By Sustainable Solano
Event speakers (from left) Harald Hoven, Michael Wedgley and Rose Curley (fourth from left), speak with Scott Dodson, Elena Karoulina and Priscilla Yeaney at the Pleasants Valley demonstration site
“Regenerative Agriculture.” It’s a buzzword, but just what does it mean?
Rose Curley asked this question of about 30 people gathered for the regenerative agriculture event that was part of the Solano Local Food System Alliance‘s quarterly meeting. The event brought together three speakers to cover different sustainable agricultural practices. Rose is a GrizzlyCorps fellow with Community Alliance with Family Farmers (CAFF) in the organization’s Ecological Farming Program.
The crowd did its best to answer the question. Regenerative agriculture is ancestral traditions, self-sustaining, biodiversity, organic, no waste, healing, no till, place-based, nutrient-dense, abundant, soil-building, interdependence … the list had more than 25 suggestions.
The range of answers “speaks to how broad this term is,” Rose said. “You see it on farms, the produce section of large grocery stores, and tacked onto restaurant menus.”
Rose then went over some of the basics of regenerative agriculture and its intention to return health to the land while growing nutrient-dense food and building overall resilience for farmers and our communities. She brought a chunk of soil from the farm where she works to talk about the makeup of healthy soil and maximizing biodiversity above and below ground, and some cover crops that cover and nourish the soil. Regenerative agriculture asks for an emphasis on a more holistic approach to farming, but that can be gained through a variety of practices, she said. (On the topic of nutrient-dense foods, she said you can learn more about how healthy soil creates healthy food by reading some of the research that has been done at Singing Frogs Farm in Sebastopol.)
One of the most important parts of the conversation around water and soil health and conserving natural resources is the wealth of knowledge that farmers can offer to each other to build resilience, she said. This support is particularly important because of the barriers to farming in a regenerative manner: the higher financial investment needed, the time it takes to see returns and improved health in the system, and social and cultural barriers.
The conversation pulled in much of the audience, with observations offered about how the term “organic” has lost its meaning, the use of hydroponic growing that doesn’t use or return anything to the soil, how to better promote and support growers using regenerative practices, and the idea of making Pleasants Valley a demonstration corridor for different regenerative approaches to build more public interest and understanding.
The event was held at the farm site of Pleasant Valley School, with the seating and presentation area carefully arranged and decorated with spring flowers and sporting a table of Solano-grown food for the attendees (and eyed appraisingly by the three resident donkeys). Sustainable Solano is creating a demonstration permaculture site on the property in partnership with Pleasant Valley School, which will also pursue a biodynamic garden on site in accordance with Waldorf educational principles. The event had speakers on both approaches to the landscape.
This is a new scale of project for Sustainable Solano, which has not worked on a farm property before, noted our executive director, Elena Karoulina. The hope is to plant the seeds through the foundation of the permaculture site so that the school community can continue to grow it in scope and vision over the years.
Property owner Shea McGuire said the hope is to instill stewardship in the Pleasant Valley School students, giving them an understanding that they are part of the ecosystem and to “keep the noise of the world out of childhood.” Elena and Shea signed the partnership agreement for the demonstration project at the beginning of the meeting. We invite you to join us for a public planting day on Saturday, May 28, to create the foundation for this permaculture site.
Michael addressed questions and conversation around a good introductory permaculture book (Gaia’s Garden by Toby Hemenway), taking fire into account when designing in a fire zone, and the dangers of introducing non-native species to an area.
Harald Hoven, a retired biodynamic farmer who still consults regularly on the practice, talked about the history of biodynamic farming as it arose nearly 100 years ago. A main focus of biodynamic agriculture is building vitality into the system that then translates into the food we receive from the system – vitality that is often lost in today’s agricultural practices. Biodynamics also focuses on relationships, with plants and livestock kept in balance on the site to yield land fertility. Sometimes, things have to be brought onto the site, such as manure or compost, to build that fertility, but ideally everything comes from the land itself, he said.
Just as we are always developing and becoming something new, so the land grows and develops with our help and guidance, Harald said. Gradually, it all works toward the greater health of the land.
From all of the talks and conversation it was clear that these different approaches have the same objective: health, both for the land and for people who consume what that land yields.
Our next big event, Bounty of the County at the Solano County Fair on June 18 will recognize that yield through the produce of Solano family farms. You also can learn more about the Solano Local Food System Alliance at the event. Alliance members will be there to hear about your vision for local food and your commitment to supporting the local food system. Another opportunity is at the Alliance’s quarterly meetings, which are always open to the public. The next one on Aug. 4 will focus on ways to buy local food, from purchasing directly from Solano farmers to Cultivate Community Food Co-op and other retail locations.
Pleasants Valley Demonstration Permaculture Site Installation
Join us on Saturday, May 28, to learn about sustainable landscape design and help install a demonstration site based on permaculture principles at a Pleasants Valley farm!