People often think permaculture is just another term for natural gardening. I did. For many years until my husband announced that he wanted us to get our Permaculture Design certification in 2010. We were already “urban farmers” with goats, chickens, ducks, a garden and some fruit trees. Xoco was a little baby and Fia was about 4 years old. Though I was sceptical, I trusted him that it was much different than anything we had already learned. Boy was I in for a pleasant surprise.
Permaculture is a peculiar system of “permanent agri-culture” that changed our lives as much as discovering Sally Fallon’s Nourishing Traditions and the Weston A. Price Foundation in 2006. We talked the other day about 10 ways permaculture goes beyond organic so you’ve had a taste of what I mean. Today I’m gonna dig into Regenerative agriculture and how permaculture goes beyond all its basics.
Put most simply, regenerative farming/ranching is farming/ranching in a way that builds, rather than depletes, soil. When soil is built up it in turn supports biodiversity and plant health. When plants are healthy and full of nutrients and minerals, the animals that eat them are healthy and those who consume them are also healthier. When there are more kinds of plants available more species can be supported on the same land.
Many consider regenerative farming/ranching to be the pinnacle / ideal farming practice. Certainly in comparison to “organic” agriculture regenerative agriculture is far superior. The main features of RegenAg are:
1. No till leaves the soil undisturbed and undegraded: “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.”
2. Soil fertility is increased through the use of cover crops, crop rotations, compost, and animal manures in order to: “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.”
3. Biodiversity is encouraged: “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 through full-time planting of multiple crop intercrop plantings, multispecies cover crops, and borders planted for bee habitat and other beneficial insects.”
4. Managed rotational grazing practices: “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.”
1. No till: On the surface regenerative agriculture and Permaculture agree that the soil ought not be disturbed. Not only is permaculture no-till (as discussed yesterday in 10 Ways Permaculture Goes Beyond Organic), it’s no-till philosophy is embedded in layers of interconnected design principles that not only leave soil undisturbed, but encourage soil health and vitality. You will see what I mean in the next 3 sections.
2. Cover crops, crop rotations, compost, and animal manures: Permaculture avoids disturbing the soil in most any way including crop rotation. It also avoids adding inputs from outside the system making it more sustainable and also accessible. One doesn’t have to add all kinds of additives from outside in order to rebuild soil and the plant that thrive in it and the animals that graze.
3. Biodiversity: In place of crop rotation Permaculture avoids disturbing the soil by focusing on perennial plants and self-seeding annuals. From our recent article 10 ways Permaculture Goes Beyond Organic: “Permaculture focuses on establishing perennial plants like asparagus, rhubarb, and artichoke, fruit/nut trees, edible shrubs, as well as encouraging the natural re-seeding of annual plants. A well designed permaculture garden will continue on after the “gardener” is gone.”
4. Rotational grazing: Permaculture aims to require the least work possible for the largest effect. In general this means that animals are free and roam according to their own needs and desire. For example, Geoff Lawton has pioneered the “Zaytuna Grazing Method” that builds on
different Regen Ag pasture/animal management systems of Allan Savory, Joel Salatin and other Regen Ag visionaries – in a very permacultue-y manner
Lawton’s method uses multiple grazing cells that follow the contours of the land that are all connected via laneways located above water catching swales in order to move animals after only a few days grazing on each. Over time the rich run off from the manure seeps into the food forests growing in the swales below each grazing cell. When the swales fill with rain they serve to disperse the manured and therefore nutrient rich water to infiltrate virtually the entire property.
We live in tricky times. The demand for holistic, non-toxic (to humans and animals), humane, respectful, and abundant agriculture is massive. There are many important angles of contribution and Permaculture has an important role to play. We center Permaculture on our farm (along with Weston A. Price traditional foods principles, Indigenous land use & healing systems, trauma healing, and biodynamic farming practices) and are committed to sharing it with others who are looking to participate in creating and standing in Post-Apocalyptic Sovereignty and New Earth Consciousness.
*Quotes are from the article “What is Regenerative Agriculture?” 2017