How regenerative crops and Afro-Indigenous farming techniques are putting carbon back in the ground

One of the newest episodes of Gimlet Media's climate change podcast, How To Save A Planet, focuses on two very different farmers who take unique approaches to the same carbon-reduction practice: regenerative agriculture, which is all about enriching the soil by putting more carbon in than your crops take out.

Here's how Regeneration International describes it:

The loss of the world's fertile soil and biodiversity, along with the loss of indigenous seeds and knowledge, pose a mortal threat to our future survival. According to soil scientists, at current rates of soil destruction (i.e. decarbonization, erosion, desertification, chemical pollution), within 50 years we will not only suffer serious damage to public health due to a qualitatively degraded food supply characterized by diminished nutrition and loss of important trace minerals, but we will literally no longer have enough arable topsoil to feed ourselves. Without protecting and regenerating the soil on our 4 billion acres of cultivated farmland, 8 billion acres of pastureland, and 10 billion acres of forest land, it will be impossible to feed the world, keep global warming below 2 degrees Celsius, or halt the loss of biodiversity.

The key to regenerative agriculture is that it not only "does no harm" to the land but actually improves it, using technologies that regenerate and revitalize the soil and the environment. Regenerative agriculture leads to healthy soil, capable of producing high quality, nutrient dense food while simultaneously improving, rather than degrading land, and ultimately leading to productive farms and healthy communities and economies. It is a dynamic and holistic, incorporating permaculture and organic farming practices, including conservation tillage, cover crops, crop rotation, composting, mobile animal shelters and pasture cropping, to increase food production, farmers' income and especially, topsoil.

I've done a lot of work and writing around climate change, yet somehow I was not aware of regenerative farming until I listened to this podcast. The hosts speak with Leah Penniman, author of Farming While Black who runs Soulfire Farm in Upstate New York; and Dawn and Grant Breitkreutz, third-generation farmers in Minnesota who sell environmentally-friendly commodity crops like corn and soy to big industrial processors—something I didn't even know was possible. The episode also talks a lot about the history of Afro-Indigenous farming, as it relates to the entire history of Black Americans, framing "thirty acres and a mule" in some new and interesting ways.