Prairie Post (East Edition)

Canada’s soil is un­der threat, says this group of farm­ers in launch­ing na­tional ini­tia­tive to pro­tect it

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Up-and-com­ing re­gen­er­a­tive farm­ing move­ment is emerg­ing across the coun­try, high­lights newly-launched in­ter­ac­tive map. Emerg­ing field of re­gen­er­a­tive farm­ing is gain­ing ground across Canada in an ef­fort to pro­tect lo­cal food sup­ply.

With plant­ing sea­son on the way, a group of farm­ers has launched a na­tional ini­tia­tive to tell Cana­di­ans that when it comes to en­sur­ing the health and sus­tain­abil­ity of our coun­try’s food sup­ply, there’s a bet­ter way: re­gen­er­a­tive farm­ing.

It’s an up-and-com­ing move­ment that's at­tract­ing the at­ten­tion of a grow­ing num­ber of in­no­va­tive Cana­dian farm­ers, with hun­dreds of farms across the coun­try now putting it into prac­tice in some form. A holis­tic ap­proach rooted in In­dige­nous knowl­edge and backed by science, re­gen­er­a­tive farm­ing is fo­cused on re­viv­ing soil – what the farm­ers call our coun­try’s “foun­da­tion of life” which stud­ies show is de­grad­ing, due in good part to in­dus­trial agri­cul­ture.

“This re­al­ity is some­thing all Cana­di­ans should be con­cerned about, as soil is in­te­gral to our ecosys­tem and the source of most of our food,” said Gabrielle Bastien, Founder and Co-Di­rec­tor of Mon­treal-based non-profit Re­gen­er­a­tion Canada, which is work­ing to ac­cel­er­ate the move­ment across the coun­try. She ex­plained that de­graded soils hold fewer nu­tri­ents, lose their abil­ity to ab­sorb wa­ter and grow plants, and lose their car­bon con­tent, which is emit­ted into the at­mos­phere as CO2, wors­en­ing cli­mate change.

“The COVID-19 pan­demic has re­in­forced the need for a re­li­able source of lo­cally-grown food, and re­gen­er­at­ing soil is a proven, nat­u­ral way to en­sure the health of our agri­cul­tural sys­tem,” em­pha­sized Bastien, who de­vel­oped a pas­sion for soil re­gen­er­a­tion dur­ing her Master’s de­gree in sus­tain­abil­ity and en­vi­ron­men­tal man­age­ment at Har­vard Uni­ver­sity, com­pleted in 2016.

To sup­port the growth and raise aware­ness of this farm­ing trend, Re­gen­er­a­tion Canada has un­veiled a firstof-its-kind in­ter­ac­tive map of re­gen­er­a­tive farms across the coun­try. Ac­cessed free of charge, the map show­cases farm­ers prac­tic­ing re­gen­er­a­tive agri­cul­ture in Canada and how the pub­lic can buy their prod­ucts. The ini­tia­tive also serves as a plat­form for peer-to-peer learn­ing be­tween farm­ers, Bastien said.

Re­gen­er­a­tive farm­ing prac­tices, which mimic na­ture to fos­ter ecosys­tem health, in­clude agro­forestry, peren­nial crops, no-till or re­duced tillage, soil cover, bio­di­ver­sity, in­te­grat­ing live­stock and bet­ter wa­ter man­age­ment. Ben­e­fits in­clude the draw­ing down of at­mo­spheric car­bon into the soil (cli­mate mit­i­ga­tion), restor­ing bio­di­ver­sity, en­hanc­ing nu­tri­tional qual­ity of crops, im­prov­ing the wa­ter cy­cle, and in­creas­ing re­silience to droughts, floods and ex­treme weather.

In­dige­nous com­mu­ni­ties have al­ways farmed in har­mony with na­ture, said Bastien, ex­plain­ing that it's only more re­cently that larger-scale pro­duc­ers, food distrib­u­tors and con­sumers have be­come aware of the in­te­gral role soil plays in main­tain­ing a healthy ecosys­tem, the crux of re­gen­er­a­tive agri­cul­ture.

For An­dré Houle and his wife, Anik, own­ers of Cur­ran, On­tario-based Houle Farm who adopted the re­gen­er­a­tive ap­proach in 2018, the prac­tice has elim­i­nated their farm’s de­pen­dence on chem­i­cals and pes­ti­cides, re­sult­ing in more nu­tri­ent dense food and gen­er­at­ing greater eco­nomic se­cu­rity. “Health­ier soil leads to health­ier plants, which leads to health­ier an­i­mals and ecosys­tems, and ul­ti­mately, health­ier peo­ple,” said Houle, whose prac­tices in­clude re­duced tillage, cover crops and com­post­ing. An added bonus? “Re­gen­er­a­tive agri­cul­ture has re­newed my love for farm­ing,” he said.

Becky Do­herty, who runs Wild­wood, Al­berta-based live­stock and pro­duce Stonepost Farms with her hus­band, John, said that since adopt­ing soil re­gen­er­a­tion prac­tices, her prop­erty has seen a re­turn of wildlife such as birds and am­phib­ians, as well as bet­ter agri­cul­tural growth and an abun­dance of grasses. “Ev­ery­thing on our farm re­volves around soil, and the holis­tic ap­proach to re­gen­er­a­tive farm­ing al­lows us to im­prove the qual­ity of our land,” she said.

Re­gen­er­a­tion Canada in­vites the pub­lic to learn more about soil re­gen­er­a­tion by join­ing its up­com­ing Liv­ing Soils Sym­po­sium, which takes place vir­tu­ally Fe­bru­ary 22 to 26. The event, spon­sored by the Gov­ern­ment of Que­bec and Rog­i­tex, fea­tures a range of speak­ers – from farm­ers and agron­o­mists, to sci­en­tists and en­trepreneur­s – who will share their re­gen­er­a­tive farm­ing ex­per­tise and ex­pe­ri­ences.

More in­for­ma­tion can be found at https://re­gen­er­a­tioncanada.org/.

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