Why Chemicals, Not Cows, Are Killing the Planet With John Roulac


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Katie: Hello, and welcome to the “Wellness Mama” podcast. I’m Katie from wellnessmama.com and wellnesse.com. That’s Wellnesse with an E on the end. And this episode is incredibly important for any of us who breathe air, eat food, or drink water. And it’s because we delve into some of the real dangers of some of the climate change problems that we’re having and what the real roots are. And the bottom line is, it’s not the story that you’re hearing from most outlets.

I’m here with John Roulac, who I knew as the founder of Nutiva. He’s also the executive producer of a documentary called “Kiss the Ground” that is available on Netflix, but he’s a serial entrepreneur, a hemp innovator, and a writer and champion of regenerative agriculture. He has been on this journey of regenerative agriculture and environmentalism for about 40 years, and he brings some much-needed points to this conversation. He’s founded six nonprofits, including Great Plains Regeneration and gmoinside.org. I link to those in the show notes.

But we go deep in this episode about the missing pieces in the climate change equation, why some of the narratives about plant-based agriculture being better are actually not just wrong, but harmful, how a lot of our current practices are damaging our rivers and our ocean in a massive way that could lead to an end of all ocean life within a few decades, the reason our rivers are brown when they should be blue, why we’re seeing so many insects die at such a rapid rate, and what the solution is. Really fascinating episode. We go deep on a lot of topics. I think it’s really important to hear. A quote that really stood out to me from the episode, “At the current trajectory in just a few decades, there won’t be much left alive in our oceans as the phytoplankton dies, all because of how we grow our food.” So, definitely tune in, pay attention, and listen at the end for a few steps you can take in your everyday life that can help reverse some of these problems. But without further ado, let’s join John. John, welcome to the podcast.

John: Great to be here, Katie. Thanks for inviting me.

Katie: I am excited to chat with you because I have known you for a long time as the founder of Nutiva but you have also been doing a lot of work in another area that I think is so important right now. And that is in the area of regenerative agriculture. And you were the executive producer of the documentary, a really phenomenal documentary called “Kiss the Ground.” So, we have a lot of directions we’re gonna go under the umbrella of regenerative agriculture and we’re gonna bust some myths. But first, talk to us about “Kiss the Ground” and what was the impetus for that documentary?

John: Yeah, well, thanks. Soil health is such an important topic. And about seven years ago, I was actually in Missouri, and one of my longtime friend and a mentor, Will Alan, gave a talk. He’s an organic farmer in Vermont. He gave a talk about agriculture and its role in climate change and how bad you know, synthetic fertilizers are to the climate. And I was like, “Wow. Yeah, I’m a longtime advocate of organic foods and better farming, but I had no idea that agriculture had such a major impact on climate change and how soil health was a great solution to addressing climate chaos. And that really, kind of, opened my eyes up to the potential of regenerative agriculture. And then I noticed that virtually no one was talking about that in the organic farming movement. No one was talking at the natural products industry, food companies, even though climate change back then was a major issue. So, I said, “Well, why don’t we make a movie and educate millions?” And then I met the filmmakers and, of course, I had known the folks from Kiss the Ground, Ryland, Finian, and their team. And the rest is history as they say.

Katie: I think this is a really important point because I think there’s been a lot of information, especially in a lot of mainstream sources about climate-related problems. And a lot of them seem to focus on livestock and cows specifically and largely ignore a lot of other types of really potentially bigger problems in my mind. Where we used to live in Kentucky, we actually backed on to a big farming area. And I saw firsthand the amount of chemicals that were sprayed on these corn and wheat and soybean crops all the time, and then potentially all the problems resulting from that with water runoff and things like that. But I feel like so much of the discussion has just centered on cows and methane. But you do such a great job of really delving into how much more widespread this problem is and how we might actually, kind of, be cutting off our nose to spite our face with some of these measures. So, walk us through some of these other massive problems that we’re seeing when it comes to agriculture and the environment.

John: Yes. One of the things is it can be a little complicated and it’s nuanced. And, so sometimes people want simple, you know, check a box, they got it done. For too long, the environmental movement and the climate movement and the climate scientists have essentially…the message for the last 25 years is coal and oil is bad, solar and wind and electric cars is good, full stop. And we’ve been doing that, following that mantra. And every year, carbon dioxide increases. Every year, there’s more intense rain events, storms. And, you know, we’re not necessarily getting to a great solution. And now in the last five years, they’ve decided to make it even more simple, you know, in terms of addressing the food and they go, you know, “Cows are bad. Plants are good. Plant-based is good.” And kind of oversimplificatio. And part of what’s driving this, both the focus on solar and wind or cows are bad, you know, Impossible Burger is good is it can be monetized and people can make a profit in Wall Street, whereas the film “Kiss the Ground” goes into, really the solution is restoring nature is to mimic nature. And that means we need to change our food system. And it’s not so neat and tidy and put into a box.

Also, there was a film called “Cowspiracy” that was done about 10 years ago, that is basically 8, 10 years ago, is, you know, half of the movie that says that industrial raised, you know, confined animal feedlot for agriculture is a real problem and it’s horrible for the environment. They got that right. But the other half, they got wrong and put a lot of misinformation. And the idea that we could be growing soybeans in Brazil, you know, spraying all sorts of toxic chemicals, ship those up to the United States, then crush them and process them using hexane, a byproduct of gasoline, which has significant environmental impacts, not only for worker health but for the environment, then take that meal and then ship that around, and some of this now is being done in China, the same process, and turn it into soy protein isolate, and then ship that back to the United States to a manufacturing facility, you know, by truck, and then trucking then to a distributor, and then a distributor, you know, to a retailer. And that’s gonna be better for the environment?

Whereas for those who want a high-quality protein, what I like to joke, what I put in that article was this, you know, true plant…you know, that’s really a chemical base. Like the Impossible Burger and these fake foods are really chemical-based because they’re using lots of chemicals, whereas the 100% pasture beef done in a holistic grazing, and we’ll get into a minute what holistic grazing is, but that’s really plant-based because the cows are really just converting…They’re running on the energy of the sun, driving photosynthesis in grasses, the animals eat the grass, which were not able to digest as well, and then we consume the meat. So, that’s a much more natural and more regenerative process. But what you read in “The Guardian,” or in “Bloomberg,” or “New York Times,” etc. is that cows are bad and that we should convert to plant-based and that’s the future. It’s a misnomer for sure.

Katie: Yeah, there’s definitely a push for that right now. And to your point, I think it ignores some of these really big issues, which are things like these commercial fertilizers and how they’re affecting everything down to our water supply. And from what I’ve read in articles that you’ve written, there’s a very direct impact of these affecting our rivers and also the ocean in different ways. So can you walk us through what we’re seeing in our water?

John: Yeah. So, I wrote an article recently called “Make America’s Rivers Blue Again,” because before agriculture…and really the water, actually the color isn’t blue, but it’s a reflection of the sky. But most rivers today in America have a brown or greenish or yellowish hue. They’re discolored because of erosion and from chemical fertilizers and pesticides running off. And so, you know, whether it’s a creek, or a stream, or a river, or an ocean, it’s a real issue. And the invention of this process, which we talk about in the film, “Kiss The Ground,” the invention of chemical fertilizer, it’s taking fracked natural gas, which has massive methane releases. There’s way more methane released in the manufacture of synthetic fertilizers and fracking, but you would never read that in any article.

One thing that’s kind of like the biggest conspiracy in the food world today, every article that is about the environment and food virtually never discusses the release of nitric oxide from synthetic fertilizer plants. It’s the fastest-growing greenhouse gas emissions in the world but it’s never mentioned. You know, because the thing to understand, part of it is, there’s so much money in the food industry. It’s bigger than the internet. It’s bigger than Google and Facebook combined. And it’s because everyone has to eat. And as food prices rise and, you know, we have all this kind of more modern, you know, kind of a lot of junk food and overly processed food, there’s a lot of money to be made. And so, it’s very convenient, just to switch over and, you know, blame the cows so then they can essentially repackage industrial, you know, GMO agriculture.

But going back to the waterways, so when they use the synthetic fertilizer, it’s injected in the ground, some of the plants absorb that nitrogen. And we’ll talk about how regenerative agriculture creates nitrogen and fertility. But then when there’s a rainstorm, and obviously, you know, in farm areas that you’re gonna see rain, you know, you need to have rain unless it’s irrigated, but a lot of times, it’s rainfall, then that fertilizer washes from the field into a little creek, which then rushes into a bigger stream into a river and then ends up in the ocean. And we have a 500-square-mile dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico. And so, the number one contributor to ocean pollution today is not only plastics, but it’s also agricultural runoff from industry. And it’s killing fish. There’s just an article about…what’s those really lovely mammals that are right around the Florida waterways? Manatee. And manatees are being poisoned from synthetic pesticides like Roundup from Monsanto. So that’s a little about the waterways, and also into our wells. So, you know, if we wanna take care of our waters and have healthy, you know, drinking water, healthy rainwater, we need to have healthy soil. And that begins with regenerative agriculture and moving away from industrial agricultural chemicals.

And to circle back on how does regenerative agriculture differ in terms of the conventional agriculture, chemical agriculture, is we grow plants in rotation with other crops, such as like alfalfa or clover to fix nitrogen from the atmosphere, put it back into the ground, into the soil, and also integrate livestock. So, like Gabe Brown, who’s one of the stars in the film of “Kiss the Ground” is a rancher in North Dakota likes to say, he’ll like grow a winter cover crop, he’ll plant different crops such as like radishes, and then he’ll bring cows in. The cows will eat that grass. Like, they’ll eat some of those crops. And then they’ll poo and they’ll pee, and they’ll transform and create biological activity in the soil. So instead of using fertilizer from chemicals, they’re just using from the cows that natural process. It’s more economical. So the farmer makes more money and it’s more ecological.

Katie: Yeah, that’s an important point that when you consider the whole ecosystem, the livestock can really be a huge part of the solution and aren’t necessarily the problem at all. I think we can all agree that CAFO farms are not the answer. I think that’s actually one area where, kind of, all of the health camps would seem to agree. I don’t know anyone who is an outspoken advocate of feedlot and CAFO farms.

But to circle back to a point you made also about the waterways. So, I live close to one of these dead zones in the ocean. And I wondered if that could actually be a reason for some of the, like, different red bloom, I think they call it, all these different things that affect the air quality and the water quality at different times of the year. But I know people who don’t live near the ocean, it’s easy to kind of not have those things be top of mind and not think about how big of a deal they are. But I wanna go a little bit deeper on this idea that the ocean is also our largest source of oxygen. And phytoplankton are necessary literally for survival of everything on this planet. So, talk about that a little bit more because as we kill off the health of our ocean and of our waterways, it’s not affecting just the water. It, in a very real way, threatens pretty much every life on the planet, right?

John: Yeah. I mean, the number one underrated environmental issue on the planet today is the ocean acidification and the dying off of our plankton. And the reason why plankton outside of the nitrogen runoff is the legacy load of carbon, it’s in the atmosphere that’s been from tilling the soil, burning fossil fuels, you know, clearing forests, clearing wetlands over the last, you know, 1,000, 2,000 years, that legacy load is in the atmosphere. And over time, that carbon drops down and where do you think it falls into? Into the ocean. So that carbon falls into the ocean. And plankton, what we call acidification in the ocean has increased by 30% in the last 50 years. And so the plankton is slowly starting to die off, and when scientists take ocean water and they increase it, like increase the percentage of carbon in the water to what we project by 2040, all of the plankton just dissolves. So, they need that balance of…just like our stomach needs a particular type of balance, like our PH. You know, there’s this thing that in nature, there’s a balance. If you get way too much rain or too much drought, you know, is gonna cause an issue.

And so, we’re not really paying attention. So. at the current rate of how humanity, we are living on this planet, by 2040, there won’t be a fish, a dolphin, or a whale living in the ocean. And then it goes even further, in terms of agriculture, currently, 70% of all winged insects, I’m talking about bees, butterflies, bumblebees, you know, other winged insects, we’ve lost 75% since 1980s because primarily of industrial agriculture spraying chemicals. And we’re losing 1% to 2% a year, according to the National Geographic. At our current rate by 2035, there may not be any insects, you know, to speak of, which means that there’s no food for the birds and there’s not to pollinate our crops.

So we are in a very tough situation. I’ve been an environmentalist since I was 21 when they dumped nuclear waste near my…nine miles from my house. And that really upset me, and that was 40 years ago. And I’ve been yelling and screaming. I try now to be a little more entertaining when I try to talk to people to, like, “Hey, maybe we shouldn’t destroy this planet. You know, we don’t have a plan B. Our plan A is to take care of this planet.” And, you know, the idea that think that we’re gonna spend, you know, the folly of people like Jeff Bezos or Elon Musk to spend billions of dollars to try to colonize Mars, when both of those men don’t seem to even understand how soil works, or Bill Gates for that matter, you know, which wants to move us all to synthetic beef. And, you know, when someone asks and I said, “Well, you know, what about these hundreds of thousands of acres of ag land you have that…you know, how’s that related?” “Well, that’s not related to my climate. That’s just my investment advisors did that.”

Katie: Wow.

John: So, we have a, you know…And Katie, kind of, you know, as an old white man, I can kind of say this, but the problems that we face today, a lot of times, it’s old white men that are focused on money and that have been brought up in a system that is compartment…you know, tries to put everything in a compartment, you know, like, Gates is like, “Oh, I have like $5 billion I spend on climate stuff on my investing in climate, and then all everything else, my investments in Monsanto and farmland, we’re spraying Monsanto and, you know, I’m gonna buy a jet system,” you know, all those other things are somehow separate. Because his mind, well, he’s got so much money that he’s putting on this. And that’s that mindset. We live in a holistic system. And, you know, indigenous people understand that. And us in this modern world, we either need to understand and honor nature more and restore nature. And nature is very resilient.

So we have the potential to restore nature, regenerate nature, that’s what regenerative culture speaks of. And we can do that and have it create a more dynamic future or we can continue on this path and have a very bleak future. You know, I try not to candy coat things. Things are in a very tough situation. Things are way worse than the scientists and politicians are letting people know. We’re gonna start seeing more storms. We’re gonna see more droughts, you know, more of these kinds of weather events until we start to, you know, rethink of how we’re living. It’s interesting that I’ve learned something called the small water cycle that by merely re-greening and reforesting lands, and improving the grasslands, and improving agricultural lands, keeping it always covered, we can actually impact weather.

We can actually create more rain in areas that are dry by restoring nature. And that’s something that more and more people are starting to learn that a lot of environmentalists didn’t even know. I really didn’t understand that concept until 10 years ago. I mean, I knew the idea of rain forests, actually, the forests actually release, like, isotopes and other things that connect with the cloud system, you know, and have formed rain clouds in areas. So you know, it’s a fascinating subject. And the more we can learn and respect nature, the better we’re gonna be.

Katie: Yeah, absolutely. My son is very into a lot of these issues as well. He’s 14. And he was on my podcast when he released a cookbook, and I asked him a question related to the environment, and basically how we should be trying to fix these things. And he made a good point, he’s like, “Mom, you’re asking the wrong question. At the end of the day, nature is gonna win. We need to fix this so that we can continue to exist in it. But at the end of the day, it’s an organism that’s gonna reset itself.”

And you mentioned the insects, which I think are a really important point as well, probably just as close to as important as the oceans and the water supply. And in your article, you quoted a doctor who said that, “This isn’t just a bee problem. The bees are the canary in the coal mine. This is the worst mass extinction event the planet has ever experienced. Agriculture has become much too simplified.” And probably a lot of people listening have heard some of these statistics about the bee population declining. But I don’t think many people realize, again, just like the water issue, just how this truly affects all life on the planet. And I know this also links into the idea of GMOs. And we have big voices in society saying GMOs are the answer and it’s the only way we can feed everyone on Earth, and very promotional of GMO practices. Can you, kind of, take on that issue as well and talk about all these genetically modified crops and how that’s led to more pesticide and fertilizer use?

John: Yeah. I think one thing…Well, I wanna go back to a story about when I was a younger man, maybe in my 30s, I went to a natural food show. You might have heard that the Expo West. And, you know, back then there was, you know, 8,000 people would go, you know, when they had the last time they had it before COVID and it was like 85,000. And there was a farmer, his name was Dick Harder. He was, like, a really big guy like 6’8″, this giant of a man. And he was a rice farmer. And he was an ecological farmer. And he was one of the few farmers that, you know, really kind of didn’t wanna use chemicals back in the ’60s, you know. And he says, “John, after World War…” I remember him telling the story just like it was yesterday. He said, “After World War II, what did America and England have a lot of?” They had plane factories and bomb factories. And, you know, they had the planes for the war, and they had the bombs to drop the bombs on the people. And essentially, after World War II, they decided, “Okay, what are we gonna do to get the economy going?” They decided to create a new war. And guess what that war was against?

Katie: I don’t know.

John: Nature. So, they declared war on nature and the new enemy was bugs. And so they were gonna drop, you know, bombs on the bugs. They’re gonna also drop bombs in the soils for chemical fertilizer, you know. You make bombs with, you know…And, you know, a lot of these bombs that explode are made from synthetic fertilizer. And so, we started that up. And now we’ve realized that so much, you know, devastation, and we haven’t declared a ceasefire. We need to just declare a ceasefire against that. And the companies that were making the chemicals that they used in World War II in Auschwitz to kill Jewish people, those same companies are the ones that are in charge of food policy in the world today.

Bayer is a World War II German chemical war crimes company. They purchased Monsanto. And every GMO seed that is sold in the world today is dipped in a synthetic pesticide called neonic. Neonic coats the seed. It’s 5,000 times more toxic than Roundup. It expresses itself in every part of the gene of the plant. And it’s one of the reasons why bees and butterflies are dying so rapidly. So, in the morning, when the dew sets on the corn plants, bees come and drink the water off of the corn. And when they drink that moisture, they’re ingesting the neonics into the bees, and over time the bees die. And that’s going on all insects. We don’t need that neonic. And it’s hard to even get it. They’re even selling it in nursery plants. So, when you go to the local nursery and put some flowers or whatever and plants into your yard, you’re spreading that also. And they don’t tell you. It’s been banned in England, I mean, in France, in many cases. And they’re finding out the bees are making an increase in population.

So, that’s the way every…The GMO starts there. And they’re designed…Ninety-eight percent of all GMOs sold in the world today are designed to have applications for spraying toxic pesticides. So, when GMO crops were introduced in the ’90s, that’s when the amount increased of pesticides, herbicides. And so, we’ve just gotten used to just spraying. So you know, as I remember, one of my friends who was a farmer, we were driving along and he’s an organic farmer, he says, “See out there, there’s not a weed in the field. You know, they just spray it like clockwork, you know, two or three times.” So, that’s the problem with GMOs. And also, you know, essentially, they’re taking a gene gun and they’re injecting a virus, you know, into the cell. You know, so one of the things is the scientists who worked at the FDA, when they introduce these, they said, “Well, there should be some studies. They should do a double-blind study, feed people so many people GMO foods, and so many people not GMO foods.” They never did that. And they said, “Oh, these are substantially equivalent.” So there’s no difference between GMO corn and non-GMO corn.

Then when that same company went to the patent office, when the Supreme Court, they go, “This is completely different. Yeah, we wanna get a patent on it.” But they said it was equivalent, the same. So, you know, depending on which agency door they walked in, they had a different story. Well, the scientist said, “If you introduce GMOs to the public, there’s a potential that we’re gonna see increases in allergies. You’re gonna see increases in other health issues.” And, of course, we’ve seen what’s exploded…I mean, in the 1960s and ’70s, people didn’t have peanut allergies. There wasn’t, you know, gluten issues. We’ve seen a massive amount of that. You know, and part of that, I believe, is not only the Roundup, you know, which can also block absorption of minerals…You know, Roundup, it’s the brand name for Monsanto, the glyphosate. It was actually originally designed as a descaler. So they used it in industrial cooling systems in tanks where it would strip the minerals off the tank. So it’s basically stripping minerals from people’s body. And, you know, there’s just a lot of issues.

The corruption in Washington, D.C. is so significant, and so they’re able to get away with a lot of really bad, bad things. But, you know, that’s why it’s so important to go towards more regenerative and organic. The challenge with organic though is less than 1% of acres are grown certified organic in the United States. Most of the crops that make up the organic food you buy in stores is imported. You know, 6% of sales are certified organic in the United States And only 1% of the crops are grown organic, so much of it is imported. And sadly, some of it is based on fraud, you know, the corn, the soy, quinoa, chia, you know. So, it is a sad situation that we’ve allowed our food system to be messed up and people need to take responsibility and learn more. And regenerative agriculture offers a pathway for people to do that, but people need to learn more.

And, you know, now’s the time to, you know, write your senators and representatives, and let’s hope that there’s gonna be some more positive change both in Washington, D.C. because farmers are interested in this. There needs to be more education, but also farmers get so little. So, I’ll give you an example of how little farmers are…The amount of dollars that farmers get out of the food pie is less and less every year. It’s the lowest on record. So, in 1980, farmers got 8 cents a pound for wheat. I want people who are listening this, just take a guess how much you think farmers are getting paid 41 years later for wheat per pound?

Katie: I don’t know.

John: It’s 11 cents. Now, if you’re the farmer, how much is their insurance policy gone up? How much is their diesel fuel gone up? You know, how much does it cost them to buy new, you know, spark plugs or, you know, get their car fixed? And, you know, obviously, it’s gone way more than from 8 to 11. And then how much does it cost for a loaf of bread in the United States. So, one of the things I’ve recently done is I’ve researched a lot about wheat in the industry. And it’s so amazing…One thing I just wanted to…If I could riff on that for a minute. You’ll see that so many companies selling flour saying unbleached. And that essentially is the code word that you wanna avoid. Whenever you see a flour, like wheat flour that says “unbleached,” what that means is that flour…it’s their, like, kind of a way to say, “Well, this is good for you.” So we don’t bleach it like the worst ones.

But, you know, if you look on the back of the nutrition panel, basically there’s no fiber. Like, why would you bake bread with no fiber? And they basically removed all the vitamin E, all the B vitamins, all the minerals, all the selenium, very little magnesium. And so, you know, they’re whitening, they’re nutritional stripping. And then one of the things that they’re doing is they’re adding enriched…they’re “enriching” it with…they’re put in synthetic vitamins. And then on mineral…and then they put iron. They actually put metal shavings in to reach the iron levels in the flour industry in the United States. It is an abomination. And one of the things that’s causing a lot of allergies for people is since the 1940s, they started hybridizing wheat and changing it. So, there are what they call heirloom grains, such as…

And, you know, Katie, I’ve been drinking out of the firehose the last six weeks, four, five, six weeks really learn more about because I’m working more in Kansas and Nebraska, with farmers and ranchers to build a regenerative movement, right in the heart of the country in the vast Great Plains. And, you know, really learned a lot. But there’s these varieties called like turkey red, Sonoran white, red fife that were brought over, you know, in the 1800s, you know, when people came to the United States. Matter of fact, I talked to one farmer, and he’s growing 30 acres of turkey red. And it has a different protein and structure. And his great-great-grandparents who came from Crimea in the 1890s, and before they came out, they sent their kids out into the fields to put some of these seeds, these grains in their pockets to bring over and then plant. And it has a different gluten and protein structure.

And people who have issues around consuming wheat seem to do better, not for people who, you know, are celiac but who have slight issue…you know, some bloating or other issues. So, it’s really interesting, but this enriching of the wheat product is a real problem. And so there’s kind of a renaissance in heirloom grains and a new way to grow…And growing…And I can explain to you a little about how some of these farmers are growing wheat differently than conventional or even organic farmers.

Katie: Yeah. Let’s go a little bit deeper on that because I know this is a growing thing, and as I’ve learned even just a little bit about it is really, kind of, terrifying.

John: Yeah. Yeah. So, the more I found about what’s going…And there’s some people even talking that this enriching these synthetic vitamins and minerals, etc., especially the metal shape, this is also a major health issue. And it’s virtually in all products. So, like, everyone is eating…You know, I think 25% of the calories in America is wheat, but we could transform and, you know, just make wheat great again, you know, if we stopped spraying all that…you know, went off using synthetic chemicals and also started using more of these heirloom varieties, you know, which they have about half as much yield, so they cost a little more but they’re, you know, much better for you. But the farmer I was telling you about that grows this heirloom variety, so before he goes out and he puts the wheat seed in his planning mixer, he threw in some clover and a radish mix. And so, now…So he plants the wheat. And as the wheat starts to come up also coming up is a cover crop, but it’s more of, like, a companion crop.

So while the wheat is growing, he’s also keeping the ground covered, and things are growing and also fixing nitrogen. So he got a little better yield. You get more, you know, habitat. And it’s restoring the soil and increasing the biodiversity. So, we can grow some of, you know, these annual crops with other crops at the same time. But it’s funny, I was talking to about 30 farmers on a couple calls recently, and they were all like, “I don’t know about that.” You know, some was like, “Oh, I can’t do that.” And I get off the call and a couple of them are saying, “John, I’ve been doing that for like seven years. It’s not that big a deal.” But he says, “That’s a no-brainer.” But the farmers are…Just, you know, like, Katie, how hard is it for you to change some people’s diets, right?

Katie: Yeah.

John: We’re just used to it, right? We’re creatures of habit. You know, it’s like, why do you hike at this one place? Well, I mean, there’s another place you could hike that’s just right down the road. Well, I just kind of like this other hiking trail. You know, we kind of have our little thing. So, you know, with the regenerative agriculture, it’s about working with people and educating them. And that’s one of the things I’m actually with these farmers and ranchers, we’re working to create a new co-op. And that’s gonna be a farmer-owned co-op that is gonna grow some of these heirloom grains in a better way and actually grow it, and mill it, and package it, and sell it. And that’s called Farmer Eve. It’s just an ideation phase. But the idea is to try to help the farmers to participate more, instead of getting less and less of the food pie because some of these farmers, they wanna commit suicide. They’re depressed.

I mean, some of them are so messed up, they’re going like, “You mean, my great-grandfather came here, you know, with a pick and an ax and a bag of salt and a shovel and some clothes, and that was it? And now I have this beautiful farm and I’m gonna be the last…you know, the fourth generation. I’m gonna be the one that loses the farm because I don’t make it economically.” You know, there’s a lot of pressure on that. They feel, I’m the F up. So, we have to deal…There’s a lot of mental health issues with farmers. They’re getting older and their kids don’t wanna farm. You know, so there’s some challenges out there. We have to address that. And unless the farmer gets a bigger piece of the pie, how are we gonna get them to really focus on regeneration?

And if we don’t get farmers to focus on regeneration, we’re not gonna have any bugs around. We’re not gonna have an ocean life. If we don’t have winged insects, if we don’t have ocean, how do you think we’re gonna live in 2040? I don’t think it’s gonna be…it’s not so viable. So really, you know, let’s regenerate, let’s use the power of soil health. If we get soil right, if we have healthy soil, then we have healthy plants. If we have healthy plants, we get healthy animals, you know, and we have a healthy climate, we have a healthy ocean.

Katie: Yeah, I think another thing that’s gotten popular with a lot of great marketing recently is a lot of these fake meat products or I guess like plant-based meat alternatives. I don’t think that you can actually call them meat in any form. But based on what you’ve already said, it seems like these are really just pouring fuel on the fire using these, like, really harsh agricultural products and then trying to make them look like meat. And I know they’re a controversial topic right now. But what are you finding when it comes to these, like, growing movements of fake meat?

John: It could be if you can monetize it, they will build it. The goal is to make billions and billions and billions, and these venture capitalists are all putting money, you know, from Bill Gates, you know, on down. So, there is a lot of money to be made to help ranchers convert and to make healthy grasslands, that’s not so profitable in their view. But really, the largest area of land is grasslands. It’s not farmlands. So, you know, in grasslands, a lot of grasslands are denuded because of poor grazing. So, you know, the current meat industry isn’t regenerative and isn’t sustainable and we need to improve it. But the idea with how this works is on the grass, the cows will come in on a regenerative system. They’ll come in and they try to mimic the herds of like buffalo, where they come in large batch large groups. And they bring in, let’s say the grass is about knee-high, so they come in and they’ll, you know, munch it down like about a third and then they move them. And they won’t come back for another year, or six months.

Now, that grass comes back up and you start to get more perennial grasses and the grasses get stronger. Whereas if you leave the cows in the same area, they just munch it all the way down, then the grass grows a little more, it munches down, and then the root system gets weaker. And the reason why we want more complex and diverse root systems, that’s where the plants, they use the carbon and transform it through a process and to sequester carbon, and turn it into, you know, a living root system. And the degree that we do that is the degree that we are gonna be successful as a species and so are other species. So really, we actually need more cows.

And as you restore the land, there’s one gentleman that’s in the Chihuahuan Desert, he’s taken where it’s like brittle environment, you know, 4 or 5 inches of rain sometimes, he’s increased the amount of herds they can run on the land by 10 times. And they increase the biodiversity. They increase birds, increase the grass species and other species. But it has to be done, you know, in a more holistic lens. And there’s more and more resources. And I encourage everyone to watch the film, you know, “Kiss the Ground.” And that’s, you know, a good movie to do. And there’s another book out, Diana Rodgers, what’s the name of that book?

Katie: “Sacred Cow,” I think.

John: “Sacred Cow.” Yeah. And if you wanna learn about that. But, you know, I mean, I was a longtime vegetarian and I used to bash meat, you know, back 30 years ago. So my friends kind of chuckle with me now. But, you know, we can always learn. And that’s one thing, you know, it’s like, do we have the ability inside of us to say, you know, “Maybe I wasn’t right? Maybe I need to learn a new way.” And so, the new way, the new pass, but really, it’s an old way really, you know, regeneration, taking care of nature, and indigenous people understand that, and a lot of old-time farmers. And, you know, what is old is coming back to new.

Katie: I have so much respect for you in being willing to consistently ask those questions. It’s something I try to do as well as every year make a list of things I firmly believe to be true and then challenge myself on them intentionally realizing if I’m right, I’ve only learned more. And if I’m wrong, it was really important to challenge those things. And I think it was Charlie Munger who said, you know, any year that he doesn’t overturn one firmly held belief, he considers a failure. And I think that’s a very tough thing for many of us is to be willing to challenge, especially firmly held beliefs. So, a lot of respect for you and doing that.

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And I wanna make sure we really delve into the solutions as well. You’ve mentioned carbon and how there’s a lot of misunderstanding in, kind of, that carbon equation and how this is actually a big part of the reason that cows are not only not the problem, but are a big part of the solution. And I know you’ve done a lot of really important work with Great Plain’s Regeneration in some of your efforts with this, but walk us through basically, the basics of that carbon equation and how regenerative agriculture can actually be the solution to all of these problems.

John: It’s as simple as we wanna take the legacy load of carbon and instead of looking at it as a waste, we wanna look at it as a resource. So what drives soil fertility is carbon. Carbon is our ally. Carbon is our friend. But, you know, for too long, we’ve heard from like Al Gore and from the environmentalists, carbon is bad. It’s really a lost opportunity. And we wanna increase, you know, the plants. And regenerative agriculture is done in multiple ways. One is literally, instead of when you drive by a farmer’s field and you see it all bare, we wanna cover the soil. So, when it rains, that water is absorbed into the ground and builds the groundwater. You know, in the Great Plains, Aguala Reservoir is slowly drying up because much of the soil is uncovered. So if we cover the soil, that’s a really key thing. We wanna increase biodiversity.

So, just like we’re saying this heirloom wheat farmer, Darrin Unruh, that I’m working with in Kansas, instead of just when he grows wheat, he doesn’t only grow wheat, he grows clover and, you know, other crops with it. So you wanna increase the biodiversity. So regenerative farmers won’t just grow three crops like corn, soy, wheat, corn, soy, wheat, corn, soy wheat, they’ll grow five, six, seven, or eight. I’m actually going out to Nebraska in a couple of weeks and I’m gonna meet a man named David Vetter. And there’s a movie called “A Vetter World,” V-E-T-T-E-R. His father decided to become an organic farmer in 1953 and gave up all the chemicals. And so, they do a lot of different stuff. And they also incorporate animals. So, like, when some of these wheat farmers when they finish up growing the wheat crop and they have some of these other companion crops growing, they’ll bring in the cows and they’ll munch on that, and convert that into protein, and also regenerate the land, you know, through the cows’ manure and urine. And that really…

You know, but the synthetic version is they’d rather just buy synthetic fertilizers, which Wall Street makes a lot of money on. So the whole plant-based movement is really being used by Wall Street and Monsanto to sell a vision, you know, to a gullible American public. But, you know, people like you and I, we’re trying to educate people, you know, on that. And then, you know, doing more biodiverse, you know, crops, not tilling the soil so much, going to no-till, going to perennial systems. So, there’s a biodynamic farmer up in Montana. Every 200 feet, for their crops for their wheat and their grains, they have 20 feet for insects and biodiversity. Other ones are growing tree crops. So they grow trees, you know, in different areas. And so just, you know, increasing the biodiversity, increase the soil health.

And also, regenerative agriculture is more nutrient-dense. The more nutrition we have in the soil, we can become more…you know, the food is more nutrient-dense. Also, the nutrition of regenerative beef is much more so than plant-based or CAFO meat. Regenerative beef where the cows are eating 100%…or lamb, 100% grass, that has like 5 times the amount of vitamin E, much more Omega 3 and less Omega 6. So, you know, again, healthy soil, healthy grass, healthy plants, healthy animals, healthy people, healthy planet.

Katie: Yeah. And as you’ve explained, that’s such an important and timely thing for us to all get on board with. How can each of us in our own communities, in our own families, in our own areas contribute to these regenerative practices both in how we spend our food dollars and also in things we can do at our homes or in our communities?

John: Yeah, yeah, great point. And I put six of them in that article. I wanna encourage people to read that article. It’s a little dense, the “Make America’s Rivers Blue Again.” One thing is compost. I encourage everyone to compost, take your food scraps, your leaf clippings. And if you live in an apartment or a condo, you can put your food scraps in the freezer and then, you know, if they don’t have a city program, you know, take it out when you go out to the country or whatever. I know that sounds crazy. But, like, literally, you know, returning organic matter the soil is important. Get to know your farmer. If you’re gonna eat meat, definitely eat meat that’s regenerative. We need more cows on the land, not less, which is the exact opposite of the environment.

One thing I wanna say is since I wrote that article, every major environmental organization that I called out and the companies, they hardly will even criticize the article. They’re afraid. Like, the CEO of Impossible Burger, they don’t even wanna get on a discussion because they know that they’re not based on truth. It’s just a marketing campaign. But you really need…So, know your farmer, purchase better food quality. You know, go to a farmers market, eat more local, more organic, more regenerative, eat a diverse type of things.

Also, in investing, is your 401(k)…are you a mutual fund that has shares in Monsanto? So don’t invest in Monsanto. Contact your member of Congress because right now they’re trying to discuss with the new Biden administration, are they gonna focus on regenerative agriculture? We’re starting to get some better signs. Are we gonna do that? I think that’s important. And if you can, volunteer, you know, help one of your farmers. Maybe you can invest in a local farmer, you know, maybe you could volunteer. You know, right now maybe 1 out of 10,000, 1 out of 20,000 people are really active. If we could get 1 in 500 people really onboard to regenerate Planet Earth, we can make a huge change. We just need five times as many people to show up the next couple of years. And it’s more than it was maybe 10 years ago. So we are making progress.

Katie: I love that advice about composting. I will definitely make sure that the article you’ve mentioned is linked in the show notes, as well as those six things we can all do. And I have some posts about composting and how to get started for any of you guys who are new to that. I’ll also link to the documentary and to your various efforts as well as to the “Sacred Cow” book that you mentioned and to your books. Are there any other starting places where you’d recommend people to keep learning about these issues?

John: Yeah, I encourage Kiss the Ground, the nonprofit. And there’s a 45-minute educational video for “Kiss the Ground” movie for both farmers and for schools. And that’s available. It’s on Netflix. So, yeah, definitely share. Use your social platform to do that. For people who are ranchers or farmers, they wanna learn soil for climate, there’s a good Facebook group to learn more about some of these issues. And also, mangroves. Restoring mangroves is probably one of the best things we can do to regenerate our planet. And it restores, you know, both mangroves and grasslands. Those are two areas you really need to…Allan Savory is one of the ones that’s been researching the grasslands for the last 40 years. So, those are some of the things.

And then you can also follow me on Facebook or LinkedIn or Instagram, and then Great Plains Regeneration. We have a lot of good information at greatplainsregeneration.org. And there’s the carbon underground. There’s lots of different groups that are doing good stuff. And ask your food company, say, “What are you doing about regeneration?” Even General Mills has made a commitment to use regenerative agriculture practices on a million acres. So, some of the large companies to know. So, contact your food company, get involved. And, you know, now’s the time. You know, as in basketball, it’s like games up, the ball’s, you know, being thrown up, what are we gonna do? Let’s regenerate and make a better world.

Katie: I will link all those resources for you guys listening at wellnessmama.fm in the show notes. You can find them and keep learning. A little bit of an unrelated question. But I always love to ask at the end of interviews if there is a book or a number of books that have had a profound impact on your life, and if so, what they are and why.

John: I think “The Ecology of Commerce” by Paul Hawken. In the 1980s when I was an environmentalist, I decided to become…combine environmentalism and business, the company I founded, Nutiva. So “The Ecology of Commerce” was great. I think “Mists of Avalon,” and “The Way of the Weird” were two, kind of, mythical historical books about, you know, my ancestories, the Celts, so those had impact on me as well.

Katie: Perfect. I will link those as well. John, thank you for all the work you’re doing in this area. This was definitely an enlightening episode. I learned a lot. And I hope that we can reach that critical mass of five times the number of people and start reversing some of these problems.

John: Yes, thank you. Thanks for taking me on as a guest today. And you keep up all the good work educating folks and taking care of your six kids and have them be regenerative warriors as they grew up as well.

Katie: Thank you. And thanks as always to all of you for listening and for sharing your most valuable resources, your time, and your energy with us today. We’re so grateful that you did, and I hope that you will join me again on the next episode of the “Wellness Mama” podcast.

If you’re enjoying these interviews, would you please take two minutes to leave a rating or review on iTunes for me? Doing this helps more people to find the podcast, which means even more moms and families could benefit from the information. I really appreciate your time, and thanks as always for listening.


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