Sport, Climate Change & Regenerative Agriculture, How Are They Linked?
As an athlete and a nutritional therapist I like to look after myself and stay as healthy as possible, can make lots of energy and get the performance I want when cycling. As many of you will know I am passionate about the health of the planet and I believe that our own health as well as the health of the planet go hand in hand. My view is that if we look after the planet we will be able to grow delicious and nutritious food, we will be able to live in an environment that is free from pollution and chemicals, our hills and water ways will be full of life and we will benefit from the destressing and mood lifting benefits of nature. I like to grow my own food as well as buy produce that has been produced ethically and sustainably, organically farmed, is packed with nutrients and is good for me and good for the planet. I have a vegetable garden, polytunnel, a slowly expanding fruit orchard and in the past have kept my own chickens and enjoyed their delicious eggs. But with the best will in the world it is sometimes difficult to know if I am making the right decisions. There are always questions such as… is a food produced locally better? Is organic the best option? Can I avoid plastic packaging? Has it been shipped by air? So I was interested when I came across regenerative agriculture and I set out to understand how it can contribute to helping combat climate change, what the main principles are and how as an athlete it can help provide performance nutrition.
After doing some research I discovered that regenerative agriculture is about land use practices that naturally sequester a critical mass of CO2 in the soil and forests. Not only does it “do no harm” to the land but actually improves it, helping to reverse climate change by rebuilding soil organic matter and restoring degraded soil biodiversity. I found out that a revitalized soil is capable of producing high quality, nutrient dense food while simultaneously improving, rather than degrading land. So it seems surprising to me that we don’t hear more about especially since there are farmers using these technologies and methods here in Scotland and organisations like the Soil Association who are actively supporting them. In my research I discovered some key principles that are used with regenerative agriculture which include: increasing the organic matter content of the soil with compost and manure, reducing soil disturbance by limiting digging, ploughing and tilling, using companion planting and crop rotation to keep pests at bay and planting trees and hedges to reduce water run off to prevent soil erosion and the need for fertilisers. All of these aspects of regenerative agriculture help to combat climate change and increase biodiversity both of which are so important for a healthy planet. Not only this but food produced this way is actually more nutritious packed with micronutrients that are missing from mass produced intensively farmed produce. As athletes we need to consume not only macronutrients but also micronutrients to help us make sufficient energy. So regenerative farming can help us perform at our best and protect the planet!
"transform the way we eat, farm and care for our natural world"
2021 was predicted as a turning point for climate change. Antonio Guterres, the UN Secretary General, said it is a "make or break" moment for the world. In November 2021, world leaders will be gathering in Glasgow for the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) and Scotland will set the stage for negotiations and decisions that could affect all life on earth. This comes on the back of last September at the UN General Assembly wen the Chinese President, Xi Jinping, announced that China aimed to go carbon neutral by 2060. The collapsing cost of renewables is making technology businesses to embed climate risk into their financial decision making. The results can be seen in the dipping share price of oil companies meanwhile Tesla's rocketing share price has made it the world's most valuable car company. Maybe the tide is beginning to turn. Organisations like the Soil Association in the UK are pushing the government to try new innovative technologies to help tackle climate change and deliver added benefits for people and the planet. They are bringing together farmers, land managers, industry members, researchers and other experts to share best practice and try new things. The Soil Association aims to transform the way we eat, farm and care for our natural world. One of those ways is through regenerative agriculture.
"it is possible to be overweight and yet suffer the effects of malnutrition"
The nutrient density of our food has fallen tremendously in the last 50-70 years with studies in the US, the UK and Australia showing nutrient reductions of between 9-38%. The nutrients included phosphorous, iron, calcium, protein, riboflavin, and ascorbic acid (a precursor of vitamin C). What is shocking is that if we are getting enough calories but not enough nutrients for good health it is possible to be overweight and yet suffer the health effects of malnutrition. The problem comes when the natural soil biology has been disrupted through heavy tillage, leaving the soil bare between plantings, and the application of herbicides, fungicides and chemical fertilizers. Science has demonstrated that in biologically healthy conditions 85 to 90 percent of plant nutrient is helped by a relationship with helpful microbes and if you kill them off the plants are less nutritious.
I wanted to find out more about the principles of regenerative agriculture and how it to help tackle both climate change and help keep us healthy too. Being good for the planet and good for us too sounds like a win-win! Here is what I have discovered and I hope you might want to find out about your regenerative farming in your area. I believe you can make a difference by buying local from a regenerative farm, if they are successful it will spread!
So here are the key principles of regenerative farming that I discovered and how they make a difference:
- Increasing the organic matter content in soil.
- Minimising soil disturbance.
- Companion Planting.
- Constant Soil Cover
- Planting Trees
- Integrating Livestock with Arable Land Use
1. Organic Content in Soil
The organic content in soil can be increased in a number of different ways. Rotating different crops and between crops and livestock, increases soil organic matter and prevents depletion of the soil. Adding manure or compost can make a difference in the long term. Winter cropping can also help. Soil that has more organic matter in it has been proven to be more profitable too, producing more quality crops.
2. Minimising Soil Disturbance
Reducing the amount of soil disturbance helps to improve soil structure, and reducing machinery use helps prevent compaction. However it is also key to avoid using herbicides instead as they have a detrimental effect on soil biology and reduce biodiversity. This helps support the helpful microbial balance that helps plants create the nutrients we need to be healthy.
3. Companion Planting
Planting two different crops together can help prevent weeds, combat disease and pests, and improve soil health. It is especially useful if they have different rooting profiles so for example planting a cereal along with a pea or bean is a good combination as the legumes help fix nitrogen in the soil and reduce the need for fertilisers. Again providing the nutrients we need naturally.
4. Providing Constant Soil Cover
Nature never leaves soil uncovered it very quickly returns to green again. So ideally the soil should never be left uncovered as it is then at risk of erosion from wind and water leaching out valuable nutrients. There are several different types of cover crops, including crops which help to recover nitrogen, green manures for improving nutrition and fertility, companion crops grown alongside cash crops, living mulches for weed suppression, and crops that are used for pest or disease suppression. Cover crops are primarily to protect or enhance the life and function of soil. Potential benefits include reducing erosion and nitrate leaching, improving soil structure and water-holding capacity, disrupting pest and disease cycles, helping weed management, increasing biodiversity and providing grazing for livestock.
5. Planting Trees
Trees not only reduce wind damage but they help slow water run off preventing soil erosion. The deep roots can help prevent nitrate leaching out of soils, reducing the need for fertilisers which can also contribute to water pollution. Trees and hedges too are an important shelter and provide food for small animals and birds and they will also help with pest control.
"food for us ... for the soil ... for our eyes .. for the soul ... and for the future"
So armed with this new knowledge about regenerative agriculture I set out to find out where my local farmers might be who are using these methods.
Right on my door step is Kintaline Farm in Benderloch who have been implementing regenerative methods for several years. I love the way hey describe what their vision is:
- Providing food for pollinators and predators, insects and birds, mammals and invertebrates
- Food for our sheep which is far more nutritious than old rough grazing
- Food for us … fruit and nuts, herbs and more
- food for our stoves as we coppice the timber in the coming years
- habitats for all sorts of wildlife
- shelter for the sheep and poultry
- herbal health for us all
- food for the soil as the mychorrizal (fungi) symbiotic relationships develop
- food for our eyes as it will look amazing
- food for the soul as it will be such a wonderful place to be
- food for the future as a legacy for generations who follow our footsteps.
There are other regenerative crofts and farms in Argyll including Sailean Croft on the Isle of Lismore, Kinloch Permaculture a small urban family based project with a forest garden and allotment and Dalavich Homestead, a new regenerative agriculture project restoring hill.
"I am going to try a winter green crop"
Regenerative agriculture has so much going for it and yet there has been so little focus on it. Learning about it has inspired me to put the principles into action in my own little patch of land. Looking over at my windowsill as I type, it is packed with seedlings of courgettes, spring onions, broccoli and cauliflower nearly ready to plant out now the risk of frost is almost over. In the polytunnel I have herbs as rocket, strawberries, peas and tomatoes. I am slowly cultivating a small orchard of apples, pears, plum and greengages as well as currants, blueberries and gooseberries. I am aiming to try a winter green crop this year for the first time. We recycle our kitchen scraps as compost which is full of worms and eggshells to add extra nutrients. Around the garden we have a mixed native hedge which provides shelter for the birds.
Why don’t you check out if you have a local regenerative agricultural project you can support or put some of the principles into action yourself? Every bit we do to help sequester carbon whilst increasing biodiversity is a step in the right direction. Not only that but you will benefit from the wholesome nutrition it provides giving you beneficial levels of important micronutrients to help with your energy production and keep you at peak performance!
Here at Skirr Skin we aim to look holistically at sustainability and we start by searching our ingredients which are organically farmed helping soil health, biodiversity as well as being good for your skin.