“Regeneration needs to be outcome based. So it needs to be about what are the outcomes of what is happening. Are the people regenerating? Is the soil regenerated? Is the food produced in a regenerative way? So this is what matters – what comes out of it. Not so much how you do it.” -Nick Steiner on Regenerative Agriculture
In this episode of EnvironMental Podcast we spoke with Nick Steiner, Founder of PermaNick and head of Coach Matching at Climate Farmers about regenerative farming! Regenerative ag is something that we have been hearing and talking about since the beginning of EnvironMental, but we have never actually had someone on the podcast that could speak to its scaling potential. We were beyond excited!
Why Regenerative Agriculture?
When we talked with soil expert, Erin Wiedmer we covered how regenerative ag can help improve the soil. Healthy soil means more nutrient dense plants. And a higher nutrient density means better health! In addition, regenerative agriculture restores ecosystems. It promotes the health of the planet through biodiversity – which includes welcoming insects and animals that run the fields. And, over time, it improves the health, longevity, and profits of the farm!
Is Regenerative Farming Scalable?
Climate Farmers is showing that regenerative agriculture scalable. It is more challenging than conventional ag, but that is because it works with the needs of the planet, and not just the highest possible profit. Farmers and the agricultural complex also haven’t spent the last 100 years focusing on perfecting how to scale regenerative agriculture. But it’s time to start!
And Nick told us about a company that is proving the ability to scale, Pasture Bird. They’re actually a chicken company, but the way they farm their chickens is regenerative. They built a chicken tractor and movable coops so that the chickens in their care can walk around on pastures during the day, go in their coops at night, and be transported to a new pasture when they’re ready. The chickens help to create a healthy ecosystem through naturally fertilizing soil while they protect the crops by eating pests.
Climate Farmers: Creating the Transition to Regenerative Agriculture
Our favorite part of the conversation was that Nick talked about the transition to regenerative agriculture. He didn’t say that people need to stop using synthetic fertilizers today ‘or else.’ Nor did he say that we need to end conventional farming right away. In fact, he was VERY clear that we need to get away from the dogmatic and extremist approach. We need to see this as a transition because it simply doesn’t work any other way. Farmers that try to quit synthetic chemicals or overwatering cold turkey find that the soil doesn’t grow as well and crops are more susceptible to pests.
When we start putting regenerative farming into the context of a transition, we also help farmers change the context of their individual farms. It reframes the conversation around farming by focusing on using less inputs and guiding the farm towards being part of the whole ecosystem rather than an entity on its own. As part of an ecosystem, farmers find that regenerative farming is more profitable than conventional agriculture because the Earth is just doing what she does best – growing. Even though there may be a lower yield on profitable plants, the input costs are so much lower that the profits are higher overall for farmers.
Who Do the Climate Farmers Work With?
Nick made an interesting point when he said that farmers are the early warning system for climate disruption. Smart farmers are seeing those warning signs and they’re making changes to hedge against things like drought and desertification. Regenerative practices are a big part of those changes.
Originally, the only farmers willing to take on the transition to regenerative agriculture were the small farms that were searching for a way to be more sustainable. They have a simpler time making changes because of their size and they often already have a lot of the principles in place.
After a while, larger more conventional farmers started coming forward. When they learn about the higher profit margins and lower inputs conventional farms want to make a change.
The Transition Starts with Communication
Conventional farming needs to change – but they won’t, or can’t, until we demand it. In this episode of EnvironMental, we asked Nick bluntly – what can we do to give more energy to the transition? And his answer was a bit surprising. He said that we need to show farmers that we’re willing to support them while they make changes for a sustainable future. Both through paying for the higher quality goods and by communicating with them both that we care and that we want them to make the change.
The best ways to communicate with your farmer is to connect with short distribution chains. Like chatting with your local CSA owners, heading to the farmers market, and connecting directly with local regenerative farms.
And don’t forget that you can grow at home! Even if you only have a small patio or a very small part of land, you can make your own mini-farm. It doesn’t take very much space, and it’s very rewarding
You can talk to Nick about growing your own food by connecting with him through his website: PermaNick