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Natural Awakenings Lehigh Valley

Ronnie Cummins on Growing a Movement

by Elizabeth Greene

For five decades, human rights activist, journalist and author Ronnie Cummins has campaigned for natural health and the environment. Since he co-founded the Organic Consumers Association in 1998, the nonprofit has grown to a network that’s 2 million people strong, dedicated to promoting organic food, regenerative farming and commerce through global initiatives that integrate public education, marketplace pressure, media outreach, litigation and grassroots lobbying.

His latest book, Grassroots Rising: A Call to Action on Climate, Farming, Food and a Green New Deal, focuses on Regeneration International, a global network that he and other advocates spawned in 2015 with a goal to reverse global warming and end world hunger by accelerating the transition to regenerative agriculture and land management.

What is Regeneration International?

It’s a movement that spread when people started to understand that the climate crisis was very, very serious and connected to other crises we face—our health and farmers not being able to make a living, for example. It’s about identifying regenerative practices around the world, publicizing them and changing public policy. We use the slogan, “Healthy soil, healthy ecosystem, healthy plants, healthy food, healthy people, healthy animals, healthy climate.” All these living systems are interconnected. Regeneration of one system impacts another, which will lead to stabilizing the climate.

What’s the difference between organic and regenerative farming?

Regenerative farming is simply the next stage of organic, focusing on soil health, carbon sequestration and ecosystem restoration. We call it “regenerative organic” because people understand organic. But when we devised organic standards, we didn’t completely understand soil biology and the carbon cycle. Now we know that there’s important biological life below the soil. We understand carbon sequestration. Regenerative organic farming rebuilds the soil, which improves food, health and eventually, the climate. It’s a transformation of the food system.
What will it require to achieve the goals of the Green New Deal, which calls for net zero emissions of greenhouse gases by 2030?

First, consumers need to understand the interconnectedness of things so that they make decisions to create market pressure. Second, farmers, ranchers and land managers need to use regenerative best practices. Third is political power and policy change to drive regeneration. We need elected officials to understand regenerative ideas and feel pressure from constituents. Officials need to hear that we don’t want our tax money used for degenerative practices. Fourth is money. It will take trillions of dollars over the next decade, with much money coming from government funding. But private investments also need to shift. Our savings, pensions and retirement accounts need to be in financial institutions that place assets in regenerative, socially responsible investing. 

How can we help address climate change on a personal level?

Every time you pull out your wallet, you are either casting your vote for regeneration or the continuation of degeneration. Everything you buy is a vote. What you talk about and do every day is also extremely important. Americans spend half of their food dollars eating out. Learn to cook, invite people over for dinner, teach your kids how to cook. Eating is an agricultural act.

Everyone should also be active in civic organizations. Run for office. It doesn’t have to be in politics, it could be a conservation committee or school board. Do what you can do best inside this regenerative framework and you will have a big impact.

Things aren’t hopeless. It’s plausible that we are going to solve this. Unfortunately, it took until now for people to wake up. I believe people have an innate love for nature and other people, but if they’re hopeless and unaware, they’re going to behave as if they don’t care. There is an increasing common awareness and responsibility to get the job done. This is a spiritual movement as much as it is an agricultural and alternative energy movement.

What inspired you to write about this issue?

About 10 years ago, I learned that regenerative food, farming and land use, in combination with renewable energy and radical energy conservation, could solve the climate crisis. I did more research, helped form Regeneration International and then saw that there wasn’t a roadmap for regeneration. I needed to write the book so that the climate movement would understand regeneration and the food-farming-regeneration movement would understand climate. And I need for everyone to understand that there is hope.

Elizabeth Greene writes about the environment. Connect at [email protected].