Working with nature

By: Dee Pignéguy

How you care for your soil, and grow the plants in your garden, has a flow on effect that is becoming recognised more and more as having a wider impact.

It is vital that you treat your garden, or farm, as an ecosystem if you don’t want to damage water, air, plants, and ultimately ourselves.

Regenerative agriculture recognises that nature and millions of life forms work in symbiosis. It creates sustainable systems by restoring, renewing, revitalising and regenerating nature’s resources. Everything comes back to soil health – climate change mitigation, water quality, food quality and human health. And soil health means measuring what is underground, as well as soil structure, function and qualities.

Benefits include sequestering carbon, improving water availability and creating soil that allows plants to fully utilise all soil depths. This increases plant diversity which has a flow on effect for insects, birds, worms and the soil food web.

Modern agriculture uses some destructive methods that are chemically supported using pesticides and herbicides and are dependent on fossil fuels. Glyphosate, the ‘chemical of choice’ for killing unwanted plants, also kills the microbiology in the soil as well as the soil algae which is equivalent to killing plankton in the sea.

Pasture species diversity also attracts beneficial insects, allowing growers to rely on natural integrated pest management systems which increase food safety by delivering food without pesticide and herbicide residues. Studies have shown regenerative agriculture produces nutrient dense food.

Key education messages about this have been delivered by New Zealanders Phyllis Tichin and agri-ecologist, Nicole Masters. Nicole spends most of her time back in the USA running workshops for farmers.

Workshops in New Zealand have put some sheep and beef farmers on the road to improving and healing their pastures and sorting out past mistakes. Mixed pastures of herbs, grasses and “weeds” are essential for their nutritional value, which makes all the difference to producing meat high in Omega 3.

Friends of mine in Kawhia practise biodynamic farming, which is restoring the balance and regenerating the land as well as producing healthy animals. Their mixed pastures allow them to have plenty of grazing, even in drought conditions. 

One way to tell the health of the animals is to look at their poo. There are no “cow splats” on that biodynamic farm – the ‘pumpkin pie’ consistency of the spiral shaped mounds tells of animals that are in good condition, providing a manure that will also regenerate their land without polluting waterways.

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