All sorts of recepticles can serve as plant pots. Here, grown lettuce stands beside seedlings.

After completing a very interesting course on Designing a National Multi-dimensional Poverty Index provided via the Learning For Nature portal, I signed up for The Need To Grow, Impact Kit after watching a film of the same title, “The Need To Grow” by Rob Herring and Ryan Wirick that’s narrated and produced by Rosario Dawson. I urge you to watch this very inspiring movie as soon as possible. It teaches the alternatives to destructive agriculture and just in case you think I’m studying stuff quite randomly, this has everything to do with reducing poverty, starting with my own! More on that later.

Natural pest control, Anolis carolinenis on guard amongst the cut and come again greens.

The Need To Grow is a very topical movie, the subheading “Save The Soil, Save The World” pretty well sums up one of the most important challenges facing human civilization, we have only about 60 years left of conventional farming before our soils are exhausted and will no longer be able to support our population. Examples of ruined soils abound unfortunately, The Dust Bowl of Mid-west USA is probably the most famous example, what is less known is that in many areas rice paddy fields are also becoming less productive due to acidification. It’s not just an issue of available moisture, though that is an important issue too, modern agriculture also has the dubious distinction of having depleted a whole sea, The Aral Sea in Central Asia.

Why is modern agriculture in such trouble? This is because conventional farming is an intensively extractive boom and bust affair, and the soil quality cannot be maintained indefinitely by inputs of chemical fertilizers. Ploughing introduces oxygen into the soil and triggers bursts of fertility as oxygenated soil life depletes existing carbon within the soil and along with these organic nutrients, minerals too are depleted, so that after so many years use, conventional farming leaves the soil in poor condition requiring farmers to invest ever more in fertilizers and amendments and pesticides in return for diminishing crops. As the soil becomes nutrient-poor, plants weaken against pests and diseases, even as these pests develop immunity to the poisons used against them. The soil structure itself collapses as the organic material is removed and the soil can no longer effectively serve as a carbon sink ( a store for carbon), soils dry out and become hydrophobic (water-repelling) hard-pan, they cease to absorb water easily. It runs off making flooding worse and turning rivers brown. This turbidity reduces biodiversity in the rivers. Along with the soil particles, agri-chemical fertilizers and pesticides poison the rivers and cause big dead zones in coastal waters.

In addition, it is the carbon-based humous in the soil that helps soak up and retain available moisture and with its depletion crops will wither without the support of unsustainable ground-water extraction.

To support degenerative farming means the world’s aquifers are being depleted faster than they can be replenished. It isn’t as if farmers are deliberately being bad (they’re not, they’re very efficient at what they do and they’re doing what they’ve been encouraged to do by governments, silver-tongued salesmen and the markets), nor are they trying to destroy their livelihoods. However, that is what is happening, and in some countries, like India, where farming communities have large families, the inheritance system means that each generation is given less and less land to farm! It’s a recipe for poverty.

The Solutions

Anyway, enough about the problems, the Need To Grow is about the solutions. In the film, one of the most poignant factoids given is that with just 1 % increase in organic content each acre can hold an additional 25000 gallons of rain water. Mulching and adding compost makes good sense. Changes must come to agriculture and many people think that the changes can be very positive, not just for the soil, but for all of us that depend upon it.

If farmers practice regenerative agriculture and put more carbon into the ground than they extract, then farming alone could help effectively combat climate change. It would be a superb accomplishment! If incentive payments were provided for regenerative agriculture and destructive farming was dis-incentivised, then I’m sure people would happily switch to the safer systems.

But how do we farm regeneratively? It’s all about building soils up, rather than depleting them and running them down. I remember once being told that soil should be considered a non-renewable resource and found that to be a rather dubious assertion because I was familiar with my grandfather’s compost heap! I knew that he was building soil from vegetable and weed waste. I didn’t know it at the time but it was ecological gardening.

To the makers of this new film, the whole concept of waste is erroneous and well, not to put too fine a point on it … wasteful. The ingenious creation of a closed-loop farming system in Oregon effectively eliminates waste. I don’t want to steal their thunder. Watch the film, it’s currently free, and enjoy watching the mystery unfold! There is also a delightful thread within the narrative of a school girl who started a successful seed library and struggled for national reform of the Girl guide fund-raising cookies.

The Need To Grow Impact Kit includes some very nice ‘How to’ instructional videos that encourage us to start our own community seed libraries and to grow and eat fresh produce for our personal and planetary health. I’m studying how to garden regeneratively now using the Impact Kit. My spell-checker isn’t familiar with this ‘r’ adverb, revealing this blind-spot in modern thinking perhaps?

Along with the videos the providers include some super stand-alone courses, I’m currently enjoying “How to grow $400 worth of vegetables in 4o days! It’s an outstanding compilation of practical horticultural advice. From The Harvest Club

Watch this space for more articles about regenerative gardening! I encourage you to try it too.