This year, I’ve shifted most of my energy to covering climate change. Over the past few years, views and positions have shifted in this country. Even those who deny that man is fueling the climate crisis now acknowledge there’s a problem. Americans finally feel its weight first hand: the unhealthy air, the unrelenting heat, the rains and floods, the droughts… the burden of these natural disasters has previously been borne by people in other, usually less economically and politically stable, parts of the world. This summer in the Pacific Northwest, I packed my toddler, some food/clothes, and drove to the library turned cooling center and then to a friend’s house because we could no longer bear the heat inside our home (our air conditioner having given out past 100 F). I felt anxiety and dread, a sinking feeling that this was going to be the norm for years to come. We were lucky. We had a place to go. At least 600 people died as a result of the June heat in Oregon and Washington, and at least 400 more died in Canada. Again, people in other parts of the world have faced similar disasters for years… we were just unwilling to listen and acknowledge the severity of the situation.
At Civil Eats, I write about the intersection of agriculture and the environment. Farmers are the closest to the climate crisis because they work with soil and plants daily and their livelihoods are tied with Mother Nature. Many farmers are now extremely anxious and depressed about their futures. Indigenous and BIPOC farmers have for millennia worked in concert with nature, practicing a type of farming that sustains the environment where they live. Over the past two decades, innovative white farmers have borrowed from these ideas, launching a movement of regenerative agriculture in the U.S. that could potentially revolutionize American farming — and, perhaps, make a dent in slowing down climate change. The book Dirt to Soil by Gabe Brown, one of the pioneers of this most recent movement, is a telling reminder of just how large the gap is between extractive agricultural practices that deplete the soil (and farming communities) and those practices that aim to restore soil life and farming.
If you are new to regenerative agriculture, I wrote a primer to address everything from regenerative labels to the credibility of regenerative climate claims. Front and center of the discussion around regenerative agriculture is the question of how this “new” movement is based on cultural theft and fails to invite indigenous and other farmers of color to the table. To many indigenous farmers, regenerative agriculture isn’t the revolutionary movement it claims to be because it simply borrows practices from indigenous cultures, but isn’t willing to take on a cultural/systemic shift that could really make a change. We still want our cars, our cell phones, our cheap food, and our power.
Still, regenerative agriculture — especially when understood as a shift in how we view farming, the environment, and each other — holds great potential in mitigating climate change. Indigenous people have powerful solutions if only we are willing to listen. Increasingly, more American farmers are open to a shift in practices (though not necessarily worldviews). Even Big Food companies have jumped on the regenerative agriculture bandwagon — including the polluting dairy industry — but corporate interest comes with caveats and dangers, as my stories for Civil Eats have demonstrated. Regen ag is also tied with an increased interest in carbon markets — a way for farmers to monetize the carbon dioxide their soil/plants suck out of the atmosphere. But, as you can read in my story, that solution is far from perfect. But few solutions are. I hope the stories I write can move the conversation forward and push all of us from a complacent, hopeless position to one of openness and readiness to change, speak out, and act.