I’m celebrating the completion of my first year of retirement in just a couple of weeks. Last year I bought my Scamp trailer, left Stanford and traveled up the West Coast to the Canadian Rockies, all the way East to Maine and back to California and have seen so many beautiful places and people. After returning from this big trip I didn’t want to just keep on and on traveling in the same way, although I loved it, and it couldn’t have gone more smoothly. This was about how cars burn fossil fuels, but it was also about realizing how I have an abundance of time now for the first time in four decades and want to do something constructive with my next 20 or so years. Something not just about my own enjoyment but about the larger human situation.
When I first got back to California and was pondering this, I took the advice to focus on what breaks my heart the most. I followed that into spending six weeks volunteering with the Cheyenne River Lakota tribe in South Dakota. What happened to the Native Americans has always been a terrible heartbreak for me. When I was there, I was able to distill why that was. It came their core belief about the sacredness of the natural world, and the need for respect for all life. That was the heart of it. I found particular connection with that respect/reverence in the visit I wrote about in my last post with the Lakota family who were working to restore the buffalo to the Great Plains. As I studied more about it, this opened up into Great Plains ecosystem restoration and about how the prairie was damaged terribly since first the buffalo was almost exterminated and then it was opened to homesteading, then industrial agriculture and cattle ranching. Now the area is losing population each year as the farmers/ranchers are having a very hard time making a decent living there. I also realized that the Native American demonstration that yes humans CAN live on a landscape for thousands of years without ruining it was also a part of it for me, and that the destruction of ecosystems in our world is the heartbreak behind the initial one.
So as I finish up with my first year of retirement, I now find myself studying intently about the status of ecosystem devastation and restoration in the US and around the world. Because I had been so alarmed in the 1970s when the first ecological disaster warnings started coming out, and then nothing much happened, I had quite frankly been slightly ignoring the problem over the years as being alarmist. Now that I don’t have to spend all my time making money, I find I am motivated to take the time I need to make an accurate assessment about the state of the planet. While I hesitate to say that I am alarmed again now, it certainly looks like we are wrecking our precious ecosystems, headed towards leaving a big mess for the kids to clean up, or worse. So, if I have twenty more years on the planet, maybe I can make a difference in some way. Maybe I can help tip the balance in the direction of restoration rather than further destruction.
All my life I’ve been interested in farming. When I was a teenager I was already reading the “Mother Earth News” and “One Straw Revolution” and then those early Permaculture books when I was in my twenties. It all sounded so good but they stayed as inspiring ideas and didn’t seem to have much to do with the economics of daily life over the decades. But others have been working on it over the years and I am finding that now we have the methodologies and we have farms who have successfully transitioned over to what is now being called “regenerative agriculture”.
Regenerative agriculture, often meaning no-till, diverse cover cropping and so on, is now proving itself to be able to generate as much per acre for farm families as chemical/industrial farming, while each year improving the soil which has become so depleted through current methods.
And one example of a farmer who is doing very well with regenerative ag techniques who teaches it and has written a book about it is Gabe Brown at Brown’s Ranch, a 5000 acre spread in North Dakota, of all places.
So regenerative agriculture is ready for the big-time, ready to sequester lots of carbon out of the air, bring back the water tables, reduce the extinction of wildlife, insects and bees, reduce the chemicals in our foods and bring back healthy happy families to our once rich farm areas in this country. I’m excited to see what I will be able to do to move the transition to it forward. Both Russia and China have plans for transitioning from chemical to organic agriculture and are ahead of the US in this regard. The world is waking up to this. It is time.