words by willow defebaugh
Photograph by josh martin
Welcome to The Overview, a weekly newsletter in which Editor-in-Chief Willow Defebaugh offers an expansive look at the latest events in climate and culture—and how it all fits together.
“We need people connected to the land, people connected to their food, and smaller farms that are not sending food across the nation or the world but that are feeding their community,” Elizabeth Kaiser tells Atmos. Kaiser runs Singing Frogs Farm, a three-acre operation that feeds 350 local families in Northern California each year and supports a healthy population of returning pollinators, allowing them to grow vegetables without pesticides.
Kaiser is one among a movement of agricultural pioneers championing regenerative farming: an ecologically beneficial practice that promotes soil health by cutting out chemicals and tilling, growing crop cover, composting, and rotating livestock populations to fertilize sections of the farm one at a time, giving the soil in other areas time to replenish itself. Another farm, Apricot Lane, recently became the subject of a critically-acclaimed documentary, The Biggest Little Farm, which chronicles one couple’s forays into regenerative farming. It’s a visually stunning testament to the benefits reaped from this practice—and how intensive it is.
Indigo Agriculture has also just launched its Terraton Initiative, designed to prove that, through regenerative methods, livestock farming has the potential to reverse climate change, rather than continue contributing to it. “Through the process of photosynthesis, agricultural plants have the ability to economically pull more carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere than any other technology,” stated Geoffrey von Maltzahn, Indigo’s chief innovation officer and co-founder, in a press release.
For some perspective, the Marin Carbon Project recently found that applying composting to half of California’s rangeland would increase its carbon sequestration capabilities by 42 million metric tons—which is equal to the annual emissions of the state’s commercial and residential energy sectors combined. And that’s just California; imagine what would happen if applied to the total 900 million acres of U.S. farmland.
So, what’s stopping an industry-wide regenerative revolution? For starters, it comes down to what small farmers can afford: many don’t have the bandwidth to introduce intensive new practices when they are worried about competing with low food prices from large scale industrial farms that degrade the planet’s topsoil, not to mention President Trump’s tariffs (for more on this, check out Robert Leonard and Matt Russell’s recent op-ed for the New York Times). Since 1950, the number of farms in the U.S. has shrunk from 5.4 million farms to 2 million.
One way you can help? Contact your representatives and support politicians proposing reform. The Green New Deal put forth by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, co-sponsored by the majority of democratic presidential candidates, aims to make regenerative farming the new standard for U.S. agriculture (in addition to solving a number of other environmental and socio-economic issues associated with with industrial agriculture). We can no longer afford to make the adaption of sustainable practices a case-by-case occurrence; policy must be reformed to propagate wide-scale change.
Growth is always possible. It’s up to us to create the conditions for it.