Know Farmers, Know Food

Healthy food starts with healthy soils and healthy soils have the potential to cool the climate.
Jackie Eshelman teaching a 5-Day Ecological Outcome Verification™ course at the Center for Regenerative Agriculture at Jalama Canyon Ranch. There are people sitting on the grass all around listening to her speak with rolling green hills in the background.
Jackie Eshelman teaching a 5-Day Ecological Outcome Verification™ course at the Center for Regenerative Agriculture at Jalama Canyon Ranch. Photo Credit: White Buffalo Land Trust

You might have seen the green and white bumper sticker proclaiming, “No Farms, No Food.” It’s true—almost all of our food begins on the ground, from the grains that become bread to trees bearing fruit and the grasses and grains livestock eats. And that food starts on farms, from small, local businesses that sell into our farmers markets to massive operations with national brands in grocery stores.

We know healthy foods start with healthy soils and that healthy soils have the potential to cool the climate. That’s why Green America’s Center for Sustainability Solutions has been working with farmers and companies for 10 years to help them understand how much the soil beneath our feet and the crops grown to feed us can protect our climate, soil, and future.

Healthy soil, full of microorganisms, can draw down carbon dioxide, one of the potent gases that causes global warming, into the soil, where it stays, as long as the soil quality and health is maintained. Deep root structures within soil can hold water, making droughts less detrimental, while providing soil structure that protects from violent and fast storms arising from climate change. These healthier soils can also provide consumers with foods that are higher in vitamins and minerals, improving human health.

Green America’s Center for Sustainability Solutions houses our Soil and Climate Alliance (SCA), which brings together a network of farmers, food businesses, and soil scientists whose goal is to build an agricultural system that is resilient, equitable, and inclusive while also improving water quality, biodiversity, food security, and nutrition. All of these goals can be achieved by implementing regenerative agriculture* practices throughout the agricultural supply chain.

*What is Regenerative Agriculture?

Regenerative agriculture is an approach to agriculture that focuses on improving and revitalizing soil health. This movement is gaining momentum at a time when it is greatly needed. Poor soil stewardship has led to a troubling decrease in arable topsoil available for food production. Conventional farming practices have stripped carbon from the soil, for generations. Now it is time to put it back, to rebuild the soil’s health and use it as a carbon sink, to take in excess carbon contributing to climate change. Regenerative agriculture is the only climate solution that reduces carbon emissions, sequesters carbon, and provides greater climate resiliency.

The best way to enact this strategy is through truly regenerative agriculture practices including composting, rotating livestock, cover cropping, and not tilling soil—which all allow carbon sequestration to occur in the soil. Farmers may also use agro-forestry (incorporating trees), crop rotation, and other holistic-minded practices to create healthy ecosystems and soil.

Regenerative agriculture is a holistic, living-systems approach to growing food that restores soil health, biodiversity, and water cycles. It not only draws carbon from the atmosphere and puts it back into the soil, regenerative practices reduce carbon emissions and make farms more resilient to climate change, protecting our food supply. Plus healthy soils grow healthier, more nutritious food for all of us. Regenerative agriculture can be more profitable for farms and can create jobs in rural communities.

Another initiative at the Center for Sustainability Solutions is our Soil Carbon Initiative (SCI). This program, which specifically addresses soil health, sprouted from the work of the Soil and Climate Alliance, and was developed along with partners at major climate nonprofits and food companies, including The Carbon Underground, Danone North America, Ben & Jerry’s, MegaFood, and over 150 other stakeholders.

The Soil Carbon Initiative provides independent, third party verification of regenerative agriculture outcomes, including: soil health, soil carbon (the global-warming causing gas, carbon, being sequestered in the soil), biodiversity, improved water use and quality, climate resiliency and greater farm and rural prosperity. Within the next few years, you’ll see SCI’s “Soil and Climate Health Initiative Verified” label on products in markets near you!

SCI is made possible by the expertise and input of nearly 50 farmers across 18 states that have enrolled nearly 24,000 acres and counting in our 2022 Go-To-Market Pilot program—when fully implemented across their farms and farming networks, over 3 million acres will be involved in SCI. These farmers have raised their hands to put the SCI methodology to the test and prove its potential.

Now, Meet the Farmers

Many of us like to get to know our food well, choosing items carefully for recipes and reading labels on packaging. But, how well can we know our food and its impacts on the environment and our health if we don’t know our farmers or their practices?

In this issue, we get to know a few of the farmers from Green America’s SCA and SCI programs—from farmers who have transitioned their multi-generation, even multi-century family farms to regenerative management, to farmers who left big cities to try farming just a few years ago. These farmers live across the country and grow a variety of crops and livestock. Their farms are as varied as their stories.

We also tell the stories of gardeners who are part of our Climate Victory Gardens* program. Like SCA and SCI, these gardeners use regenerative principles to take care of their soils and grow healthy plants, but instead of managing hundreds of acres of crops, they use their home and community gardens to feed their families and neighbors. We invite you to get inspired by their stories, and if you haven’t, start your own garden. All of our Climate Victory gardeners said the same thing—it’s not important what you grow, what’s important is that you start. Just put the first plant in the ground and get going.

*What Are Climate Victory Gardens?

Throughout WWI and WWII, 20 million home gardeners produced 40% of the fresh produce in the US, as part of a wartime effort known as victory gardens. Now, we’re using Climate Victory Gardens as a way to reconnect with our world and history for a better tomorrow—while using principles of regenerative agriculture to heal the soil and climate.

Anyone can grow a Climate Victory Garden to heal the soil and grow their own food. As of February 2023, nearly 15,000 gardens, from tiny home gardens to urban community gardens, have joined our campaign, drawing down 4,680 tons of carbon per year, eliminating emissions from 38 million driving miles.

Climate Victory Gardens build on historic achievements, but it is also a campaign that confronts injustices. Food shortages during WWII that led to the victory gardens program were in part due to the incarceration of over 120,000 Japanese Americans in internment camps. Over 6,100 farms were wrongfully taken from Japanese Americans, in part due to resentment from white farmers and corporate agribusinesses wanting to control those successful farms.

While fighting against injustices continues, learning from the past is important for the future. Our Climate Victory Gardens program works toward justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion in our programming and outreach. Our program highlights gardens nationwide that are helping to create food security and community in marginalized neighborhoods.

From Green American Magazine Issue