Return to Vibrant Health

19: Regenerative Agriculture 101 with Dr. Allen Williams

November 30, 2022 Susan Spell Episode 19
Return to Vibrant Health
19: Regenerative Agriculture 101 with Dr. Allen Williams
Show Notes Transcript

I'm SO excited for you to hear today's conversation with Dr. Alan Williams! When I saw him in the short film, Farmer's Footprint, I knew I had to talk to him. He is a global leader in the Regenerative Agriculture movement and what he has to share with us is one of the most important (and pressing) issues of our time. Rebuilding soil health might just save the planet, and us along with it. He was wonderful at connecting soil health with human health, making the info easy to understand and practical too. You're going to love it!

He has dedicated the last 20 years to building healthy soil around the globe and is a recognized authority in the growing field of Regenerative Ag. Dr. Williams is a 6th generation family farmer, a recovering academic, and a pioneer of early regenerative agriculture practices. He and his colleagues improve farming practices that result in healing of both human and planet, with an added bonus of revenue and quality of life for farmers and ranchers that grow our food. Win-Win!

And he certainly knows his stuff. He holds bachelors and masters degrees in Animal Science from Clemson University in his home state of SC,  a PhD in Livestock Genetics from LSU, and is a farmer himself in Mississippi & Alabama. 

Check out his work (links are clickable!):



You can find me:
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As always, thanks to Lemon Music Studio for intro and outro music.


Allen Williams, take 1

[00:00:00] Susie: So, welcome back to the podcast. I'm so excited to have Dr. Allen Williams with us today.

He is a sixth generation family farmer, a recovering academic, and a pioneer of early regenerative agricultural practices. He and his colleagues are committed to improved farming practices that really results in the healing of both planet and human. So with an added bonus of. Revenue and quality of life for farmers and ranchers that grow our food.

Dr. Williams holds a bachelor's and master's degree in animal science from Clemson University in his home state of South Carolina, as well as a PhD in livestock genetics from LSU. He's a farmer himself, I believe, in Mississippi and Alabama. He's a founding partner of Grass Fed Insights, as well as understanding ag and their non-profit educational arm, The Soil Health Academy.

He's consulted thousands of farmers and ranchers in our country and abroad all over the globe on operations, ranging from just a few acres to over a million. He's authored numerous papers, over 400 scientific and popular press articles. He's a speaker at local, regional, national, and international conferences and meetings, and he's been featured in a number of films and videos including Carbon Nations, Soil, Carbon Cowboys, the Dr.

Oz Show, ABC Food Forecast News, Kiss the Ground, a regenerative Secret, the Farmer's Footprint, which is where I saw him in the Sacred Cow. And then he is also co-authored the book before you have a Cow, and he has many of his presentations and webinars, which I've been binging on YouTube. So thank you so much for being here.

I'm really excited to talk to you. 

[00:01:40] Dr. Williams: Well, thank you. It's a pleasure to be here. 

[00:01:43] Susie: So what I'd like to start with is to have this conversation be where we can increase some awareness around farming practices, maybe some differences between what our industrial system is and regenerative, what that all means, and how we can sort through that as consumers, because I work in healthcare and people are trying to be healthy, right? So what does that that mean? Why is our food nutrient dense, or not? So, could you tell us a little bit about yourself, your story, how you ended up here from where you started? 

[00:02:16] Dr. Williams: Yeah, I'd be happy to. So I grew up on my family's farm in South Carolina. It was a multi-generational farm and still there. Uh, but I represented the sixth generation. They've been there since 1840. And, uh, and we're a branch of the family that actually moved down for Virginia. So we've traced our family in the us from the early 1700s. And so my family, you know, ever since they came to this country, has been heavily involved in, in agriculture.

So I grew up that way and, you know, oftentimes when you're growing up, you don't realize really what you were experiencing until later on in life. And, and so was the case with me. But, um, but it was a very diversified. That was in the 60s and 70s so I'm dating myself now, but at that point in time, we were not using a lot of the synthetics and the chemicals and, you know, everything else that is so prevalent now.

Uh, we were, we were farming much more today what will be considered natural or regenerative or sustainable. And again, it was just the way we did things, right. It's the way they, they've been doing things for generations and, and instead of being a, a highly specialized, sort of monoculture based farm like many of the farms are today, again, it was very, very diverse. We had multiple species of livestock. We grew very large market gardens with a lot of vegetables. Uh, we had, we were in the Piedmont of South Carolina, so we also had peaches and apples and pears and muscadine and all of that. We even had a general store on the farm and, you know, today we would call that direct marketing.

So in a way, I often think I've come full circle in my life. And so I grew up with this incredible eating experience because the vast majority of what we ate on the farm there, we produced, we grew, we raised right. Uh, and virtually everybody in my family, men and women could cook and cook pretty well.

And we always had multi-generational meals. Because there were, again, there were multiple generations involved in the farm. So I had this incredible food experience and honestly, you don't realize it because you're in the middle of it and you just grew up that way. I, I guess I just thought all food was good.

But then it went away to college. Okay. And, and look, I love my time at Clemson. Still love Clemson. But what I will have to say is the first time I ate in the university cafeteria, my immediate thought was, "Oh boy, these people don't know how to cook." but , over time I realized it was more than that. It was the quality of the food, you know, that was being served to us as students. But nevertheless, I, uh, continued on with my education. I was talked into going to grad school, fully intended to go back home to the family farm, uh, stay there the rest of my life and be a part of that operation. But, um, ended up going to grad school, then going on for a PhD, and then I felt obligated to, um, to go into academia. And I still don't, I can't explain why I felt that obligation, but I did. But I became heavily entrenched in the more conventional way of doing things, thinking that this was, you know, the advanced way, this was the modern way, so on and so forth. And that, that this was the way we had to do things to feed the world, right?

And so, for the next 15 years of my life, I was heavily entrenched in that. And, and I did lots and lots of research. I did my job as a researcher and a professor. I wrote grants. I brought in money. I wrote peer reviewed publications. Uh, you know, my very first time up, I achieved tenure. So that was no problem, which means I was doing the job the university wanted me to do and then full professorship. But as I got deeper and deeper into that, here's what I started to realize. The vast majority of the research that we were doing was what I now call putting a bandaid on a gushing wound. We were treating symptoms and never solving the root cause of our problems. And, and I kept thinking about all of this research and all of these new products, technologies, additive supplements, pharmaceutical, so on and so forth that were developing. I had to think back to my childhood and the fact that for generations, my family had farmed successfully and never needed those things.

 Why were our animals less healthy now? Why were our soils more degraded and more dependent on all of these synthetic inputs? And, and as I got to thinking about that, that's part of this coming full circle, right? As I got to thinking about that and asking myself those questions, I knew that we had a broken system. Initially I attempted to try to address that within the university system, but it became very apparent there was no interest and no money I was gonna ask. So wasn't gonna happen there. 

[00:07:56] Susie: Yeah, I was gonna ask if you had any allies there. 

[00:07:59] Dr. Williams: No, and especially not at that time. Okay. So I left the university that was in the, in the late nineties. I left the university, uh, the year 2000. I did make an attempt, but no, no, no allies, uh, nobody buying in. And no research funding available for this type of re regenerative, you know, research, those types of things. So then I had a hard decision to make. Right? I'm 15 years in, I'm tenured, I'm a full professor, I'm fully vested.

What do I do? I got a guaranteed paycheck, guaranteed benefits, guaranteed retirement. Do I stay another 15 and do that or do I leave? I left. Now, I just wanna share this, that, that was much to the derision of all of my colleagues, my fellow faculty, they thought I was an absolute idiot. And when, when they asked me what I was going to do, I said, Well, I'm gonna go back into farming and I'm gonna consult. And they just said, and, and now remember, we were supposed to be helping farmers, okay, know what to do. The first things outta their mouths was, well, you can't make a living at farming.

So, uh, Yep. And there was actually a betting pool on when I would fail after I left. 

Oh, no, . Yeah, you won, You won Guess with that one. Well, you know, it may be ongoing, who knows? 

[00:09:24] Susie: Right, right. I've written down so many parallels between what I've watched in your work and the medical profession. One is that analogy you, you used of a bandaid. The analogy we often throw around is the faucet is running over onto the floor. And we keep mopping it up, but if we just went to the faucet and turned it off, we could fix the problem, which is where, um, lifestyle medicine addresses root cause. But so does functional, but really I think it should just be medicine. Like maybe we shouldn't have all these little, you know, boxes of medicine. It should just be how we practice, you know? So I, I totally get that. And how did, um, when you first did that, like were you following your heart? Was it a nudge? What was that experience? I want the emotional part of it. 

[00:10:13] Dr. Williams: Yeah. And just immediately before I dive into that, let, let me, uh, make a comment to something you just said. Okay. When you said medicine shouldn't really be categorized in all these different little boxes or specialties, Right. That, that medicine is medicine. And I, I totally agree with you and, uh, and let me say this, human health absolutely starts with soil health. Yes. And if we don't address that first, it makes it a lot harder for medicine to address human health. Uh, and, and I know we'll dive into that, but, to address your question though, what, what was I following? Was I following my heart? What was I following here? Well, in the beginning that was probably, uh, like, am I an idiot? You know, I had to question myself because everybody else was questioning, Right? And basically telling me I was gonna fail. And you, you know, this is a stupid thing to do. So I was questioning myself as well, but I'm a stubborn person. I passionately believed in the experience I had growing up on the family farm. Mm-hmm. It was such a positive experience in that regard. And the food was so good. And many, many, many of my relatives, my ancestors lived, you know, deep into their nineties. My great-grandmother lived to be, you know, just shy of 103. And all of them ate, you know, everything that was grown on the farm. So they ate eggs every day. They ate pork and beef and lamb and dairy and all the things that for the longest time we were told you can't eat because they're completely unhealthy. Uh, but yet they had these very long, very healthy lives without the benefit of the modern pharmaceuticals that we have today. Right. 

So that. Just the little realizations over time were the things that sort of convicted me and said, Yes, there's a better way, and let's go about finding that better way and discovering what that entails and then sharing it with others. Um, so that was really my driving force. Mm-hmm. and, and, and it still is today. 

My partners and I in Understanding Ag and the Soil Health Academy are just super passionate about what we do and one of the reasons that we are, is because this is one of the few things in life that is win win win. Look, nobody or nothing has to lose here. 

[00:13:05] Susie: Mm-hmm. 

[00:13:06] Dr. Williams: What better thing could you do with your life, than to do something where nobody has to lose and everybody gets to share in the win? 

[00:13:16] Susie: Right. So on that note, will you tell us what regenerative agriculture is? And I've written down all these buzz terms, right? Organic, regenerative, sustainable, Like what does all this mean? How is it connected? How is it the same and conventional agriculture, what are the differences and what are the similarities?

[00:13:36] Dr. Williams: Okay. So first I'll say, when we look at a lot of the different terms out there, organic, uh, sustainable, regenerative, and, and you may hear biodynamic farming a whole bunch of different terms, right, that are being bantered about right now versus conventional, commodity farming, so forth. The first thing that I'll say is that, And because we live, breathe, sleep, and eat this every day, and we work globally on this, regenerative absolutely stands out head in the shoulders above any other type of farming we could do. No doubt, no doubt, uh, even regular organic can't begin to touch regenerative for the positive benefits. 

And sustainable. What in the heck does that mean? You know, "sustainable", the technical definition is to maintain status quo. Well, the status quo sucks, right? I mean, you know, honestly, our soils are degraded. Our ecosystems are severely damaged. Our client is damaged. Our human health is damaged. Why in the world do we want to sustain that? So when we talk about sustainability, are you kidding me? No, we need to be far better than sustainable. And the beauty of this is that we can be far better than sustainable. That's what regenerative is. 

 So let me give you our definition of regenerative, and we do feel like we are, uh, ultimately qualified to define this because we live this every day. So regenerative is farming and ranching in synchrony with nature in the four ecosystem processes to repair, rebuild, revitalize, and restore ecosystem function, starting with life beneath the soil and expanding to life above. That is regenerative agriculture.

[00:15:36] Susie: Fascinating. I love that. I love it because I was doing some research recently. I dive down rabbit holes on a regular occasion and I was looking at, um, something called chronobiology and our circadian rhythms and how even our bodies are out of sync. We're just part of the celestial world. We have morning, noon, night, and our bodies, um, when we eat and live in a way that is in tune and aligned with those rhythms and patterns, whether it's daily or seasonally or whatever, we're healthier as humans. But I imagine the same is true for soil. I'm just embarking on learning all this, right? So I learned about pesticides and all that and I thought that's an issue. But now I've learned so much more about the soil health and the ecosystem that's underneath our feet or not, but like I, it wouldn't have dawned on me that that was going on or how depleted it was until I started learning more. So can you tell us about that world under our feet? 

[00:16:39] Dr. Williams: Absolutely. Um, so the world under our feet should be, should be this unbelievably vibrant world that is full of life. As a matter of fact, there is far, far more life beneath the soil if we have healthy soil than there is above it, you know, trillions and trillions of microbes and organisms per acre, is what we should have. As a matter of fact, the weight of just those microbes and organisms beneath the soil surface is equal to the weight of an adult elephant in every acre IF we have healthy soil. Uh, and you know, you gotta think about bacteria, fungi, things like that, protozoa for that to be equal to the weight of an elephant per acre, you gotta have a whole, whole bunch of them.

So in, in that system, up underneath the soil is the system that creates the abundance of life above. So we simply cannot have rich abundant ecosystems above the soil surface if we don't first start with building the abundance beneath. It's like building the foundation for a home or a building, right? If you don't start by building a very solid foundation first, then what you attempt to build above the ground is going to fail. It's gonna be unsound. It's no different here. We must start there. But our problem has been over the last hundred years or so, is that we have treated the soil as it's, if it's just this sterile medium that holds the roots of plants and supports a plant structure, and that what we have to do is we have to feed that plant everything that it needs from an external source. 

Wow. How did we ever get there? Because that is not how the way the world worked for eons. It fed itself. So we have done reams and reams of research and collected, uh, an inordinate amount of data that proves that the abundance of nutrients is still there in the soil, but the vast majority is bound up. And it's bound up and not available for plant uptake because of the lack of biology. It is not chemistry that releases those nutrients for plants. It is the biology catalyzing that process so that those nutrients can then be available to the plants. So we have a lack of nutrient availability to our plants, even though the nutrients are still there in the soil. Okay. 

So what we have found out is that, again, we've gotta start beneath our feet first. We've got to implement principles and practices that allow us to be able to significantly build that microbial population beneath the soil. Then that translates into abundance and diversity above the soil. And by the way, far, far more phytonutrient richness in all of the foods that we grow and eat.

[00:20:01] Susie: Which is important for our bodies, right? 

[00:20:04] Dr. Williams: Exactly. 

[00:20:05] Susie: So how can we figure out how, as consumers to buy those things? Are you guys working on any, like, uh, is there a label or a way to connect with farmers or how do people just, who are not living the farm life figure that out?

[00:20:25] Dr. Williams: Yeah, so an excellent question and that's never been more true than it is today, right? The, the vast majority of the population are completely divorced from the land and agriculture, the way their foods are grown and raised. In the US as an example, and it's certainly this way, many other developed countries, but um, now less than 1% of our population actually lives and works on a farm. So the other 99% don't have that direct connection. So they're losing their, their understanding, their discernment, all of this. And they're dependent more and more on sources, telling them what's good and what's not. And what has that done? That's led to a lot of confusion because we've got, you know, thousands of different sources out here telling people to eat thousands of different ways. But it doesn't have to be confusing at all. Uh, so here's the deal. First and foremost, we have our UnderstandingAg.com and SoilHealthAcademy.org websites with a lot of very, very good information that consumers can access for free. We have archived webinars. We have podcasts such as this one, that we link to, uh, we have dozens and dozens of articles. We have case studies and we're continuing to populate the case studies of real life farms and ranches that are doing this and how, and why they're doing it. Uh, so that's available to help the consumers to learn more about why this is important and included in a lot of those webinars and podcasts and articles are not just information about how farmers are doing it, but information about health and nutrition aspects of these types of products.

So that's a beginning place for consumers, but to your point about how they can begin to find these types of foods and source them, uh, we just launched in January of this year, a new company called REGENIFIED and it's regenified.com is the website. But the whole intent and purpose of Regenified is to first and foremost have a transparent, legitimate, scalable, regenerative verification program. To where farmers, ranchers, food companies, and so forth and fiber companies and all of that can have a way to be able to meet the consumer where they are and say to the consumer, We are now participating in this and we are moving all of our food, sourcing everything else to regeneratively produced.

Now the catch here, and consumers need to understand this, okay? And this is where we, in a moment, I'm gonna tell you the, the other, how they can best help us do this. But the catch is, is that we're feeding billions of people in the world and still the majority of farms are still farming convention. We've made a lot of progress, but we've got a long way to go. So you can't just automatically flip a switch and immediately, as a consumer expect every food product you're buying to have been produced regeneratively. But the way that they can help us to speed that process and in five years, 10 years from now, have a far greater amount of food stuffs being produced, produced regeneratively, is that the consumer needs to be active in this. When they go shop at the grocery stores, when they go to restaurants to eat, whoever they buy any food from and whatever form. They need to ask them, "was this produced regeneratively?" and they need to tell them we want regeneratively produced foods, regeneratively farmed foods. That places a lot of onus upon the retail grocery sector, the food company sector, uh, you know, the, the restaurant sector and all of that to then start trying to source this.

And once they make it known, we're trying to source this, that then provides the impetus to a lot more farmers and ranchers to say, "Oh, there really must be something to this. We keep hearing about it. There must be something to it. We need to really start down this path." The consumer now holds the power see. You really do. And because again, you're the 99%, we're the 1%. So if you voice your food purchase choices this way and that this is what you desire to buy, that will create a precipitous action that will allow the transition in the farming and ranching community to happen a whole lot faster.

Mm-hmm. 

Yeah. 

[00:25:44] Susie: That's great. Yes. I think, um, that's the bottom up grassroots, right? I think it's, um, awareness first of all, having an awareness of it, some education, knowledge about it, and then that will help hopefully change your behavior at the store. And so I, I look sometimes for like organic products and things like that, but I don't see a lot of, I even search like in my community where a regenerative farming. It's kind of hard to identify. And um, so I think as we ask for it and our demand for that stuff goes up, like you said, there'll be a response on the other side. But I have a question about that because I've done this deep dive into like, uh, the history of our agriculture in our country. Aren't there so many farmers that are, um, trapped in the like, um, the system where they're in debt and they're not really making the decisions? How can they get out of that cycle? 

[00:26:47] Dr. Williams: Yeah, that, that's an excellent question. And uh, so that's what we do everyday. That is one of our primary focuses. We just got back from spending most of the month of October in the UK and Ireland, and they have the same issues. And, and again, I said we're working dozens of countries now. And the truth is, is that it doesn't matter where we go in the world. We're experiencing the same soil degradation issues, the same farmer farming issues, the same human health issues. Okay? 

So yes, they are trapped, but regenerative agriculture offers the very best path out of that trap because what we have found is that the principles and rules of regenerative agriculture work equally well, no matter where you are in the world. No matter what type of agricultural enterprises you're implementing, no matter what type of climate you have. They work equally well. We call it the 6-3-4, the six principles of soil health, the three rules of adaptive stewardship and the four ecosystem processes. And the 6-3-4 again, is applicable across the globe. 

Here's the deal. Soil is soil. It's all sand, silt, clay. It doesn't matter where you are. We, we could be here in the us, we could be over in Dubai, we could be in Australia, we could be in the UK. Soil is still made up of was the three principle components of sand, silt, and clay. Sunlight and photosynthesis are still sunlight and photosynthesis. No matter where you are in the world, a plant is still a plant. Livestock are still livestock, period. So it's all about applying these principles and rules within CONTEXT. That is the most critical thing is we help farmers and ranchers define their individual context and then how to apply the principles and rules of regenerative agriculture within their context. That's how they're the most successful. That's how you get out of the trap. 

You know, if you think about transition to certified organic, that's a very difficult path for farmers to take because immediately they have to give up 90% of the tools in their toolbox and transition from being conventional to organic. They lose money, and quite a bit of money, typically the first 3 to 5 years, and without outside financial help, it becomes very hard for them to successfully make that transition. But with regenerative, you don't automatically give up any tools in the toolbox. It's teaching them how to approach it on a step by step basis.

You've gotta wean yourself down from tillage, from chemicals, from synthetics and all of that. So we teach 'em how to successfully wean down. There's no need for this big investment upfront because they're not losing money in year 1, year 2, year 3. There's really no need for that to happen if you do this correctly. But yet you can make very steady progress and what we have shown is that by year three, with an intentional application of the six principles and the three rules, by year 3, they start to get this exponential effect.

What you've done essentially here it's real simple. You have spent the first 3 years repairing and rebuilding that biology beneath the soil surface. And again, because that's the foundation, that's the thing you gotta do first before anything else. If you do that, then by year 3 you have built enough biology, enough critical mass of biology beneath the soil, that then everything starts to just explode with life and to respond. And unfortunately, the transition to organic doesn't do that. Okay. Because with the transition to organic, you're still doing a lot of tillage, you're still doing a lot of destructive practices. Organic doesn't focus on building biology beneath the soil. Now that doesn't mean that you can't be regenerative and organic.

[00:31:22] Susie: Yeah, I was gonna ask that. 

[00:31:23] Dr. Williams: Absolutely, you can and the truth is, if your intent is to be certified organic, the very best thing you can do for yourself is to start regeneratively first. Do your regenerative transition first and foremost. Then you have built a foundation to then transition to organic, so it becomes a lot easier to transition to organic after you start the regenerative process. But when you do it the other way around, you try to become organic first from being conventional, it's a lot, lot harder. And a lot more costly. 

[00:32:04] Susie: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. I have a comment and then I want you to list off the principles. You talked about people being disconnected from land and where their food comes from. And in healthcare, I've noticed that people are disconnected from their body, right? We're, we're not listening to our body anymore. We're outsourcing that to somebody else or to some supplement. That's, uh, something that I've, I've noticed. And your, um, attention to context, I think also applies to your body. This is what I tell people there's a lot of, um, diet dogma and all this, uh, like we already talked about, confusion. I think what we're missing is you have to understand your context, your body, what's going on in your body, because your body is not the same as somebody else's. So you have to understand what you are dealing with. And then decide how you're gonna go forward to heal it. So I think there's a lot of parallels. I just, uh, there's so many. It's really kind of fun to look at it, but. So can you tell us just quickly what the six principles are? 

[00:33:08] Dr. Williams: Absolutely. And let me, let me ask you a question first based on what you just said. Okay. Uh, because I think that's so important. People really need to understand this. So let me ask you this question. Does the same pharmaceutical prescription work the same way in everybody? 

[00:33:26] Susie: No. 

[00:33:27] Dr. Williams: Absolutely not. Right? We know that there are contra- indications, there are all kinds of side effects and those side effects are very individual. It is dependent on each individual person's health and body chemistry context. Right?

[00:33:42] Susie: Right. Yep. 

[00:33:42] Dr. Williams: Okay. Well guess what? Farming in the soil works the same way. Yeah. The exact same way. But just like in human medicine, we have become highly prescriptive and we think that this prescription med or this prescriptive methodology in human medicine works equally well for everybody. No, it doesn't. Not at all. Neither does it from farm to farm to farm. So just like in human medicine, we become highly prescriptive. In agriculture, we've made the same mistake. Mm-hmm. We try to apply prescriptive solutions and that's where we have gone so wrong. Because prescriptive ignores individual context.

So the six principles are this: 

Number 1 - CONTEXT, right? Right. That's the first principle. You have to define and understand your context. And that context is all encompassing, all enveloping. So it's their goals and objective. It's their human and family dynamics. It is their financial situation. It is the history of the land. It is the history of how they have operated on the land. It's the agricultural enterprises on the land. What foods do they grow and produce? All of that is encompassed in, in, where are they located, right? What kind of climate are you in? What kind of environment do you have? So that's all part of context. So that's the first thing we work with with any farmer, rancher, because again, if you don't first understand your context, the other five principles that I'm getting ready to name, you can't appropriately address and apply them. So context number one. 

Number 2 - MINIMIZE DISTURBANCE. And this means disturbance of many forms. So minimize tillage, minimize synthetic and chemical applications, because all of those are harmful. They significantly harm biology beneath the soil and above the soil. And they cause the release of carbon and methane and nitrous oxide and other things into the atmosphere. So minimize disturbance. The other thing that we harm where we have these disturbances is we harm beneficial insects and pollinators, birds and other wildlife. Ok. So minimize disturbance. 

3rd principle - KEEP THE SOIL ARMOURED, which simply means keep it covered at all times. So that's a huge mistake we're making in agriculture. The average crop that is grown for human consumption only stays in the ground somewhere between 90 and 140 days on average. That's it. And then the rest of the year, most of that soil lays bare with nothing, no other living roots growing in it. So we got two thirds of the year, we have billions and billions of acres that are just laying bare and exposed to the sunlight. So think of ourselves. If, if it were a hot summer day and we took our shirt off and we're, we're laying on the beach, but we don't have a suntan to begin with and we decided to lay out on the beach all day long. And the hot scalding symbol, what in the heck is gonna happen? And we have no sunscreen. What's gonna happen to us? We're gonna severe, severe sunburn, right? That's gonna affect our health. Well, what do we think is happening to the soil? We are in essence, sun burning the skin of the soil, Okay? By leaving bare. So every consumer ought to understand it. Every consumer is, they drive anywhere. They ought to be looking for soil that is not covered with living plants. And if it's not, they need to be thinking about it like bare exposed skin and the hot sun. We are sun burning our soil, and that kills microbes, that kills all kinds of life, and it saps the moisture, the much needed moisture out of the soil. Okay, so keep the soil protected, armored.

The next principle, Number 4 - is LIVING ROOTS IN THE GROUND YEAR ROUND. And, and that's so critical because it's the roots that support the microbes. Living plants with living roots secrete exudates. These substances, we call it liquid sunshine. They're excreting liquid sunshine into the soil, literally spurting it into the soil, Okay. Through their roots. And we've got microscopic video of this, and the roots are literally moving like the end of a high pressure hose. And like the high pressure hose, you can see the water and all the individual droplets being spurted out. That's exactly what this looks like. Yeah. So you can see the root just spurting out all these droplets of exudates that feed the microbes. Mm-hmm. And why the roots feeding the microbes? Because it's the world's oldest bartering system. The roots are feeding the microbes so that the microbes will feed the roots, will feed the plants. So living roots on the ground year round. 

The next one is DIVERSITY, the 5th one. Diversity. And that means diversity in everything. Diversity and microbes beneath the soil. Diversity in plant species that you're growing above the soil. Diversity and beneficial insects and pollinators. Diversity in birds and wildlife. Okay. Diversity in everything. 

And then the LAST one is LIVESTOCK INTEGRATION. What we have to understand, there's so many people today that have been taught very erroneously that livestock are a major problem. The methane, they're causing this damage, that damage. No, that's livestock done wrong. It's not the fault of the livestock. The livestock are not evil. Just like wild ruminants are not evil. Okay. When they're mismanaged, just as if we mismanaged wild ruminants, we're gonna have issues and we're gonna have environmental issues, and greenhouse issues. But when we manage them in symbiosis with nature, the way that wild ruminants once existed in a symbiotic relationship with nature, you know, all we're doing with our domesticated livestock, we're creating biomimicry and eco- mimicry. We're mimicking the way the wild ruminants once moved and interacted across the landscape. By the way that we move and utilize our domesticated livestock. So what we have found is that when we do that, that provides these incredible positive benefits and we don't get the negatives that you hear about. They disappear. All of that disappears and it becomes very, very positive. We also have to remember that virtually every land-based ecosystem evolved with grazing, browsing, foraging, ruminants through the millennia as a part of that landscape. So they're still necessary. If we remove grazing, browsing, foraging, animals from our landscape, like many are advocating, we are going to detrimentally impact many, many other forms of life that people do want. So we can't do that. Rather, let's use them in a way that mimics wild ruminant movement through the land and impact on the land. So those are the six principles. They can be applied anywhere equally well across the world. 

Now there are are the three rules. We call 'em the 3 Rules of Adaptive Stewardship.

The 1st rule is a RULE OF COMPOUNDING. Now, what this means is that there never are any singular effects. Everything that we do, every decision we make, everything we apply or utilize, creates this whole series of compounding cascading effects. And these effects are never neutral. They're either positive or negative. So that applies to all biology, to all of nature. Now, let me give a way to illustrate this in humans. Let's go back to human medicine. You're prescribed a drug. Does that drug in your body ever create a singular effect? Nope. It sets off a whole series of chemical reactions and responses in your body. That honestly, you don't even really know until later exactly what's gonna happen. Mm-hmm. So every time we pop a pill, any type of prescribed medication, we never know exactly what kind of compounding, cascading effects we're setting into motion, and we really don't know whether they're gonna be positive or negative. So it's the same way out here on our farms. Except the beautiful thing is, is that if we're applying the six principles, we know that the compounding factors that we're creating are gonna be positive, not negative. Okay. So we do have a way to know that in pharma. So that's the rule of compounding. We can't escape it. Let's make it positive rather than negative. 

The 2nd rule is the rule of DIVERSITY. So here's diversity again, right? 

[00:42:50] Susie: I kinda think of the soil, like the planet's microbiome, and we have a microbiome which is losing diversity just like the soil, and that's affecting our health. So I love this talk about diversity. So go on. Yes. 

[00:43:03] Dr. Williams: You're 100% correct. Our, our gut microbiome has lost an incredible amount of its diversity, and that's the precipitant, that's the cause of inflammation in our body and every other disease and disorder that we can encounter in our lives starts always with inflammation, right? So inflammation is the genesis of every disease and disorder. We just don't know how that inflammation is gonna manifest itself in our body. It's gonna be bad, we just don't know how. Uh, but the same in the soil. So with poor agricultural practices, we are creating inflammation in the soil, so to speak. And that creates a series of negative compounding effects. Diversity, it was mentioned in the principles and in the rules. That's how important it is. We've gotta have diversity. 

Then the last (3rd) rule is what we call the RULE OF DISRUPTION. Meaning that we cannot implement prescriptive or formulaic practices in agriculture. They must be adaptive, constantly evolving according to conditions and observations. Um, so let me give an analogy that helps us understand that. In terms of the rule of disruption, we know that in agriculture we can now introduce planned, purposeful disruptions to make very positive compounding progress. 

Think about a human athlete. As an athlete, if we do the same exercise program at the same duration and intensity day in, day out, year in, year out, what's gonna happen? Gonna hit a wall. And you're gonna stop making progress and then you're actually gonna start going backwards. You cannot continue at the same level of performance. So every athlete knows that to continue to build and improve their performance, they've gotta introduce planned, purposeful disruptions in their exercise routine. Mm-hmm. They gotta challenge their bodies and challenge their minds, right? Routinely, to continue to go forward. 

It's no different with the biology that we deal with out here on our farms and ranches. So the rule of disruption, just like it's important for an athlete to continue to make progress, or for anybody interested in fitness to continue their fitness journey, it's just as important out here. So those are the three rules.

And then the six and the three are to drive the four ecosystem processes. So that's the 6-3-4. The four are the 4 ecosystem processes, and they're simple: SUNLIGHT, PHOTOSYNTHETIC ENERGY, and CAPTURE. That's the energy cycle. 

Second is the WATER CYCLE. Boy, we have a broken water cycle right now. So we gotta repair our water cycle globally. 

Third, the mineral cycle, NUTRIENT CYCLE. Our soil has a broken nutrient cycle. Our crops have a broken nutrient cycle, our livestock, and so do we. We all participate in this broken nutrient cycle.

And then the final one is, well, here's this word again, DIVERSITY. So diversity is in all three of the 6-3-4, right? That's how critically important diversity is.

And in today's agriculture, globally, what is the one thing that we're missing the most? Diversity! We are highly concentrated into this monoculture world. 

[00:46:27] Susie: Yeah. The way I think about it, it's like we've gotten disconnected and so apart from that beauty and complexity of nature and even our body, we've become so reductionistic, right? We, we look at this molecule, that molecule, that mineral. You lose the forest for the trees, right? yes. That's how it is in my world and your world too, I guess. 

[00:46:51] Dr. Williams: It, it is. And, and that is exactly what has happened. So there's, uh, there's two quotes I want to give you that, that we use quite often in are very meaningful in the work that we do.

One is through WC Loudermilk. He wrote a book called Conquest of the Land through 7,000 Years. And his quote goes like this, "The land does not lie. It bears a record of what men write on it. A record that is easy to read by those who understand the simple language of the land." So here's the deal. Loudermilk is exactly correct. Our management, how we as farmers and ranchers, or even as consumers, our impact on the land is written on the tapestry of the land. And let's make the mistake about this, the consumer and every consumer needs to understand and realize this. The consumer is every bit as complicit as the farmer and rancher in what has happened here, okay? The consumer lives somewhere in buildings, in homes. They drive on pavement. They park in paved over parking lots. Well, that damaged life, that took away ecologies and land from food production. Too many consumers allow chemicals and synthetic fertilizers to be sprayed indiscriminately on their lawns and on their athletic fields and on their practice fields and on their golf courses.

[00:48:34] Susie: You start thinking about how profound it is. It's just really, it's deep. 

[00:48:38] Dr. Williams: Yeah. So my point here is not to condemn consumers, farmers, or ranchers, but it's to say that quit pointing fingers and saying that one sector is inherently responsible and you wipe your hands and walk away. I'm gonna point my finger and then I'm gonna wash the blood off my hands and walk away. I have no responsibility because I don't farm. Uh, I'm sorry, but you live somewhere and you participate in this world, and so you have a profound impact on what happens here, okay? Every time you take your kids to those soccer fields, every time you go play on the golf course, don't, don't, don't gimme the bull crap, alright? Realize your complicity in this. 

Now that being said, the good thing is, the good news is, and I guess so the bad news is we're all complicit. The good news is we all can play a role in solving and reversing this. So let's be aware of that and be aware of our role in solving this from the consumer, demanding that we do things the right way, that we do things regenerative.

And oh, by the way, start to demand that the same thing happen on your lawns. On your golf courses, on your athletic fields. Yeah. So make it the same demands across the board, folks. Don't just think the applies to agriculture only. 

[00:49:59] Susie: Well, you know, I live in a, I call it the postage stamp neighborhood. I have like, a quarter of an acre in this little cookie, cookie cutter kind of neighborhood, which, um, they didn't clear cut everything when they made it. Now they clearcut everything and it's kind of crazy. But I have an organic person come and do my lawn, but like everybody else surrounding me is saturating their lawns and I'm like, What is our soil like? In fact, when I was listening to the first Zach Bush thing, and I was like, Oh my gosh! I happen to be laying down, um, grass with my husband. And we've done it twice. I'm like, how ironic. We we're trying to lay down grass in our yard and it's really been a challenge, , just in my little, my little postage stamp, let alone if I wanna grow food in the backyard. that's why, we have raised garden beds, cause I don't even know what's in that soil, how awful it might be. That brings me to another question, which I've been wanting to ask you. How do you figure out the health of your soil? And I've seen some statistics about how it takes thousands of years to just rebuild even one centimeter of healthy soil. So, what are we really talking about? Is this really gonna take, I don't know, a thousand years? You said the three years people see a lot of diversity and life teaming again, so that made me feel hopeful. 

[00:51:17] Dr. Williams: Yeah. So, so first of all, no. That, that's absolutely false. Now many scientists believe that, and they believe that because of the research they've done. But the research they've done has been very conventional research on very conventional degraded soils. And they're taking already degraded soils, which all soils are now. We don't have any ungraded soils anymore. The only question now is the degree of degradation. But they're taking already degraded soils and then they're applying very conventional agricultural practices to it. And what do they expect to see? No, they're not gonna build new organic matter, new carbon, new soil, no new microbial population. Absolutely not. You gotta do it regeneratively.

But here is what we have found. So this is, This is the good news. Okay. We can build soil at the rate of 1% organic matter per year for the first 3 to 5 years. We've proven that over and over. So we can take a 1% organic matter soil, and by year five, turn it into a four, five, 6% organic matter soil. Wow. And soil is 58% carbon. So think about how much more carbon you have there. In just that very short period of time, we have found that we grow soil both up and down with regenerative practices. We grow it down, we grow organic matter and carbon deeper in the soil, but we also grow it up at the same time. So we expand it both ways at the same time. So actually this takes far, far less time than we ever thought or imagined. And that is the beauty of this, is that we can radically alter this world in a 10 year time span with regenerative agriculture on enough acres. 

[00:53:01] Susie: Mm-hmm. Yeah, that's really hopeful. And when I talk to patients too, I tell them when they change what they're doing, there's so much hope. And that was one of the things, I wrote down so many things to talk to you about, but one of the things is regaining hope, healing, empowerment, and just being able to take control of our lives. But I feel like it's a small segment. It's almost like you're a little bit of a renegade, you know, when you're going against big ag, big food, big pharma, you know? And it feels lonely at times for me when I'm in the clinic and maybe other providers, maybe they're not as interested in food as medicine or learning about this kind of thing. But I think the more we talk about it, the more people will think there's something to it. So, I appreciate you talking to me because at least I can spread the word in my circles. I told somebody I was gonna meet with you, it was a medical assistant, and he said, "I just heard on NPR, they were talking about regenerative agriculture. I can't wait to listen." So, , I thought, "oh, you know, we're spreading the word" But it's just really important, I think, to build the soil, build our microbiomes, and just bring that complexity and beauty back. For me, it feels intuitive. Like that just seems like the right thing to do. You can prove it with whatever science you want, but it just feels like in your heart that's how it's supposed to happen.

[00:54:23] Dr. Williams: Well, it is the right thing to do and, and as I said earlier, it is a true win win win. Nobody loses here. And we are healthier, far, far healthier, much later into our lives. If we're eating regeneratively produced foods and we're creating, you know, regenerative agriculture creates a healthier environment around you. So it's not just the food that you're eating, but it's the environment that you're living in. So you're no longer subjected to all of these toxic chemicals and synthetics and everything else that are bombarding us every day and that are almost ubiquitous in our foods now.

 Uh, and one other thing that I'll mention and, and maybe that this actually it would be, uh, an entirely different podcast cause there's so much depth here, is the phytonutrient research that we're doing. 

[00:55:14] Susie: Oh, I'd love to know more about that. I'd love that. 

[00:55:16] Dr. Williams: Yes. It is rather staggering. And the implications are enormous for human health.

[00:55:23] Susie: Yes. Yes. Yeah, you'll have to come back. Thank you so much for your time. I really appreciate it. And I, I know that there are a lot of tips and knowledge and things that you've given us as consumers to be able to make some better decisions going forward. So I really appreciate it.

[00:55:39] Dr. Williams: Well, it's been an absolute pleasure. Thank you.