except rocks — and create a permaculture system that transforms the soil into a microbe-rich, carbon-sequestering topsoil. “If we can build healthy soil here, we can teach anyone to do it anywhere,” Jordan Rubin says.
In terms of soil-specific plans, the goal is to create soil with 10 percent organic matter — and an incredible 30 inches of topsoil. The land, if all goes as planned, will eventually have ability to hold 10 inches of water, which is key to not just soil fertility, but also flood management and the ability to produce robust food yields during droughts. (2)
The seven-year food production plan? To create:
- Organic polyculture orchards with up to 100 different species of fruit and nut trees, perennial vegetables and medicinal herbs
- Healthy soil with boosted fertility to support the orchards
- An orchard of 175,000 trees, shrubs and bushes within in guilds known as edible food forests
Instead of row crops of an annual crop like corn, Jordin Rubin’s Heal the Planet Farm is focusing on creating layered food forests that produce perennial crops from the forest floor to all the way to the top of the canopy.
This type of food system is ideal for animal and insect habitat, natural pest control, maximum crop yields and more nutritionally robust crops. And when food forests are created and managed correctly, you’ll actually get larger yields by putting in less and less work as the years go on. Here’s an example of a layered food forest:
- Overstory black cherry trees (top level)
- Hazelnut perennial shrubs (mid-level)
- Blackberry shrubs (lower level)
- Edible fungi/medicinal mushrooms (low level)
The Climate Connection
Building soil quality without trucking in all sorts of off-farm products is the centerpiece of regenerative agriculture. Jordan Rubin explains that instead of growing annual crops that require lots of trucked-in, off-farm soil soil amendments, permaculture principles focus on building soil fertility.
By growing organic, perennial crops, the soil is spared the abuse of tilling and is able to sequester carbon. In fact, regenerative agriculture is believed to be a potent tool to mitigate and possibly reverse the effects of climate change. (3)
Rebuilding the Broken Food System
Jordan Rubin and his colleagues at Heal the Planet Farm believe there is a path forward to provide nutrient-dense food for the entire planet by the year 2100. Going even further, their number crunching shows if American farmland alone could create enough food to feed the entire world. But it’s the decentralized permaculture farms producing nutrient-dense crops — not GMOs — that will make it happen.
Jordan Rubin believes minimizing food production’s reliance on fossil fuels, moving away from petrochemical-based fertilizers and pesticides and shifting out of a confined animal feeding operation (CAFO) animal production mindset is key. After all, pesticides on produce, including the dirty dozen, exposes millions of people to neurotoxic, carcinogenic and reproductive toxicant chemicals daily. (Did you know that a single strawberry sample tested came back positive for 20 different pesticides? Insane.) (4)
Even Norwegian researchers detected “excessive” glyphosate, the main ingredient in Roundup weedkiller, in U.S. soy crops. (5) Clearly, the current food system is rigged to benefit pharmaceutical, chemical and biotech corporations and not the health of U.S. citizens. An incredible 80 percent of antibiotics in the U.S. aren’t taken by people. They’re fed to farm animals often raised in awful, indoor crammed facilities (concentrated animal feeding operation or CAFO) to reduce disease risk and fatten them up faster. Doing this resulted in “superbug factories,” resulting in never-before-seen superbug in chicken threats, along with other dangerous antibiotic-resistant germs in animal products. (6)
But in my opinion, it feels like we’re in the midst of a huge shift, with more and more farms converting to organic. Now, the task at hand involves taking it to the next level: organic regenerative farming using more permaculture principles, like perennial health food crops.
Using regenerative farming practices will increase yields of healthy foods and improve the soil in a way that will help protect against the health effects of climate change. According to a 2014 Rodale Institute white paper, we could actually sequester more than 100 percent of current carbon dioxide emissions by switching to readily available and affordable organic management practices. (7)
Now, of course, a complete shift to regenerative agriculture would require monarchs, billionaires and government leaders to collaborate. But Heal the Planet Farm is an important starting point, and it’s encouraging that people from all over the world converge there to learn how to implement this way of farming back home.
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