There is no doubt that one of the most important things you can do to take control of your health is to start growing some, or most, of your own food.
Much of the previous knowledge about how begin doing this that’s been passed down generation to generation has been lost. But I’m now sharing a course I believe will help you become an expert food producer with just a few online sessions. The cost to enroll in the course goes directly to non-profits that are dedicated to growing regenerative agriculture.
Industrial farming, which relies on chemicals and ecology-disruptive techniques such as monocropping and tilling has created a ripple effect of unsustainable situations in less than 70 years, and evidence suggests we will not make it until the end of the century if we continue along the same destructive path.
For example, an estimated 80% of soil carbon in heavily farmed areas has already been lost1 due to destructive plowing, overgrazing and the use of soil-destructive, carbon-depleting chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Other closely related problems are the loss of soil fertility and biodiversity, both of which are also directly related to the loss of natural carbon in the soil.
In 2014, Maria-Helena Semedo, deputy director general of natural resources for the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, warned that at the current rate of topsoil degradation, all the world’s topsoil will be gone in less than 60 years.2
Today, that means we may only have about 55 years left before we’re looking down the proverbial barrel, as without topsoil you cannot grow food no matter how many chemicals you add to it.
The good news is there’s a viable answer to these problems, and it hinges on the widespread implementation of regenerative agriculture and biodynamic farming. This is why I support Regeneration International. There’s also a wonderful nonprofit organization called “Kiss the Ground,”3 which aims to inspire “participation in global regeneration, starting with soil.” Kiss the Ground offers four distinct areas of education, focused on:4
- Advocacy — The Advocacy program teaches you to become a powerful voice in the regenerative movement
- Farmland — The Farmland program provides scholarships for regenerative farmers and ranchers, and funding for training and soil testing to producers transitioning toward regenerative farming methods
- Education — The Education program includes educational resources and online training for anyone interested in applying regenerative methods in their yard, community garden or farm
- Media — The Media program is “for anyone interested in learning, contributing or sharing information … about how humanity can build healthy soil … and steward our planet through short films, campaigns, documentaries, books, social media, blogs and public speaking”
Kiss the Ground is now enrolling students for a brand-new online teaching program for those wanting to learn how to garden regeneratively, called Regenerative Gardening and Living with Farmer Rishi.5
This online and in-person program — which will run from June 18 through July 31, 2019 — is designed to teach you how to apply regenerative principles to your home garden and general lifestyle, regardless of your current skill set.
As an added bonus, while you’ll get the best training available for a very reasonable price, you’ll also support not just one but two important nonprofit groups with your enrollment fee, as 20% of your fee will be donated directly to Regeneration International.
Program materials for this seven-week course are recorded and posted online weekly. You can either enroll and participate entirely online, or enroll online and participate in person if you’re in the West Los Angeles, California, area.
Classroom meetings will be held once a week for two hours. Three additional three-hour meetings will be held at a local garden. If doing the course online, you have the option of participating in real time, or viewing the recordings at your convenience. As detailed on Kiss the Ground’s program page:6
“This course will cover how to think about, planting seeds, improving soil fertility, composting, and more — regardless of how much space you have! Plus, get ready to dive into food sourcing, fermentation and how to use food to heal and work towards optimal health …
The goal of this course is to educate and inspire everyone to create gardens with the power to regenerate land, bodies, minds, and spirits. This gardening course will provide the fundamental ideas and practices necessary to participate in regeneration at any scale and in any location — from indoor and balcony gardens to suburban home gardens to public landscapes.
The course will define and describe what regeneration means as a cultural concept, and demonstrate how that practice can be reflected tangibly in a garden setting. Some key concepts to be explored include:
- Regenerative Garden Design
- Soil + Human Health
- Soil Regeneration
- Water Cycle Regeneration
- Trees and Perennials
- Regenerative Annual Gardening”
There are many reasons to garden regeneratively, even if you only have a small amount of space. Industrial agriculture promotes a wide variety of growing environmental and health problems, all of which can be solved by widespread implementation of regenerative methods that nurture soil and prevent water waste. What we need is really a new mindset, and each and every one of us plays a role in promoting a healthier way of thinking about food production.
Growing your own food is also an important key for food security and the prevention of malnutrition. The industrialization and centralization of food production was done to increase farmers’ capacity to grow more food at a lower cost. Unfortunately, a core principle was lost in this efficiency equation — that of food quality and nutrient density.
Tests reveal the nutrient content of foods has dramatically declined since the introduction of mechanized farming in 1925.
As just one example, research by August Dunning, chief science officer and co-owner of Eco Organics, reveals that to receive the amount of iron you used to get from one apple in 1950, by 1998 you had to eat 26 apples; today you have to eat 36, and this is a direct consequence of industrial farming techniques and use of chemicals that destroy soil quality by killing essential microbes.
We now know that, just as the human gut microbiome plays integral roles in human health, so the soil microbiome influences nutrient uptake and plant health. Soil microbes even help regulate the invasion of pests.
Regenerative gardening and farming also helps prevent the spread of foodborne illnesses and drug-resistant bacterial infections.7 As I reported two years ago, the widely-used herbicide chemical glyphosate has been linked to growing antibiotic resistance by priming pathogens to develop resistance more readily.
Many other agricultural chemicals also destroy crucial soil microbes and prevent carbon sequestration. Importantly, widespread implementation of regenerative agriculture may even help stabilize climate and rainfall patterns by preventing environmental pollution.8
Rule No. 1 for growing nutrient-dense food and reestablishing a healthy ecosystem is building healthy soil. There are five basic regenerative principles that will allow you to do this, and these rules apply whether you’re working a farm or tending a small vegetable garden in your backyard:
- Avoid disturbing the soil microbiome — The less mechanical disturbance the better, which means no tillage, herbicides, pesticides or fungicides
- Protect the soil’s surface — Use cover crops, untreated lawn clippings, mulch and wood chips to maintain soil biology, prevent water evaporation and lower soil temperature, which is particularly important on hot days
- Diversify your crops — Having a diverse array of plant life is essential to healthy soil, and cover crops help fulfill this requirement
- Maintain living roots in the ground as long as possible — Growing something at all times is key to soil vitality, so be sure to plant a cover crop after you harvest your vegetables
- Integrate livestock and other animals, including insects — To mimic the impact of wild herds, regenerative farmers will pasture chickens, cows, lambs, pigs and other animals to benefit the soil and ensure a highly nutrient-dense finished product. While many homeowners cannot keep farm animals on their property, you can easily attract pollinators and predator insects to ward off garden pests by including lots of flowering plants.
As growing numbers of people are becoming excited about local food, healthier eating and greener cities, there’s renewed interest in the development of urban agriculture around the country. However, it’s important to educate yourself about your city (including your homeowner’s association), state and federal ordinances9 before you begin.10
Zoning laws and ordinances are constantly changing, so you really need to do your due diligence in planning your urban garden. Common garden and yard care laws to consider include the following:
Regulations on fence and hedge heights, and length of grass
Restrictions on front yard food gardens11
Watering requirements and limits
Regulations pertaining to the protection of wildlife
Regulations on weeds and invasive species
Farm animal ordinances, including beekeeping12
Regulations on rainwater collection
Gardening-related business activities, should you consider selling any of your produce
Hell strips — This refers to the section of land between the street and the sidewalk. By and large, this land belongs to the city, but must be maintained by the homeowner; oftentimes, you’re not allowed to remove or damage plants or trees growing here
A policy reference guide to community gardening can be found on PublicHealthLawCenter.org. Below are a few other resources that may assist you in your quest as well. Whether you want to plant organic veggies, a berry patch, or a much larger edible landscape project, make sure you are proceeding within the legal guidelines before you start, in order to avoid major headaches down the road.
- American Community Gardening Association (ACGA) is devoted to community gardening and greening up communities across the U.S. and Canada
- APA Urban Agriculture offers information about urban agricultural zoning and lists a good number of government initiatives, plans and ordinances that are up for vote across the U.S.
- Food Not Lawns is a sustainability movement focused on getting rid of lawns in favor of more ecofriendly alternatives; also has chapters in nearly every state across the U.S.
- IOBY.org provides a primer on how to turn vacant lots into community gardens
- To find a municipal law lawyer to help you, see FindLaw.com
While you can certainly set up a garden and learn regenerative methods through books and online resources of various kinds, learning the ins and outs from professionals through structured classes can significantly cut your learning curve and speed your progress.
I’m really excited about Kiss the Ground’s online programs, and I hope you’ll take advantage of this Early Bird special. Again, the Regenerative Gardening and Living course will provide you with 23 hours’ worth of education, covering all the key basics you need to know. The course starts June 18, 2019, and runs through July 31, 2019.
You can also feel good knowing that 20% of your course fee will be donated to Regeneration International, a nonprofit organization with a mission “To promote, facilitate and accelerate the global transition to regenerative food, farming and land management for the purpose of restoring climate stability, ending world hunger and rebuilding deteriorated social, ecological and economic systems.”