Regenerative Agriculture: Saving the Planet While Restoring Topsoil and Growing Healthier Food

The Need to Grow

Directed by Rob Herring and Ryan Wirick (2019)

Film Review

This documentary focuses on the Earth’s dwindling supply of topsoil for growing food crops. According to filmmakers, decades of unsustainable agriculture practices have left humankind with only 60 years of farmable soil.

Although most environmentalists agree that modern-day agriculture is the most environmentally destructive process on the planet, the process of soil destruction began around 10,000 years ago when human beings first tilling (plowing) soil they use to grow food. Recent studies show that one tablespoon of healthy topsoil contains one billion microorganisms (bacteria, fungi, etc) are essential to plant health. In nature, all plants and organisms live in complex networks that are destroyed when soil is cultivated.

Because most industrial farming occurs in “dead” soil (where these organisms have been killed), farmers must apply massive amounts of chemical fertilizer and pesticide and produce food containing significantly nutrients than crops grown in healthy topsoil. Decades of research reveal that organic farming produces not only produces more nutritious food, but equal or greater yields (measured in calories per acre). Organic farming also consumes 40% less energy, while producing 35% lower carbon emissions.

Most of the film focuses on pioneers in the field of regenerative agriculture, a process dedicated to restoring soil health through “no-till” farming. The high point of the film features a computer programmer who designed a waste disposal system that uses solar energy to convert waste woody biomass into biochar, electricity, and heat to warm greenhouses and algae-producing aquaculture tanks.*

I was also intrigued to learn about the 7-year-old who obtained 45,000 signatures on a petition asking the Girl Scouts of America to discontinue their sales of GMO-containing cookies – and the abominable way she was treated when she visited their New York office to deliver her petition.

*When organic farmers apply the biochar/algae combination to soil, it speeds up topsoil production. Soil experts estimate it accomplishes in 4-5 years what normally takes 400-500 years.

The film can be viewed free on Kanopy with a public library membership. Type “Kanopy” and the name of your library into your search engine.


Insect Apocalypse: As Urgent as Climate Change

The Great Death of Insects

DW (2020)

Film Review

This documentary examines research into techniques for halting the decline in insect populations. Entomologists (insect specialists) warn that insect species have declined by 80% since 1800. They blame the loss of habitat due to urbanization, industrialized agriculture, excessive pesticide use and light pollution.*

Many scientists consider the insect apocalypse as urgent as climate change – given the key role insect pollinators play in most of our food crops. There is also growing evidence that the fall in insect numbers is the main cause of declining bird populations.

German scientists are collaborating with local farmers to rebuild insect habitat by creating strategically placed meadows and wildlife corridors on their farms.

The film’s only major drawback is its flawed assumption that crop yields must be sacrificed (by converting industrial monoculture deserts into forests and meadows) to restore dwindling insect populations. Three decades of research reveal that intensive permaculture methods (involving simultaneous cultivation of multiple crop species) produce far higher yields (measured in calories per acre) than monoculture agriculture.

Not only is soil fertility maintained this way (plowing kills soil microorganisms that are essential maximum to plant nutrition, but it preserves key insect predators – reducing (and eventually eliminating in many cases) the need for synthetic pesticides

*Half of all insect species are nocturnal and are “vacuumed” out of the ecosystem by their fatal attraction to bright lights.