Regenerative Agriculture and the Power of Hemp to Repair Our Environment
The world as we know it is experiencing a time of great transformation. Climate change is now considered a major public health emergency by leading scientists around the world and it is widely acknowledged that climate change influences the transmission of vector- and food-borne diseases, like SARS-CoV-2, the virus responsible for COVID-19. As climate change looms as humanity’s greatest challenge, there are a number of activists, educators, businesses, and non-governmental agencies who are working to tackle the challenges of our times.
The world needs a multifaceted approach to combat climate change, and one important way to do so is through a radical adjustment to farming practices. According to a 2019 report from the U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP), agricultural production is currently the planet’s largest form of land use, occupying about 40% of the earth’s surface, and is responsible for 25% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Regenerative Agriculture is a holistic system of farming principles that seeks to rehabilitate and enhance the entire ecosystem. In short, it actually “improves the resources it uses, rather than depleting them“.
Regenerative Agriculture is unique in its ability to both reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to also capture them through carbon sequestration, which is the long-term removal of carbon from the atmosphere. When plants photosynthesize, they take in carbon dioxide from the air and transform it into carbon that the plant uses to grow. The excess carbon created during this process is then transported through the plant and into the soil, where it can feed fungi and microbes, which in turn provide more nutrients for the plant. Carbon can remain stored in the soil for thousands of years, or can be released back into the atmosphere through farming practices like plowing and tilling, in which soil is mechanically dug, stirred, or turned. Project Drawdown, a global research organization that identifies, reviews, and analyzes the most viable solutions to climate change, ranks regenerative agriculture as one of the top actions we can take to ensure we have a planet worth living on in the future.
Through reducing tilling of soil (or employing no-till methods), utilizing cover crops, planting perennial grasses, holistic grazing practices, intercropping, and the use of biochar, manure, or compost instead of synthetic fertilizers, farmers improve soil biodiversity and organic matter, leading to improved soil health and resilience, which means that soil can better withstand the impacts of climate change. What’s more, Regenerative Agriculture practices are easy to incorporate with a wide variety of commercial crops and can even be done on a small scale, in your own backyard garden!
Regenerative hemp farming offers hope for a brighter future amidst the challenges and uncertainty that we face today. Since the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill, there has been a massive increase in hemp cultivation in the U.S. While the market is still nascent and unstable, that hasn’t stopped thousands of farmers all across the country from planting their first crops of hemp. Amongst those farmers, you will find a small but growing group of valiant, compassionate, intelligent farmers who are using the opportunity to grow hemp using the principles of regenerative agriculture, as hemp is a particularly well-suited crop for it. Almost all varieties of hemp are naturally resistant to pests and predators. Harmful pesticides that are typically used in mono-crop industrial agriculture needn’t be used, meaning hemp farms have become havens for pollinators like bees, and small birds and animals.
Hemp is an important crop in the Regenerative Agriculture movement for a number of reasons.
Despite it being an annual crop, its roots reach down into the soil, helping to hold it together, reducing erosion, and also loosening the soil allowing more delicate plants to grow afterward in crop rotation.
Hemp also produces a lot of biomass. Some of that biomass will be harvested for products like CBD (which is currently the most widely produced end product from hemp grown in the U.S.), and some of that biomass will return to the soil and decompose, feeding nutrients back into the ground.
Hemp grows relatively quickly too, making an excellent ground cover crop, as the plants easily block out room for weeds. While most cover crops are not commercially valuable, hemp has a relatively high market value, making it a “win-win” for both the soil and the farmer. It grows much faster than trees, and has the ability to pull huge quantities of C02 out of the atmosphere. Scientists estimate that for every ton of hemp grown, 1.63 tons of Co2 is removed, making it ideally suited for carbon sequestration, even more than trees or other plants of similar size.
Hemp also holds incredible potential for bioremediation, or using plants to decontaminate soil and water after industrial pollution or after years of toxin build-up from industrial agriculture practices. Hemp can easily grow in contaminated soils, absorbing heavy metals and toxins into the plants themselves. Obviously, these plants are not safe for human consumption, so thorough testing is critical in CBD destined for human consumption, but the potential for this plant to heal and replenish denigrated soils is tremendous.
Low Water Consumption
Hemp is a relatively hardy plant, needing much less water than most other crops. Food and agriculture are the largest consumers of water, requiring many times more than what we need for personal use. Up to 70% of water taken from the ground and rivers goes into the irrigation of agricultural commodities. In some parts of the United States, agriculture literally threatens to dry up entire ecosystems, making low water consumptive crops essential in ecologically sustainable farming.
Did you know that there are over 50,000 known uses or applications for hemp? Ranging from medicine, food, biofuels, fiber, building materials, paper, textiles, clothing, to a viable replacement for plastics. Every single part of the plant has a useful purpose!
Can you imagine a world that transitions to running on regeneratively farmed hemp? The reduction of greenhouse gases, dirty fossil fuels, and unnecessary pesticides in soil and waterways could usher in restoration of damaged ecosystems critical to the survival of countless pollinator species, fish, birds, and other wildlife impacted by conventional agriculture and will actually better prepare us for the environmental changes brought on by climate crisis in the years to come.
Regeneratively grown hemp offers humanity the possibility of a beautiful and green new future. It may seem like an impossible dream from where we stand right now, but just a decade ago it was hard to imagine that hemp would even be legal, let alone that the cultivation of the plant would grow to over 230,000 acres in just the first season since the Farm Bill passed!
As a consumer, you hold power in your buying choices. When you support companies like Vital Leaf, you are also supporting regenerative agriculture. We take great care and pride in sourcing our phytocannabinoid-rich hemp extracts from regenerative farmers in our home state of Oregon. Each farmer is unique in their local bioregion, ranging from the lush and misty coastal zone, to the dry and sunny high deserts, to the verdant “green belt” of Southern Oregon, the epicenter of hemp cultivation in Oregon. Each farmer practices their own unique version of regenerative methodologies based on their watershed and the materials that are most abundant and readily available around them.
Some specialize in genetics, while others interplant with hearty food crops, and they all brew their own “secret recipe” compost teas to build the soil microbiome. We work carefully with each of our farmer partners to ensure the purity and quality of every batch of phytocannabinoid-rich hemp extract, trusting that what we source captures the essence of their good work. From there, we follow a strict testing protocol ensuring that the “secret sauce” to Vital Leaf’s family of products is free of pesticides, fungicides, bio-contaminants, mold, and heavy metals. Once extracts have passed strict Oregon state safety standards and our own extra measures, they’ll get incorporated into our products, like our CBD Body Balms, CBD Elixir Drops tinctures, or our delicious CBD Chocolate Bars (also sourced from a regenerative cacao cooperative in Ecuador).
Individual choices may seem like they are only making a small difference in changing the course of the climate crisis and our future on Earth, but the butterfly effect of conscious consumption means that more farmers are supported to make larger changes, in turn influencing an entire industry that can, and does, dramatically impact ecosystems, from the soil microbiome all the way up through the food chain. That’s why it’s our mission here at Vital Leaf to support the good work of regenerative farmers all over the world, through our direct sourcing practices and in educating our communities about the benefits of these vital practices.
It isn’t just through what we buy that we can participate in changing the systems that produce our food, medicine, and other agricultural commodities. We can directly take part in Regenerative Agriculture practices right at home, in our own backyards, through the reduction of unnecessary digging; mulching or adding composted organic matter to your soil, and using cover crops in your garden (or ground covering ornamental plants) to reduce soil erosion and improve soil structure. Not only is it good for the environment, getting your hands dirty is good for your health, too!