Regenerative Agriculture – The Solution to Atmospheric Carbon

If you follow our Facebook page you will have recently seen the image below. It was shared many times and sparked a lot of questions and debate so we thought it would be a good topic to cover here in a bit more detail.


Soil holds carbon. Soil hold a whole lot of carbon. Other than the oceans and fossil fuel deposits, soil is the largest reservoir of carbon on the planet. “What about the atmosphere?”, you might ask. Well, soil holds more than double the amount of carbon in our atmosphere and vegetation combined. In fact, the dark color of rich fertile soil is due to the presence of organic carbon compounds. Sadly, over that last several centuries our soils have been degraded and eroded by short sighted agricultural processes. Not only has this released a great deal of carbon from soils but also reduced it’s capacity to store it.

The good news is that we can fix this issue and, among other benefits, remove excess carbon from our atmosphere and actually sequester more than 100% of current annual COemissions . The answers is adopting soil restorative agriculture techniques and then relying on a natural process you learned about in primary school: photosynthesis. Thats right, simply plants converting carbon in the air into organic molecules exuded by roots to feed hungry microbes underground.

Dr. Rattan Lal, Professor of Soil Science at Ohio State University,  refers to soil restoration as “low hanging fruit” and says it can serve as a “bridge” to climate safety during the transition to a non-fossil fuel economy.  Further, the Rodale Institute has demonstrated that regenerative organic farming could actually capture carbon dioxide in quantities exceeding global emissions. So lets get down to the nuts and bolts of this shall we.

What Are Restorative Agriculture Techniques?

“Restorative Agriculture Techniques” or “Regenerative Agriculture” describes farming and grazing practices that, among other benefits, reverse climate change (Remember, don’t say climate change!) by rebuilding soil organic matter and restoring degraded soil biodiversity – resulting in both carbon draw down and sequestration. They include:

  1. No-till/minimum tillage. Tillage breaks up (pulverizes) soil aggregation and fungal communities while adding excess O2 to the soil for increased respiration and CO2 emission. It can be one of the most degrading agricultural practices, greatly increasing soil erosion and carbon loss. A secondary effect is soil capping and slaking that can plug soil spaces for percolation creating much more water runoff and soil loss. Conversely, no-till/minimum tillage, in conjunction with other regenerative practices, enhances soil aggregation, water infiltration and retention, and carbon sequestration. However, some soils benefit from interim ripping to break apart hardpans, which can increase root zones and yields and have the capacity to increase soil health and carbon sequestration. Certain low level chiseling may have similar positive effects.
  2. Soil fertility is increased in regenerative systems biologically through application of cover crops, crop rotations, compost, and animal manures, which restore the plant/soil microbiome to promote liberation, transfer, and cycling of essential soil nutrients. Artificial and synthetic fertilizers have created imbalances in the structure and function of microbial communities in soils, bypassing the natural biological acquisition of nutrients for the plants, creating a dependent agroecosystem and weaker, less resilient plants. Research has observed that application of synthetic and artificial fertilizers contribute to climate change through (i) the energy costs of production and transportation of the fertilizers, (ii) chemical breakdown and migration into water resources and the atmosphere; (iii) the distortion of soil microbial communities including the diminution of soil methanothrops, and (iv) the accelerated decomposition of soil organic matter.
  3. Building biological ecosystem diversity begins with inoculation of soils with composts or compost extracts to restore soil microbial community population, structure and functionality restoring soil system energy (compounds as exudates) through full-time planting of multiple crop intercrop plantings, multispecies cover crops, and borders planted for bee habitat and other beneficial insects. This can include the highly successful push-pull systems. It is critical to change synthetic nutrient dependent monocultures, low-biodiversity and soil degrading practices.
  4. Well-managed grazing practices stimulate improved plant growth, increased soil carbon deposits, and overall pasture and grazing land productivity while greatly increasing soil fertility, insect and plant biodiversity, and soil carbon sequestration. These practices not only improve ecological health, but also the health of the animal and human consumer through improved micro-nutrients availability and better dietary omega balances. Feed lots and confined animal feeding systems contribute dramatically to (i) unhealthy monoculture production systems, (ii) low nutrient density forage (iii) increased water pollution, (iv) antibiotic usage and resistance, and (v) CO2 and methane emissions, all of which together yield broken and ecosystem-degrading food-production systems.


If you would like to learn more I recommend checking out this Rosdale Institute’s white paper. I found The Carbon Farming Solution by Eric Toensmeier to be very informative and am very excited about the upcoming book Radical Regenerative Gardening and Farming by Frank Holzman. And the go plant something!

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Decentralized Food Production: Revolutionaries Need Gardens

“The tragic reality is that very few sustainable systems are designed or applied by those who hold power, and the reason for this is obvious and simple: to let people arrange their own food, energy, and shelter is to lose economic and political control over them. We should cease to look to power structures, hierarchical systems, or governments to help us, and devise ways to help ourselves.” – Bill Mollison


If you are familiar with the content here on the blog and the Everyday Sustainable Facebook page, you have probably noticed that there is a decent amount related to food production. That is because I believe it is the key to, well, everything. Food has the power to nourish or poison; to heal or to kill; to liberate or to enslave. It has been the fuel of all life and human activity since the beginning. Chase here to talk about why I believe returning to a decentralized food production model is not only possible but imperative to ensuring a healthy, safe, and sustainable life for ourselves and future generations.

For millennia humans have lived as part of and in balance with nature. If a fruit or plant tasted good and did not seem to have any adverse effects like death, the seeds were saved and spread in order to produce more. One apple was turned into a half dozen apples trees, which turned into an orchard. Crops and trees were propagated and traded across continents. These essentially free living means of production were recognized and employed as replicable systems.  Human kind rose to preeminence fueling itself with food that could literally be picked up off the ground.

But over the course of the last 150 or so years, much of human kind has collected into or around urban centers and moved from a production based society to a consumption based society. Rather than spending our time doing things for ourselves (self sufficiency) and have taken jobs doing things for other people so we can have money to pay other people to do things for us. This has lead to the centralization of knowledge and skills vital to our existence (dependency). Don’t get me wrong, there are both positive and negatives to this. However, being dependent on industry and/or government for you basic physiological needs not only places us in a position to be manipulated and controlled but also potentially puts our health and lives in danger.


Decentralization allows us all to disconnect from the fragile and violent systems of centralized politics and finance run by corrupt politicians, international bankers, and monopolistic global corporations. Not everyone can put away a couple million dollars, invest it properly, and one day retire on passive income. But anyone can put in time, effort and resources today to supply their basic food needs and enjoy a passive income in the form of delicious healthy food for decades to come! And when you build a system around permaculture, you get something truly amazing. Automated food production. This is the future. Every individual will once again be closely involved in their food production. People will either grow and forage for their food themselves, or know the person(s) who does. I’m certain of it, because it’s just a better and more resilient system for long term success and health.

You don’t have to take my word for it. It’s already a reality in some places on this planet. The rest of us just have some catching up to do.

In this tiny suburban back yard of only 640 square feet you will find:

  • 80 medicinal plants
  • 30 fruit trees
  • 22 varieties of berries
  • vertical growing spaces
  • annual yields of 154 lbs of vegetables and 355 lbs of fruit

How many suburban homes have empty lawns? Lawns they spend hundreds and even thousands of dollars on every year to keep green and sterile, when they could spend that money to build a real asset that would pay dividends for years to come.


How many apartments have patios or balconies that are empty save for a rarely used folding chair or two?


How many urban buildings have flat roof top not being used for much other than absorbing and later radiating solar heat?


These are all opportunities and the realization that anyone can do this anywhere should give us all a powerful wake up call.

“The greatest change we need to make is from consumption to production, even if on a small scale, in our own gardens. If only 10% of us do this, there is enough for everyone. Hence the futility of revolutionaries who have no gardens, who depend on the very system they attack, and who produce words and bullets, not food and shelter.” ― Bill Mollison

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What is Hugelkultur?

“Nature’s book always contains the truth; we must only learn to read it.” 

Sepp Holzer


Hugelkultur, or “mound culture” when translated from German, is a growing technique in which raised beds are built on top of mounds of organic materials. The foundation is made of logs and then branches that are not suitable for building or heating. Then leaves, grass clippings, straw, manure, and compost are layered on top. Used for centuries in Eastern Europe and Germany, hugelkultur is making a comeback thanks to the explosion in the use of permaculture techniques.


Hugelkultur mimics the nutrient cycling found in nature to improve soil fertility, water retention, and soil warming, thus benefiting plants grown on or near such mounds. The slow decay of the wood and other materials provide a consistent source of long-term nutrients for the plants.  This decay also generates heat that can help extend the growing season and aerates the soil. The woody material also acts as a sponge, soaking up moisture and releasing it as needed. Properly constructed hugelkultur beds require very little if any irrigation. Due to these qualities hugelkultur beds are ideal for areas where the underlying soil is of poor quality or compacted.


If you would really like to dive into hugelkultur pick up a copy of Sepp Holzer’s Permaculture: A Practical Guide to Small-Scale, Integrative Farming and Gardening. Holzer, also known as the “rebel farmer”,  is the modern father and master of this technique. He developed his methods on his family farm, Krameterhof, through experimentation, observation, and thoughtful design. In fact, Holzer started using hugelkultur beds many years back when a wind storm took down several spruce trees and he needed to find a use for the fallen trees.

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What is Permaculture?

Though the problems of the world are increasingly complex, the solutions remain embarrassingly simple. – Bill Mollison
The quote above is from one of the fathers of permaculture, Bill Mollison. In 1978 he and David Holmgren coined the term as a contraction of the words “permanent,” “agriculture,” and “culture”. Heavily inspired by Masanobu Fukuoka’s natural farming philosophy, Mollison and Holmgren recognized that the cultural element was missing from the equation in Western society. People had come to somehow perceive themselves as separate from nature rather than part of it.
Mollison described permaculture as “a philosophy of working with, rather than against nature; of protracted and thoughtful observation rather than protracted and thoughtless labor; and of looking at plants and animals in all their functions, rather than treating any area as a single product system.”.

Permaculture is based on 3 core ethics and 12 design principles.

Permaculture ethics are the foundation of the entire philosophy. The three core ethics of permaculture are:

  • Care for the earth: Provision for all life systems to continue and multiply. This is the first principle, because without a healthy earth, humans cannot flourish.
  • Care for the people: Provision for people to access those resources necessary for their existence.
  • Return of surplus: Reinvesting surpluses back into the system to provide for the first two ethics. This includes returning waste back into the system to recycle into usefulness.

While still broad, the twelve design principles provide more detail on how the ethics are put into action. They are:

  1. Observe and Interact – “Beauty is in the mind of the beholder
    By taking the time to engage with nature we can design solutions that suit our particular situation.
  2. Catch and Store Energy – “Make hay while the sun shines
    By developing systems that collect resources when they are abundant, we can use them in times of need.
  3. Obtain a Yield – “You can’t work on an empty stomach
    Ensure that you are getting truly useful rewards as part of the working you are doing.
  4. Apply Self Regulation and Accept Feedback – “The sins of the fathers are visited on the children of the seventh generation
    We need to discourage inappropriate activity to ensure that systems can continue to function well. Negative feedback is often slow to emerge.
  5. Use and Value Renewable Resources and Services – “Let nature take its course
    Make the best use of nature’s abundance to reduce our consumptive behavior and dependence on non-renewable resources.
  6. Produce No Waste – “Waste not, want not” or “A stitch in time saves nine
    By valuing and making use of all the resources that are available to us, nothing goes to waste.
  7. Design From Patterns to Details – “Can’t see the forest for the trees
    By stepping back, we can observe patterns in nature and society. These can form the backbone of our designs, with the details filled in as we go.
  8. Integrate Rather Than Segregate – “Many hands make light work
    By putting the right things in the right place, relationships develop between those things and they work together to support each other.
  9. Use Small and Slow Solutions – “Slow and steady wins the race” or “The bigger they are, the harder they fall
    Small and slow systems are easier to maintain than big ones, making better use of local resources and produce more sustainable outcomes.
  10. Use and Value Diversity – “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket
    Diversity reduces vulnerability to a variety of threats and takes advantage of the unique nature of the environment in which it resides.
  11. Use Edges and Value the Marginal – “Don’t think you are on the right track just because it’s a well-beaten path
    The interface between things is where the most interesting events take place. These are often the most valuable, diverse and productive elements in the system.
  12. Creatively Use and Respond to Change – “Vision is not seeing things as they are but as they will be
    We can have a positive impact on inevitable change by carefully observing and then intervening at the right time.

The beauty of permaculture it that it can not only be applied to gardens but also entire farms, homes and buildings, neighborhoods, and even cities. If you would like to learn more there are many great books available. The two I would definitely recommend are linked below, but there are many others.

Permaculture: Principles and Pathways beyond Sustainability

Permaculture: A Designers’ Manual

There are also many great videos on YouTube and permaculture design courses are available all around the globe.

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