I am convinced that we must work on several fronts in order to produce the food needed for 7 billion people in a regenerative way. First, let’s start with the idea that we already produce (conservatively estimated) twice the amount of food needed to feed everyone on the planet. Production isn’t the main issue, localization and distribution is. Secondly, we need to educate consumers to make healthful choices that will regenerate their own bodies. This will shift demand, to a degree, in order to deal with the economics of our food system. Thirdly, we have to get at scale in order to regenerate the landscape on a level that will have the requisite positive impact in 2-3 generations.
As several NRCS experts I am aware of point out, and something they deal with on a daily basis, we can’t preach from a soap box at American farmers and think we’re going to convince them to change their ways. We have to approach the American farmer as a partner in making needed changes in agriculture and not an enemy or obstacle. We must stop vilifying the majority of American farmers who are simply trying to earn a good living for their families, send their children to college, and save for retirement. Why must we partner with them? Scale is why.
We who are permaculture enthusiasts are not going to change the actual landscape to sequester enough carbon, regenerate enough soil, and purify enough water if we’re doing it 10-20 acres at a time. Yes, many people have had a change of heart about their own personal lives this way, but this pace of change won’t ramp up to the scale we need for this planet. If so, the needed change would have already taken place because tens of thousands of people are PDC certified. This is only a part of the total equation.
To get at the larger part of the equation, we must convince the owner or tenant of the broadacre landscape – the “conventional” farmer – to look through a different lens in order to view their landscapes differently. The key to gaining their attention is to demonstrate to them in real and actual examples, that they can increase their profitability by adopting a new approach to agriculture. Even operations such as Joel Salatin’s or Mark Shepard’s aren’t at enough scale to make the changes needed to reverse the negative effects. But, their operations are examples of a model that’s working to produce a good income while being largely regenerative.
Rather, I’d look to the farmers that Raymond Covino and Ray Archuleta are helping to make changes to adopt polyculture no-till cover crop systems with a diverse cash crop that include animals in the matrix. Gabe Brown is a prime example of someone who is stewarding thousands of acres with such a system. He is outcompeting his neighbors in productivity and profitability while holding water in the soil, eliminating synthetic inputs, building soil, sequestering carbon all while securing a future for his family.
We can make this happen, in my opinion, if we don’t lose the key audience in the dialog of regenerative agriculture – the conventional American farmer.