There’s a movement happening, it has the potential to radically change our agricultural system and if you haven’t heard of it yet, I hope you will soon. It’s a reclaiming, a love affair, and a revolution all in one.
It’s a revolution about, soil. Regeneration. Healthy food, healthy clothing and fibers, and healthy people.
Soils are the basis for all life on earth. Just like we depend on our gut microbes to keep us healthy, we depend on the biology in the soil to support entire ecosystem function. I like to think about soil life as the smallest members of our vastly complex and interconnected ecosystems. They have to thrive in order for everything else (larger) to thrive as well. When soil biology is healthiest, you can find billions of soil microorganisms in a teaspoon of soil. There are more tiny organisms in a teaspoon of healthy soil than there are people on the planet.
On most agricultural lands we’ve been deep in a chemical experiment for the last century. We mechanized farming, reducing it to a series of chemicals (NPK: nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium), pesticides, fungicides, and herbicides to kill anything that didn’t belong in the well-kept, “clean” fields, added in some genetically modified seeds, and planting regimens for everyone to follow no matter their unique context or location of land. Separating trees from animals from crops from the fields that grow animal feed, we picked apart ecosystems that functioned better together and ended up with miles upon miles of monocultures. The green revolution promised increased yields, a safer food system, and farmer prosperity. Almost 100 years later, we can now see that the main thing it increased was the sale of petroleum-based pesticides, and super weeds and diseases that are resistant to chemicals.
When we look back through the history, we can learn from settlements like Mesopotamia that failed when they degraded their soils. We can also learn from North American and Amazonian tribes that tended land as an interconnected part of their own bodies and community and understand how their land management maintained thriving soils and ecosystems. So, when we look clearly at the moment we are in, with 75% of the world’s land already degraded according to the European Commission’s World Atlas of Desertification, biodiversity loss in overwhelming numbers, and too much carbon in the atmosphere causing a destabilized climate, we can learn a lot from indigenous peoples who helped create some of the most fertile parts of the rainforest, created the land mass in the everglades, or coexisted with the Bison that created deep carbon rich soils in the great plains.
“We can learn a lot from indigenous peoples who helped create some of the most fertile parts of the rainforest, created the landmass in the everglades, or coexisted with the Bison that created deep carbon rich soils in the great plains.”
If we care for the life beneath our feet and manage land from a holistic perspective, ecosystems can heal, soil biology can sequester carbon and support healthy plants, and biodiversity can thrive. And that means our grandchildren and our grandchildren’s grandchildren have the potential to thrive on this planet. This agricultural revolution is exciting and hopeful.
Through conquest, colonialism, religion, and a desire to create permanent human settlements which required agriculture, a widespread narrative was formed – that humans are separate from and dominant over nature.
I was born in 1985 into this cultural narrative.
I grew up in Shepherdstown, WV a small idyllic and historical town, known as the first town in West Virginia, settled in 1730 by German settlers. As kids we roamed the town, played in the Potomac River and the surrounding woods, biked the Appalachian trail, dug for indigenous arrow heads, and ate ice cream at historical civil war sites. The town is surrounded by corn and soy farms that I watched be sold and developed into large housing developments for brave D.C. commuters willing to spend 3-4 hours a day traveling between their work and large rural homes. I didn’t know anything about farming and could really care less, but I had a sense of what it felt to be connected to the land around me, what living in rhythm with the four seasons meant, and that there was something horribly wrong with our nonrecognition of our deep interconnectedness to nature as humans.
I went off to college to study International Relations, Psychology and Race Philosophy. I studied abroad in Ghana, West Africa arriving with a colonial, white, American savior mindset assuming that I would spend my career as an international development worker saving “starving African children”. I soon discovered that international aid was sometimes effective but for the most part felt like neo-colonialism and that no one needed my “saving”. In Ghana, I connected with agroforestry by accident. I built my college course schedule during my semester in Ghana so I only had to be on campus Tuesday evening through Thursday morning and I could travel the rest of the week. It turned out that a course on agroforestry “the traditional” way fit my schedule and I started to learn about chemical agriculture, it’s failings, and different ways to feed the soil through compost, chopping and dropping leaves from the trees, perennial plants and biodiversity. Two of my favorite days of my six months living there were spent on a small agroforestry farm. There, another seed in my awakening journey toward interconnectedness and soil regeneration was planted.
Upon graduating college, I spent three months in my car with four girlfriends traveling the U.S. attempting to discover where I belonged, visiting all of the fun Americana touristy sites, and starting to uncover the layers of indigenous, colonialist and immigrant history in the states. I moved to New Orleans after the trip and spent a year and a half helping to rebuild in a “greener” way after hurricane Katrina, eating and drinking in jazz clubs till the sun rose, and starting to compost and living with a housemate who gardened. I became pregnant with a son and my journey to learning about the food system went on hyper speed. Growing a human meant I started spending endless hours walking grocery store isles reading labels, shopping at farmers markets and asking lots of questions. I dreamed of living closer to land, gardening, and fresh air. I lived in the Marigny neighborhood in NOLA where two barges collided on the Mississippi river next to my house the summer before, one was full of oil and the smell lingered in the air for days. There came a point where my dreams of land were strong and my concern for the toxicity of my city was high so, at six months pregnant I moved to California. I landed in Northern California with friends working the wine harvest. The only job I could find as a very pregnant woman was to sell fruits and veggies coming off a beautiful organic farm. It was there that I started asking many more questions about how our food is grown, and what does it take for land to produce healthy food.
“There came a point where my dreams of land were strong and my concern for the toxicity of my city was high so, at six months pregnant, I moved to California.”
I moved to Los Angeles in search of meaningful work during the economic downturn and immersed myself in food. I met a woman on craigslist selling organic produce in a weekly box. She lived in Topanga and I ended up following her there. I spent hours and hours hiking and connecting with the incredible Santa Monica mountains. I sold and delivered fruit and veggie boxes, hosted raw vegan dinners, interned with a chef, started planting gardens, worked in restaurants, studied permaculture, volunteered on farms, learned to compost, and took the master gardeners training. I worked for a while in Café Gratitude in Venice and met Ryland Engelhart. In the spring of 2013, Ryland brought Graeme Sait a farm trainer from New Zealand to Santa Monica to speak. Graeme spoke nonstop for hours about soil carbon sequestration, nutrient density, humus (organic material in soils), and soil biology. His lecture was thorough, way too much to absorb, but highly inspirational. The spark for what is now Kiss the Ground was born that day.
In the early days of Kiss the Ground we met weekly in a living room, a group of friends excited about soil health and soil carbon sequestration. Within six months we were gardening in our community of Venice, CA on a piece of public property and starting to put together our first short film called “The Soil Story”. We were determined to “make a lot of noise” about the importance of soil as a climate change solution. After almost naming the organization Soilution (the solution is in the soil), we settled on the name Kiss the Ground from the Rumi poem “There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.” Over the last almost seven years with a small team, small budget, garage office and then in the last year a co-working space, we rallied people all over the world toward soil health as a climate solution. We gardened with our community in Venice, we made films, brought world-renowned soil educators to Los Angeles, impacted local and California state policy, worked with food brands to encourage investment in soil health in their purchasing, met with national and international coalitions, gave speeches, created middle school curriculum, worked in partnership with Josh and Rebecca Tickell of Big Picture Ranch to release Kiss the Ground the book and the documentary (releasing 2020), taught online courses for advocates, businesses, and gardeners, and started a farmer scholarship fund. In the upcoming year we are focusing on our farmer scholarship fund, training community leaders through our online courses, releasing our full-length documentary, and continuing to ask questions around how we can improve our ability to reawaken our own connection to the planet and help others do the same.
“We started to understand that so much of the destruction of soils, ecosystems, and biodiversity worldwide is the result of a cultural myth we are living inside of that teaches us that humans are disconnected from nature.”
Over the years our team at Kiss the Ground started to view the world differently and understood that if we focused only on soil carbon we would get stuck in very same single-track thinking that brought about the green revolution. We began studying more from lineages and schools of thought teaching and working with the concept of regeneration for decades such as Regenesis and the Carol Sanford Institute and started to connect to more indigenous thinking around earth stewardship. We started to understand that so much of the destruction of soils, ecosystems, and biodiversity worldwide is the result of a cultural myth we are living inside of that teaches us that humans a disconnected from nature. The same myth that has us view nature as a commodity to be bought and sold the same way we trade stocks on the stock exchange.
Farmers prioritizing soil biology has the potential to sequester large amounts of carbon, the price of carbon is expected to skyrocket, large corporations getting involved in soil regeneration is necessary, but these are all steps should be viewed as steps in a direction toward planetary regeneration. Caring for the land around us so that the water and carbon cycles function, biodiversity thrives, and humans becomes stewards of our ecosystems once more is going to take more than just prioritizing soil biology and increasing the price of carbon. If you want to learn more about viewing regeneration on a continuum check out this article or about the science around healthy soils these resources.
The term regenerative agriculture originally coined by Bob Rodale and built on centuries of indigenous thinking is growing in popularity. Our networked communities have worked together to form definitions, however, there are still different schools of thought around what using the term “regenerative agriculture” means. Learn more about that here.
My favorite definition of regenerative agriculture comes 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 aboveground 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.”
“Many steps form a path and many paths form a revolution. There is a revolution afoot. And I hope you join it.”
Another definition put together by The Carbon Underground and Chico State University and endorsed by many organizations and brands including Kiss the Ground can be found here.
I’m 34 years old and my journey to understanding earth connectedness, how to heal and remember our stewardship and interconnected role as humans has just begun. Often, people ask me how to start getting involved in writing a new cultural myth or how to participate in the movement to regenerate our planet. To me it’s a journey that starts with one step, just like mine. And then you will find that you turn around one day and can see the evolution of your understanding and the trees you planted grow, the farmers you supported thrive, and the children you raised making vastly different choices. Many steps form a path and many paths form a revolution.
There is a revolution afoot. And I hope you join it.
Thank you to Christy Dawn for the opportunity to share my story and for their work walking this path, beginning to heal land to grow cotton in a way that prioritizes soil biology and deprioritizes linear, single track, chemical input thinking. They are exploring their relationship to the earth as stewards, connected to and not separate from nature.
Co-Founder and current E.D. of Kiss the Ground, transitioning into the role of Director of Enterprises at White Buffalo Land Trust, bringing food and fiber products sourced from regenerative agriculture to market.