Tractor Time Episode 62: André Leu, Vandana Shiva and Ronnie Cummins

On this episode we’re listening in on a recent virtual event for André Leu’s new book, Growing Life: Regenerating Farming and Ranching. And he’s getting a little help from his friends, Vandana Shiva and Ronnie Cummins. Leu, Shiva and Cummins go way back and co-founded Regeneration International back in 2015. The organization promotes food, farming and land-use systems that regenerate and stabilize climate systems, the health of the planet and people. In addition to being the international director for that group, Leu is also a farmer in Australia and the author of The Myths of Safe Pesticides and Poisoning Our Children. We here at Acres U.S.A. are proud to be the publisher of all of his books. I should also mention that he’s speaking at our Eco-Ag Conference in Columbus Ohio in December. Go to for more information on that.

Vandana Shiva is a world-renowned environmental thinker, activist, feminist, philosopher of science, writer and science policy advocate. She is the founder of Navdanya Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology in India and President of Navdanya International. She is a prolific writer, speaker and author, and recipient of numerous awards. Find her books Food, Farming & Health and Oneness vs the 1% in the Acres U.S.A. bookstore.

Ronnie Cummins is co-founder and International Director of the Organic Consumers Association (OCA) and its Mexico affiliate, Via Organica. Cummins has been active as a writer and activist since the 1960s. Over the past two decades he has served as director of US and international campaigns dealing with sustainable agriculture issues including food safety, genetic engineering, factory farming, and global warming. You can find his book, Grassroots Rising: A Call to Action on Climate, Farming, Food and Green New Deal in the bookstore.

Tractor Time Episode 61: Indigenous Systems of Agriculture (w/ Kelsey Ducheneaux-Scott)

On this episode we welcome fourth generation South Dakota rancher Kelsey Ducheneaux-Scott. Kelsey is the director of programs for the Intertribal Agriculture Council, which seeks to build and restore indigenous foodways in Native American communities. She’s also a co-owner of DX Beef, a direct-to-consumer grassfed beef operation on the Cheyenne River Sioux Indian Reservation. That’s where she grew up and that’s where she ranches today with her family.

She’s passionate about soil health, land stewardship, education and bringing nutritious food to her community. She received a bachelor’s in Rangeland Management from South Dakota State University, a master’s of agriculture in Integrated Resource Management from Colorado State University, and she’s currently closing in on a doctorate in education at Northcentral University.

Even though she’s still only in her 20s, she’s emerged as an important voice within the regenerative agriculture.

For more information about Kelsey, visit

Interview: Famed Cookbook Author Mark Bittman Looks at the Past, Present and Future of Farming

Interview by Ben Trollinger

For 30-plus years, Mark Bittman has been, hands-down, the most influential food writer in America. He worked as a star food columnist at the New York Times. He’s written 16 best-selling books and cookbooks, including How to Cook Everything, How to Cook Everything Vegetarian and The Minimalist Cooks at Home.

Mark Bittman
Mark Bittman

His latest book is Animal, Vegetable, Junk: A History of Food, from Sustainable to Suicidal. It isn’t a cookbook. You won’t find any recipes in it. Instead, it’s an ambitious and clear-eyed survey of the past, present and future of agriculture.

From the advent of farming over 10,000 years ago to the rise of industrial agriculture and hyper-processed junk food, Bittman somehow manages to synthesize thousands of years of history into a thoughtful and convincing argument for radical change within our modern food system.

And although it isn’t a cookbook, we wouldn’t say the book is a departure from his past work — it’s the culmination and the crowning achievement to a life dedicated to teaching people how to cook, and eat, ethically, healthfully and with pleasure.

Book cover image of Animal, Vegetable, Junk by Mark Bittman

Acres U.S.A. There’s this popular narrative that agriculture really went off the rails in the post-war era, with the widespread use of pesticides and synthetic fertilizers. But, really, agriculture has been creating problems, essentially, from day one. In the book, you cite the historian, Jared Diamond, who called agriculture “the worst mistake in the history of the human race.” Was agriculture fatally flawed from the beginning?

Mark Bittman. It kinda depends on your perspective, because, let’s say — we don’t how many people were on Earth when people started doing agriculture, which is about 10,000 years ago, but let’s say there were 50 million. I mean, it could be 5 million; it could be 100 million. It’s somewhere in that range. There’s now seven, going on ten, billion. Very few of those lives, between then and now, would have been possible. Those incremental lives would not have been possible without agriculture. If there are hunter-gatherers, everybody’s a hunter-gatherer, there’s a really small number of people that could live on the Earth.

So, if you value seven billion lives — and I think most of us do — if you value the right of “we seven billion,” because chances are we would’ve not gotten to be alive—then it’s not such a bad thing. It’s just that, at every turning point—and it did cause difficulties from the beginning. It wasn’t good—it may not have been a good decision for that generation or for the next 20 generations, or whatever, but it was a good decision for us because we get to be here. But the thing is that, at many turning points between and now, better decisions could’ve been made, and they weren’t. Maybe worse decisions could’ve been made also, but the decisions that got made, got made.

And, certainly, things have gotten progressively worse after World War II. They got progressively worse after World War I. They got progressively worse after the Civil War. There’s been this cascading worsening of the effects of agriculture, and we’re now sitting at a place where we have the ability to do things better. And the question is: Are we gonna do things better, or are we gonna keep reinforcing the bad decisions that have been made?

Acres U.S.A. In the book, you cite geologist and author David Montgomery, who’s a friend of this show and who’s been on this show, and you cite him when you’re talking about the role of soil health in sustaining civilizations. Some civilizations throughout history appear to have had more of a knack for it than others. Talk about some of the triumphs and failures of agriculture throughout history. I think you offer a really beautiful synthesis of the history of early agriculture that I think is really important for us to understand.

Bittman. David’s probably better at this than I am. I’m not saying I’m not answering your question; I’m just saying there are better experts than me.

But [when] you look at Sumer, which was one of the first civilizations in Mesopotamia, and they were thriving — their population was increasing, their wealth was increasing, they had art, they had math, they had all kinds of science, interesting things, commerce — and they kept expanding and expanding, and they stopped paying attention to soil health. And when they stopped paying attention to soil health, the canals filled with silt, the irrigation systems were inadequate, the soil itself stopped yielding.

One of the things about agriculture is — I’ll come back to this, but one of the things about agriculture is that it provides more food, at least initially. By providing more food, it supports population growth. And farmers, as you know, like to have children because they’re free labor. This is not necessarily the case, but historically it had been the case.

But, with more food came more people. With more people came more people to work the land. With more people to work the land came more food and so on. But you and your listeners know this better than I do: the land can only produce so much before it needs to rest or be fed or whatever. You can’t just keep withdrawing capital from your soil.

If your population’s growing and your territory’s not expanding and you’re not fallowing or otherwise allowing your soil to replenish, your yields go down, and suddenly you’re screwed. You have more people with less production and unhealthy soil to boot, so your civilization literally collapses, and that has happened repeatedly. So, the most successful civilization — I think it’s fair to say the most successful, consistent civilization in history was probably Egypt or maybe China, and both really mastered sustainable agriculture for literally thousands of years, for different reasons.

China is kinda hard because there have been different dynasties and it geographically has been amorphous, but Egypt was this pretty well-defined place that, for 3,000 years, managed to not only sustain itself but thrive enough so that it could waste money — technically, it’s a waste money to do public works projects, like build huge tombs for one guy. The pyramids are really cool and we’re glad they’re there, but I hate to think that people were worked to death or starved as a result of building those pyramids.

But there was this guy who David probably came across early in his career. He and I have only talked once, so I don’t know him well, but there was this guy named — I can remember his first name. I think it might’ve been Walter. But, anyway, his last name was Loudermilk, and Loudermilk always talked about — and he was like in the ’30s.

And he always talked about “agricultural suicide.” And by “agricultural suicide,” he meant that process that I just talked about, of increasing the population and expecting your soil to just yield more and more and more. And it’s an impossibility. It defies the laws of physics to expect your soil to just permanently yield more. And we’re up against that a little bit now. It’s not one of our major—yield is not one of our major problems in U.S. industrial agriculture, but depletion of soil is one of our major problems. And again, you and your listeners know this way better than I do, but if you go to corn and soybean states and you look at that soil, that is really awful-looking soil. That is like dead soil that exists for one purpose and that purpose is to grow corn or soybeans. And it can be chemically doused year after year after year to keep it up.

I don’t know how long that can go on, ’cause every year there’s more topsoil depletion, and every year there are fewer natural nutrients in that soil. But, so far, yield is not really our major problem. I do think that soil health, in general, and soil depletion are big problems here.

Acres U.S.A. You write in the book—and this is a quote: “Agriculture has had a dark side: It’s sparked disputes over land ownership, water use and the extraction of resources; it’s driven exploitation and injustice, slavery and war. It’s even, paradoxically enough, created disease and famine.” There’s a lot to talk about there, but slavery in particular has been intertwined with agriculture for thousands of years. Why are those two things so closely linked throughout our history? I think this, in particular, is a really informative lens for looking at sort of how agriculture has developed into what it is today.

Bittman. If you argue that the two most successful — from an accumulation-of-wealth point of view — civilizations in history have been Rome and the United States. Both of their wealth was founded on slavery. That’s kind of an interesting thing. Slavery in the modern era really tracked the westward movement of sugar. That was really a kind of parallel development, that, as sugar moved west, slavery moved west: from the Far East, to the Middle East, through the Mediterranean, through the Atlantic, through the Caribbean, and North and South America. Sugar is very, very land intensive, so it uses up land quickly. Cane is very nutrient demanding and it’s labor intensive, and it’s labor no one wants to do. No one voluntarily does sugar labor — almost no one. So, if you wanted to produce sugar — and the world became addicted to sugar really, really fast — then you wanted to have slaves if you could. And that development was really, really parallel.

Sugar and slaves came to the New World together. Sugar wasn’t the only thing and slavery wasn’t the only thing. There were these kind of nefarious triangles between the so-called “mother country,” countries in West Africa, and countries in the Caribbean and in North and South America, but sugar, rum, molasses, tools, slaves, weaponry, manufactured goods in general, that sort of triangle lasted for, what, 300 years? Even more.

I’m not actually in the habit of sitting here, just citing sources, but there’s a book called The Half Has Never Been Told, which is a story by a guy named Edward Baptist — just such an amazing book — about the foundation of wealth in North America, and it’s not just Mississippi, which was once the richest state in the country and is now the poorest, and that’s not a coincidence.

The wealth of this country was built on the backs of enslaved people, and even on the backs of non-enslaved, but underpaid and nearly enslaved, Asians and indigenous people and so on, who were brought to this country to build its wealth. But slavery was really the foundation of wealth in the United States, and that’s all about agriculture. That is 95 percent about agriculture.

Acres U.S.A. Another issue that you mentioned in the book is famine, and the Irish Potato Famine is maybe the most famous one in the West, but it’s hardly unique. As you say in the book, “hunger is not a symptom of underproduction but of inequality of abusive power and wealth.” What do you famines tell us about some of the structural failures of agriculture?

Bittman. The thing is that the Irish Potato Famine was the first modern famine and that’s why it’s most famous. In this sense, what we mean by modern is that it’s not really a shortage of food; it’s a lack of political will — or, in fact, it’s starvation as a political tool or as a weapon of war.

So, the British did not engineer that famine, but they did not engineer the end of it, either, which was in their power to do. And so when there were famines in pre-modern history, the government’s job was to make sure that surplus was distributed to the poor. Whether the government did its job or not was questionable, but no one would have debated otherwise.

Successful governments built surplus and distributed it to poor people and helped poor people when they were starving as a result of famines. The rate of famine increased dramatically with more successful agriculture, because famine was being used as a tool — at first, mostly by the British. It’s not that they initiated the famines, but they took advantage of them.

And so it wasn’t only Ireland, but India and then later — of course, Stalin used famine to try to eliminate huge numbers of peasants. Mao used famine for the same kind of reason. The great famines were not — in a way, the British are left off the hook, because the famines with the most impressive numbers, if you’re going to measure their horribleness by net deaths—no one even knows how many tens of millions of people died in the Soviet Union and in China as a result of famines that were pretty much engineered by Stalin and Mao. Or, again, the famines may have started as the result of unintended consequences of something else, or as the result of environmental disasters, but the governments then subsequently used them to eliminate perceived enemies.

So, it’s funny, Amartya Sen, the philosopher, said that all famines are now political, by which he meant they’re not agricultural any longer. There’s more than enough food to feed everyone in the world right now, this minute, and at every given minute. There’s enough food and then some to feed everyone in the world. If your brother or sister somewhere else in the world is starving, and you have the option to feed that person, you also have the moral necessity to feed that person. And if you don’t, that’s a political decision. That’s not an agricultural decision.

Acres U.S.A. So, what are the political decisions that lead to one billion people in the world being underfed?

Bittman. The biggest political decision is to allow a world in which some people can eat ten times a day if they want to, and other people have to worry about whether they can eat one time every ten days, and that’s a decision about income equality. That’s a decision about the global north having spent 500 years stealing resources, money, people, etc., from the global soul, without adequately reimbursing them, and continuing to ignore the responsibility that we have to the people in the world that we have effectively impoverished.

I feel oddly quote-y today and I don’t quite know why, but I’m pretty sure it was Franz Fanon who said: When you go to Europe and you see the incredible beauty that is there in Western Europe — and it’s undeniable: the art, the architecture, the parks, the natural beauty that’s been preserved and son on — what you’re seeing is the result of the transfer of wealth from the colonies back to the north. Imagine the British Museum without the stuff that the Brits stole from other countries. There wouldn’t be anything there to look at.

I don’t know how you turn this ship around. I think fairness is a real question for all of us to answer: What do we owe the people who are really responsible for our national wealth? What do we owe the people who gave their riches so that we could be wealthy? And that includes indigenous North and South Americans. That includes, obviously, Africans who were brought here as slaves. That includes all of the colonies of Western Europe that were exploited for the benefit of the global north. A lot of it is about agriculture — not all of it, for sure, but a lot of it has been about agriculture.

Acres U.S.A. I want to transition a little bit and talk about the origins of monoculture farming. I’d love to hear you talk about what drove the transition from small-holding, biodiverse farms to massive, single-crop operations? Really how did that evolve into what it is today?

Bittman. I mean, there’s an argument that it started 500 years ago, 700 years ago with the closing of the commons, the consolidation of power by the nobility, especially in Western Europe, the development of cash crops and of an economy that was dependent on surplus and on growing more than you needed of a given crop, regardless of what the crop was. So, if you could’ve made a decision, would we’d rather grow a variety of crops and make sure that everybody eats well, or would we rather grow a much smaller variety of crops and make sure that some number of people can profit from the surplus of those crops?

Well, the second choice was, in retrospect, the choice that was made. That’s the choice that’s still being made. If you ask the question — and I like to ask this question — what is food for? Or what is agriculture for? And the logical answer is it’s to feed as many people well as we possibly can. You might add while minimizing the impact on the environment, minimizing the impact on other species, treating labor well. You might add all of those things, but the primary answer—what’s the point of agriculture? What’s the point of food? The point of food is to feed as many people as well as we can. That’s not what’s happened. What’s happened is the point of agriculture, the point of food, has been to make money for people who own the land and the means of production around agriculture.

So that, again, arguably started even before the plague in Western Europe, but let’s say in the 1200s, 1300s, 1400s that really started. But if we look to the 1900s and the post-Civil War Era in the United States — and monoculture and industrial agriculture were not invented in the United States, but really this system was perfected (and there’s air quotes around that “perfected”) in the United States in the last 100, 150 years, and then been exported to the rest of the world.

If we look at that, that’s really where monoculture came about or was perfected, and it was driven first by killing indigenous Americans and throwing them off their land, but then consolidating that land and redistributing it for free (or nearly free) to white European males, who would then go settle that land. But big, big swaths — unmanageably big parcels of land that almost had to be or begged to be grown one crop at a time.

It was originally wheat and then later corn and soybeans. Obviously, there are many more crops, but the primary crops of the United States at this point are corn and soybeans. And then that was further accelerated by the development of the tractor, the development of hybridized seeds, and you might even see it, say, especially in the development — it’s not especially because the tractor is just as important, but chemical fertilizer and chemical pesticides. Those are all almost precisely concurrent inventions of the late 19th, early 20th century. And we would’ve seen monoculture take over even sooner, but wars sort of got in the way.

But the Dust Bowl was a symptom of this process really accelerating. The Dust Bowl is almost another good example of a political famine, although it didn’t really result in a full-blown famine, and, arguably, with the defeat of Hoover and the election of 1932, you saw the government actually starting to do its job. Roosevelt did help and Congress did pass legislation that helped to repair the Dust Bowl and helped some people recover. It wasn’t enough, it wasn’t soon enough and so on, but we didn’t see millions of people die as a result of the Dust Bowl either, and that could’ve happened.

Acres U.S.A. What would you say have been the environmental and social consequences of monoculture farming?

Bittman. That’s the last question you get to ask, actually, because the answer to that is that’s it. That’s where we’re at. Sometimes people say if you could wave a magic wand and change one thing, which of the — I’m sorry to bring it up, because it’s such a stupid question, but it would be to end monoculture, because monoculture is the root of everything that’s going wrong in agriculture right now.

Acres U.S.A. And I think that’s the sort of idea of the question. Maybe people don’t understand why it’s a bad idea.

Bittman. Farmers ought to understand why it’s a bad idea.

Acres U.S.A. I guess another way of asking it is: Why is biodiversity important within an ecosystem?

Bittman. Well, but the thing is that monoculture is bigger than just discouraging biodiversity. It’s not just encouraging; it’s making necessary chemical fertilizer, chemical killers (which we call pesticides), and I think it’s obvious, but everybody should take a moment to remember that the suffix “-cide” means “kill,” so homicide, suicide, fratricide, pesticide.

Pesticides were developed in parallel with chemical warfare — again in the late 19th, early 20th centuries, and their job is to kill. It’s really impossible to create a poison that you’re going to spread on the land or in the air and expect it to only kill the critters or fungi or whatever, herbs that you want it to kill. It’s gonna kill more broadly than that.

Pesticides have their impact on us. Rachel Carson wrote about this, what, 75 years ago? 70 years ago? The poisoning of the environment. Loss of topsoil. Depletion of resources. Climate change. Just the production of chemical fertilizer alone is two percent of the total of greenhouse gases. It doesn’t sound like a lot, but it’s just that one thing.

If you integrate all of the functions of monoculture, of industrial agriculture, because they’re pretty much synonymous, you have the second leading — arguably first, but we can concede second — cause of greenhouse gas production in the world, it’s industrial agriculture. So there’s that.

And now we haven’t even talked—we’ve talked for half an hour and we haven’t even mentioned sort of arguably the biggest consequence of industrial agriculture today, which is a public health crisis that directly results in the death of more than a million people in the United States alone every year. The biggest killer in the United States is chronic disease — way, way bigger than COVID, even at COVID’s worst. And the biggest driver of chronic disease is bad diet. And the reason we have bad diet is monoculture.

So, if you’re saying, what are the consequences of monoculture, you have to throw one of the biggest public health crises ever into that mix. So it’s a lot.

Acres U.S.A. Well, yeah, let’s transition to that, because I think it’s clear our health is really compromised, in no small part by the hyper-processed foods that you’re mentioning—junk food. Kind of define what we mean by “ultra-processed” or “hyper-processed,” and how do they come to sort of sit at the center of our diets? You mentioned monoculture, but I’m also interested in why we like them so damn much. Why do we keep picking them up? There are biological reasons for that that you describe in the book.

Bittman. We are hardwired to eat salt. We’re hardwired to seek sweet foods. We’re hardwired to look for fatty foods. As foragers, those are all desirable traits. We will evolve out of those traits if we live long enough. I don’t mean “we” as individuals. I mean “we” as a species. But that’s not happening fast enough. We don’t need to eat — if you’re a hunter-gather, you’re a forager, you come across a bush of berries, you are going to eat those berries until you get sick, until you can’t eat another one, because you’re hardwired to do that and you don’t know where your food is coming from tomorrow. The food engineers use our tendency to eat as much salt as we can, as much sugar as we can, as many fats as we can — fats are great ’cause they’re super high calories, and we used to have a problem getting as many calories as we wanted. 

The triumph of agriculture is to give us all the calories we could possibly want. The tragedy of agriculture is that it gives food marketers the incentive to get us to eat more calories than we need, more calories than are good for us and in forms that are actively bad for us. Food is engineered to get us to eat as much of it as we can. The foods that are made to do that are largely made as the result of monoculture — corn and soybeans being are leading crops. They are also our leading ingredients — corn and soybeans and sugar, much of which is made from corn in the form of high-fructose corn syrup. It’s not that high-fructose corn syrup itself is any worse than sugar; it’s just that it increased the supply and therefore increased our consumption.

All of this combines to cause the chronic disease that’s making us ill. I want to be clear that it’s not — it’s that it’s making us ill; it’s not that it’s making us obese. Obesity is a symptom, but you can be sick from overeating or from eating the wrong kinds of calories without being obese and you can be obese without being sick. The problem is not that America is fat. The problem is that America is fat because we have a bad diet and we’re also sick because we have a bad diet. It’s not that obesity is the problem. Obesity is the symptom, a symptom.

Acres U.S.A. A lot of people have this ongoing discussion about how to change eating habits, looking at it as kind of a behavioral engineering problems. The Blue Zones sort of model talks a lot about that, that it’s about a series of nudges that lead you to make the right choice, as opposed to you relying on willpower, let’s say.

Bittman. Here’s how we know that’s wrong. 60 percent of the calories in the United States today are in the form of ultra-processed foods. Ultra-processed foods make us sick. If you look up the definition of “food” in the dictionary, it’ll say a substance that provides nourishment, but that doesn’t tell us much. But if you look up “nourishment,” it says nourishment is something that makes you grow healthy. So 60 percent of the calories in our diet don’t make us grow healthy; in fact, they make us grow sicker. And so they’re closer in dictionary definition to “poison” than they are to “food.” Someone’s eating that 60 percent, either all of us are eating precisely 60 percent or some of us are eating less than 60 percent and some of us are eating more than 60 percent, which, of course, is what’s true.

It could be that 60 percent of us are eating 100 percent of those calories, but it’s not that. It’s spread out. In fact, the sort of notion that it’s poor people that are eating junk food? It’s really not. If 60 percent of the calories are junk food, then way more than the 10 or 20 percent of the population that qualifies as poor are eating some portion of our diet in the form of ultra-processed foods that are bad for us.

So, it’s not just about behavior change, because that 60 percent is out there. And if we all decided to eat well en masse tomorrow, there’s only 40 percent enough well calories for us to eat. We would go hungry, in fact. This is such that the calories that are made available to us, the majority of them are making us sick. So it’s not just a matter of willpower. Of course, for those of us with more time and more money and better education and a lot of “willpower” can make the decision to eat better and we can afford to do that and we can pursue that as one of our avocations or even one of our vocations.

It’s our job to eat well. We do that. But not everybody can do that. In fact, there aren’t enough calories even if everybody did have the ability to do that. There aren’t enough available calories comprising good, real, close-to-natural food. So that’s an agricultural question. Agricultural is political. It’s decided by policy. And what’s available in the market today is decided by policy (or lack of policy). Willpower can change that, but, actually, we’re better off exercising that willpower—not in change our diet but in changing the political system or in changing the policy.

Acres U.S.A. Listening to you just now and reading your book, I was reminded of a Homer Simpson quote about alcohol that might also apply to agriculture — “It’s the cause of and the solution to all our problems.” And it seems pretty clear we’re not gonna willingly return to a hunger-gatherer existence. So, the question becomes: How do we take this broken thing we call farming, and create something that bolsters health in us and our communities and in our landscapes?

Bittman. Right. So, how do we do that? I don’t know, but we need to move in that direction. In the course of — I’ve learned a lot since I finished — I finished writing Animal, Vegetable, Junk more than a year ago, and I’ve learned a lot since then. I’ve learned a lot in the dozens of podcasts and interviews that I’ve done (like this one) since then. And someone really smart said to me: “You build a road by starting to walk on it.”

We can’t see the end of the road towards a better food system or a better society, but we can see the first steps. And I think it’s important to take the first steps and to see where they lead us, and then to say, “Okay, what are the next steps?” I have my pet first steps that I can easily outline, but I wouldn’t even say that they’re necessarily the right first steps, but they’re definitely part of the conversation. If I had my druthers, they’re the first steps I would take. But I’d listen to arguments that there are other first steps. The important thing is we have to do something. We have to move towards a better food system, or we’re never gonna get there. We don’t need to see the end in order to start, and we need to start.

Acres U.S.A. You write that the global food system must become sustainable and equitable for all. Where do you see that happening, and why is the U.S. likely to become a late adopter of these better practices? You mentioned a city in Brazil as being one particular example of something that you’re encouraged by.

Bittman. Brazil had a very active pro-food workers’ movement and even pro-food government for a while, and guaranteed adequate nutrition to every citizen, established restaurants with a sliding scale where 100,000/day were fed with good food that they could afford. Did a land-reform program that gave away as much land as the country had given away in its entire previous history, over the course of just a few years. Established organic farms, subsidized organic farms, subsidized family farming, subsidized the use of that food in school systems and elsewhere. It did great work.

Then the government changed and all of that stuff started to fall apart. I think what that shows is that if there’s a popular movement that supports better food, we’d better be a part of that popular movement and we’d better make sure that our representatives are behind that popular movement. When they’re not, it’s really hard to make change.

So, right now, the most interesting thing, I think, in food is happening in Andhra Pradesh, which is a state in India. India has big states. It’s like 60 million people, most farmers. And what is happening there is the farmers are mostly in small villages (1,000 people or less) and people are going from village to village, teaching their fellow farmers how to farm without pesticides, using natural fertilizer, natural methods of increasing yield of poly cropping, the opposite of monoculture and so on, and the government is supporting that. So the number of farms in this program now is probably close to a million. It was in excess of 600,000 when I finished writing the book. It’s growing really fast. And the predictions are that almost every farmer in the state—and, again, we’re talking tens of millions of people—will be farming naturally (for wont of a better word), without chemical fertilizer, without chemical pesticides, by 2030.

Again, if the government stopped supporting it—you’d need a popular movement to make sure that still happens, but that’s an example of the kinds of things that can move agriculture forward.

Acres U.S.A. Corporate agriculture is becoming increasingly mechanized and technology obsessed. People like Bill Gates have this vision for farming without farmers. And yet peasant farmers are still producing most of the world’s food. I think it’s like 70 percent or something like that. What will (or should) the future of farming look like? Do you envision like a peasant-farmer future, or do you envision some sort of hybrid of that and GMOs, CRISPR technology? What do you see?

Bittman. Well, I think there’s no reason to ignore good technology. There isn’t a farmer in the world who doesn’t want a small tractor, at least. We have to measure the impact of the tools that are used in farming, and decide which ones are more harmful than they’re worth? GMOs, up until now, have been more harmful than they’re worth. The tractor, up until now, has been more harmful than it’s worth, but we can certainly envision a better tractor that is more beneficial than it is harmful. So, of course we integrate technology into farming. I think the future is—again, I’m not claiming to know. I think that I know what would be good to do in the next two years. I don’t claim to know what things are gonna look like in 50 years. No one can predict anything like that. Anyone who says they can is lying.

But I think there’ll be more farms. I’d like to think that we’d restore dignity to farming. I’d like to think that no one owns more than 500 acres or whatever kind of limit we want to put on land use. I’d like to think that land is restored to the people who were shut out of the great land giveaways of the 19th and 20th centuries. I might’ve said this already, but I’d really like to see dignity restored to farming.

There are a lot of people who would like to and would farm and would do it well, given the opportunity, but there is very little opportunity for someone with no money and especially someone saddled with student debt, which so many young people are now. There’s very little opportunity for people to even buy five acres in most of this country and start farming, let alone 50 acres, which is probably a more realistic and viable number, or 500 acres, on which you can build a really beautiful, multi-functioning, several-family, several-generation kind of farm. So few of those exist as even models that it’s hard to point people to them and to say, “Look what a great job this group of farms is doing.” There aren’t even enough of them for us to all visit really.

Acres U.S.A. Maybe there’s no ideal farm, but you do cite one farm in the book that you think is a particularly strong example of what you’re talking about. It’s Full Belly Farms. What did you see when you visited there?

Bittman.  Full Belly is a 500-acre farm. They’re on their third generation. They were hippies or whatever. They were ’60s people. They’re on their third generation of farmers. It’s a couple of families. They do every single thing right. They tick every single box. They prioritize soil health. They prioritize biodiversity. Needless to say, they don’t use chemical fertilizer, chemical pesticides. They try—I’m not sure whether they’re successful at this point or not—to be completely close-looped, not bring in any compost but make all of their own soil amendments. They do bring in fuel, of course, so they’re not closed in that sense. They’re not a horse-driven farm or an entirely solar-driven farm. They do rely on solar power. They have many full-time employees who receive decent wages and benefits.

As I said, they tick every box. The problem is they’re almost unique. There might be a dozen farms like that in the country. Although, if there are, I don’t know them. And to make a difference, we’d need to see thousands of farms [like that]. They make a difference in their community. Don’t get me wrong.

To look at national impact, we should be looking at: How do we create 500, 1,000, 5,000, 10,000 farms like Fully Belly? That’s one answer to your question about how do we change the future of farming is creating what are considered medium-size farms—say, 50 to 500 acres—run by one or more families, one or more generations, that do most things right and supply food to their communities. Most of this country, the populated parts especially, are well-ordered and have enough resources, have enough soil, to provide at least 50 percent of their own food, even the Northeast, which is, climate-wise, probably the most disadvantaged populated part of the country. I’m not counting Montana, but not that many people live in Montana, so it’s not that big an issue.

How do we get those kinds of farms that can support their regions? The long-term answer is land reform. That’s not a short-term answer, because I don’t think it’s happening any time soon, but it’s a discussion worth having, and it’s gonna have to happen at some point.

Acres U.S.A. There are so many books that are out and available on how broken our food system is, so I’ve read a lot of those books, and I’m familiar with a lot of the terrain. I will assert that I think this book stands out for me as being a particularly strong presentation of sort of the history of agriculture and food, and it’s really impressive in that sense.

But, for you, you’re familiar with that same shelf of books on our broken food system. What compelled you to want to sort of add to the literature there? What were you bringing to the conversation that you thought was essential?

Bittman.  Well, thanks for saying that, Ben, first of all. If there are three sections of this book, roughly — past, present and future — the present is the part that’s about our broken food system, and it’s the shortest part of the book because I felt like that had been said adequately by many people. Most of us know this story.

Although, I will point out that, in the course of this conversation, you often chose to focus on the present, because it still needs to be said. The question of what’s wrong with monoculture is very much a present question.

To talk about what’s wrong with our food system sorta sounds like, oh, there’s a lot of fast food and we’re kinda getting fat and da-da-da-da-da. And that’s all true. But if you tie the present to agriculture, you’re making a link that isn’t often made in today’s media. And if you’re saying the problem is not willpower or personal behavior, making changes in our lives, the whole sorta Michelle Obama kinda mantra, but the problem is: What are we giving people to eat? What are we supplying? That is a bit of a different analysis of the present, and my analysis is rooted in the past.

I think that the very first thing you and I talked about was how did we get here, and we didn’t start again your choice, ’cause you figured this out, ’cause you get it — we didn’t start in 1950. We started in 1250 or whenever it was we started. How we moved forward is a big part of the story of Animal, Vegetable, Junk, the decisions that were made, and I think it’s important to say, “Here’s what’s happened in history. Here’s where it got us. How do we move forward?” And seeing how decisions were made or decisions were allowed to be made by us not exercising our collective power, has led us to a place where we are really destroying ourselves.

It doesn’t mean that we knew everything 200 years ago and we should’ve made a different decision. We might’ve made different decisions, but we — and it’s not us, obviously — didn’t make different decisions. But we also didn’t have the information then that we have now. Now we have all the information that’s in this book and in the whole shelf of books you’re talking about, and in 1,000 other books that explain this in different ways, from different perspectives, and that cover the gamut from climate change to income inequality to race and gender discrimination—on and on and on down the line.

We see these things in a better light than we’ve ever seen them before. How do we make decisions moving forward? And the last third of Animal, Vegetable, Junk, or the last whatever several chapters, is about how we move forward. And that I think also distinguishes the book, or I’d like to think that distinguishes the book.

Tractor Time Episode 60: Talking Plants, Smart Insects and a New Farm Language

On this episode we’re discussing talking plants and smart insects with entomologist and author Dr. Joe Lewis.

Lewis spent his career in entomology with the USDA-Agricultural Research Service at the Tifton Campus of the University of Georgia. It was there that he worked to unlock the secrets of how plants and insects communicate with one another, particularly how plants use SOS signals to recruit beneficial insects to their defense. Based on those groundbreaking insights, Lewis and his colleagues developed holistic and sustainable approaches to pest management within agricultural systems. In 2008, along with his colleagues John A, Pickett and James H. Tumlinson, Lewis received the prestigious Wolf Prize in Agriculture.

Although Lewis has published papers in many academic and scientific journals, he’s just published his first book for Acres U.S.A. It’s called A New Farm Language: How a Sharecropper’s Son Discovered a World of Talking Plants, Smart Insects, and Natural Solutions.

The book tells the story of Joe Lewis’s humble beginnings as the son of an illiterate Mississippi sharecropper and the hardscrabble, yet happy childhood he spent raising chickens and growing cotton. It was on that small, rented farm, which had no electricity or indoor plumbing, that Lewis developed a fondness for nature that would set him on an unlikely path toward becoming an eminent scientist and innovator. More than a memoir, A New Farm Language is a manifesto and mission statement confronting the abuses of industrial agriculture and defending the value of strong communities and natural solutions.

Tractor Time Episode 59: Gary Paul Nabhan on ‘Jesus for Farmers and Fishers’

On this episode we welcome Brother Coyote himself, Gary Paul Nabhan. An agricultural ecologist, an ethnobotanist, a MacArthus “genius grant” winner, a professor and an Ecumenical Franciscan Brother, Nabhan is a true polymath. He’s a pioneering figure in the local food movement as well as the modern heirloom seed saving movement. He’s also the author of an almost countless number of books, including The Nature of Desert Nature, Food from the Radical Center: Healing Our Land and Communities, and Mesquite: An Arboreal Love Affair.

His most recent book is called Jesus for Farmers and Fishers: Justice for All Those Marginalized by Our Food System. The book is a challenging, poetic and hopeful exploration of what the teachings of Jesus have to tell us about our modern food system and our relationship to the natural world. Even if you’re not religious, or even spiritual, I think this interview is still well worth your time — Nabhan has tapped into a deep and universal store of wisdom just when we need it most.

I’ve been a long-time admirer — of his endless curiosity, of his versatility as a writer and of his rare insight when it comes to ethics, agriculture and science. He isn’t someone who spends much time raging at powerful institutions. He’s not always shaking his fists at corrupt corporations. Instead, he offers us pathways of hope, healing, purpose, abundance and justice.

Nabhan’s spent much of his life working, often in the fields, to preserve both cultural folkways and biological diversity, two things he see’s as being inextricably linked. And his biography is so full of milestones that it’s impossible to fit all but a fraction of them here.

Born in the early 1950s, Nabhan is a first-generation Lebanese American who was raised in Gary, Indiana. He has a B.A. in environmental biology from Prescott College in Arizona, an M.S. in plant sciences from the University of Arizona, and a Ph.D. in the interdisciplinary arid lands resource sciences, also from the University of Arizona.

He’s served as director of conservation, research and collections at both the Desert Botanical Garden and the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, where he did the research to help create the Ironwood Forest National Monument.

He was the founding director of the Center for Sustainable Environments at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, Arizona. He’s on the University of Arizona faculty as a research social scientist with the Southwest Center, where he now serves as the Kellogg Endowed Chair in Southwestern Borderlands Food and Water Security.

He and his wife currently live in Patagonia, Arizona on a five-acre spread near Tucson. I could go on, but I’m eager to share this interview with you today. I hope you find as much inspiration as I did in this conversation with Gary Paul Nabhan.

For more information, visit

André Leu: Regenerative Farming is the Next Stage of Agricultural Evolution

By André Leu

“Regenerative agriculture and animal husbandry is the next and higher stage of organic food and farming, not only free from toxic pesticides, GMOs, chemical fertilizers, and factory farm production, and therefore good for human health; but also regenerative in terms of the health of the soil.” — Ronnie Cummins

Hardly anyone had heard of regenerative agriculture before 2014. Now it is in the news every day all around the world. A small group of leaders of the organic, agroecology, holistic management, environment and natural health movements started Regeneration International as a truly inclusive and representative umbrella organization.

The concept was initially formed at the United Nations Climate Change Meeting in New York in October 2014. The aim was to set up a global network of like-minded agricultural, environmental and social organizations.

The initial steering committee meetings included Dr. Vandana Shiva from Navdanya, Ronnie Cummins from the Organic Consumers Association, Dr. Hans Herren from The Millennium Institute, Steve Rye from Mercola, and myself, André Leu from IFOAM-Organics International. It was soon expanded to include Precious Phiri from the Africa Savory Hub, Ercilia Sahores from Via Organica in Mexico, Renate Künaste from the German Green Party, John Liu, the China based filmmaker, and Tom Newmark and Larry Kopald from the Carbon Underground.

Our founding meeting was held on a biodynamic farm in Costa Rica in 2015. We deliberately chose to hold it in the global south rather than in North America or Europe and include women and men from every continent to send a message that regeneration was about equity, fairness and inclusiveness. Ronnie Cummins raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to pay for the travel, accommodation, food and other expenses for all the representatives from the global south.

The meeting agreed to form Regeneration International to promote a holistic concept of regeneration. The following mission and vision statements came out of this consultative and inclusive event.

Our mission: To promote, facilitate and accelerate the global transition to regenerative food, farming and land management for the purpose of restoring climate stability, ending world hunger and rebuilding deteriorated social, ecological and economic systems.

Our vision: A healthy global ecosystem in which practitioners of regenerative agriculture and land use, in concert with consumers, educators, business leaders and policymakers, cool the planet, nourish the world and restore public health, prosperity and peace on a global scale.

In six years Regeneration International has grown to more than 360 partner organizations in 70 countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America, Oceania, North America and Europe.

The Third Phase

The need to form an international regeneration movement was inspired in part by the development of Organic 3.0 by IFOAM – Organics International. Organic 3.0 was conceived as an ongoing process of enabling organic agriculture to actively engage with social and environmental issues and been seen as a positive agent of change.

Organic 3.0 has six main features. The fourth feature was the “inclusiveness of wider sustainability interests, through alliances with the many movements and organizations that have complementary approaches to truly sustainable food and farming.”

One aim of Organic 3.0 was to work with like-minded organizations, movements and similar farming systems with the aim of making all of agriculture more sustainable. The concept was to have organic agriculture as a positive lighthouse of change to improve the sustainability of mainstream agriculture systems.

Beyond Sustainable

Many people in the organic, agroecology and environmental movements were not happy with the term sustainable for a number of reasons, not the least that it has been completely greenwashed and was seen as meaningless: “Sustainable means meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

Unfortunately, this definition of sustainable has led to concept of sustainable intensification, where more inputs are used in the same area of land to increase productivity and proportionately lower negative environmental footprints. This concept has been used in sustainable agriculture to justify GMOs, synthetic toxic pesticides and water-soluble chemical fertilizers to produce more commodities per hectare/acre. This was presented as better for the environment than “low yielding” organic agriculture and agroecological systems that need more land to produce the same level of commodities. Sustainable intensification is used to justify the destruction of tropical forests for the industrial scale farming of commodities such as GMO corn and soy that are shipped to large scale animal feedlots in Europe and China. The rationale for this is that less land is needed to produce animal products compared to extensive rangeland systems or organic systems. These sustainable intensification systems meet the above definition of sustainable compared to organic, agroecological and holistically managed, pasture-based systems. Companies like Bayer/Monsanto were branding themselves as the largest sustainable agriculture companies in the world. Many of us believed it was time to move past sustainable.

In this era of the Anthropocene, in which human activities are the dominant forces that negatively affect the environment, the world is facing multiple crises. These include the climate crisis, food insecurity, an epidemic of non-contagious chronic diseases, new pandemics of contagious diseases, wars, migration crises, ocean acidification, the collapse of whole ecosystems, the continuous extraction of resources and the greatest extinction event in geological history.

Do we want to sustain the current status quo or do we want to improve and rejuvenate it? Simply being sustainable is not enough. Regeneration, by definition, improves systems.

Hijacking Standards       

Another driver towards regeneration were the widespread concerns about the hijacking of organic standards and production systems by corporate agribusiness. The neglect of the primacy of soil health and soil organic matter, as well as allowing inappropriate plowing methods, were raised as major criticisms.

Jerome Rodale, who popularized the term organic farming in the 1940s, used the term specifically in relation to farming systems that improved soil health by recycling and increasing soil organic matter. Consequently, most organic standards start with this; however certifiers rarely, if ever, check this these days. The introduction of certified organic hydroponics as soilless organic systems was been seen by many as the ultimate sell-out and loss of credibility.

Major concerns and criticisms about the hijacking of certified organic by industrial agriculture were raised by allies in the agroecology and holistic management movements. These included large scale, industrial, organic monocultures and organic Confined Animal Feed Operations (CAFOs). These CAFOS go against the important principles of no cruelty and the need to allow animals to naturally express their behaviors, which are found in most organic standards. The use of synthetic supplements in certified organic CAFOs was seen as undermining the very basis of the credibility of certified organic systems. The lack of enforcement was seen as a major issue. These issues were and still are areas of major dispute and contention within global and national organic sectors.

Many people wanted a way forward and saw the concept of “Regenerative Organic Agriculture,” put forward by Robert Rodale, son of the organic pioneer Jerome Rodale, as a way to resolve this. Bob Rodale used the term regenerative organic agriculture to promote farming practices that go beyond sustainable.


The term regenerative agriculture is now being widely used, to the point that in some cases it can be seen as greenwashing and as a buzzword used by industrial agricultural systems to increase profits.

Those of us who formed Regeneration International were very aware of the way the large agribusiness corporations hijacked the term sustainable to the point is was meaningless. We were also aware of how they are trying to hijack the term of agroecology, especially through the United Nations systems and in some parts of Europe, Africa and Latin America where a little biodiversity is sprinkled as greenwash over agricultural systems that still use toxic synthetic pesticides and water-soluble chemical fertilizers.

Similarly we have been concerned about the way organic agriculture standards and systems have been hijacked by industrial agribusiness as previously stated in the above section.

The critical issue is, how do we engage with agribusiness in a way that can change their systems in a positive way as proposed in Organic 3.0? Many of the corporations that are adopting regenerative systems are improving their soil organic matter levels using systems such as cover crops. They are also implementing programs that reduce toxic chemical inputs and improving environmental outcomes. These actions should be seen as positive changes in the right direction. They are a start — not an end point. Remember that there are also corporations that are rebranding their herbicide sprayed GMO no-till systems as regenerative.

The opposite of regenerative is degenerative. By definition, agricultural systems that are using degenerative practices and inputs that damage the environment, soil and health — such as synthetic toxic pesticides, synthetic water soluble fertilizers and destructive tillage systems, cannot be considered regenerative — and should not use the term. They must be called out as degenerative.

The Path Forward

From the perspective of Regeneration International, all agricultural systems should be regenerative and organic using the science of agroecology.

Bob Rodale observed that an ecosystem will naturally regenerate once the disturbance stops. Consequently, regenerative agriculture, working with nature, not only maintains resources, it improves them.

Regeneration should be seen as a way to determine how to improve systems and to determine what practices are acceptable and what are degenerative and therefore unacceptable. The criteria to analyze this must be based on the Four Principles of Organic Agriculture. These principles are clear and effective ways to decide what practices are regenerative and what are degenerative.

Consequently, the four principles of organic agriculture are seen as consistent and applicable to regenerative agriculture.

Health: Organic agriculture should sustain and enhance the health of soil, plant, animal, human and planet as one and indivisible.

Ecology: Organic agriculture should be based on living ecological systems and cycles, work with them, emulate them and help sustain them.

Fairness: Organic agriculture should build on relationships that ensure fairness with regard to the common environment and life opportunities.

Care: Organic agriculture should be managed in a precautionary and responsible manner to protect the health and well-being of current and future generations and the environment.

Why Regenerative Agriculture?

The majority of the world’s population is directly or indirectly dependent on agriculture. Agricultural producers are amongst the most exploited, food and health insecure, least educated and poorest people on our planet, despite producing most of the food we eat.

Agriculture in its various forms has the most significant effect on land use on the planet. Industrial agriculture is responsible for most of the environmental degradation, forest destruction, toxic chemicals in our food and environment and a significant contributor, up to 50 percent, to the climate crisis. The degenerative forms of agriculture are an existential threat to us and most other species on our planet. We have to regenerate agriculture for social, environmental, economic and cultural reasons.

Soil Focus

The soil is fundamental to all terrestrial life of this planet. Our food and biodiversity start with the soil. The soil is not dirt — it is living, breathing and teeming with life. The soil microbiome is the most complex and richest area of biodiversity on our planet. The area with the greatest biodiversity is the rhizosphere, the region around roots of plants.

Plants feed the soil microbiome with the molecules of life that they create through photosynthesis. These molecules are the basis of organic matter — carbon-based molecules — that all life on earth depends on. Organic matter is fundamental to all life and soil organic matter is fundamental to life in the soil.

Farming practices that increase soil organic matter (SOM) increase fertility, water holding capacity, pest and disease resilience and, thus, the productivity of agricultural systems. Because SOM comes from carbon dioxide fixed through photosynthesis, increasing SOM can have a significant impact in reversing the climate crisis by drawing down this greenhouse gas.

The fact is our health and wealth comes from the soil.

Regenerative agriculture is now being used as an umbrella term for the many farming systems that use techniques such as longer rotations, cover crops, green manures, legumes, compost and organic fertilizers to increase SOM. These include: organic agriculture, agroforestry, agroecology, permaculture, holistic grazing, sylvopasture, syntropic farming and many other agricultural systems that can increase SOM. SOM is an important proxy for soil health — as soils with low levels are not healthy.

However, our global regeneration movement is far more than this.

Regeneration Revolution

We have a lot of work to do. We are currently living well beyond our planetary boundaries and extracting far more than our planet can provide. As Dr. Vandana Shiva puts it: “Regenerative agriculture provides answers to the soil crisis, the food crisis, the climate crisis and the crisis of democracy.”

According to Bob Rodale, regenerative organic agriculture systems are those that improve the resources they use, rather than destroying or depleting them. It is a holistic systems approach to farming that encourages continual innovation for environmental, social, economic and spiritual wellbeing.

The vast majority of the destruction of biodiversity, the greenhouse gases, pesticides, endocrine disrupters, plastics, poverty, hunger and poor nutrition are directly caused by the billionaire corporate cartels and their obscene greed aided by their morally corrupt cronies. We need to continue to call them out for their degenerative practices.

More importantly, we need to build the new regenerative system that will replace the current degenerate system.

We have more than enough resources for everyone to live a life of wellbeing. The world produces around 3 times more food than we need. We have unfair, exploitative and wasteful systems that need to be transformed and regenerated. 

We need to regenerate our societies so we must be proactive in ensuring that others have access to land, education, healthcare, income, the commons and empowerment. This must include women, men and youths across all ethnic and racial groups.

We must take care of each other and regenerate our planet. We must take control and empower ourselves to be the agents of change. We need to regenerate a world based on the Four Principles of Organic Agriculture: Health, Ecology Fairness and Care.

Ronnie Cummins, one of our founders, wrote: “Never underestimate the power of one individual: yourself. But please understand, at the same time, that what we do as individuals will never be enough. We’ve got to get organized and we’ve got to help others, in our region, in our nation, and everywhere build a mighty Green Regeneration Movement. The time to begin is now.”

André Leu is the author of The Myths of Safe Pesticides and Poisoning Our Children. He previously served as president of IFOAM — Organics International and is currently the international director of Regeneration International. 

Tractor Time Episode 58: Higher Standards for Cannabis

On this episode we’re talking about bringing a higher standard to cannabis production. With the federal legalization of hemp and the continuing state-by-state rollout of recreational cannabis, the industry is just picking up steam in the U.S. A California-based nonprofit started by David Bronner is aiming to lead the way on setting regenerative and socially responsible standards that empower farmers and farm workers in a rapidly expanding agricultural sector. In this episode we’re joined by Andrew Black, the executive director of Sun+Earth Certified, a beyond-organic standard for cannabis and hemp, and Josh Gulliver, a regenerative hemp and herb farmer based in Oregon, to talk about the challenges and opportunities on the horizon for cannabis growers.

This episode is particularly relevant right now, as three U.S. Senate Democrats have just presented a plan to end the federal prohibition on cannabis. This interview was recorded back in April, so that’s not part of the conversation, but what we do talk about is the increasing need for cannabis producers to lead the way on what it means to be truly regenerative. Right now we are at a crossroads. Does cannabis become just another commodity crop or can we use it as a vehicle to transform agriculture?

In this episode, we go deep into Sun+Earth Certified standards and what that means for the future of cannabis. Sun+Earth, if you don’t already know, is the non-profit started by David Bronner, who is the head of Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps as well as an outspoken cannabis activist. The non-profit has set ambitious standards for cannabis production that include earth care, human empowerment and community engagement.

To find out more about Sun+Earth Certified go to If you’re interested in learning more about how Dr. Bronner’s is creating regenerative supply chains for its products go buy Honor Thy Label: Dr. Bronner’s Unconventional Journey to a Clean, Green, and Ethical Supply Chain. That book is availablein the bookstore. Use the coupon code JULYPOD, that’s J-U-L-Y-P-O-D for 10 % off on all titles.

Tractor Time is brought to you by Acres U.S.A. and Barn2Door. Subscribe to our channel on YouTube, iTunes or anywhere podcasts are available. Also, find us on,, and don’t forget to subscribe to our monthly magazine.

Tractor Time Episode 57: Jesse Frost on No-Till Farming and Creating Living Soil

On this episode we welcome the No-Till Titan himself, Jesse Frost. Frost owns and operates Rough Draft Farmstead with his wife, Hannah Crabtree. The farm is an organic, no-till market garden based in Lawrenceburg Kentucky. It sells at area farmers’ markets and offers a CSA service. Frost is also the host of the No-Till Market Garden podcast. And for Frost, the show grew out of a sense of service and necessity. He saw that there was a dearth of information on how to make no-till practices work for small-scale vegetable farmers and he decided to do something about it. In the process, he’s built up a thriving community of farmers who are eager to share ideas and best practices. In addition to his essential podcast, Frost also has an incredible new book out from Chelsea Green Publishing called The Living Soil Handbook: The No-Till Grower’s Guide to Ecological Market Gardening.

This episode also features an interview with investigative journalist Carey Gillam on an environmental disaster at an ethanol plant in Nebraska and an ongoing lawsuit over dicamba drift in Texas.

Nabhan: Food and Farming Crisis Requires Both Science and Faith

Jesus for Farmers and Fishers: Justice for All Those Marginalized by Our Food System is the latest book from author Gary Paul Nabhan.

By Gary Paul Nabhan

Not since the mid-1980s has America faced a food and farm crisis of such epic proportions. In 2020, American farmers lost $20 billion dollars in farmgate income and plunged further into debt. For 2021, the USDA is projecting that net farm income will decrease another $12 billion, cutting farmers’ profits by at least another 10 percent. Livestock producers and packers were particularly hard hit, as the novel coronavirus tragically spread through the slaughterhouse workforce, causing closures of many meatpacking plants. As the U.S. became the country in the world with the highest rates of COVID-19, exports of meat dropped as much as 40% for several months. Meat and other food commodities handled by those exposed to COVID-19 were banned from entry into other countries.

Perhaps the long-term effects of the pandemic on farmworkers are the most tragic for our rural communities. Because a large portion of those who harvest our daily breadstuffs are foreign-born, with English as their second language, COVID prevention recommendations and health care were slow to reach them. Many of their ramshackle rural communities — especially in border states — became COVID hotspots with high death rates. Those who survived being COVID positive may face longer-term debilities that keep them from working at all.

I am not merely concerned with the downward turn in the number of farmworkers and foodservice workers in America’s food supply chain, but with the loss of so many talented professionals who have been willing to skillfully work long hours under daunting conditions. As immigration to the U.S. slowed to a halt in the Trump area, it will be a long time before America recruits workers of equal skill to maintain the supply chains.

On the other side of the food chain, there is hunger in the air. Never since the Great Depression have so many Americans required food relief to keep their families from going hungry. Four of ten Americans claimed that 2020 was the first time their families ever had to turn to food banks and soup kitchens to put meals on the table.

The largest network of food banks in the country, Feeding America, never had to access so much food so fast, as it sought to offer 4.2 billion meals just between March and October of last year. Overall, there has been a 60% increase in the number of Americans turning to over 180 food banks nationwide. Feeding American affiliates have seen a 60% average increase in the lines outside food banks, as more than 50 million people experienced outright hunger or lingering food insecurity, including about 17 million children.

Many Americans thank God for the safety net that food banks have built over the last half century kept them from starvation. Many food banks are now trying to close the hunger gap by looking beyond immediate food relief to helping their clients find jobs with livable wages.

 Behind the scenes, better science has helped food banks keep Americans healthfully fed, by aiding at least a fifth of all food banks that scrambled to avoid running out of supplies. For the last decade, these organizations have drawn upon some of the most scientifically precise food sourcing, transportation planning and distribution tools the world has ever known to keep perishable food out of landfills so that it can reach the mouths of those most in need.

While the science of dealing with food insecurity has advanced greatly since the Farm Crisis of the 1980s, we must not underestimate the compassionate roles of faith-based communities in keeping the most marginalized Americans from starvation. Simply put, churches, synagogues and mosques reach the poor and hungry in ways no government program can equal. Faith organizations have remained the backbone of food relief efforts for the poor at home and abroad for more than a century. While structural racism may infest many other kinds of institutions, I know of no faith-based initiative that restricts its food donations on the basis of color, creed or class anywhere that I have lived in the U.S.

And that is precisely why I feel that if we are to survive this particular food and farming crisis, we will need both better science and stronger acceptance of the roles that faithkeepers play in addressing poverty and hunger. I fear that science-based solutions to the farming and food insecurity will fail if we do not also draw upon the awesome moral and prayerful will of Americans to rescue those most in need. At this critical moment in human history, we cannot ethically afford those who are better-off and double-vaccinated in our country to bubble-wrap themselves in a buffer of complacency and greed.

Two thousand years ago, there was another sort of farming and fishing crisis in a place called Galilee. It flared up as the Roman Empire tried to wring every edible calorie out of that landscape to export to its metropolitan elite and to its military forces. A young, rather contemplative Jew abandoned his trade as a carpenter to venture out into the fields and the harbors to listen to those who had been most marginalized by the commodification of the food they produced. Rather than rallying them for protests that the Romans would inevitably crush, Jesus told them parables of resilience, generosity and abundance that offer them hope. He spoke to them in stories that were rich in the images of agrarian life, rather than in the esoteric rhetoric of bureaucrats and priests.

Jesus offered the poor and hungry fresh ways of seeing the dilemma they faced, and collaborative strategies for dealing with the weight of oppression placed on their shoulders. He did not incite them to violence, but engaged them in deeper reflection and solidarity with one another. In my new book, Jesus for Farmers and Fishers, I show how Jesus welcomed his neighbors of all faiths to imagine a new kin-dom where they could come together to better care for creation and for one another.

Today, we have far better science to deal with both pandemics and the many vagaries in the food supply chains that can force further debt upon farmers and hunger upon eaters. But the science of agriculture and nutrition will not be sufficient to reduce disparities between the haves and have nots in this moment of raging hunger and disease.

At this point in time, we need to deal with the diseases of anger, frustration and depression by rekindling hope. We may do so by heeding the moral and spiritual lessons of the prophets of all faiths who helped their communities survive other crises that brought farmers, fishers and eaters to their knees. Neither logical-positivist science nor prayer alone will be enough to get all Americans now at risk out of harm’s way. We need to embrace both in order to weather the daunting challenges still upon us. Far too many farmers are deal with grinding debt and far to outright hunger in the so-called breadbasket of the world

In this, the so-called breadbasket of the world, far too many farmers are dealing with grinding debt and far too many families are dealing with food insecurity. They need all American’s prayers and innovative problem-solving skills more than ever before.     

Gary Paul Nabhan is an internationally-celebrated nature writer, agrarian activist and ethnobiologist. For more information, visit

Tractor Time Episode 56: Carey Gillam on the Monsanto Lawsuits

On this episode we welcome back investigative journalist Carey Gillam. For regular listeners, Carey is a familiar name. This year, she’s been joining us each month for a segment we call Industrial Ag Watch, where she keeps us updated on the fearless reporting she does on our industrialized food system.

On this episode, we’re setting aside more time to really dig into her latest book — The Monsanto Papers: Deadly Secrets, Corporate Corruption, and One Man’s Search for Justice. That book is out now and you can find it at the bookstore.

Carey is also the author of the 2017 book Whitewash: The Story of a Weed Killer, Cancer and the Corruption of Science. Whitewash won the coveted Rachel Carson Book Award from the Society of Environmental Journalists. And you can also go back in the archives and listen to a 2019 podcast we did with Carey about that book.

Carey also works as a reporter and director of research for U.S. Right to Know. Her work frequently appears in The Guardian and she has more than 30 years of experience covering food and agricultural policies and practices. She also serves on the Freedom of Information Task Force for the Society of Environmental Journalists.