Boost Natural Support Systems with Permaculture & Regenerative Agriculture
This website talks a lot about sustainability – reducing our carbon footprint, minimizing harm, and using natural resources in a way that ensures our children have a future. But the truth is, sustainability is no longer adequate. Many of our natural support systems have been so severely depleted that we need to talk about regeneration. A new farming movement is gaining traction. It’s called regenerative agriculture. It’s goal is to provide food while increasing biodiversity, rebuilding soil health, and cooperating with the pollinators and microbial life that make all this possible.
Renerative thinking has been the foundation of the Transition movement since it began. It started with permaculture – a design system that can be used to regenerate both landscapes and food systems. Many people who become active in local Transition groups put permaculture practices into action in their yards and gardens. Regenerative thinking can be applied to many fields. Learn more about what people mean when they talk about regenerative culture at Resilience.org.
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How You Can Learn and Practice Regenerative Culture
Permaculture is a holistic, comprehensive and scalable system of design modeled on natural systems. Permaculture is usually applied to land use and food growing, but the design principles can be applied in everyday life as well (some call this “personal permaculture”). You can learn more about permaculture at the excellent website, Permaculture Principles. In Minnesota you can learn about permaculture hands-on from:
“Regenerative agriculture” is still relatively new and it can mean different things to different people. Take a look at this article in Medium, “Lineages of Regenerative Agriculture,” to get a sense of the field. You can put regenerative practices into effect in your own yard and garden, even if you have a small city lot:
- Cover crops and mulch to protect the soil when nothing is growing
- Composting to feed soil microbes
- No-till and low-till to avoid disrupting the soil networks. Break the soil once when you first start your garden, but after that you don’t need to till again, just weed.
- Agroforestry – add trees and woody shrubs to get fruit and berries and sequester carbon!
- Limit lawn, collect rainwater and work on soil health to keep water on your property and out of storm sewers where it brings toxins directly into rivers and lakes
- Include chickens in your landscape for insect control and soil improvement
But the real bang for the buck comes when farmers use regenerative agriculture methods and when they have a market for their products so they can continue to do so. Minnesota is home to the newly forming Regenerative Agriculture Alliance, an organization that focuses on the use of perennial crops, bison and chickens to rebuild soil and soil health. It’s a nonprofit so donations are welcome.
How we use our land is one of the biggest areas of opportunity for boosting natural systems. Think about the permaculture principle of Obtain a Yield. What kinds of yields do we desperately need today? More topsoil and better soil health. Less carbon in the atmosphere and more in soil and trees. Less rainwater down the storm drain and more water replenishing our aquifers.
How can you use your home or business property for regenerative yields? Here are a few examples:
- Capture rainwater for later use
- Increase water infiltration by having less lawn, healthier water-absorbing soil, and more deep-rooted plants and trees
- Capture carbon by improving soil health, by growing trees and by planting woody shrubs
- Provide food and shelter for wildlife, insects and birds. (Animals and insects are essential to a healthy ecosystem. We are losing species daily so everything we can do to support non-human life will help.)
- Capture energy with solar panels, solar chargers, solar cookers, clothes lines – or wind turbines if you have more land
It’s vitally important that we reconnect and expand the land set aside for forests and prairies, protecting it from development as well as the ravages of invasive plants, like buckthorn. (See the DNR list of invasive species.) Organizations that help people protect and “rewild” land include:
Remediation and Bioremediation
When soil is contaminated by industrial use or lead paint or years of exposure to leaded gas, our typical response is to scrape it up and haul it away. To where is away, and what happens to it then? Bioremediation is a relatively new field, and a good example of regeneration. Bioremediation uses plants and trees, bacteria and fungi, to sequester or break down toxins so the soil can be used again. The University of Minnesota doing this research. Several years ago, the Women’s Environmental Institute and Mashkiikii Urban Farm hosted Nance Klehm, of Social Ecologies, for a weekend workshop on regenerative systems.
Forests and Trees
Trees play an essential role in regulating our climate by taking carbon from the air and storing it in wood. They are also vital for climate adaptation, providing shade for buildings, people and animals and preventing rain from reaching the ground and overwhelming wastewater systems. Their root systems guide water down into the ground where it will eventually recharge our aquifers.
We will need to pay much closer attention to our trees. Higher temperatures and excessive rain stress trees, making them vulnerable to disease and insects. Some of our native trees won’t survive a warmer climate. Land owners can begin now to plant trees likely to thrive in Minnesota’s changing climate.
To learn more about tree care – or to become a tree advocate for your community – see these resources:
- Tree care education at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum
- Minnesota Tree Care Advisors
- Citizen Pruners
Our bees, butterflies, moths and even beetles provide essential services, not least of which is pollinating our fruits and vegetables. Our survival is dependent on theirs. More people than ever are engaged in providing a food supply, habitat and water for pollinators. Learn more here:
- University of Minnesota Bee Lab
- Xerxes Society
- Pollinator education at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum
- Beez Kneez Honey Farm for bee education
Wildlife and Plants
We don’t inhabit this world alone. It’s all one big interconnected, diverse system. These organizations can help you understand the big picture for plants and animals.
- Wild Ones State Conference (find local chapters of this native plant stewardship organization at the conference)
- National Wildlife Federation
- Minnesota Master Gardeners
- Minnesota Master Naturalists
All life on earth is dependent on clean water; and here in Minnesota life depends on fresh water. Unfortunately, a significant amount of our state’s water supply is degraded. Shocking, 50 Minnesota lakes are so impaired by salt that they are no longer classified as freshwater lakes! We are a thousand miles from an ocean but we have saltwater lakes. Here’s what you can do and who you can get involved with to work on water protection:
- Master Water Stewards
- Citizen Water Monitors, a citizen-science project of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency
- Freshwater Society, this organization hosts the water stewards and the Healthy Lakes and Rivers Partnership (HLRP)
- Clean Water Action