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Ray Archuleta, a conservation agronomist with the National Resource Conservation Service, spoke at the National Conference on Soil and Cover Crops in Omaha this year.

Ray delivered an authoritative and inspirational address to the conference about agroecology and the importance of holistic design in landscape management.

How do we learn from the more than 3 billion years of evolutionary knowledge embedded in nature when we observe a forest or prairie?

"It is covered 24/7, it is diverse, and they have animals in the system" -Ray Archuleta, conservation agronomist

Folks, this is agroecology going mainstream. This is everything we need going mainstream.

The UN knows it, governments know it, farmers are beginning to know it, but do you know it?

(Hint, spend some time with your favorite search engine and compare the returns for climate change & livestock versus returns for agroecology or agroforestry and get back to me on whether or not environmentalists are actually taking this seriously or not)

Some say that they don't need to know anything about farming, the land, or how human beings actually sustain their existence. They are wrong.

Changing the way we interact with the natural world- embracing it and working with it- will be the only way we can begin to regenerate this planet and solve the systemic problems of poverty, biodiversity loss, water shortages, and all the other plagues that stem from our culture of make believe.

The only way we will save ourselves is if people talk about this. If they spread the knowledge. If they embrace what innovative farmers, landholders, gardeners, and scientists have been demonstrating for decades now: diverse, integrated agroecosystems work. Acknowledging this may be difficult for some in environmental quarters due to the well-deserved abominable reputation CAFO operations have.

However, overcoming our instinctive disgust for an unethical, immoral, and unsustainable system is absolutely necessary if we are to embrace the polar opposite to those systems: agroecology. Agroecological systems work best when they are integrated with livestock. This has been demonstrated again, again, and again.

"We want to go away from control and command agriculture. I want to go to this: livestock as a proxy, mimic it [natural ecosystems]." -Ray Archuleta

Here is the video:

Right around the 20:00 mark, Ray has two audience members come to the front to demonstrate the difference between conventional till and biocide soil and soil that has been no-till for decades and has very reduced inputs. Jump to the 20:00 mark and watch as the conventional North Carolina soil disintegrates within seconds when subjected to water. Notice how for the next few minutes, the no-till, reduced input soil holds together remarkably.

Did I mention that the no-till farmer also uses animals? This farmer is not contributing to erosion, nutrient loss, and countless other plagues of modern industrial farming. They are also sequestering carbon and combatting climate change while reaping the benefits of an integrated system.

My family lives in North Carolina. My first permaculture garden is still there. I have seen these benefits with my own eyes: and I have seen the other side. Just 200 yards from my garden is a heavily tilled, never cover cropped, disaster. More studies into this will be welcome, but they are not necessary. The world needs progressives to understand that we need to fundamentally alter our relationship with the earth and that farmers and livestock together will be making tremendous contributions to regenerating our planet.

April 8, 2012. Farmer's field just a few hundred yards away.

April 9, 2012. Just a section of my garden emerging from a very mild winter. Cover cropping in its full glory.

The benefits of cover cropping are obvious. I have even written about this before here, back in September of 2012.

Special thanks to Raymond Covino for submitting an initial news report to about the conference. If you want to see a full list of presentations, you can go to the SARE (Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education) on the conference here.

Progressives, liberals, conservatives, everyone can get on board with these practices. I witness it in my own life where people of all political persuasions come together around the remarkable ability of the earth to regenerate itself.

Doom and gloom has nothing on the ability of the earth to regenerate itself with human help. Spend some time with the links I have provided here and see for yourself what happens when human beings embrace their ability to place resources in the right place at the right time for maximum effect. Nothing short of astounding. Now get out there and let people know what we are capable of for Pete's sake!

Additional Resources

Agroecology Diaries
Sept. 14 2013. Introduction to Agroecology: Is it Anthropogenic or Bovigenic Climate Change?
Sept. 21 2013. Agroecology: "Rehabilitation of degraded land has the potential to double [...] agricultural land"
Sept. 29 2013. Agroecology: "...Outperform[s] the use of chemical fertilizers in boosting food production..."
Oct. 6 2013. Agroecology: "Wake up before it is too late"- UNCTAD's TER13 Report.
Oct. 27 2013. Agroecology: 1- Study Nature. 2- Facilitate Natural Functions. 3- Rediscover Abundance

Book Reviews

Reviewing (in my own way) George Monbiot's "Feral." Link.

Large Scale Damaged Ecosystem Regeneration [Diary]:

Excellent, must see documentary: John Liu's Green Gold- extended version of "Hope in a Changing Climate" that was presented at the recent Rio summit.

Another good article by John D. Liu. Finding Sustainability in Ecosystem Restoration.

Holistic Management [Diaries: First, Second, Third, Fourth]:

The Savory Institute.
The Africa Centre For Holistic Management.
Holistic Management International.

Seth Itzkan has put together a very good reference list for Holistic Management, here.


The Permaculture Research Institute is excellent (Updated: formerly PRI Australia). With almost daily updates from the world of permaculture (an ethical design system that utilizes agroecology [diary]), this site is on my "must check list" daily. Good news to be found here.

There are some excellent video presentations from 2011's International Permaculture Convergence held in Jordan, which followed a permaculture design course taught at the world-renowned "Greening the Desert Part II" site in the Dead Sea Valley. Here is a link to the documentary about the site, and here is a photo update from Spring 2013.If you scroll to the bottom of this webpage, you will find links to video presentations given at the convergence.
[Above links may be broken]

Also, check out and for Paul Wheaton's permaculture empire.

Ecological Gardening

Here is a list of diaries I wrote that covered some of the very basics.

I. Basic Garden Ecology
II. Soil
III. Layers
IV. Polycultures

Plant Databases

Plants for a Future. Absolutely massive database for useful plants.


The first diary of this series revolves around three documentaries.

The first is a TED talk by Willie Smits about rainforest restoration to provide habitat for orangutans and a standard of living for the local people using agroecological methods. Not only was the project highly successful, but climate moderation was demonstrated via satellite imagery.

The second, The Rebel Farmer, is about Sepp Holzer, a very famous Austrian who practices his own version of permaculture. He has also written numerous books in addition to being in demand across the globe.

The third presents "Greening the Desert"- which covers both sites in Jordan where Geoff Lawton and the Permaculture Research Institute have been applying permaculture with great success.

YouTube Channels:

In no particular order:

John D. Liu: pioneering large scale damaged ecosystem restoration.
What If We Change: John D. Liu's project to inspire others to share their efforts to combat climate change and other problems.
Whole Systems Design: operating from Vermont, Ben Falk's permaculture design firm. Excellent site overview and talks on agroecology. Also a must see video from Hurricane Irene.
Permaculture News: PRI's YouTube branch
Permasolutions: Offering permaculture inspired solutions to problems
Toby Hemenway: Author of Gaia's Garden and permaculture designer. Great talk on horticultural society.
Al Baydha: Pilot project in Saudi Arabia to regenerate "bare bones" landscape for Bedouins.
Eric Toensmeier: Author of Perennial Vegetables, coauthor of Edible Forest Gardens, and plant guru. Has an upcoming book on perennial agricultural solutions to climate change.
Paul Stamets: World famous visionary mycologist who will change the way you see the world. You'll never forget fungi after his speeches regarding their potential use and place in the ecosystems.


My favorite books:

Edible Forest Gardens, Vol I and II. David Jacke with Eric Toensmeier. Chelsea Green, 2006.
Sepp Holzer's Permaculture. Sepp Holzer, translated by Anna Sapsford-Francis. Chelsea Green, 2010.
Gaia's Garden. Toby Hemenway. Chelsea Green, 2009 (2nd edition).
Let the Water Do the Work. Bill Zeedyk and Van Clother. The Quivira Coalition, 2009.
The One Straw Revolution. Masanobu Fukuoka. Link will point you to a decent review.
Akinori Kimura's Miracle Apples. By Takuji Ishikawa, translated by Yoko Ono. This is an absolutely fantastic story. My favorite part is towards the end, chapter 22, when Kimura is told of his family's first success. Give it a read!
Feral: Searching for enchantment on the frontiers of rewilding. George Monbiot. Allen Lane, 2013.
The Resilient Farm and Homestead: An Innovative Permaculture and Whole Systems Design Approach. Ben Falk. Chelsea Green, 2013.

For a much fuller list of books on the subject, see Toby Hemenway's Permaculture Reading List.


The Land Institute. Their goal is to develop highly productive perennial staple crops which will produce a living system as stable as natural prairies. This is the kind of pioneering research we should be funding. H/T to sfinx for bringing them up.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Thank you! (9+ / 0-)

    An interesting and important diary.  

    Join us at Bookflurries-Bookchat on Wednesday nights 8:00 PM EST

    by cfk on Wed Apr 09, 2014 at 04:03:43 AM PDT

  •  Another excellent and important diary FinchJ (10+ / 0-)

    Combining no-till, cover cropping and mulch makes for a dynamic and alive soil and the best garden for even the smallest back yard.

    The earthworm population explodes in such a garden and the vigor of your veggies and flowering plants will be evident immediately.

    To make a new garden in my field, i would collect fall leaves, pile them on at least a foot deep, winter all of this over with no disturbance and, in the spring, plant my seedlings down into the mulched leaves, trying not to disturb the soil much.

    The result was an instant new garden with no weeds, no till and no hard labor.

    At the end of the growing season, add more leaves and a small amount of manure if the original leaves had not fully composted and repeat.

    Thanks so much for this series, a primer for every farmer and gardener interested in not only the health of their families and community but also the environment.

    'How like fish we are: ready, nay, eager, to seize upon whatever new thing.......And how we rue our haste, finding the gilded morsel to contain a hook". ALDO LEOPOLD - A Sand County Almanac

    by flowerfarmer on Wed Apr 09, 2014 at 04:05:57 AM PDT

  •  A friend on the Big Island started doing no-till (9+ / 0-)

    on a lot in the Waimea ag section about 6 years ago. It's insane what he produces as his neighbors waste time and money doing it the conventional way, producing about half per acre what he gets at double the labor, water and fertilizer costs. The lines at his booth are typically the longest at the Saturday farmers market.

    "Well, yeah, the Constitution is worth it if you succeed." - Nancy Pelosi, 6/30/07 // "Succeed?" At what?

    by nailbender on Wed Apr 09, 2014 at 04:20:17 AM PDT

  •  Wonderful! (6+ / 0-)

    Glad to have found you.

    If you can do this in Finland, it can be done anywhere.

    Love the UNCTAD report. It offers solutions if we can overcome our agrochemical industry. Working on getting a local food system protected here in Willamette Valley.  


    We have it within our power to make the world over again ~ Thomas Paine

    by occupystephanie on Wed Apr 09, 2014 at 05:13:34 AM PDT

    •  Well wishes on your project to (6+ / 0-)

      support your local food system. Highly important that we rework our food system to become highly resilient or even anti-fragile. While I am in support of long-distance trade of certain foodstuffs, producing enough to feed local populations diverse and safe products from their local area should be a goal for us all.

      There are a lot of projects happening here in Finland, of which I am lucky to be a part of a handful. We already have farmers doing a lot of this, but as Finns can be, they usually keep to themselves. We do have a long road to travel first though: I met with one of the heads of the government's Organic Institute earlier this year and what he told us was a little disturbing.

      Although Finland has a a goal for 20% organic production by 2020 and 50% by 2050, they are pushing for consolidation of farms. Support for smaller farmers is not anywhere near what it should be and future money to help develop properties will probably continue to go towards the larger producers. Which is absurd considering the realities of food production and the number of farmers who will be retiring and not be replaced.

      So many young folks want to farm, but we don't come from farming families: meaning that we have to spend inordinate amounts of money to get land in the first place and hence will already be more than a few steps behind financially.

      We all just have to keep pushing though!

      •  The very same problem for young farmers (6+ / 0-)

        here in the states...

        So many young folks want to farm, but we don't come from farming families: meaning that we have to spend inordinate amounts of money to get land in the first place and hence will already be more than a few steps behind financially.
        Wonder if we could start a crowd sourcing movement for small farmers, communal land-share even, to increase production of local foods?


        'How like fish we are: ready, nay, eager, to seize upon whatever new thing.......And how we rue our haste, finding the gilded morsel to contain a hook". ALDO LEOPOLD - A Sand County Almanac

        by flowerfarmer on Wed Apr 09, 2014 at 05:34:47 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  Oregon Friends of Family Farmers (7+ / 0-)

        has a program for linking hopeful new farmers with farmers who have land available to farm.

        It's like a dating service, I think.

        Urban farming is also very popular here with community gardens and front yard gardens. Every block has its flock of chickens! I have 10 and sell or barter my eggs to my neighbors.

        Industrial farming has its grip on our politicians despite all the international evidence saying otherwise. Years from now industrial farming will look as stupid as the farming practices that caused the Dust Bowl of the Thirties.

        We have it within our power to make the world over again ~ Thomas Paine

        by occupystephanie on Wed Apr 09, 2014 at 06:29:31 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Cool, thanks for sharing that org. (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Rogneid, FarWestGirl, occupystephanie

          I knew someone would have at least one example :) Even the stereotyped Oregon mindset from Portlandia looks enticing at times!

          Also, I like the idea of sharing a flock of chickens for a block.

          If I were to recommend chickens for my parents place, it would  probably only be in that context (except, perhaps, in the future when we have more perennial chicken food). One thing I am not usually too happy to see are chickens penned up in a tiny run and being fed scraps and imported grains. I'd much rather see people sharing portions of their yards and rotating the chickens through to new pastures so lessen their impact and reduce the need for imports to zero if possible.

          Thats probably the one thing from the video I posted just above that I personally don't agree with: keeping chickens (or any animals) in small quarters- even if they have access to fresh food, it doesn't sit right with me.

          •  Free range are happier, healthier and less (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            FinchJ, occupystephanie

            expensive to raise/maintain. The only consideration is local predators. Bringing them in at night and having a covered area protected from hawks is important depending on your area.

            Information is abundant, wisdom is scarce. ~The Druid.
            ~Ideals aren't goals, they're navigation aids.~

            by FarWestGirl on Wed Apr 09, 2014 at 11:33:53 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

          •  My ten hens are split into two different flocks (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            in two roomy coups with large runs. Even here in town, we have hawks and raccoons, and my dogs are no better. They get organic feed and grains and organic greens every day from my garden which I am able to grow food in because the hens are penned.

            I'll have to do a piece on them for another Wednesday.

            We have it within our power to make the world over again ~ Thomas Paine

            by occupystephanie on Thu Apr 10, 2014 at 08:27:51 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  That would be nice to see. (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              occupystephanie, RiveroftheWest

              I totally understand that you wouldn't want chickens free ranging in a garden. Even in a well established agroforestry situation they can do significant damage, necessitating rotation even there (depending on climate, subtropics-tropics probably not so much given the rapid plant growth).

              Still, I have an aversion to the old chicken run method. There often aren't many other options in a city though. Done well, they don't rub me the wrong way. But I have seen too many people putting chickens into tiny runs, not giving them enough litter/bedding material, and generally not putting the health and well being of the chickens ahead of the desire for fresh eggs.

              Of course, I'm not saying that you are doing that- just that this is the feeling I have towards the coop and run design generally. It can be done well, but all too often I see good intentions gone wrong where chickens are not only unhealthy, but are completely unsafe given the ability of raccoons to decimate the entire flock with ease. No where to run, no where to hide when those guys get in...

        •  My gf survived the Oklahoma Dust Bowl. Got his (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          FinchJ, occupystephanie

          degree in soils management from OK State U, so it runs in the family. ;-)

          Information is abundant, wisdom is scarce. ~The Druid.
          ~Ideals aren't goals, they're navigation aids.~

          by FarWestGirl on Wed Apr 09, 2014 at 11:35:46 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  I'm trying to spread the word (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    FinchJ, RiveroftheWest

    Thank you for opening my eyes!

  •  Thank you so much - your diaries are one of the (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    FinchJ, RiveroftheWest

    few things that lift me out of hopeless climate despair. The timing on this one was a blessing for me, as weekend reading had caught me up on the latest incidents of venality and willful ignorance by our Big Ag/Chem and government overlords. (Massive honeybee death in the almonds this year, etc., etc.)

    People find it odd that a single woman in a downtown apartment spends her time reading "Perennial Vegetables", but, no matter how old, I say a person can dream of a beautiful world and a better life for those around her and those to come.

    And please write more whenever you can. From whatever starting concern people catch on to the importance of agroecology, (and I hope more and more Kossacks will), your diaries convey great information in a clear and engaging voice.

    If we do not permit the earth to produce beauty and joy, it will in the end not produce food, either. - Joseph Wood Krutch

    by DawnN on Wed Apr 09, 2014 at 07:37:11 PM PDT

    •  DawnN: I'm glad I could help some! (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      I read and hear much of the same news. That is why I feel so strongly about the need to change! Almost everything we need to know about how to reorganize our relationship with the planet is known.

      What isn't here yet is the mainstream acceptance that modern humanity is living in an almost total contradiction to reality. The price of food cannot continue to drop at the cost of the ecosystems we rely upon to survive. Americans already spend less of their household income on food than at any other time in human history. Continuing to expect that everything will get cheaper over time is just ridiculous.

      Perhaps if anyone who has land (be it a farmer of home owner, renter, etc) was rewarded for practices that build soil, harvest rainwater, and promote biodiversity we would be in a better position. But currently, none of that factors into our economic system.

      So we plod along tinkering at the edges when it our entire economic system and what we value is based upon a falsehood- that a clean, healthy, and vibrant ecosystem has no monetary value. Giving people awards for protecting the environment while rewarding monetarily those who trash it is farcical.

      And that is the heart of this issue: the further you dig, the more you realize that the sum of human actions (the economy) is truly a fantasy. As long as the majority of us continue to believe what we are spoon fed about how the world works, we won't correct our fundamental error. The land will be abused, the oceans will be trashed, and we will be left fighting for scraps from the top of the table. Until it all collapses of course.

      Facing up to that, to understand that what is rotten is really the core of our decision making processes, takes a lot of courage. Just how a world would look where clean water was given a monetary value, where a small forest is worth more than a small subdivision of McMansions, where a once poor village in S. America has more wealth than a middle-class urban block is difficult to imagine.

      It may truly be a world in which the last will be first and the first, last.

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