Regenerative Skills

Oliver Goshey

Helping you learn the skills and solutions to create an abundant and connected future read less
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Growing fresh produce through the coldest winters, with Catherine Sylvestre
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Growing fresh produce through the coldest winters, with Catherine Sylvestre
I’ve been so happy to see how popular the concept of growing one’s own food has become in recent years. Especially since the pandemic, a lot of us have connected deeply with the need to build food resilience by cultivating our own gardens, and quite a few have even gone further and started to grow at a market scale.  It’s a beautiful thing to be able to eat fresh healthy produce from your own land, but I’ve often wondered as well, how we can cross the long dark and cold period of winter, when fresh local veggies are tough to come by. Though there are quite a few volumes about season extension in the garden, I had never really come across anyone who was actively planting for deep months of winter, and so I was thrilled when I found that New Society publishers were putting out a whole book on exactly this subject. Building on years of research, experimentation, and collaboration, and co authored by Catherine Sylvestre and Jean Martin Fortier “The Winter Market Gardener” is a beautifully illustrated practical guide to winter vegetable production for small farmers growing in northern climates.  I got to speak with Catherine Sylvestre who is a professional agronomist and director of vegetable production and leader of the market garden team at la Ferme des Quatre-Temps (The Fours Seasons Farm) in Quebec, Canada. She develops, implements, and teaches best practices for cold-season growing, specializing in crop protection and greenhouse production for northern climates. In this episode we cover just about every focus in this very complete book, from where the interest and research into winter growing started, sources of knowledge and inspiration for their ongoing experiments into winter growing, strategies and season planning, and even sales and marketing advice for the off-season produce. Catherine also gives crucial advice on the very practical side for things like structures and season extension tools, greenhouse heating devices, disease and pest protection, harvesting and cold storage, and even lists of plants that have grown well for them as well as those which have struggled. This episode could very well be the key to extending your home production of fresh veggies, whether at home or in a market garden, for the entire year, so you may want to have a notebook for this one and follow the link in the show notes to get your own copy.
Making micro farms work through lean planning, with Ben Hartman
1w ago
Making micro farms work through lean planning, with Ben Hartman
I’ve been observing an interesting trend in the regen ag space. The concept and awareness of regen ag has been growing exponentially with many people exploring ways to start their own farms and to participate in and support those who are already involved. At the same time the current economic situation and the complexity of regulations, paired with skill worker shortages, and other challenges are leading people to burn out or quit altogether.  It’s no joke how complex and difficult it can be to run a lean and profitable farm in modern times. Luckily there are some successful and experienced farmers out there who are helping to train and inform the new generation in order to support them in getting established.  One voice in particular who I’ve admired since the release of his first book, The Lean Farm, is Ben Hartman. Though they both have a lot of experience from running their previous large scale operation, Ben along with his wife Rachel started their new venture, Clay Bottom Farm which is an urban farm, set on the north edge of Goshen, IN, in 2006. One of their key features is that all of their food is sold within 1.5 miles of the farm.  Ben is best known for bringing the Lean methodology pioneered in factory manufacturing, to the management and process on small farms. He now has a new book out titled The Lean Micro Farm: How to Get Small, Embrace Local, Live Better, and Work Less.  In this interview Ben shares his story of his initial passion for farming and the journey to creating a simplified and efficient operation that allowed him to enjoy a life with his family and still have hobbies while running a profitable farm.  We discuss the criteria he uses from the Lean system to design workflows, focus energy on the tasks of highest return, and eliminate unnecessary work.  We also go into the practical details of this ⅓ of an acre operation such as the tools he uses, his method for bed flipping in the market garden, the marketing and sales system he has, and the infrastructure that makes it all flow smoothly.  This episode is packed with advice for growers who are looking to get small by reducing complexity and waste without compromising profitability or losing their customer base.
Low tech solutions for erosion and water management with Neil Bertrando and Jeff Adams
Nov 24 2023
Low tech solutions for erosion and water management with Neil Bertrando and Jeff Adams
We live in a time when everyone seems to be looking for high tech solutions for every problem. Maybe it's due to all of the new tech that has come out in recent decades with lofty promises of new frontiers, or the fact that so many of us are removed from regular interaction with the natural world, but I genuinely believe that technology is more over-applied and responsible for more problems than it usually solves. For that reason I always like to see when professionals advocate for low tech solutions and a return to basics and analog methods, especially when working with nature.    Today I have the pleasure of introducing two guests whose work I’ve admired for a while and who co teach a online course called low tech erosion control which focuses on the approach and techniques that are approachable for almost everyone to reverse and regenerate landscapes suffering from water erosion.    First up, there’s Jeff Adams, who is owner/operator of TerraSophia LLC, a watershed restoration and landscape contracting firm based in Moab, UT. He has a depth of experience in permaculture, watershed rehabilitation, water harvesting, erosion control, and educational programs. With over 20 years of field experience, Jeff brings a practical and integrated approach to each project and course he does.    Along with him we’re joined by Neil Bertrando, a regenerative specialist who has focused on integrated water harvesting, agroforestry systems, homestead production gardens with season extension, medicinal pollinator habitats, and ecological restoration for over 12 years. He has been a permaculture instructor at OSU since 2014. He holds degrees in Biology and Environmental Science and owns an ecological design and education firm, RT Permaculture, specializing in effective and regenerative landscapes.    Together we start by digging into each of their unique paths into working in ecological restoration in the American Southwest and the Great basin regions. They each describe the challenges of their climate and context as well as the historical and current sources of degradation of the surrounding ecology that is often behind the restoration project where they work. From there we systematically walk through the site assessment process of reading the landscape and understanding the local ecology to begin the project design.    Both Jeff and Neil describe the ways they develop a plan of action including the information they gather and how they assess different implementation strategies, especially from the low tech options and working with materials found on site.  We also talk about one of my favorite and often overlooked aspects of project design, which is the maintenance and revision strategies over time, as well as how to design with them in mind. This discussion is full of practical advice that you can use to get started on your own watershed restoration project at a manageable scale,
Working with wastewater and learnings from Biosphere 2, with Mark Nelson
Nov 17 2023
Working with wastewater and learnings from Biosphere 2, with Mark Nelson
I’ve been lucky in recent months to be able to speak to people who’ve been leaders and change makers in the regenerative space for a significant amount of time. Building on that knowledge and experience I got to speak with Dr Mark Nelson.    Mark is Chairman of the Institute of Ecotechnics, head of Wastewater Gardens International and has worked for several decades in closed ecological system research, bioregenerative space life support, ecological engineering, restoration of damaged ecosystems, desert agriculture and wastewater recycling. Notably, Dr. Nelson was a member of the eight person “biospherian” crew for the first two year Biosphere 2 closure experiment, 1991-1993.    The project included pioneering regenerative agriculture and waste and water recycling. Even before that, in the 1970s, he planted an organic fruit orchard at Synergia Ranch, Santa Fe NM and has helped manage its organic fruit and vegetable farm for decades.    As Associate Editor of Life Sciences in Space Research, he is also an author and contributor for numerous books including “Pushing Our Limits: Insights from Biosphere 2”, “The Wastewater Gardener: Preserving the Planet One Flush at a Time” (2014), and “Life Under Glass: Crucial Lessons in Planetary Stewardship” (2020) by Mark and two fellow biospherians.    I first planned out this interview withMark to focus on his work with wastewater management and gardening, but I quickly realized that it was only a small part of the work and experience in his expertise.    As a result, we cover a lot of ground in this session ranging from the work and development on the Biosphere 2 installation and what it was like being part of the research team who lived there for two years.    Mark talks about his work and learnings from decades of international ecological projects including those focused on wastewater management and how all these diverse places and contexts continue to inform the Ecotechnics initiatives.  We also get around to focusing on his book “The Wastewater Gardener: Preserving the Planet One Flush at a Time” published by Synergetic Press. There we dissect the key considerations for safe harvesting and reuse of wastewater and the potential uses of it in gardens and beyond. Making use of wastewater is becoming more and more essential as the energy intensive and expensive methods of purification are quickly becoming unfeasible. Though people are becoming aware of this necessity and its potential it’s still going to require a lot more visibility to be adopted at the scale that is needed, so I hope that episodes like this will act as a catalyst to get more listeners like yourselves to consider how using waste water might fit into your own projects.
Reviving heritage foods through landrace farming, with Glenn Roberts
Nov 10 2023
Reviving heritage foods through landrace farming, with Glenn Roberts
A few months back when I covered the topic of landrace gardening and crop breeding, I had no idea what a passionate and knowledgeable community around the world that I was tapping into.  The seed savers and plant breeders who I’ve been in touch with, including quite a few who are part of the Discord community for this podcast, are working on everything from quinoa crosses for tough climate staple crop production, to the domestication of silverweed, adapted varieties for low maintenance, and so much more. For the most part though I’ve been coming across people who are doing this in their backyards and only occasionally on farms. It made me wonder if there was real potential in bringing heritage seed varieties and landrace breeding into larger operations and if it was even feasible at a large scale. Luckily, Joseph Lofthouse passed me the contact of Glenn Roberts promising that I wouldn’t regret reaching out to him and learning about the work he’s doing at Anson Mills.  Glenn Roberts founded Anson Mills in 1998 in Charleston, South Carolina, with the vision to rematriate lost foods of the 18th and 19th century Southern Pantry. Today, Anson Mills grows and produces artisan organic landrace grain, legume and oilseed ingredients for chefs and home cooks worldwide, and provides pro bono culinary research support for chefs, pastry chefs, bakers, brewers and distillers through AM Research Labs. Anson Mills provides pro bono seed biosecurity for the growing community of Southern organic place-based identity preserved landrace crop farmers. Glenn is the recipient of the USA Artisan of the Year and National Pathfinder Awards, a founding member of the Carolina Gold Rice Foundation and a pro bono consultant to the Board of Advisors, Stone Barns Center. From that bio, you can see that I hit the jackpot in my search for production scale farms working on landrace growing projects.  Beyond the work he’s most known for though, Glenn is a very multifaceted and multi talented individual in many other fields which he describes at the beginning of the episode.  From there he took me through his journey of rediscovering Carolina Golden Rice, a heritage variety that he knew from his childhood but which had been all but lost by the time he grew up. Glenn also gave me a window into the process of reviving an endangered seed and food variety as well as the incredible network of people around the world studying and working on these challenges.  We also explore the culture that is connected to our traditional foods and how reviving lost genetics is about so much more than putting a different type of seeds in the ground, but rather rediscovering how to grow these strains and the management of the land and even community that is involved in caring for this food.  There are so many fascinating stories and ideas in this interview that open up the world and potential of landrace growing as well as a huge network and collection of resources that Glenn and his collaborators have created for those of you who might be interested in getting involved and assisting in these efforts so I really encourage you to listen through to the end on this one and to check out the links and resources in the show notes for this episode on the website as well.
John Kempf on the trends and future of regenerative agriculture
Nov 3 2023
John Kempf on the trends and future of regenerative agriculture
My guest today needs no introduction if you’ve been paying attention to the regen ag scene in the last decade, but just in case you’re new to this topic and community let me catch you up to speed   John Kempf is an entrepreneur, speaker, podcast host and teacher. He is passionate about the potential of well managed agriculture ecosystems to reverse ecological degradation. It is John’s mission to have these regenerative models of agriculture management become the mainstream globally by 2040. In addition to being a grower, John is the founder of Advancing Eco Agriculture, Crop Health Labs, Ozadia, and the Regenerative Agriculture Academy. He hosts the Regenerative Agriculture Podcast, where he interviews top growers and scientists about the principles and practice of implementing regenerative agriculture on a large scale. I had John on the show twice now and in the first conversation I didn’t know much about him or his work and so we covered many of the softball questions about things like the definition of regen ag and its importance in a new ecological food system. Since then I’ve become an avid listener of his podcast and have a much better understanding of just how important his work and that of his companies have become in leading the way in this scene. As a result I wanted to explore some of the deeper questions that very few people have enough of an overview of this movement to be able to see, and that’s exactly what we cover in this session. Together John and I navigate where regen ag  is in this current moment and the drivers that have brought it this far. John reflects on the patterns and learnings from the vast clientele of AEA about the commonalities and characteristics of successful farmers who’ve transitioned to regenerative management as well as those of the coaches and consultants that are effective in assisting them in their journeys.  We also look into the influences outside of farming directly, the external factors that set boundaries on producers from the large food companies, retail outlets, commodities trade, investors, and politicians that wield so much power. Since John’s work is already one of my go-to sources for information on the newest innovations and state of progress for regen ag, it was a unique pleasure to be able to gain insight into his vantage point and strategy on how to bring this movement forward further.
Will Harris reflects on his career and his return to giving a damn
Oct 27 2023
Will Harris reflects on his career and his return to giving a damn
Despite the popularity of regenerative agriculture at the moment and the fact that there are many inspiring farmers involved in the movement, it’s still rare to find experienced farmers, especially in large scale operations that have been working to regenerate their ecosystems and communities for more than 20 years.  For this reason I was thrilled to connect with Will Harris of White Oak Pastures for a second time to dig into the remarkable career he’s had and the journey of transforming his farm into one of industrial beef production to a holistically managed multi-species farm that has been a beacon of the potential of regen ag in his region. For those of you who didn’t catch the first episode I recorded with him, Will Harris is the owner of White Oak Pastures, in Georgia’s semi-tropical Coastal Plain. Described by his daughters as an “organic icon” of the Real Food movement, he is one of the very first people to bring grass-fed and humanely raised meat to the mainstream. Harris is one of the most outspoken critics of industrialized, centralized, and commoditized agriculture and is one of the most recognized leaders in the regenerative and resilient agriculture space.  In this episode we focus on the new book that he’s just published titled A Bold Return to Giving a Damn: One Farm, Six Generations, and the Future of Food.  We start by talking about the origins of his family’s tenure on the farm almost 150 years ago and how management and practices changed through the generations.  From there Will shares his personal journey from following in the footsteps of his father who was a skilled industrial cattleman, to his awakening that gradually began to transform the way the farm was run.  Along the way the town of Bluffton, GA where they’re located began to change and grow along with them and we discuss the role that White Oaks played in the revitalization of the community. We also cover a wide range of insights from Will’s career from the challenges and hurdles that have been working against their vision from the political and industrial forces in the food system in the US, to points of hope and inspiration that make the difficulties worthwhile.
Key insights from reviving soils around the world, with Matt Slaughter
Oct 20 2023
Key insights from reviving soils around the world, with Matt Slaughter
Though we’ve covered many aspects of soil health on this show in previous episodes, this is an area of scientific and agronomic study which is constantly growing and evolving. It seems that there are a growing number of specialists who are pioneering research in very specific and detailed aspects of soil health which helps to expand our overall picture of the ecosystem under our feet.  At the same time it’s essential to be able to translate all of this advanced biology, chemistry, and even physics into information that someone from outside of academia can translate into action on the land and a soil care and fertility strategy. Thanks to another great recommendation and connection from my friend Anja at Soilify, I was put in contact with Matt Slaughter to explore this kind of practical information. For 20 years Matt has been helping farmers around the world understand their soil microbiology and finding ways to help them "bring soil back to life". He is the Founder, President and Laboratory Director of Earthfort where he’s primarily focused on customer support through consultation and education, but is also responsible for product research and development. As the creator of Earthforts products, he is constantly striving to help customers understand and use the products to the greatest advantage of the end-users. As a scientist, philosopher, and poet, Matthew is always learning and attempting to integrate natural, holistic processes into agriculture.  Matt was also an early student of Elaine Ingham and worked with her for years going out to consultations in remote places around the world. In this interview, Matt starts by sharing some incredible stories from those early days in the field and the key learnings that have stayed with him until this day. We talk about how he has developed the soil amendments and products that his company is known for and what he’s learned about how they work over years of study.  We also get into a broader understanding of soil health and function as well as how it can differ across contexts and use cases. Matt gives his thoughts on many other soil amendment strategies like bio inoculants, different types of compost, biochar and the like as well as what all this research and working with farmers all around the world has taught him about the commonalities and patterns of productive soil and land. I’ve often been careful not to go too deep and academic into the topic of soil health because of how technical and unapproachable it can be, but Matt does a great job of making all the immense knowledge and experience he has simple and approachable so I know you’ll find valuable insights that you can use to develop your own soil care strategy.
Building a regenerative food system in Europe, with Patricia Wiklund
Oct 13 2023
Building a regenerative food system in Europe, with Patricia Wiklund
This week I want to build on the panel discussion that I started previously in the panel episode with the group from the Alpbach forum. In that conversation we looked at various visions on what a regenerative food system could look like from representatives from Nestle, Agrana, and a conservation farmer.  Today I want to bring another perspective into this idea of building healthy and resilient food systems from a friend of mine who has been working on this by connecting stakeholders throughout the entire food value chain in Finland. Patricia Wiklund is the CEO of Invenire, a making ideas-happen-agency working with food & the bioeconomy, circularity, biodiversity & thriving rural landscapes. She has been instrumental in creating a “living laboratory” on the Åland Islands in southwest Finland. She is also a hub leader in the Baltic region of the Savory Institute Network promoting holistic land management, and a partner in Gens, a company working for upward spiraling farm life.  Patricia and I met almost two years ago during my work co-coordinating the first Climate Farming conference. She along with three other fascinating colleagues of hers from Finland attended the event and were my first window into the budding regenerative agriculture movement in that area of Europe, which I otherwise knew next to nothing about.  Since then I've been looking for an opportunity to follow up with her in order to see how their projects and collaborations develop. It turns out Patricia and her team have been advancing some fascinating experiments in connecting members all through the production, processing, and retail sides of the food web in her area and this is the main focus of our conversation in this session.  We also cover the challenges and opportunities of working in a small microcosm like the Åland islands where she works, and some of the advantages of dealing with food systems that haven’t yet been over developed and retain some of their traditional structures like local markets and diverse local production. Patricia also shares insights into how we can all work, in very tangible ways, to become active and participating citizens in our food systems instead of just consumers. This session holds a lot of new insights and options for people who care to become more resilient on a community level in terms of food security in ways that have nothing to do with planting a veggie garden or becoming a farmer, many of which are relevant even to those of us who do produce food.
From planting to harvest. How to care for your fruit trees, with Suzan Poizner
Oct 6 2023
From planting to harvest. How to care for your fruit trees, with Suzan Poizner
The growing popularity of permaculture food forests and backyard multispecies orchards is part of a movement that I’m 110% in support of. Any addition of native and food producing plants in diverse multispecies configurations is a wonderful thing.  I want to see as many people as possible find success with these plantings, and that’s why I’ve been a bit concerned by the way that many designers and landscapers oversell the benefits and expectations to people who want to plant their first fruit trees and expect to get a yield from them.  That isn’t to say that it’s a ton of work and you shouldn’t expect to get meaningful harvests from your fruit trees, but I want to make sure that first time growers have realistic expectations of the maintenance and growth cycles of their fruit trees so they can manage the and find the success they’re looking for.  Caring for a fruit tree or small orchard is a growing journey for both the plants themselves and the people who care for them, and to shed light on the full journey of growing fruit trees I got in touch with Suzan Poizner.  Susan is an urban orchardist in Toronto, Canada and the author of the award-winning fruit tree care book Growing Urban Orchards. She is an instructor of Fruit Production at Niagara College in Ontario and the creator of the award-winning online fruit tree care training program at www.orchardpeople.com. Susan is also the host of The Urban Forestry Radio Show and Podcast and an ISA Certified Arborist.  In this conversation Suzan and I talk about the differences between caring for a few fruit trees or a small community orchard in the city, and what most people associate with orchard maintenance in a farm context.  From there we go methodically through the essential considerations of selecting fruit tree varieties for both resilience and production, planting considerations to give them the best conditions to start with, maintenance and pruning in the early years to ensure vigorous growth, tips and tricks to increase harvests and fruit quality, and a whole lot more.  We even talk about Suzan’s learning journey in developing a community orchard and some of the unexpected challenges that came up.
Ecological regeneration through profitable farming with Jake Takiff
Sep 29 2023
Ecological regeneration through profitable farming with Jake Takiff
Any of you who’ve been following the show this season will remember one of my favorite episodes from the beginning of the year in which I documented a water restoration job I went out to Nicaragua to go in collaboration with Restoration Agriculture Development, the contracting company founded by Mark Shepard. There I worked under the guidance of Jake Takiff, RAD’s dryland restoration specialist and the lead designer on that job.  I got along famously with Jake and learned a ton from working alongside him on that project. So much of his personal journey and the story of the development of his own farm and restoration design in Western Colorado didn’t make it into the episode we recorded back then, but I knew I would need to follow up and share his story with all of you. Well we were finally able to find time and make our long overdue catch up call happen.  So let’s start with a little intro to set the context. Jake and his wife Meghan started Cedar Springs Farm back in 2016 on the Western Slope of Colorado where they’ve built a home and now have two children. They are focused on building soil, fostering biodiversity and managing water. The project utilizes scaled up permaculture techniques and regenerative farming practices including silvopasture, rotational grazing and agroforestry. The management practices have transformed the landscape from an arid, high desert into a lush system of pastures with trees and yield high quality beef and pork. Jake also hustles as a project coordinator, consultant and field manager for Restoration Agriculture Development through which he’s had the opportunity to design and install regenerative systems for farmers all over the world. His experience on his own farm, combined with the many installations he’s managed for clients gives him a unique perspective and approach to the regenerative farming movement. In this conversation we’re going to unpack that approach piece by piece. We start with a little background into his first experiences in farming and the elements that clicked and have stayed with him his whole life. We go into the key connections and learnings that have informed his growth and capabilities as a farmer and land manager, as well as the mentors that have shaped his path. Jake shares the details of his design approach to his own farm and how the patterns of the various ecosystems where he’s farmed have helped to inform him about the hydrology, plant communities, animal communities and the essential relationship between all of them that have come together to make his medium sized farm work so well. We also dissect some of the specifics of the experiments he’s run over the last 7 years, those that have worked, and those that haven’t, and contributed to the evolving transformation of the land that continues to get better and better.  In general I’m a big admirer of people who have come to develop such a close and observant relationship with the land and living beings of the places they inhabit, and Jake is an exceptional example of someone who has centered his life around a deep connection to all the diverse and nuanced elements of his ecosystem from the natural ecology, his own family and local community, and even the complexities of the economy and socioeconomic realities that they participate in.
Visions for a regenerative food system in Europe
Sep 22 2023
Visions for a regenerative food system in Europe
At the end of August I had a unique opportunity to attend the European Alpbach Forum in Austria, as I was invited by organizers at Nestlé to moderate an event they were organizing. This was a unique session that included a guided hike in the Alps around the town and a discussion centered on the core themes of which structures, innovation, incentives, models, and mindsets are necessary to enable the transition to regenerative food systems.  As listeners of this show already know, I’ve explored these concepts a lot in the past but mainly from a farmer and land steward perspective, only a few times exploring the wider industry that processes, distributes, and markets the end products that most people buy. So I was curious to understand how some of the biggest food companies globally and in Europe see the concept of regenerative food systems and their roles and responsibilities within them.  The event included three speakers, Katja Seidenschnur (the sustainability director at Nestle), Ulrike Middelhoff (Group sustainability manager at Agrana which is a large processor of food ingredients like sugar and starch), and Hans Gnauer (farmer and deputy chairman at Boden Leben, which roughly translates to Living Soil, a conservation ag consulting and education company). Together they represent perspectives from different sized food processing companies and the supply chain from field to final product.  Since we knew we wouldn't be able to record the event itself, The night before, we got together for dinner in the little town of Reith in Tirol and recorded this conversation in a cozy little restaurant. In this case cozy also means that the old wooden benches were quite creaky and that's the sound in the background which I'm not enough of a sound engineer to have removed completely. Oh well. In this conversation with the three of them we started by talking about each of their visions for a regenerative food system and what actions and resources they think are needed to make them a reality. I picked apart a few of the answers to get beyond the easy proposals and challenge a few of the assumptions beyond them. We also go into the roadblocks and challenges that are holding these ideas back and the responsibilities that each of them and their representative companies or communities have in transforming the current food system to one that goes even beyond sustainability. I’m really glad to have had the chance to get to know each of the speakers during our event and it gave me some valuable insights into the paradigm and thought process behind each of these representative members of the food system that has changed so much of how we eat and experience food in recent decades. I really hope to continue to participate in conversations like this and help to shape the dialogue and priorities that these companies base their policies and practices on. If any of you out there would like to hear me explore any particular topic or perspective from other aspects of the food industry, you can join the conversation and make requests on our Discord community which you can sign up for for free on our website at regenerativeskills.com.
Pioneering regenerative dairy production, with Phyllis Van Amburgh
Sep 15 2023
Pioneering regenerative dairy production, with Phyllis Van Amburgh
At this point I’ve covered a wide array of practices and management styles that fall under the broad umbrella of regenerative agriculture. Some could be considered traditional while others are more modern and innovative and they span continents, climates, biomes and industries. Nonetheless I’ve noticed a pretty big gap that I’ve yet to cover in detail that I hope to begin to fill in today.  Dairy farming has been under sharp criticism in recent times. Scrutiny over everything from the appropriateness of dairy in the diet to the methane emissions of cows and the controversial practices of early separation of calves from their mothers to maximize milk production have all contributed to a diminished reputation.  Though these critiques are very legitimate, what if there were solutions to all of them without the need to turn to non-dairy alternatives? Today to explore these solutions is one of the leaders in regenerative dairy and a growing movement of dairy producers working to develop a new way of managing dairy cows and the pastures they coexist with. Phyllis Van Amburgh along with her husband Paul and their family are leaders in holistic land use, biodiverse cultivation, Organic dairy herd management, and more.  Together they are dairy farmers in upstate New York, and have been involved in key innovations in the dairy industry, mostly in western parts of the world, re-integrating dairy cows as a cornerstone for ecological health and for human communities to thrive. Phyllis and Paul have also helped develop the Grass-fed certification program with NOFA-NY and PCO.  In this interview Phyllis starts by sharing her inspiring story of transitioning away from her previous career as she and Paul embraced a gradual move into full time farming.  We explore the intuition she had that much of the conventional wisdom and ways of doing things in the dairy industry were not really in the interest of either the cows nor the farmers and how that led them to rethink their own dairy operation.  Phyllis outlines the key aspects they consider essential for managing a dairy herd regeneratively and the pioneering journey they’re on to make exclusively grass fed dairy cows viable through selective breeding and holistic managed grazing.  We also explore Phyllis’ insights from her work helping large dairy operations in the USA and Europe to transition to regenerative management and the challenges and opportunities that the wider industry has to transform.
Akiva Silver on propagating plants and starting a nursery business: Part 2
Sep 8 2023
Akiva Silver on propagating plants and starting a nursery business: Part 2
This is part two of the conversation started last week with Akiva Silver. Co-owner of Twisted Tree nursery and homestead. If you haven’t yet heard the first part, you can find the link in the show notes for this episode on the website at regenerativeskills.com You’ll remember from last week that one of the first projects I encourage people to do when starting any land based project is to start a plant nursery. Not only will you start the long process of coaxing plants into maturity which is worth beginning as soon as possible, but you’ll also learn valuable plant care and propagation in the process. Planting your own nursery can also save you money when you eventually begin planting out your design, and if you enjoy it enough and can find a market for saplings and seedlings, you can make good money selling nursery stock as well. There are also real advantages to growing your plants in the soil and environment where they’ll live so they get the chance to acclimate rather than suffer a harsh adjustment from the heated greenhouse and chemical fertilisers so common in most plant nurseries.    In the first portion of this episode we dove into how Akiva first began to propagate trees and his transition into making a business out of it and supporting his family by growing plants. We also got into all kinds of propagation methods and where and how to find the best materials for growing nursery stock. This week I’ll conclude this interview by exploring how to build a business around growing the plants you love, improving your soil enough that you can eliminate fertilisers and other inputs, the maintenance and care of your nursery through the different seasons, and the sales and marketing side of the business.
Akiva Silver on propagating plants and starting a nursery business: Part 1
Sep 1 2023
Akiva Silver on propagating plants and starting a nursery business: Part 1
After the last few weeks of focus on the intricacies of Holistic management and building community in agriculture, I wanted to go back to some technical information on specific farming enterprises.  One of the most common questions I get asked from listeners and clients who are starting new projects is about where to begin. Those of you familiar with permaculture will know of the common advice to live and wait a full year on your site before beginning to design and implement your vision. This time of observation and information gathering can be essential to avoiding common mistakes and preparing your place and design adequately to begin, but it can be frustrating for many people who just want to get started. For that reason, one of the first projects I encourage people to do is to start a plant nursery. Not only will you start the long process of coaxing plants into maturity which is worth beginning as soon as possible, but you’ll also learn valuable plant care and propagation in the process. Planting your own nursery can also save you money when you eventually begin planting out your design, and if you enjoy it enough and can find a market for saplings and seedlings, you can make good money selling nursery stock as well. There are also real advantages to growing your plants in the soil and environment where they’ll live so they get the chance to acclimate rather than suffer a harsh adjustment from the heated greenhouse and chemical fertilisers so common in most plant nurseries.  In order to get a better understanding of just how easy and enjoyable it can be to start a nursery, I spoke with Akiva Silver who owns and operates Twisted Tree Farm, a homestead, nut orchard, and nursery located in Spencer, New York, where he grows around 20,000 trees per year using practices that go beyond organic. His background is in foraging, wilderness survival, and primitive skills. He has been observing nature intensively for the last 20 years, and cultivating a deep appreciation for life in that time.  This is a longer episode for this show and it’s packed with useful and practical information so I’ve split it into two episodes. This first one dives into how Akiva first began to propagate trees and his transition into making a business out of it and supporting his family by growing plants. We also get into all kinds of propagation methods and where and how to find the best materials for growing nursery stock. Next week I’ll conclude this interview by exploring how to build a business around growing the plants you love, improving your soil enough that you can eliminate fertilisers and other inputs, the maintenance and care of your nursery through the different seasons, and the sales and marketing side of the business.
Championing the alternative to a farm free future, with Chris Smaje
Aug 25 2023
Championing the alternative to a farm free future, with Chris Smaje
I’ve been watching an interesting and important discussion play out for a number of years now within the environmental movement and ecological farming community. It appears that on one hand we have a group that is convinced by the data that farming to feed a population which is growing exponentially through traditional land based means is doomed to be an ecological detriment. Our current system should instead be replaced with high tech solutions such as vertical farms and laboratory processes to create the nutrition this population needs. As a result we could return much of our farmland to rewilding efforts to recover the natural environments and biodiversity that we've lost, in no small part due to modern agriculture.   On the other side we have people who are convinced by the data (often the same data) that we need to return to a deeper and more compassionate relationship with the earth, one that allows for us to produce a yield without compromising the ability of all other life forms to exist and thrive. In this way we can both feed the population and restore our role as environmental stewards. Rather than returning many farms to rewild, we could incorporate habitat and biodiversity into our production methods and foster the recovery of wild species in a way that enhances the resilience of our production methods.    Instead of isolating human activity from a pristine concept of the natural world and permitting destructive actions in the remaining space, we could consider all of our necessary functions within a globally connected landscape for their potential to enhance all forms of life, not just our own. These two contrasting world views recently came to head during a debate between Allan Savory and George Monbiot. Allan represented the side of holistic management, taking into account the infinite complexity of the natural world to create management frameworks to operate with this nuance in a way that respects all the cycles and life affirming principles of our world.    George has been an outspoken critic of this position, especially in how it relates to the management of livestock in farming, arguing that there is no potential for beneficial ecological outcomes in livestock farming, and that in order to combat the climate crisis and mass biodiversity loss, high efficiency farming must be leveraged, along with technologies such as precision fermentation, to produce plant based protein alternatives to meat.    I’ve linked to the video recording of the debate in the show notes for this episode on the website, in order to let you make up your own mind about which side you support. I also want to express that I don’t consider these two positions, certainly not in their rigidity, as the only positions in the broader discussion. At the same time I know that anyone who has listened to more than a few episodes of this show will know which direction I lean personally. That brings me to today's interview in which I’ll be speaking with Chris Smaje. Chris is a university-based social scientist turned farmer. Has co-run a small farm and market garden for the last 20 years. Along with farming he is a dedicated voice for regenerative and locally based food systems. He's the author of 'A Small Farm Future' which articulates his vision and the details of a society built around local economies and food systems, and his most recent title, 'Saying NO to a Farm-Free Future directly confronts the popular arguments in favor of manufactured food and removing food production from the land.    In our conversation we start by identifying the sources and advocacy of industrially produced food and farm alternatives. We break down the manipulation of data and reductionist thinking that results in conclusions that technological fixes are our only solutions.  Chris also paints a picture of his ideas for a brighter alternative to these conclusions and what is possible in a more locally based and decentralized configuration of our sources of sustenance.    We also dig into the active role that all of us can play in creating this alternative future and accelerate a transformation in the role of farming as well as supply and production of food to one that serves the broader community of life that we’re all connected to.  This is one of my current favorite subjects of exploration as it is connected to so many aspects of how we live, organize ourselves, co-create culture and community, and manifest our future. I hope to explore aspects of this with many more people and perspectives in the coming months, so please, if there are people that you would like to hear me interview about these topics or if you’d like to add or challenge any of the points in the upcoming discussion, I encourage you to reach out on our discord community or to me directly at info@regenerativeskills.com
Matt Powers on discovering the world under our feet with soil microscopy
Aug 18 2023
Matt Powers on discovering the world under our feet with soil microscopy
One of the emerging practices in the regenerative work space is that of citizen science. This covers an infinite range of scientific specialties, but I’ve especially seen amazing things come from two areas in the last couple years. These would be mycology and the study of soil. That isn’t to say that traditional institutions aren’t making advances in these fields, but passionate amateurs have also been leading some incredible innovations in these areas. Incredibly, at the center of both of these movements I regularly find my good friend Matt Powers, the author of many well known volumes including the Permaculture Student volumes one and two, Unstoppable Enthusiasm, and now even volumes for children including the newest, The Forgotten Food Forest which can all be found on his website along with many online courses at thepermaculturestudent.com But of course today, we’ll be focusing on the cutting edge of soil science and how these new discoveries can help you in a very practical way to improve the health of the soil on your land and grow the highest quality food anywhere.  As a follow up on the last interview we did together about his epic text book of a volume, Regenerative Soil, comes the next volume that illuminates the study of soil called Regenerative Soil Microscopy. Having read the first book is a necessary prerequisite for this volume, which goes into best practices and key observations that aspiring soil scientists and anyone who wants to know what is going on in the food web under their feet can use to tap into a world of learning through their microscope.    As is typical of my conversations with Matt, the topics range wildly from selecting the best equipment for building your microscope lab, and ensuring you don’t go blind over time, to the way that this information has helped him advise farmers all over the world to achieve amazing crop results, to fascinating conversations he’s had with leading scientists in the field and much more.
Building community for farmers with Klarien Klingen
Aug 11 2023
Building community for farmers with Klarien Klingen
Since last year much of my work with Climate Farmers has been in building the European farmer community and creating connections so that members can learn from each other.  I admittedly don’t have a lot of prior experience with this so I went looking for experienced and successful community builders to mentor me in the process.  One of the most helpful and inspiring people the this search put me in touch with is Klarien Klingen, one of the primary organizers of the Dutch agroecological community called Toekomstboeren which translates to future farmers and works to strengthen the connection and representation of ecological farmers in their country.  They’ve made commendable progress in advancing awareness of their community and hosting events that connect farmers around their country in the process. Both of which are things I aspire to do with the Climate Farmers community.  In this conversation, Klarien and I explore her own background as a farmer and what has motivated her to unite others around her. We also look into what is behind the growth and success of Toekomstboeren as well as the collaborations and alliances that have strengthened their efforts.  I have found the information and experience I’ve gained from my consultations with Klarien to be quite universal beyond just the particularities of the farming community. Her observations and learnings ring true for many of the other community efforts and unification projects I’ve observed and been a part of.
Ian Robertson, Ed Brown, and Ben Taylor-Davies on the knowledge and mindset needed for regenerative farm transitions (redux)
Aug 4 2023
Ian Robertson, Ed Brown, and Ben Taylor-Davies on the knowledge and mindset needed for regenerative farm transitions (redux)
I’ve touched on this topic briefly in previous interviews, but it bears repeating. Agriculture around the world is going through a critical moment. The skyrocketing prices of petroleum products, meaning most agriculture chemicals and fertilizers as well as machinery fuel, is causing a tipping point for many farm businesses. Operations that have long been dependent on these synthetic inputs are facing tough decisions. Do they double down and continue to keep their land on life support, sticking with the system they know, but which is becoming more and more unsustainable, or do they take a gamble on new management methods that prioritize soil biology and multiple ecosystem services? There are no easy answers since for most growers who’ve relied on these inputs for years if not decades, there will need to be a period of transition, even if they chose regenerative management, in which their yields could suffer. Luckily, there are a few well qualified professionals out there with a track record of guiding farmers through the challenge of transitioning their land management practices, and I had the chance to speak to three of them in a special panel discussion. In today’s session I’ll be speaking with Ian Robertson, Ben Taylor-Davies, and Ed Brown. Between these three fellas they have decades of experience at the forefront of regenerative agriculture, and continue to push the advancement of agroecological innovation at both the individual farm scale as well as the institutional level. All three of these guys are good friends who attest to speaking to one another just about every day and you’ll hear the characteristics of their friendship come out in this insightful and also light hearted discussion.
Leveraging native plant communities and ecological succession for regeneration, with Henry Anderson
Jul 28 2023
Leveraging native plant communities and ecological succession for regeneration, with Henry Anderson
One of my favorite topics to explore on this show is how other people with unique skill sets and talents look at the natural world and the ecological design process. I’ve been fortunate in my network of designers, educators, farmers, and academics to peer into the specialties of ecological understanding and design thinking from many points of view, and today is one of those opportunities. I first met Henry Anderson through a design project that our mutual friend Juan Pablo was working on in Portugal through the Climate Farmers Pioneer program. We were looking at a feasibility test for a 50 hectare plot that some investors were considering as an investment in regenerative agriculture. Juan Pablo introduced me to Henry as a colleague who would look into all the potential for leveraging native plant communities for ecological restoration and high value crops. I was immediately impressed by Henry’s extensive knowledge of biomes and plant communities in Portugal and together we all developed a really elegant mixed agroforestry design for the clients.  Long story short, the investment wasn’t picked up, but all three of us have been good friends ever since and now I’ve got Henry back to share some of his knowledge and experience as a biologist and designer. Henry is a Scottish multi-disciplinary designer based in Lisbon, Portugal with a background in landscape architecture, urban design and ecological planning. He has accumulated over fourteen years of professional experience working for leading architectural and landscape offices around the world, including in Australia, the Netherlands, Germany, United Kingdom and Portugal. Henry now specializes in delivering best practice regenerative solutions for landscape architecture, agriculture and ecological restoration projects within the Mediterranean biome, and follows an ecology led process that delivers multi-functional outcomes specific to each project's unique context. In this conversation we talk at length about the process by which Henry starts to assess and investigate the state of ecological health and identify the plant and wildlife on a site, essentially his form of reading a landscape. We also look at the tools and resources that can expand the research process and give insights into historical land use and plant communities to open up more options for a design.  Together we also dissect the concept of natural succession and how you can leverage this trajectory to enhance and speed up the development of your project, and a lot more as well. For those of you who love the deeper science of ecology and biology, but find the academic approach to it a bit too disconnected, this is the interview for you since Henry has a unique way of explaining and making connections between the abstract concepts and real life applications.