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Thursday, June 24, 2021

From Organic Certification to Regenerative Agriculture to Rewilding Landscapes: an evolution towards soil integrity

World War II (WWII ) revolutionized manufacturing processes and catapulted personal and commercial markets into an era of increased consumption, convenience, and highly toxic pollutants. 

The Regeneration in ACTION (RiA) Magazine article, Plastics: a double-edged sword, articulates the history of plastic consumption, benefits, and challenges; in WWII plastic manufacturing increased 300% and continued to escalate post-war.

Though it was introduced in the 1930's, synthetic-pesticide use became widespread after WWII. According to LivingHistoryFarm.org:

World War II was the first U.S. war in which diseases – many like typhus and malaria carried by insects – killed fewer people than bullets and bombs. The reason was DDT. The insect killer – or "insecticide" – had been discovered in 1939 and was used extensively by the U.S. military during the war. So, it is no wonder that the postwar period saw the dawning of the chemical age in pesticides.

Then, as today, agriculture uses 75 percent of all pesticides. Between 1947 and 1949, pesticide companies invested $3.8 billion into expanding their production facilities. They were rewarded by huge profits.
Many historians have called this the golden age of chemical pesticides – effective new chemicals were available and of all of the risks and dangers to human health and the environment were not yet known.

During WWII, the United States (U.S.) government built ten plants across the country to build nitrogen-based bombs and other explosives. When the war ended, the plant-production capacity was shifted to petrochemical, nitrogen-based fertilizer manufacturing. Thus, the use of petrochemical fertilizers in farming, along with grounds maintenance and lawn-care practices, exploded in the post-WWII era.

WWII was a catalyst for an era when unforeseen consequences of high-tech development would create toxic environments and devastating scenarios across the globe.

Glyphosate and GMOs
Glyphosate was first patented in 1961 as a Descaling and Chelating Agent and later purchased by Monsanto in 1974. Monsanto branded as Roundup, a powerful herbicide used in home landscapes and commercial agriculture. By 1982, Monsanto scientists were researching Roundup Ready genetically modified seeds for crops resistant to the herbicide. 

In 1996, the first genetically modified crops (soybeans) were planted in the U.S. At the time, glyphosate usage was 3.8% of the total volume of herbicide-active ingredients applied in agriculture (28 million pounds in 1995.) Glyphosate usage boomed over the next decades; usage increased 9-fold in the U.S. and 15-fold worldwide by 2014. A 2016 research study by Food Democracy Now! and The Detox Project found alarming levels of glyphosate in many popular processed food brands. *

Image courtesy of Rich Roll 414 Podcast
According to Dr. Zach Bush, a triple-board certified medical doctor specializing in Internal Medicine, Endocrinology and Metabolism, as well as in Hospice and Palliative care, the human race is in a vast epidemic of chronic inflammation, mainly caused by the prolific use of glyphosate. Dr. Bush attributes the widespread diagnosis of celiac disease to the use of glyphosate within the harvest of wheat. The March 2018 Rich Roll GMOs, Glyphosate & Gut Health interview with Dr. Bush is an excellent introduction to his profound work and perspectives. In a later Rich Roll podcast, Dr. Bush connects soil health with nutritious food production. 

The Institute for Responsible Technology is another respected resource dedicated to the detrimental health impact by the rampant use of glyphosate along with GMOs (genetically modified organisms) in commercial agriculture.

With toxins infiltrating water systems, including drinking water, the atmosphere, the soils, the food system, and nearly every aspect of human existence, health for all life on the planet suffers from continuous exposure to human-created poisons.

* Glyphosate history obtained from The Natural Farmer, the newspaper of the Northeast Organic Farming Association, A Brief History of Glyphosate article.

Environmental Movement
Published in September 1962, Silent Spring by Rachel Carson is credited as the catalyst for the environmental movement. Though it addressed the devastating ramifications of DDT-pesticide use, Silent Spring showcased the far-reaching impact of toxic-chemical use whether for pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, insecticides, or other uses.

The August 2015 Natural Resources Defense Council The Story of Silent Spring: How a courageous woman took on the chemical industry and raised important questions about humankind's impact on nature explains Silent Spring's legacy:

Photo courtesy of Peter Scales
The most important legacy of Silent Spring, though, was a new public awareness that nature was vulnerable to human intervention. Carson had made a radical proposal: that, at times, technological progress is so fundamentally at odds with natural processes that it must be curtailed. Conservation had never raised much broad public interest, for few people really worried about the disappearance of wilderness. But the threats Carson had outlined—the contamination of the food chain, cancer, genetic damage, the deaths of entire species—were too frightening to ignore. For the first time, the need to regulate industry in order to protect the environment became widely accepted, and environmentalism was born.

As the environmental movement grew, awareness of toxic-petrochemical fertilizers' and the "cides'" - herbicides, pesticides, insecticides, and fungicide - impact on human and environmental health was substantiated via well-documented scientific research.

Nature Prevails
Within Elemental Impact 's (Ei) Nature Prevails platform, The Principles of Nature are defined as:

  • Diversity
  • Dynamic Balance & Nutrition Cycles
  • Necessity of Cover & Ability to Roam

The RiA article, Nature Prevails; an action plan, defines The Principles of Nature and explains how human-made systems are ruled by the principles. When humans defy The Principles of Nature. there are often tragic results.

Insect Apocalypse
Insects are integral to the natural ecosystem foundation and essential to supporting the Earth’s life web. At the base of the prey hierarchy, insects are food for fish, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and birds. In addition to recycling soil-system nutrients, insects play an essential role in the decomposition portion of nature’s circular-life cycle.

A multi-generations of milkweed
beetles at a rewilded park.
Photo courtesy of Holly Elmore Images
Since the 1970’s, the Earth’s insect population suffered from severe population declines as well as loss of diversity.

The NY Times 2018 article, The Insect Apocalypse Is Here. What does it mean for the rest of life on Earth?, reported: The German study found that, measured simply by weight, the overall abundance of flying insects in German nature reserves had decreased by 75 percent over just 27 years. If you looked at midsummer population peaks, the drop was 82 percent.

According to the November 2019 Somerset Wildlife Trust Insect Declines and Why They Matter Report by Professor Dave Goulson, 41% of insect species are threatened with extinction.

Contributing factors to the demise of insect populations include:

  • Prolific use of pesticides in commercial and residential landscapes, corporate and municipal-grounds maintenance, and industrial agriculture.
  • Loss of habitat due to urbanization, transportation systems, farming, and landscape-maintenance practices.
  • Infiltration of non-native plants; insects evolved to thrive on native plants and non-native plants are often not food sources for local populations.
  • Intangible pollution, including artificial light, noise (leaf blowers,) and electromagnetic fields.

Holocene Extinction (sixth mass extinction)
As documented by the November 2019 Science Alert article, Are We Really in a 6th Mass Extinction? Here's The Science, current conditions indicate that the Earth's Holocene extinction, or sixth mass extinction, is well underway. From the article:

A mass extinction is usually defined as a loss of about three quarters of all species in existence across the entire Earth over a "short" geological period of time. Given the vast amount of time since life first evolved on the planet, "short" is defined as anything less than 2.8 million years. 

... The Earth is currently experiencing an extinction crisis largely due to the exploitation of the planet by people. 

The World Wildlife Fund 2020 Living Planet Report states:

A 68% average decline of birds, amphibians, mammals, fish, and reptiles since 1970.

The findings are clear: Our relationship with nature is broken.

Biodiversity – the rich diversity of life on Earth – is being lost at an alarming rate. This loss effects our own health and well-being. Today, catastrophic impacts for people and the planet loom closer than ever.

Though the Holocene extinction is well underway, a tragic outcome may be avoided by aligning human-created systems with The Principles of Nature. 

Increased Predation and Nutrient Deficiency

As stated in the Ei Digital Book, Restoring Pollinator Populations:

Eliminating the use of man-made fertilizers also removes chemical influence which can damage plants. When synthetic fertilizers are applied, plants grow faster than their natural rhythm. Faster growth results in plants with thinner cell membranes that are vulnerable to predation by insects, parasites, and fungus. Healthy, robust plants with thick stalks and leaf-cell membranes are not as enticing for pests.

Thus, the use of petrochemical fertilizers ignites the cycle of pest control, most often via toxic insecticides and pesticides. Unfortunately, pesticides often kill "good bugs" as well as the targeted insects. Additionally, pesticides pollute waterways via farm run-off or by filtering through the soil to the area aquifer.

In 2004, Dr. Donald Davis, a member of the University of Texas at Austin Biochemical Institute, and his team published a study that suggests nutrient decline in garden crops over past 50 years, According to Dr. Davis: 
"Efforts to breed new varieties of crops that provide greater yield, pest resistance, and climate adaptability have allowed crops to grow bigger and more rapidly, but their ability to manufacture or uptake nutrients has not kept pace with their rapid growth. There have likely been declines in other nutrients, too, such as magnesium, zinc, and vitamins B-6 and E, but they were not studied in 1950 and more research is needed to find out how much less we are getting of these key vitamins and minerals."

Soil ecosystems are alive with an intertwined network of fungi, microbial communities, insects, and other small animals working together, often in symbiotic fashion, to nurture plant roots. In return, the plants deliver carbon dioxide, sugars, and other nutrients to the soil system. When the soil ecosystem is healthy, plants produce nutritious food for humans and wildlife.

Healthy cover crops at a regenerative farm.
Photo courtesy of Holly Elmore Images.
Diversity and necessity of cover, two of The Principles of Nature previously mentioned, are essential for a healthy soil ecosystem. Common monocrop farming with neat, barren rows between crops defies nature and deteriorates soil health. Tilling the soil breaks up the soil communication and nutrient-transfer systems governed by fungi networks. 

Per Mother Earth New's article, Mycorrhizal Fungi and Plant Roots: A Symbiotic Relationship, Mycorrhizal fungi help plant roots absorb nutrients and fight off harmful, soil-dwelling predators. In exchange, the fungus receives sugars and nutrients from its host plant. Furthermore: 

At least 80 percent of the plant species on the globe, representing more than 90 percent of all the plant families, are known to form mycorrhizae. In addition to facilitating the transportation of nutrients, at least one kind of mycorrhizal fungus attracts and kills the tiny soil-dwelling arthropods called springtails, a rich source of nitrogen. Other carnivorous fungi capture the superabundant microscopic worms known as nematodes, either with sticky knobs that develop from the hyphae, fine filament meshes, or loops that constrict to snare passing prey — fungal lassoes.

Over the past decades, toxic-chemical additives along with modern-day farming practices significantly compromised soil health, and resulted in nutrient-deficient food. Organic Certification is a strong first step in aligning with The Principles of Nature, yet is far from a final step.

Organic Certification
A focus on organic farming emerged as petrochemical fertilizers and "cides" were introduced to commercial agriculture post WWII. As the environmental movement gained momentum in the 1960's, after Silent Spring's publication, decentralized organic-farming standards were established across the nation. 

Image compliments of Verum Ingredients
In 1990, Congress passed the Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA) to develop a national standard for organic-food and -fiber production. The USDA’s National Organic Program, authorized under OFPA, issued their Final Ruling in October 2002; the ruling established the federal organic-certification program, administered by the respective state departments of agriculture.

Organic certification prohibits the use of "cides," GMO seeds, and petrochemical fertilizers. Thus, organic food is non-GMO and reasonably "toxin-free" Yet, organic certification does not address soil health or the nutritional value of food produced on the certified farm.

Regenerative Agriculture
In addition to adhering to organic-farming practices, regenerative agriculture focuses on restoring and maintaining a healthy soil ecosystem. Diverse crops, including cover crops, and no-till farming practices are basic regenerative-agriculture protocol.

Inherent within soil restoration is increasing the organic matter (carbon) content; thus, regenerative agriculture creates carbon sinks, a designated area that draws down more carbon than is released into the atmosphere. An emerging trend is to incorporate applicable regenerative agriculture protocol into landscape- and grounds-maintenance practices.

In 2017, Ei coined the term urban carbon sinks in the RiA Magazine article, Beyond Sustainability: Regenerative SolutionsAdditionally, the article substantiates regenerative agriculture, and landscape/grounds-maintenance practices as a viable solution for balancing the carbon cycles. The RiA Magazine article, Carbon Crisis: simply a matter of balance, introduces the carbon cycles and compost’s role in restoring balance; the article features John Wick and the Marin Carbon Project.

As important as it is to restore healthy soil systems, produce nutritious food (for human & wildlife,) and drawdown carbon, regenerative agriculture does not focus on native plants. Thus, it often contributes to, versus alleviates, the insect apocalypse. 

Rewilding Landscapes
Beyond regenerative agriculture and landscape practices, rewilding land restores the natural ecosystem that evolved over thousands of years. Rewilding land requires the restoration of native plants and cultivates food for indigenous insects. Strong insect populations are the foundation for restoring healthy predator/prey hierarchies that once thrived prior to human intrusion.

In his New York Times bestseller, Nature’s Best Hope: A New Approach to Conservation that Starts in your Yard, Doug Tallamy encourages citizens to rewild their yards via replacing toxic lawns with native plants that support local insect populations. Caterpillars are a primary food source for many birds and other wildlife. According to Doug, Carolina chickadees must catch 6,240 – 9,120 caterpillars to raise one clutch.

Inherent within rewilding urban landscapes are three primary benefits: 

  • Restoration of vibrant soil ecosystems and urban wildlife populations; production of nutritious food destined for wildlife and humans.
  • Drawdown of carbon from the atmosphere into the soils via plant photosynthesis.
  • Establishment of food-secure neighborhoods within a community.

In the RiA article, Urban Carbon Sinks: Rewilding Urban Landscapes, Ei announced a commitment to Rewilding Urban Landscapes via pilots focused on urban agriculture, lawns, corporate complexes, college and university campuses, highway medians and shoulders, airport land surrounding runways, parks, and other available urban land. For the rewilding pilots, native foliage is planted and cultivated with the exception of human-food producing plants, such as tomatoes.

Pilots are in the development stage with various grant applications underway.

Align with The Principles of Nature
Human ingenuity catapulted the planet into a sixth extinction. Though the scenario appears dire, nature is forgiving as long as her principles are honored. If humans start aligning crafted systems with The Principles of Nature, a new spectrum of probable outcomes materializes and a vibrant, miraculous future is possible.

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About Elemental Impact:
Elemental Impact (Ei) is a 501(c)3 non-profit founded in 2010 as the home to the Zero Waste Zones, the forerunner in the nation for the commercial collection of food waste for compost. In June 2017, Ei announced the Era of Recycling Refinement was Mission Accomplished and entered the Era of Regeneration. Current focus areas include Nature PrevailsSoil Health | Regenerative Agriculture, and Water Use | Toxicity.

The Regeneration in ACTION Magazine article, From Organic Certification to Regenerative Agriculture to Rewilding Landscapes: an evolution towards soil integrity, published to explain and substantiate the importance of Ei’s rewilding urban landscapes work within the Nature Prevails focus area.

MISSION:
To work with industry leaders to create best regenerative operating practices where the entire value-chain benefits, including corporate bottom lines, communities, and the environment. Through education and collaboration, establish best practices as standard practices.

Ei’s tagline – Regeneration in ACTION – is the foundation for Ei endeavors.

The following mantra is at the core of Ei work:

Ei is a creator, an incubator.
Ei determines what could be done that is not being done and gets it done.
Ei brings the possible out of impossible.
Ei identifies pioneers and creates heroes.

For additional information, contact Holly Elmore at 404-510-9336 | holly@elementalimpact.org

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