Can Regenerative Agriculture and Biodiversity Really Help?
To regenerate our soils globally could help the soil reclaim its role as the planet's best carbon bank and a solid solution to removing excess carbon from the atmosphere. There are four main principles of soil health: increasing diversity, minimizing soil disturbance, keeping above ground covered and below ground active at all times, and animal integration. But first, let's look at how we got to a state of poor soil health and performance.
Biodiversity and Food Production
Turns out that variety is much more than the spice of life - it may be one of the essential requirements for life. Only in the last century have many farms converted to the single-crop, mono-culture approach that rebuffs our world’s natural synchronous character and destroys ecosystems. The systematic destruction of soils is not only a result of a lack of knowledge and individual willpower, but also a legacy promulgated by market pressures and federal policies that designed and perpetuated the industrial system we rely on today.
Diversified farming systems (DFS) dominated food production in the United States and other developed countries before industrialized agriculture systems progressively displaced them from the late 19th century onward. Efforts to maximize yields and lower costs by purchasing fertilizers, pesticides and seeds for single rather than multiple crops were the favored strategy without realizing the problems created when crop rotation is eliminated.
A Movement Back (Forward) to Diversified and regenerative Practices
But just as their ancestors did for thousands of years before them, greater amounts of farmers and ranchers are realizing that integrating multiple species into their operations is the most efficient, productive, and healthy form of land stewardship.
A multitude of animals belong on a farm because each serves a specific role in large-scale land health. For instance, cows, goats, sheep, pigs, chickens, and turkeys should all be there. You can even mix in some bison if you don’t have sheep (since they can spread harmful diseases to one another).
If DFS are to thrive again in the USA, policies and preferences must evolve to reward the ecological and social benefits of sustainable farming and landscape management. Farmers already dedicated to sustainable practices (e.g., organic and eco-agriculture farms) need robust support, and conventional farming landscapes need policy, regulatory, and market signals to shift progressively from degradation to diversification. There are six key levels of regenerative activities that can help return soils to a healthy, carbon-capturing state.
Level One - Ruminants
Cows, bison and large farmed game (elk, red deer and the like) are the key ruminant actors, responsible for aerating topsoil with their hooves while infusing their specialized, potent fertilizer into the land. Without them, grasslands couldn’t grow as robustly and regenerative agriculture wouldn’t exist.
Level Two - Weed eaters
Goats and sheep, while also ruminants, are like nature’s weed-eaters: they gobble up every weed or piece of brush they come across. They’re vital to sustaining healthy pastures and reclaiming areas that have been overtaken by woody and invasive vegetation.
Level Three- Pesticides
Next up, the chickens and turkeys. No matter what the industrialized operations that push for ‘vegetarian-fed’ chickens say, these poultry pickers play a crucial role in the fields by eating insects and scavenging through the droppings of the other animals. This doesn’t just give them a hearty diet — it helps debug pastures and orchards and spreads manure around while killing off dangerous parasites.
Level Four - Soil Tilling
Then, there’s the pigs. Though they’re not the cleanest bunch, they can also play a critical role in farm health by rooting (digging up roots with their snouts), which tills soils and helps clear land. Collectively, these animals form a pasture maintenance crew that no machine or chemical can match.
Level Five - Regenerative Practices
Diversification in crops rotations and regenerative practices furthers the soils health beyond the benefits realized by the variety of livestock.
Level Six - Diversity lowers Risk
Biodiversity, many believe, correlates to stability. If foreign invaders - plant, disease or animal come in to the ecosystem - it is easier to adjust, even if one species disappears from the food chain. It minimizes the "all our eggs in one basket" problem.
Two Documentaries Worth your Time
What can we do? Demand variety and government policy changes
Government policy has supported monoculture practices supporting prices of certain crops in a way that forces farmers to continue unhealthy soil practices. Changing the policies that that prevent beneficial change is critical.
And this is where the variety in our diets come in. Demand created for more diverse products energizes growth in the regenerative and sustainable practices utilized by producers and fisheries. But the diversity also impacts our own health.
People with a Varied Diet are More Healthy
People who eat the same foods over and over again tend to be less healthy than those who strive for variety, suggests recent research in the Journal of Nutrition. In the study, participants who consumed the widest range of foods were 21 percent less likely to develop metabolic syndrome—a cluster of conditions like high blood pressure, high blood sugar, or increased body fat that ups your risk for heart disease and diabetes—compared to those who stuck to their standbys.
The gut microbiome is incredibly important to your overall health, and it is best to have a varied population. The best way to achieve this variety in the gut? Consume a diet filled with assorted foods from all food groups. Not all fruits and vegetables are the same. Nutrients, fat type and content, protein type and content not to mention flavors and taste are different for all.
Just 15 annual crop plants provide 90 percent of the world's food energy intake, with three - rice, maize (corn) and wheat - making up two-thirds of this. Few perennial plants, best for regenerative farming, are used as food crops
We all have a vague awareness of the nutritional value of meats – fish being better than red meat, for example. The issue can be complicated, because all meats have pros and cons, research can come up with conflicting results, and studies can surprise us. For example, research suggests that, in terms of cholesterol alone, eating white meat chicken is as bad for you as eating beef.
6 ways to add Diversity to your Diet
It is clear that a varied diet is critically important to the health of the land, the seas, and our own physical and mental well-being.
Challenge Friends - Make it a game with friends to see who can try the most new types of foods
Swap Ingredients - Replace your regular ingredients with a similar food in your favorite recipes.
Cooking Classes - Classes are a great way to learn how to prepare unfamiliar foods
Meal Plan - Include one new food per week when you meal plan
Ethnic foods - Learn about foods you never knew existed
Dinner Parties - Its easier to try new foods with friends, so invite them for dinner
Ideas For Variety
To-Table is passionate about the benefits of biodiversity. First, we know that meals and gatherings are much more interesting with foods so unique and so good that they must be talked about. But we also believe it is critical to help build demand and vibrant markets for the diverse foods that make biodiversity's benefits to the environment and our own health possible. If navigating the choices is overwhelming or you just need ideas, To-Table wants to help. Please contact us if we can assist in any way.
Back in the 1940s and 1950s rabbit meat was as common for dinner as chicken is today. It is the meat that got many people and their children through the lean times of the Depression. Rabbit lost its popularity after Big AGRA, who wanted to maximize profits by using government endorsed chemicals and handouts, pushed the rabbit out of favor with producers and consumers alike. With its qualities of tastiness and good nutrition, rabbit has everything to satisfy gourmets who are concerned about their health. It has less calorie value than other meats and is almost cholesterol free with a wide range of nutrients.
Goat meat is the most popular of all variants of red meat consumed worldwide, it accounts for 65% of the total red meat consumed all over the world. Many countries in North Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia consume goat meat as a staple food choice. Goat meat is lower in fat than chicken, but higher in protein than beef. Goat meat outshines traditional meat sources in most areas: it's lower in calories, total fat, saturated fat and cholesterol. The low levels of saturated fat and cholesterol, combined with its high iron and protein content, make goat meat a good choice for anyone looking for a healthy red meat. It's a leaner, healthier choice when compared to equal serving sizes of chicken, beef and pork.
Bison get to roam free, which leads to a healthier diet. Bison can be a naturally healthier option because their diets aren’t filled with hormones or questionable feed. A 3-ounce portion of ground bison contains 152 calories and 7 grams of fat, only 3 of which are saturated. And the flavor is even richer than beef.
This may sound off-the-wall, but pheasant is a great alternative to your go-to meats. Pheasant and partridge contain a high level of iron, protein, vitamin B6 and selenium, which helps to protect cells from damage caused by free radicals.
Veal is lower in fat than most kinds of beef. In fact, 3 ounces of ground veal contain just 146 calories, while the same serving of ground pork is about 252 calories.
Lamb is an excellent source of zinc and iron, and it’s super rich in B vitamins. Lean lamb is a source of healthy, unsaturated fats. Forty percent of the fat in lean lamb is heart-healthy monounsaturated fat.
The health-promoting benefits associated with fish, especially fatty fish, which is high in omega 3 fatty acids, males it important to try to consume at least two servings of fish per week, according to the American Heart Association.
Fish is a healthy, high-protein food, especially important for its omega-3 fatty acids, which are essential fats that our bodies don’t produce on their own. Yet, there are some risks associated with eating fish on a regular basis. Contaminants such as mercury, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), and even radioactive isotopes find their way into ground, lake, and ocean water from our household and industrial waste, and then into the fish who live there. Diversifying away undue risk is an important strategy that enables one to also make good choices that minimize effects on endangered species of fish.
Celebrating and employing in our menus and cooking the enormous - almost limitless - variety of plants promotes health, ours and the planet's, in infinite ways. Herbs, fruits, vegetables, wild foraged fungi or plants often push meals from ordinary into gourmet categories. The minerals, the oils, the fiber, and the flavors enrich our lives.