I have been infatuated with soil health and sustainable and regenerative farming for years; and I have also been growing with Paonia Soil for years, so naturally it all came together for me to combine both passions when I decided to move back to my hometown of Riverton, WY and start farming. I just purchased a piece of land where I will be employing regenerative and permaculture practices to not only build up my land, but to also feed and beautify the community by growing an abundance of both edible and ornamental plants. Along with that I will be encouraging people to stop using chemical fertilizers and pesticides and start building up their own land with healthy, organic soils and management practices.
Since the conception of “conventional” farming last century our soil and food quality have both been declining steadily. Soils that used to contain an abundance of organic matter—10%-15% or more—are now hovering around the 1%-2% range. This drastic change not only affects how the plants grow, but also how much water they need. According to the NRDC a single percent of organic matter can help hold 20,000 gallons or more per acre. During a time when droughts are not uncommon and the costs and uncertainty of water are rising, conserving every bit of water we can is an absolute necessity.
The biggest reason for the decline in soil health and fertility is commercial agriculture’s complete disregard for the soil food web. The old adage that you can successfully grow plants as long as they have the right amounts of nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium, and sulfur given to them is a farce. While plants do need those four macro nutrients, they also need a whole host of other things that is impossible to give them by simply spreading a liquid or pellet. I liken this to the same thought process dietitians had during World War I where they thought soldiers could survive off of just protein, fat, and carbs. Since our bodies need a lot more than just those three things a lot of soldiers were malnourished and sick after just a short period of time. Plants are just as diverse as we are, so they also need a whole host of things to survive, which they most easily get when a thriving soil food web is present.
The soil food web is the intricate ecosystem that lives inside of our soils, and is made up of millions of microorganisms like beneficial fungi and bacteria that coexist along with our plants and other insects. Together they make a healthy, thriving system that plants love and pests hate. The food web is kind of like anything else in nature—there is a symbiotic balance between it all and once you do something like introduce a new species it throws the entire system off. Feeding synthetic fertilizers is kind of like adding an invasive species to an ecosystem. The fertilizer changes how plants react with their surroundings and this begins the degradation of their habitat. This reduces pest and disease resistance as well as inhibits growth, which can perpetuate a downward cycle of more chemical use. Once your soil is degraded to a point that pests readily feed on your plants it can be hard to imagine life without a pesticide, so it can be a scary jump, and it may be hard at first, but in the end the results will be worth it.
My goal is to teach people that the jump isn’t as high as you think—there is another, better way to grow that produces better quality food while improving soil health. Once you get set up gardening with regenerative practices it is actually easier and can be more affordable than conventional methods. Fertilizer applications do not need to be near as heavy, and many organic fertilizers are cheaper than their synthetic counterparts; pest pressure will decline, which will cut back on crop damage as well as pest management costs; weed pressure will be reduced, which means more time for things you enjoy; and you will most likely see an increase in growth and yields as well. It is basically a win in every category, which is what drove me to research the practices more and begin implementing them myself. Now I want to share them with as many people as i can, because only together can we can take back our soil and food health.