Lauren Tucker is a powerful and passionate woman. She grew up in a small town in West Virginia, surrounded by the natural beauty of the Blue Ridge Mountains. There, where the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers meet, she first witnessed the vibrant colors and life force of Mother Nature. Though living juxtaposed by conventional corn and soy farms, two crops that continue to destroy our precious planet and pivotal topsoil. When Lauren grew up and began to understand the danger our planet is in, she devoted her life to educating humans on all the ways we can protect and harmonize with nature.
What was your first memory of seeing landscapes degrade?
In high school a lot of the farmland in and surrounding our town was developed to build large homes for working professionals who mostly worked in Washington, D.C.. One of the first things my best friend and I did when I got my first car at age sixteen was run around with an old film camera taking photos of the beautiful land being sold and developed – mourning the change all around us.
Was this the moment you realized the ecological issues and disconnect we have to our land, or was there another instance?
I can’t remember one moment, but really it was a deep awakening over time. I grew up learning about recycling and endangered species. My friends and I in the second grade had a club called “The Earth Savers Club” - we made badges (like the Girl Scouts) and posters about “living lightly” and “doing less harm” and encouraged our parents to recycle. As a child, I understood that the source of environmental destruction was disconnection from our land. I’m not sure how I knew that, I just saw it all around me. And my whole adult life I have searched for the most impactful ways to reconnect people to the planet and have us develop a culture around loving Mother Earth.
When did you learn about agriculture and the difference between conventional and traditional/organic methods?
Growing up I didn’t understand anything about agriculture. It wasn’t until I traveled and lived in Ghana, West Africa as part of a college study abroad program that I volunteered on an agroforestry farm and started to fall in love with traditional farming methods. I lived in New Orleans in my early twenties and started to get interested in backyard gardens. And by the time I moved to California ten years ago, I was ready to learn everything I could about farming, soils, and land connection.
Did becoming a mother catalyze some of these radical shifts in your lifestyle?
For sure! As soon as I was pregnant I became obsessed with healthy food and I started to spend hours (no joke 1-2 hours) roaming grocery store aisles reading labels and began shopping more at farmers markets. Finding the best quality food to eat and feed my growing baby became an obsession. I worked in a farm store selling fresh produce to the community in the small northern California town, Healdsburg, and I ate the most delicious produce while pregnant and once my son was born. It was at Love Farms that for the first time I started to ask questions about what makes healthy food healthy. In many ways this is where my deep journey with soil health started.
Other than learning about and seeking healthy food, the other shift that becoming a mother catalyzed for me was slowing down. I’m a naturally speedy person with tons of energy and ideas. I’m happy to work all day on a project and keep going until it’s complete. Having a child forced me to slow down. When my son was young there were full days where all we could do was take a hike or look at the grass grow or discover how ants walk on forest paths. I’m so grateful to be a mother; it’s forced me to be more present, taught me so much about balance, and is the best way to learn about deep love and discover what areas of self-development to focus on.
Now you are part of and co-founded one of our favorite advocacy and educational nonprofits “Kiss the Ground” - can you tell us what that is and what you guys do?
Kiss the Ground was created to educate the importance of healthy soils and inspire people to participate in its regeneration. Soils are intimately linked to the health of people and planet. When we care for soil biology, we allow for above ground biodiversity (plants, animals, and humans) to thrive. Healthy soils grow healthy food, retain more water, are more resilient during extreme weather events (drought, flood, fire), and naturally have the ability to sequester carbon through photosynthesis. Soils are the largest pool of carbon on the planet and we can move a significant amount of the carbon that is out of place in the atmosphere back into the soil where it belongs (check out www.thesoilstory.com for a short video we made on this topic).
Currently we have three main programs: Leadership, Farmland, and Media. In our Leadership program we provide education for existing and emerging leaders, so they can participate in, advocate for and help build and grow awareness about regenerative agriculture. We teach online courses and workshops for leaders, gardeners, and businesses and create free resources including middle school curriculum, a food purchasing guide, and case studies. In our Farmland program we support farmers who want to transition to healthy soil management practices. When a producer enters the program, we support them for three years with soil testing, paying for the cost of attending an educational course, and quarterly support in the form of educational webinars and consulting. In our Media program we create beautiful, inspiring, and easy to understand short form content and resources like films, webinars, infographics, and blogs. The goal of our media is to build more awareness about healthy soils and regenerative agriculture and in turn help achieve our two main goals: by 2025 our goal is to train 25,000 leaders and 5,000 farmers, building both grassroots support and consumer understanding and the capacity of farmers to care for their soils.
That’s amazing! So how did Kiss the Ground actually start?
My friend Ryland Engelhart, an owner of Café Gratitude, was invited to speak about their business model of “sacred commerce” at a conference in New Zealand. When he was there, he watched a panel of scientists and a farmer trainer speak about the state of global warming. Four of the five panelists shared how dire global warming is, but the fifth panelist, a farmer trainer named Graeme Sait, shared that we can sequester carbon from the atmosphere into soils by caring for their biology. Ryland experienced a new purpose in life when listening to Graeme. He brought Graeme to speak in Santa Monica a few months later and sixty of us gathered in a room and listened to Graeme share for hours about human health and nutrition, soil biology, and carbon sequestration. We were inspired! A group of us started meeting in Ryland’s living room every Monday and Kiss the Ground was born. The first two tasks we took on were creating a simple video on the topic (www.thesoilstory.com) and creating a garden for the community on Venice Blvd. We turned a dead lawn spanning a city block into a thriving orchard and garden where homeless youth now intern and are paid to learn gardening skills.
What exactly is carbon farming and what does “sequestering carbon” mean?
It’s a really exciting field of scientific discovery. Carbon cycles, just like water does, and it lives in five major pools: the atmosphere, the oceans, our bodies and the bodies of animals and plants, the soil, and the deeper layers of the earth (fossils). Through agriculture, oil extraction, transportation, and industrialization we have moved too much carbon from the fossil and soil carbon pools to the atmosphere and oceans. The good news is that plants breathe carbon through photosynthesis and can move carbon from the atmosphere back to the soil. When soil biology is active, there is potential for the carbon to be sequestered. There are a lot of scientists working to understand how this works in different regions with lots of new and exciting findings happening all the time. We also explain the carbon cycle on our video on www.thesoilstory.com.
So “Regenerative Farming/Agriculture” does this?
Yes, the term Regenerative Agriculture was apparently first used by Bob Rodale of the Rodale Institute many years ago. In the United States and through the organization Regeneration International this term has grown in popularity in the last five years. A small community of people worldwide have begun to use it to describe farming that mimics natural living systems, cares for soils, doesn’t use chemicals, and sequesters carbon. There are a few definitions that were contributed to by our global soil health community, but my favorite is from Terra Genesis International:
“Regenerative Agriculture is a system of farming principles and practices that increases biodiversity, enriches soils, improves watersheds, and enhances ecosystem services. Regenerative Agriculture aims to capture carbon in soil and above ground biomass, reversing current global trends of atmospheric accumulation. At the same time, it offers increased yields, resilience to climate instability, and higher health and vitality for farming and ranching communities. The system draws from decades of scientific and applied research by the global communities of organic farming, agroecology, Holistic Management, and agroforestry.”
Regenerative Agriculture is in many ways sourcing from indigenous knowledge and ancient ways of caring for our ecosystems. I see the field as a rebirth and a return to land stewardship that our ancestors once practiced with a bit of modern science and innovation included. We are working in coalitions, especially the Green America Carbon Farming Network, to encourage big brands like General Mills and Danone Wave to make commitments to regenerative agriculture. The movement is growing substantially and we’re hoping that it won’t stop!
With these ancient and traditional ways of farming, we’re trying to build topsoil. What’s the difference between that and dirt? And why is it so important to have healthy soil?
We like to think of dirt as devoid of life and soil as thriving. Healthy soils are biologically active and can contain up to a billion microorganisms in a single teaspoon. When soils are healthy, they retain water, sequester carbon, provide more nutrients to plants, and allow life to flourish. Franklin D Roosevelt said, “A nation that destroys its soils destroys itself.” From history we can see that civilizations have fallen from over-tilling and not taking care of their soils. We can learn from this past and not repeat the same pattern.
So on a personal level what are some of the easiest things people can do right now to reduce their carbon footprint and perpetuate unnecessary waste?
Every choice we make brings us closer to more ecocide and too much global warming or brings us closer to carbon drawdown and thriving ecosystems. It’s hard to make choices that aren’t negatively impacting the planet, especially when we are busy. Ordering online from sellers we don’t know and things that were made in factories we can’t see is easy, it is one less thing to do in the day when with the click of a button something you want or need can show up on your doorstep. I still do it, and I still drive a car. However, I’m starting to find joy in spending my money on food, clothing, herbal medicines, building materials, etc that are in alignment with my love for a thriving planet. I have slowed down my food shopping and go to farmers markets every week and ask questions about where my food comes from. I’ve started to spend my clothing budget intentionally on used clothing or clothing from companies like Christy Dawn that are actively working on better sourcing. Kiss the Ground has a food purchasing guide and Fibershed has a clothing purchasing guide, both are great places to start making these choices. As an organization we offset all of the travel miles we each do in a year with a donation to planting trees. I carry a reusable water bottle, fork, spoon, knife and straw set with me everywhere I go. There is a great app to take action toward drawing carbon out of the atmosphere called Dashboard Earth.
I think the first thing to do is learn about what is happening on the planet. Do some research about the impact of your purchases and learn about the potential to draw carbon out of the atmosphere from the book Drawdown. Then pick something in your life where you can start purchasing and acting differently. Start composting and return your food scraps back to soils, start growing some food at home, and whatever you do, do it with friends and neighbors. Making different lifestyle choices on your own can be overwhelming but doing it in community is so much more fun.
Can you tell us about the incredible and very important book “Kiss the Ground” and your links to Josh Tickell the author?
Our friends Josh and Rebecca Tickell are filmmakers who live in Ojai, California. They began working with us on a full length documentary about soils and global warming several years ago. While filming the documentary Josh published a book that accounts for some of his experiences. We licensed our organization name for the title of the book. It’s a really great read and has had many wonderful impacts on people who have read it. We know farmers who changed their management based on the book, politicians who have been motivated to pass legislation, and people who have become activists as a result. It’s available in print and on Audible.com and I recommend checking it out.
After five years, your movie “Kiss the Ground” is finally about to come out! How does it differ from the book and the shorts you guys have produced?
The documentary is full length so it has more time to fully explain the opportunity of healthy soils to draw carbon out of the atmosphere than our short films. It’s a compelling watch and we’re excited for people to see it in 2020. The book was published two years ago so there are many things in the documentary that have been filmed recently that aren’t in the book.
“When we care for soil biology, we allow for above ground biodiversity (plants, animals, and humans) to thrive.”
I can’t wait to see it. Now with everything you share about caring for the earth, how do you take care of yourself? What are some of your key self-care rituals that keep you grounded (pun intended!)?
I’ve found that cycles are really important in self-care. So I stick to a schedule of certain things every month – either going to a massage therapist and chiropractor or an acupuncturist, and keeping track of the cycles of the moon especially observing full and new moons. I compost all of my food at home, shop for ingredients from local farms, and enjoy cooking. Sharing meals with family and friends is one of my favorite things to do during the week. I also have a yoga practice (at home and in classes) and enjoy hiking and being outside several times a month.
How do you Honor Mother Earth?
There are so many different ways to honor Mother Earth. My favorites are spending time caring for soils (composting, volunteering on farms, growing food at home, and supporting local farmers who are caring for soils) and spending time with friends outside whether we’re on a hike or in the ocean – taking moments every day to be in awe of the beauty all around us. And taking every opportunity I can to reconnect myself and those around me to the planet.
Follow Lauren Tucker @kisstheground