Creating food that is so healthy, it is medicine

In reality, organic only goes half way, a true “switch” to fully sustainable farming requires working with nature instead of combating and fighting nature.  The lack of focus on soil and the micro-organisms needed for healthy soil is the likely reason much of the organic food produced is not a nutritional uptick.

Organic is not enough

If you till, you kill

The media has recognized how newsworthy stories about chemicals, unhealthy food and/or damaging agriculture practices can be.  The spotlight on these issues gets brighter by the day.  Free press is a great thing and the public outcry has led to multiple movements driving towards healthier food and farming practices that are better for the environment.  Clearly the largest and most visible movement is organic farming where products are grown without the help of synthetic chemicals.  Certifying foods as organic has been a huge hit with consumers and demand has boomed with consumers willing to pay 2X or more for organic items.  Farmers have responded to this demand because the pricing regime it has created can be highly profitable.  However, organic remains less than 2% of agriculture land in North America.  In a nutshell, to be organic, a farm has to be chemical free as defined by the organic certification boards and there are numerous hurdles to meeting that definition.  The language below is the organic motto:

“Organic farmers do not use the synthetic fertilizers or pesticides—herbicides, insecticides, fungicides—that pollute our shared air, water and soil. According to the National Organic Standards Board, “Organic agriculture is an ecological production management system that promotes and enhances biodiversity, biological cycles and soil biological activity. It is based on minimal use of off-farm inputs and on management practices that restore, maintain and enhance ecological harmony.”  

The above statement is noble and its goals should be embraced.  However, my view is that while organic is good, it is not great and not enough. Organic farming does not focus on what really matters which is the health of the soil.  The charter of organic is to not apply synthetic chemicals and again this focus is a wonderful thing and a critical step but…..organic farmers can apply organic chemicals and they can till the soil.  Even if farmers use natural products that kill pests, weeds or diseases, the problem has not been solved, but rather the farmer is treating a symptom.  Treating symptoms versus fixing the problem is conventional farming.

In our opinion, to be successful the organic farmer should be focused on breaking the “downward” chemical cycle, not changing the type of chemicals applied. Additionally, and John Deere does not like this truism, but the facts are……if you till, you kill.  What you kill is the micro-organisms in the soil and as I will keep repeating, killing the microorganisms kills the nutritional value of the food and nature’s balance.  In reality, organic only goes half way, a true “switch” to fully sustainable farming requires working with nature instead of combating and fighting nature.  The lack of focus on soil and the micro-organisms needed for healthy soil is the likely reason much of the organic food produced is not a nutritional uptick.

Bare dirt does not sequester any carbon and scientist estimate that up to 20% of all harmful carbon emissions are due to agriculture practices.

We Can Do Better

A regenerative, soil focused, farming model will make an impact

Where the organic movement is consumer driven and based on “certification”, the second largest movement has been driven by farmers themselves who care about the health of their soil and it is the “no-till, cover crop” movement.  This movement focuses on soil health and while not certified, it is a huge up-tick to conventional farming.  As the name implies, the two key features of this movement are that the farmers do not till the soil (they drill seeds into the ground to plant) as well as they utilize cover crops to shield the soil.  The cover crops will both retain water and create natural fertilizers as the cover crops live and decompose.  One of the thought leaders of this movement is Gabe Brown in South Dakota and he is a wonderful spokesperson.

No till plantings with cover crops does build organic matter in the soil and does build micro-organisms as well as a bunch of other great things.  As it relates to chemicals, building micro-organisms and always keeping a living root in the ground (cover crops) builds nutrients in the soil which reduces (potentially eliminates) the need for chemicals as well as reduces (potential eliminates) the need for pesticides, all while creating a soil structure that retains water.  Unlike organic farming, there are few stones to throw at no-till farming other than it is usually a long journey.

To get to a spot where chemicals can be eliminated may take 20 years (like Gabe Brown’s example).  In fact, many if not most farmers in the dry land wheat zones do some form of “no-till with cover crop” which usually means they leave up their wheat stubble during the fallow year and seed winter wheat into this cover crop in the fall. However, this simple no-till winter wheat farming process is still sprayed and utilizes massive amount of synthetic fertilizer plus pesticides and fungicides so the “no-till” benefit is mostly destroyed.   I am a fan of no-till and cover crops in simple or intensive doses.  The main issue I see is that the lag time it takes to truly get impactful results is too long.  As such the embracement is low (even Gabe Brown’s neighbors still conventionally farm) and back to my mission statement, I am looking for a solution that can be widely embraced.  Creating a sustainable farming movement centered on the principles elucidated on this website is the only way to inspire a significant positive change in food production.

No till plantings with cover crops does build organic matter in the soil and does build micro-organisms as well as a bunch of other great things.

One of the thought leaders of this movement is Gabe Brown in South Dakota and he is a wonderful spokesperson.

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Sandy Arrow Ranch
Declaration of Independence (From Chemicals)

By Eric Dillon, Owner

(revised: Feb. 2017)