Back in June I closed Progressive Gardens, a retail garden center I owned and operated for over 14 years. Our work was that of a lawn and garden consultant, and we spent as much time as necessary to help people understand the concepts behind progressive gardening practices. The original insight of our shop was borne of the need to have cleaner food closer to people. For more than a decade, I have researched and experienced almost every facet of the modern agricultural system. I am qualified to discuss the farming and gardening habits of the majority of our population without judgement, but let me be blunt: We are killing ourselves. I mean this both literally and figuratively. There is no doubt the toxicity of our agriculture is contributing to the modern spike and confusion on the increase in auto-immune and degenerative diseases. Feeding living systems with man-made, artificial fertilizers and biocides makes our job as gardeners and farmers harder and more expensive in the long run.
Many are aware, but most are oblivious to the toxicity of the artificial lawn and garden products used in average landscape. We don’t know what we are doing to ourselves. Look up the research done on lawn chemicals and cancer in dogs. There is more research conducted on canines than humans, but it affects us just the same.
In farming, the situation is even worse. According to the USDA only 0.07 percent of farms are organic, meaning the overwhelming majority of them use toxic chemicals as a primary means of growing our food. On top of this, farmers are growing older, and farms are growing larger and more toxic by the day.
The overwhelming majority of the pests, weeds and disease that farmers and homeowners toil over season after season are created by this artificial approach to agriculture. That’s right: We are creating our own problems, chasing the symptoms, and trying to correct them using toxic rescue chemistry, effectively making our problems worse over time. It is a race to the bottom line.
The solution to the issues we face on the farm or in the landscape are in our perspective and in growing, living soil—not just plants. Healthy soil is the best pesticide, fungicide or herbicide on the market, but it lacks the convenience and marketability that drives consumer action in the modern world.
The only way to grow living soil is to introduce micro-organisms, or microbes, that define healthy soil. Microbes manufacture soil, like construction workers, and they have been doing it successfully for a really long time. Our challenge is to bring them to the job site as often and as populated as possible and then get out of their way. It is simply not possible to fertilize soil into health, or kill all of the symptoms being experienced.
The easiest and most effective way to do this is to start a compost pile and brew compost tea. A compost pile is free, recycles waste that would end up in the landfill, and it is very easy to do. The microbes grown in compost tea do all of the work, and the results only get better with time. But microbes are the furthest thing from mind for the average homeowner or farmer. When it comes to microbes, we are more likely to imagine hand sanitizer and antibiotics than visualzing vital benefits they do for the soil. In short, modern conventional agriculture is doing everything it can to kill them. The importance of microbes cannot be overstated, changing this mind style will be a central tenet of the future success of humanity.
The farm and average landscape have become a toxic waste zone, ripe with carcinogens, biocides and things no logical person would use with direct knowledge of the ingredients. In turn, this ends up in our food. I’ll use the common herbicide Roundup as an example, since many have a jug in their garage. The active ingredient in Roundup is glyphosate. Monsanto, who manufactures Roundup, spends many millions each year in advertising and “peer-reviewed” studies to ensure customers it is safe, but there is more to the story. Glyphosate works by inhibiting what is called the “shikimate enzyme pathway.” The toxic technology is allowed because humans and animals do not have a shikimate pathway in their cells, which is only found in plants and microbes. The fact that glyphosate does not harm humans directly means that Monsanto can tell us Roundup is safe—even convince the FDA (that they stockpile with lobbyists) there is no reason for concern. But the reality is it is destroying microbes that define healthy soil. New evidence suggests it is doing the same in our guts.
Roundup can be found everywhere, including the water supply and in basically every non-organic food on the market that contains soy or corn. The result of this is that over 99 percent of people tested have glyphosate in their urine. Insane (visit www.DetoxProject.org to test yourself).
The major reason for the proliferation of glyphosate in our food supply is genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Commodity crops are genetically engineered with foreign genes that create resistance to the toxicity of chemicals like glyphosate. Great for business, bad for people.
Even if it could be argued that GMO crops are beneficial to humanity, they have resulted in tremendous amounts of these controversial compounds being released into the environment. Food & Water Watch found the total volume of glyphosate applied to the three biggest GMO crops—corn, cotton and soybeans—increased tenfold from 15 million pounds in 1996 to 159 million pounds in 2012.
The same can be said to our approach to combatting the Zika virus. There is no doubt we need to do everything possible to understand how to fight this public-health issue, but I’m not convinced that objectively spraying a controversial toxic insecticide designed to kill living organisms from planes over millions of acres and human populations is the answer. We must ask ourselves if the ends justify the means.
The chemical being sprayed to battle Zika virus is called “Naled,” an organophosphate insecticide with the chemical name dimethyl 1,2-dibromo-2,2-dichloroethylphosphate that is banned completely in the European Union. In September it was widely reported over 2.5 million bees were killed due to Naled aerial applications in South Carolina. Not only are 70 out of the top 100 human food crops, or about 90 percent of the world’s nutrition, pollinated by bees, but what could it be doing to us? Just like in the soil, the new frontier of human health is the symbiotic relationship between microbes and humans. In fact, there are more microbes in and on a healthy human than there are human cells. It seems like every week there is a new discovery of the importance of our microscopic friends in regulating and ensuring our health.
For example, conventional wisdom says that the appendix is a worthless organ in the human body, but a recent study suggests that it serves as a safe house for beneficial gut microbes. It appears that the body is able to signal when the gut is not operating effectively and actually send reinforcements to re-inoculate the gut with our microscopic friends. In other words, the appendix is the compost pile of the human body.
We are collectively taking the pill to eat more fast food, when all we need to do is change our diets and take probiotics. Make the connection that the “experts” are telling us otherwise. This is a difficult conversation to have without offending people—or coming across as a know-it-all. Let me assure that the first thing that I know is that I don’t. In no way am I saying doctors are out to harm people, only they are operating from an old and incomplete paradigm. Nor am I suggesting agronomists don’t have our best interests in mind. But, for example, our own local newspaper recently published an article by one of our extension agents that described the benefits of using Roundup to kill weeds in the landscape.
At some point we have to call it like it is and challenge conventional wisdom. We must become our own experts. It is entirely possible to have massive success growing farms and gardens without a toxic man-made approach. There is hope, but it will not come from trying to kill symptoms. It can only come by reinforcing the mechanisms of Mother Nature. All it takes to flip the script on the destruction we are creating on Earth is some humility, intention and focus on the common-sense workings of living systems. Not only does it work better and cost less than conventional approaches, but it cleans and heals the environment.
Regenerative agriculture has the capacity to correct almost every major issue we face in modern society from climate change to empowering local economies. But it starts with us.