Pioneer trees are nature’s healing agents. Whenever a disturbance happens and is strong enough to tip the balance towards a degrading state, they come in. They grow really fast and often in full sun. Most are thick-skinned in order to cope with harsh winds and climate conditions. Soon enough they start producing seeds; a lot of seeds, and continuously. Their seeds are spread blown by the wind and more trees come up in barren places. Birds fly in to perch on their branches and eat their seeds, and they too plant pioneers far way. They shade the area, break rocks with their roots and exchange sugars for minerals with the fungi in the soil. They bring these minerals up their trunks through the sap and when their leafs drop, these minerals enrich the topsoil. They create shade, habitat, harvest and preserve water, and fertilise the ground so that other plant and animal species can live a better life after theirs. This healing miracle is performed with very little nurturing, if at all.
Although some still argue that evolution is about the survival of the fittest, for quite some time others have realised that life is about cooperation. It is cooperation amongst and within fauna, flora and fungi that fights off entropy rearranging chaos into complex life systems. Every living thing in this planet instinctively knows its role in this game. Even the so-called opposing forces day and night; Yin and Yang; good and evil; life and death, are not actually competing. They too are cooperating, for they are complementary and one could not exist without the other.
Humans, however, have become a different animal all together and literally. As a recent article at The Guardian pointed out, we humans represent only 0,01% of all life in the planet, and yet we have already destroyed 83% of all wild mammals (not to mention other species. Many other journalistic and scientific articles can be easily found presenting overwhelming evidence that Gaia is in the brink of collapse. Human made climate change has been causing record-breaking heat waves and extreme weather events. Humans are also the greatest cause of biodiversity loss. We live now in an era called the Anthropocene, the 6th biggest mass extinction in the 3.8 billion years of life’s history in the planet. And a great, a huge actually, part of this damage is done by industrial agriculture.
But why we seem to be the only ones who have departed from life-supporting roles to master the development of degrading systems? Aren’t we all supposed to be like those pioneer trees? Aren’t we all supposed to leave a better world, with a rich soil, abundant water and pure air for others after our ephemeral lives are cycled? One of the main reasons I believe we do not act upon the terrifying information we already have available is disconnection. It is disconnection from ourselves, disconnection to those around us and to our natural environment that makes it even easier for the 1% of the population that possess over 50% of the world’s recourses to rule the rest of us.
But if one of the biggest problems is industrial agriculture, regenerative farmers can be the heroes of the future, as farmer and author Charles Massy advocates. Massy researched 150 profitable farms and regenerative approaches to write The Call of the Reed Warbler: a new agriculture, a new Earth. The book, that also departs from Massy’s PhD research details the dire predicament the world has been put in by industrial agriculture. And despite presenting overwhelming data on how dangerous climate change and soil degradation have become to our existence, through the farms researched, and farmers interviewed, Massy presents many regenerative modalities and approaches that are certain to be part of the solutions set.
Now, for these modalities and approaches to work and for this regenerative movement take off we need to deal with eco-systems and not with ego-systems, as Darren J. Doherty, a leader in the field states in his Regrarians Handbook. What is concerning is that Darren’s statement comes from a type of experience many in the field have suffered. Even though most regenerative agriculture modalities were conceived out of a place of love and deep understanding of nature’s principles and processes, and even though most people involved in them are good willing people, there is a lot of dissonance between the declared ethics, principles and directives (in these modalities) and what some leaders and educators actually practice on their personal and professional lives.
This dissonance causes great harm, especially to those seeking a sense of belonging in this community as well as a meaningful and well intended profession. Most people get involved with regenerative agriculture exactly because the declared ethics and principles resonate with them, with their quest to be part of the building of a better world. But soon enough we all meet Permaculture teachers with very little “people care”, regenerative agriculture experts practicing ‘market reserve’, sabotaging and gate-keeping instead of creating abundance through cooperation and an open-source attitude.
Disconnection, again, is one of the main causes. Big egos and gatekeepers usually have had their inner sense of connection to themselves and their environment severed. They are also usually driven by insecurity. It is tragicomic to hear teachers and practitioners talking about how abundant the world can be, how generous nature is, while at the same time behaving as if there was limited recognition in the world to be shared by those working in this field. It is this dissonance between teaching about ecological abundance, and regenerative principles, but practicing a sort of socio-economic and emocional scarcity-based economy that I believe leads them to tamper with other people’s careers and opportunities.
Do they think their competitors are the people setting up regenerative farms, running courses and helping others through consultancies in their region or field? Or are we all competing with the lack of knowledge that prevents positive change? We do not need gatekeepers within the many regenerative modalities. We do not need fundamentalist behaviour leading to competition amongst these modalities. We are not competing with our colleagues. We are competing with ignorance, with a scarcity-by-design model of civilisation. We are competing with disconnection from nature and we can source our food in environmentally sound and socially just ways.
Massy explains in his book (quoting Lynn White) that “our ideas are part of the ecosystem we inhabit”. Hence, we need to build eco-systems (not ego-systems) in which a regenerative culture can thrive. And to do this we need as many regenerative farmers, designers and educators as possible, and as fast as we can produce them. This is how we can flip the system from a degrading and consumerist to a regenerative, cooperative and abundant one. And for this we need leaders who can fulfil their role in the regenerative movement’s succession. Leaders that willingly and gracefully prepare the ideal habitat conditions for an even better generation to succeed them.
The reason why big corporations invest heavily in marketing, misinformation and pseudo-science is that they now how powerful intent, ideas, small actions and a motivated group of people can be. But for the regenerative movement to tip the system we need an integrative approach to education and training. We need to prepare and nurture the next generation so that they can become change makers, so that the grow up safe, whole in spirit, capable of acknowledging their role and place within nature.
In sum whatever the causes of the dissonance between regenerative ethics and principles and what is practiced in our professional and personal lives may be, one thing is certain: the regenerative agriculture movement will not thrive in the hands of competitive gate-keepers operating in ego-systems. We need regenerative farmers, designers and educators to fulfil their pioneering role in the movement’s succession so that we can raise the next generation of change makers.
Note 1: This article was inspired by Charles Massy’s and Darren Doherty’s books, personal communication with Darren Doherty, and the documentary ‘Who Cares?’, about social entrepreneurship and change making.
Upcoming Agroforestry Courses
Forestry in Practice – With nearly 30 years of experience and literally thousands of farm plans under his belt, Darren J. Doherty comes to the Northern Rivers (NSW, Australia) to teach the course “Forestry in Practice“. The course equips farmers to holistically integrate trees in their landscapes and enterprises. Darren, who also works closely with livestock producers, has been an adamant promoter of tree integration for all farm enterprises. The course will run on the 9th and 10th of February, 2019, at the Holos Regenerative Design learning site in Brunswick Heads, Northern New South Wales.