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Rodrigo Louvat
I am a Marketing Associate at Tera in charge of digital marketing and content creation, writing blog articles and newsletters. Drop me a line at rodrigo.louvat@hellotera.com if you feel like it!

What is Soil Degradation: The Crucial Role of Regenerative Agriculture

As you stroll through the vibrant aisles of the grocery store’s produce section, I bet you have never paused to wonder if the fruits and vegetables you see are as nutritious as they once were. Recent scientific studies reveal a concerning trend—many of today’s crops, including fruits, vegetables, and grains, contain lower levels of essential nutrients compared to their counterparts from several decades ago. This issue raises critical questions, especially as more people consider shifting towards plant-based diets for both personal health and the well-being of our planet. Let’s learn more about soil degradation regenerative agriculture.

The Hidden Decline of Nutrients

Mounting evidence points to a significant decline in essential nutrients such as protein, calcium, phosphorus, iron, riboflavin, vitamin C and a similar decline in the breadth and quantities of phytochemicals in our modern crops. This trend is unsettling, given the rising scientific evidence that plant-based focused diets are the healthiest diets. In short, what our grandparents consumed was more nutritious than what we’re eating today.

Unearthing the Root Causes

The underlying issue is based on modern agricultural practices designed to boost crop yields. These practices, including heavy tillage; the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides; the emphasis on monoculture instead of biodiversity; and the absence of cover crops all disrupt the delicate interaction between plants and microbes. Plants depend on the microbial life in the soil to absorb essential nutrients. By destroying the soil food web, we’ve dramatically reduced the nutrient density of our food.

Furthermore, the impacts of climate change and rising carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere are further diminishing the nutritional content of fruits, vegetables, and grains. As carbon dioxide levels increase, crops tend to produce more carbohydrates at the expense of other essential nutrients.

Why It Matters

Increased Vulnerability to Chronic Diseases: As the nutrient content of our food diminishes, our bodies are left with fewer vital compounds necessary to combat chronic diseases. A diet lacking in essential nutrients and phytochemicals can weaken our immune systems and hinder our ability to fend off illnesses, ultimately increasing the risk of conditions like heart disease, diabetes, cancer and many more.

Undermining Preventive Medicine: Food has long been hailed as a form of preventive medicine. A diet rich in nutrients can help us maintain optimal health and reduce the likelihood of falling prey to various ailments. However, the ongoing nutrient decline threatens to undercut the power of food as a preventive tool, eroding one of our most potent defenses against illness.

Impact on Vulnerable Populations: This issue transcends borders and socioeconomic divides. Vulnerable populations, particularly those in low- and middle-income countries, are at even greater risk of nutritional deficiencies. Access to nutrient-rich food is essential for the health and well-being of these communities. A further decline in nutrient levels could exacerbate existing health disparities and increase the burden of disease.

The Promise of Regenerative Agriculture

In the face of the concerning decline in nutrient levels in our crops, one solution shines brightly on the horizon: regenerative agriculture. This approach to farming is not just about growing crops; it’s a holistic system aimed at revitalizing our soils and cultivating healthier, more nutrient-rich produce. But what exactly is regenerative agriculture, how does it work, and why is it so important?

Regenerative agriculture is a comprehensive farming philosophy that goes beyond traditional practices. It seeks to restore and enhance soil fertility while fostering the growth of robust and nutritious crops. Unlike conventional agriculture, which often depletes soil health over time, regenerative farming takes a more sustainable and long-term approach.

five principles of regenerative agriculture infographic

Here’s How Regenerative Agriculture Works:

Reduced Tillage: Regenerative farmers minimize soil disturbance by reducing or eliminating tillage. Conventional plowing disrupts the soil’s delicate structure and can lead to nutrient loss. By avoiding excessive tillage, regenerative practices preserve soil health.

Cover Crops: Planting cover crops during the off-season is a common regenerative technique. These cover crops, such as clover or rye, protect the soil from erosion, suppress weeds, and contribute organic matter when they decompose. This enhances soil structure and fertility.

Crop Rotation: Regenerative farmers employ diverse crop rotations. This approach helps break pest and disease cycles, reduces the need for synthetic chemicals, and maintains nutrient balance in the soil.

Animal Integration: Some regenerative systems integrate livestock into the farming process. Grazing animals like cattle or sheep can improve soil health by promoting nutrient cycling and enhancing microbial activity.

Biodiversity: Encouraging biodiversity is another key aspect of regenerative agriculture. By fostering diverse ecosystems on and around their farms, regenerative farmers support beneficial insects and microbes that contribute to soil health.

So, why is regenerative agriculture important?

First and foremost, it addresses the pressing issue of nutrient decline in our food. Research indicates that regenerative practices result in crops with higher levels of essential vitaminsminerals, and phytochemicals. This means that the food we grow through regenerative methods is more nutritious and better for our health.

Additionally, regenerative agriculture promotes sustainable farming practices that benefit the environment. It reduces soil erosion, minimizes the need for synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, and sequesters carbon in the soil, helping combat climate change.

The Path Forward

In this era of nutrient decline, it falls upon us as consumers to be catalysts of change. We have the power to shape the future of our food system and restore the nutritional richness of our diets. Here’s how we can embark on this journey:

Advocate for Nutrient-Centric Agriculture: Let’s champion food production systems that prioritize the nutritional value of crops. Support and promote regenerative agriculture practices that enhance soil health and, in turn, crop quality. Encourage local and sustainable farming initiatives that prioritize nutrient-rich food.

Educate Ourselves: Knowledge is our greatest ally. Take the time to understand the profound connection between soil health and the quality of the food we consume. Stay informed about the impact of agricultural practices on nutrient levels in crops. Arm yourself with information to make informed food choices.

Vote with Your Wallet: Every purchase we make is a vote for the kind of food system we want to see. Choose foods that align with your values—those grown sustainably, with an emphasis on nutrition. Support local farmers and producers who prioritize soil health and nutrient-rich crops.

Embrace Diversity: Expand your culinary horizons by embracing a diverse range of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Consuming a wide variety of foods can help offset some of the nutrient losses we face. Eat 30 plants per week (plants = vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, nuts, seeds, herbs, spices, mushrooms) to gain the optimal amount of vitamins and minerals.

30 plants checklist graphic

Engage in the Conversation: Share your knowledge and concerns with friends, family, and your community. By raising awareness about the importance of soil health and nutrient-rich food, we can create a groundswell of support for positive change.

As we navigate the challenges posed by declining nutrient levels in our food, let’s remain steadfast in our commitment to preserving and enhancing the nutritional power of what we eat. Together, we can ensure that the path forward is one that leads to healthier eating, a healthier planet, and healthier lives.

Help us empower people to make a positive impact by joining our movement and using our health app. Build a community and demand change by subscribing and sharing. Together we can revolutionize everyday shopping and create a brighter future.

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