The quintessential picture of middle-America — complete with shots of green fields filled with cattle, bales of yellow hay and smiling farmers in jeans and ball caps — opens “Regeneration: The Beginning,” the first part in the docu-series Farmer’s Footprint.
It might just be the perfect, peaceful setting to discuss a much more complicated topic.
Combining medical findings with the stories of real farmers in the U.S., Farmer’s Footprint, which launched in January, explores how some farms are adopting chemical-free farming practices as part of the regenerative agriculture movement to improve the odds of their farms’ survival. The series also addresses the possible dangers of chemical dependency in our agricultural practices.
Farmer’s Footprint isn’t just the name of the documentary series, whose first part appeared online in January. It is also the name of the nonprofit organization behind the series, which hopes to regenerate five million acres of U.S. farmland by 2025.
The first film in the Farmer’s Footprint series focuses on the Breitkreutz family, a fourth-generation farming family running Stoney Creek Farm in Redwood Falls, Minnesota while also setting up the premise of the series: that dependence on chemicals is not only hurting agricultural productivity, it might also be killing us.
“Between 1996 and 2007, there was a complete reversal of our cancer map in the United States,” Dr. Zach Bush, whose biotech company Seraphic Group is affiliated with Farmer’s Footprint, said in the video.
“To see an entire population respond in a single decade to a sudden explosion of cancer suggests that we did something similar to Chernobyl.”
Bush concludes that the “massive environmental injury that led to this explosive rise in cancer” was our increased use of chemicals in farming, specifically glyphosate.
Glyphosate, the main active ingredient in Roundup, was primarily used as a weedkiller until it was introduced as a crop treatment in 1996. But Bush believe that glyphosate, which is a water-soluble chemical, didn’t just stay on the farms. He believes it spread through our waterways feeding into the Mississippi River.
While glyphosate kills fungus and bacteria, it also kills everything else in the soil, said Bush. This, said soil health expert Allen Williams of Soil Health Consultants, leads to a degraded soil that is not capable of producing nutrient-dense food.
“So the very foods that we’re producing out of these soils now … they’re deficient in the nutrients we need to properly feed our bodies,” Williams explained in the video, adding that they’re also “creating significant disease issues and neurological disorders and other illnesses that have degraded our health.”
Farms are starting to take notice, and some, including the Breitkreutz family, have turned to regenerative agriculture to end this cycle.
According to the Rodale Institute, a nonprofit that supports organic farming research, regenerative agriculture is a system that focuses on creating healthy, minerally-rich soil, which results in less carbon emissions (the leading cause of climate change), improvements to the water cycle and an increase in biodiversity. In addition to the avoidance of chemicals, common practices in regenerative agriculture — also sometimes called regenerative farming and biological farming — include tilling less, rotating crops and planting cover crops, plants like alfalfa, soybeans and forage radishes that help prevent soil erosion.
“Twenty years ago, we couldn’t have put together 10 people in a room,” Williams said in the documentary, “but yet, the number of people that are interested in regenerative practices and adaptive practices is growing very rapidly.”
As Farmer’s Footprint, which was named a Vimeo Staff Pick, shows, adopting these practices have greatly improved the lives of farmers.
The Breitkreutz family adopted Round-Up Ready crops onto Stoney Creek Farm when they were introduced in the 1990s, according to a short biography on the docu-series’ website. Their crop yields fell, their cattle became sicker and their costs rose. When they returned to the way previous generations had farmed the land — without the use of chemicals — their crop yields increased and their profitability improved.
“This was the 25 acres we treated as just a corn-soybean rotation with no cover crops,” farmer Grant Breitkreutz said during the film as he gestured to the land behind him. “So, last year, we cover cropped it to fix it. We fixed it in one year.”
While only the inaugural video in the Farmer’s Footprint series is currently available, its website features profiles of six additional farms, so more inspiring stories could pop up soon.
BY EMMA SCHKLOVEN
Originally published OCTOBER 25, 2019