Gabe Brown (00:00:00):
Where do we derive our nutrition from? Where does it come from? It comes from the life in the soil. And as we degrade that soil ecosystem, we no longer have the nutrients in our food. Just look at what’s happened to nutrient density of the food that we consume.
Dr. Mark Hyman (00:00:22):
Welcome to The Doctor’s Farmacy. I’m Dr. Mark Hyman. And that’s Farmacy with an F, F-A-R-M-A-C-Y, a place for conversations that matter. And if you’ve heard about regenerative agriculture and wondering what it is and how it works and if it’s going to save us from climate change and poor health and everything else, then this is the conversation for you because it’s with an incredible pioneer in the field of regenerative agriculture, Gabe Brown.
Dr. Mark Hyman (00:00:46):
He has written an incredible book called Dirt to Soil about his adventure, taking his North Dakota ranch back from the brink using not traditional industrial methods, but regenerative methods. Which probably when he started this, there wasn’t even a term regenerative agriculture, it was just the right way to do things. It was almost like ecological farming. And in very much the same way as functional medicine is about understanding the body as an ecosystem, Gabe is that to the earth. He’s an ecosystem doctor of the land.
Dr. Mark Hyman (00:01:23):
He lives with his wife, Shelly, and his son, Paul, in North Dakota on Brown’s Ranch. They operate the ranch, the diversified 5,000 acre ranch near Bismarck, North Dakota. It’s one of the few states I haven’t been but I’m planning to go. I was going to go before COVID-19. It’s got several thousand acres of native perennial rangeland along with perennial pastureland and cropland. And he focuses on farming and ranching in nature’s image.
Dr. Mark Hyman (00:01:47):
Basically nature’s way smarter than we are, and Gabe found that out despite being trained in a very different farm agriculture in a traditional ag school in America. He integrates all kinds of incredible systems that allows him to grow better food that’s better for him profitably, better for the animals, and better for the land, using grazing and no-till cropping systems, lots of cash crops. I mean, the amount of crops he grows, it’s just mind-boggling.
Dr. Mark Hyman (00:02:21):
When I looked at how many different species of plants are on his land, I couldn’t even make a list. I’ll go through them, it was very impressive. He also has natural grass finished beef and lamb, and hens and pigs. It’s a very diverse first ecosystem that he grows. And he’s regenerated his land without the use of fertilizers, pesticides, and fungicides. And he’s just an incredible guy.
Dr. Mark Hyman (00:02:46):
He’s had also a lot of effort, not just on his own ranch, but taking what he’s learned and bringing it to farmers around the country and even around the world. 24 foreign countries, 50 states, he’s had thousands of people visit the ranch. He’s been recognized, all sorts of awards. And his book, Dirt to Soil, One Family’s Journey Into Regenerative Agriculture, is a must read if anybody’s interested in this.
Dr. Mark Hyman (00:03:07):
And now he’s partnered up with some allies in the field, Ray Archuleta, Dr. Allen Williams, with a group called Understanding Ag, which is training farmers and partnering with industry to convert more and more farms to regenerative agriculture. He teaches as part of the Soil Health Academy, he’s one of the Soil Carbon Cowboys, which is great. It’s a movie you should watch it.
Dr. Mark Hyman (00:03:30):
I’m just so honored and thrilled to have you Gabe on the podcast.
Gabe Brown (00:03:35):
Thank you. It’s a real pleasure to be with you today. I would have much rather been doing this here on the farm, we so look forward to your visit, but perhaps in the future we can do that.
Dr. Mark Hyman (00:03:45):
I will come. I will definitely be there for sure. I want to give a little background on what you’re doing, but I think that people don’t understand what industrial agriculture is. And I’d love you to share before we get into sort of what we’re doing now and what you’re doing now to change things, what was the kind of agriculture you were trained in and how was your farm when you got it in 1991 and what were the methods you were using and what was wrong with them and why are they bad for us now?
Gabe Brown (00:04:16):
Sure. The ranch that my wife and I and son have today was started by my in-laws back in 1956, and they farmed it in the industrial model. In other words, they used a lot of tillage. They would till repeatedly each year before they would seed crops. The crops they seeded were all monocultures, primarily spring wheat or oats or barley. They would use chemicals, synthetic chemicals both as fertilizer and as herbicide to spray weeds. And in their grazing system, they put their cows on a pasture and left them there throughout the growing season. And then they’d bring them home and feed them hay all winter. And that’s kind of the current industrialized commoditized type mindset, you grow commodities.
Gabe Brown (00:05:08):
And one of the things about me is I was born and raised in town, I wasn’t from a farm or ranch. So I took a vocational agriculture course in the ninth grade in junior high, and I really, from that first class, I was just infatuated with agriculture. And so I went to college to study agriculture at a state land-grant college, which taught us these industrialized methods. How more or less that the soil is nothing but a chemistry set. You add nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and these trace elements. You spray for weeds. And you try and impose your will on nature is more or less what it was.
Gabe Brown (00:05:51):
But I always have an inquisitive mind and I could just see, I was like, well, why do we till? Because my father-in-law who in 19… I’m an age myself, but ’83, 1983 after graduating college, my wife and I moved back on to her parents’ ranch. They had three daughters. And so I was the only one interested in agriculture, so they asked us if we’d want to farm.
Gabe Brown (00:06:16):
We moved back to the ranch, and I remember my father-in-law in the spring saying, “Okay, we’re going to go out and till the soil in order to dry it out so that we can plant our crops.” Well, that never made sense to me. We only get 16 inches of total precipitation a year, and then come July would be praying for rain because it was too dry. It just didn’t make sense.
Gabe Brown (00:06:37):
So in 1990, the winter of 1993, 94, I had read about no-till that it just made sense to me. Why do we want to till the soil and lose that precious moisture? Why do we want the soil prone to wind erosion and water erosion? So I sold all my tillage equipment and went a 100% no-till. Because I was given the advice, “Gabe, if you’re going to go no-till, sell all your tillage equipment, then you’re never tempted to go back.” So I did that. I was totally committed. And this ranch has not seen any tillage since 1994. Even our garden is no-till.
Gabe Brown (00:07:17):
And I want to get into that later because that’s one of the critical mistakes anyone with a garden makes, most of the people they go out and till the garden.
Dr. Mark Hyman (00:07:25):
Gabe Brown (00:07:26):
Well, if you learn how soil functions and how soil works, it’s all this biology in the soil and the mycorrhizal fungi that transfer the nutrients throughout the soil profile, and the biology is feeding the plants. And it’s that biology and that transfer of nutrients that gives the plants all those compounds, these biochemical compounds, that it needs for health, and then in turn that we need for health. So if we till the soil, we’re destroying that home for biology, where water is not able to infiltrate and the biology no longer have a home to live. It’s one of the worst things we can do for our own health, is when we till.
Gabe Brown (00:08:08):
I went no-till in 1994. I started to diversify the crop rotation, add different crops. Above every acre, period, on this earth, there’s approximately 34,000 tons of atmospheric nitrogen. Why any farmer would want to write a check for synthetic nitrogen is beyond me. All we got to do is use nature’s principles, plant legumes, in other words, peas and clovers, et cetera, and take that nitrogen out of the atmosphere through rhizobia converted into usable form.
Gabe Brown (00:08:44):
Well, [crosstalk 00:08:46]-
Dr. Mark Hyman (00:08:46):
And by the way, there’s 400 billion pounds of fertilizer used around the world every year, which pollutes all our waterways, kills all the fish in the rivers and oceans, increases nitrous oxide in the atmosphere that is a huge contributor to greenhouse gases. And to make the fertilizers about one or 2% of our total global energy consumption, mostly from fracking, which releases huge amounts of methane. So it’s just a complete catastrophe, and you’re saying that actually the plants can take the nitrogen right out of the air.
Gabe Brown (00:09:17):
Yep. Well, let me give you this as a reference point. If you take a plant, any plant, whether it be a tomato in your garden, a carrot, a stock of corn, any plant, you cut it off and dry that plant out, and then you take what’s left, that remaining dried plant, and you have it analyzed, approximately 97% of what’s left is carbon, oxygen, hydrogen and nitrogen. What do those four elements have in common? They’re all in the atmosphere and they don’t cost us anything. Yet what do farmers and ranchers want to do? They want to write checks for that. And we want to use all these synthetics. That makes no sense, no sense at all. You know, who’s out fertilizing the forests? Who’s out fertilizing these vast rangelands that we have? No, it’s nature taking course.
Gabe Brown (00:10:13):
I tell people what are my story just briefly, I was really blessed. 1995, the day before I was going to start combining my crop, I lost a 100% of that crop to hail. We had a tremendous hailstorm, totally took the whole crop, devastated it. And boy, I was set back. Financially, that really set me back. 1996 came along and I started to diversify my crop rotation, add a few more crop species, we lost a 100% of our crop to hail again. So, that’s two years of devastation.
Gabe Brown (00:10:46):
1997 came along, it was a severe drought in this area, nobody combined the crop. So I actually, that year I started… after the drought, my wife and I took off farm jobs, we had to pay some bills, and things were getting tough financially, but I was really beginning to see what was happening in the soil. You know, the bank was no longer wanting to loan me anymore money to farm. So I had to decide, okay, how am I going to… am I either going to sell out or am I going to learn how I can make this ranch productive without all these added inputs? To make the long story longer, 1998 came along and we lost 80% of our crop to hail again.
Gabe Brown (00:11:34):
So four years of devastation, my wife and I will tell you, the hardest thing we ever went through, but absolutely the best thing we ever went through. Because the bank wasn’t going to loan me any money anymore, I had to learn, how am I going to make this productive? So I actually went back and I read Thomas Jefferson’s old journals.
Dr. Mark Hyman (00:11:54):
Gabe Brown (00:11:54):
What was he doing on his plantation? Well, he was planting turnips and clovers and veggies. I’ll never forget that first year I walked into the local Agronomy Center and I asked them, “I want to buy 50 pounds of turnip seed.” Well, they were trying to figure out how many of those little packets that was of turnips to make 50 pounds. Now you can buy cover crops all over, it’s commonplace. And I started doing these practices. I really realized what those four years taught me was the six principles of soil health. It was [crosstalk 00:12:28]-
Dr. Mark Hyman (00:12:27):
So you basically like said, “Wait a minute. What I learned in ag school wasn’t right, I have to go back to Thomas Jefferson to figure out what to do with my life”? That’s good.
Gabe Brown (00:12:36):
It’s not only Thomas Jefferson, I read Indian Bird Woman’s Garden, which was about the indigenous people in the Northern Missouri here, on the Missouri River, and what they were growing in their garden and how they grew species together. You know, they grew corn and squash and beans together. Well, that was diversity. And that really got my mind thinking as I walk out and I’m blessed here to have 2000 acres of rangeland that, in other words native pastures, that to our knowledge has never been tilled. And you look at the tremendous amount of diversity out there, that’s how nature functions. Yet what do we do? We plant all these monoculture crops and expect that soil to be healthy, and then expect those crops to produce nutrient-dense food. That’s not the way nature works.
Dr. Mark Hyman (00:13:28):
No, it’s incredible. I mean, I just was reading about your farm and I don’t even know if I actually know what all these plants are, but the amount of grasses and plants. You know, I just kind of read them off because it’s just mind-boggling. Spring wheat, winter triticale, oats, corn, sunflowers, peas, hairy vetch, alfalfa, wheat, pearl millet, sorghum, sudangrass, proso millet, buckwheat, sunn hemp, radish, turnips, pas… I don’t know this, pasja, whatever that is, ryegrass, canola, something else I don’t know how to pronounce, phacelia, cowpeas, soybeans, sugar beets, red clover, sweet clover, rape, kale, lentils, mung beans, and sub clover. That is just mind-boggling.
Dr. Mark Hyman (00:14:05):
And when you think of today’s farms, they’re mostly monocrop, massive monocrop fields of corn, wheat, soy. And they’re destroying the earth. And the very way we’re growing them is destroying the soil. So in a sense, you’re a soil farmer and the food is just a byproduct, a side effect of being a soil farmer, it sounds like.
Gabe Brown (00:14:29):
Yeah. What I’m trying to do is work with nature instead of against it. I tell people that my old mindset was I used to wake up every morning trying to decide what I was going to kill that day. I was either going to kill a weed or a pest or a fungal disease. I was going to kill something. Now I wake up every morning, how do I get more life on my ranch? How do I encourage life? Because it’s through life, whether it’s animals or insects or a diverse array of plants, that we have true health. It’s much more enjoyable working with life than with death.
Dr. Mark Hyman (00:15:06):
It’s true. It’s true. You know, Sir Albert Howard, I noticed that was one of the books on your reading list, but I read that when I was 19 years old. And studying ecological agriculture, we called it biological agriculture, I read One-Straw Revolution by Masanobu Fukuoka, which is about not disturbing the earth. I mean, these are just… it’s original books from decades ago.
Dr. Mark Hyman (00:15:26):
And the line in Sir Albert Howard’s book, I’ve shared it before, it’s a such a beautiful line is, is the whole problem of health in soil, plant, animal and human is one great subject. And we really separate ourselves from that in the way that we have done our agricultural system. And it seemed like a good idea at the time. We had hunger and starvation after the war, we had all these industrial chemicals and methods that we could apply, we wanted to produce more and more starchy calories, and we’ve done that and we’ve done a good job at it, but the consequences have been devastating.
Dr. Mark Hyman (00:16:00):
Because one, it’s destroyed our ability to grow the food because we’ve destroyed the soil essentially. And second, it’s caused us to grow this food that makes humans really sick. 60% of our calories come from these processed foods from commodity crops. And the people who eat them are the sickest and they die.
Dr. Mark Hyman (00:16:19):
And so I think we’re in a time of regeneration and this whole idea of regenerative agriculture, which I’m sure wasn’t even a word when you started this, now there’s a name for it, it wasn’t even organic agriculture because organic can be also tillage and using all kinds of inputs and cow manure from factory farm, it’s not necessarily always perfect, it’s a whole new model and it regenerates the land, it regenerates health, and it also regenerates farmers and farmers’ livelihoods, which are threatened.
Gabe Brown (00:16:48):
Yep. That’s exactly right. And one of the beautiful things about regenerative agriculture is, and you talked about it in your book, Food Fix, is no matter what your interest is, if your interest is in climate change, carbon sequestration, regenerative agriculture can have a positive impact on that.
Gabe Brown (00:17:10):
If you’re in the corner of, hey, we have a real water problem crisis in this country, whether it be pollutants in our rivers, lakes, estuaries, in the gulf, in the Great Lakes, regenerative agriculture can address that. If you’re of the mindset of human health is what we need to focus on and the lack of nutrient density in our foods, regenerative agriculture can address that also.
Gabe Brown (00:17:39):
So I tell people, I’m not so concerned if we don’t agree on everything, but we all can agree on those things. We need clean air, clean water, nutrient-dense food. You know, none of us can argue that there’s too much carbon in the atmosphere and not enough in the soil. So why don’t we come together on the 70 to 80% of the things we can agree on and work through regenerative agriculture to change the current model and to focus on making it better for not only us, but for future generations?
Dr. Mark Hyman (00:18:14):
Yeah, absolutely. So you talked about some of the principles of regenerative agriculture, no-till, diversity. And in your book, you describe what are the foundational principles. And I think you should go through those because I don’t think people really understand what is regenerative agriculture. So maybe you can define it and then share what the principles are and how it’s applied and what the impact is of those principles on the soil and the health of farm ecosystems.
Gabe Brown (00:18:38):
Sure. I define, and there is no set definition of regenerative agriculture, this is just Gabe’s version. I look at it as a type of food and farming system which aims to regenerate top soils, it aims to heal the water cycle, the nutrients cycle, and to produce nutrient-dense food so that ours and future generations can be both sustainable and profitable. And that’s how I define it to other farmers and ranchers. And who’s going to disagree with that?
Dr. Mark Hyman (00:19:17):
Gabe Brown (00:19:18):
We all want a better life for our children. We all want clean air, clean water and a healthy world. So now that this, and my book’s actually already outdated, we’ve added the sixth principle, my business partners and I, and that is the principle of context.
Gabe Brown (00:19:36):
We work with farmers and ranchers all over the world and we see too many of them that are farming and ranching out of context. And by that I mean, for instance, I was literally six hours north of Edmonton, Canada-
Dr. Mark Hyman (00:19:53):
That’s far north.
Gabe Brown (00:19:53):
And they were trying to grow, yeah, that’s far north, they were trying to grow soybeans up there. That’s out of context. Or I look back and I tell people, I used to calve here in North Dakota in January and February. That’s totally out of context. That’s just foolish. Why do I want to calve out in a snowbank? We changed that. Now we calve from mid May through June, right? When the deer have their fawns. We’re calving and lambing in sync with nature. So you have to farm and ranch in context for your environment.
Gabe Brown (00:20:29):
Second principle is least amount of mechanical and chemical disturbance possible. I understand why organic farmers till, but they need to minimize the tillage pass. And if they, passes, and if they are tilling, they need to be tilling down a cover crop. They can’t have this bare soil and that soil not protected. And we can’t put in these copious amounts of chemicals on the land, whether it be synthetic fertilizers or pesticides or fungicides, that’s only killing life. That’s not good.
Gabe Brown (00:21:06):
The next principle, the third one is armor on the soil surface. Nature always tries to cover the soil. And that’s why I talked earlier about gardeners. How they go out and they rototill their garden. That’s one of the worst things you can do. There’s absolutely no reason. I ask people this, if you watch your local municipality when they build the road, what’s the first thing they do? They go out and disk it back and forth 50 times. They’re trying to collapse that soil down and make it hard. Well, that’s what you’re doing to your garden.
Gabe Brown (00:21:35):
You know, it’ll be soft and fluffy for just a few days after you rototill, but then it becomes very hard. You’re collapsing the pore spaces. And once you understand how soil functions, biology lives in and on thin films of water in those pore spaces between soil aggregates. If you collapse those, there’s no home for soil biology, there’s no way for water to infiltrate, you’re going against the natural cycles.
Gabe Brown (00:22:04):
Next principle is diversity. And I use this as an example. For five years, my son taught Rangeland Management at the local community college. And he brought his students out to one of our native pastures. And in two hours they collected over 140 different species of grasses, forbs, and legumes. That’s tremendous diversity. I would have loved to have known what it was like back five, 600 years ago. There was hundreds if not thousands of different species across our landscape.
Gabe Brown (00:22:41):
You look at it today, what do you see? Probably just corn and soybeans in much of the Midwest, and you see rice and cotton and wheat. It’s only a very small handful of crops. The average human diet, what is it? The bulk of their sustenance is from 12 species, I read [crosstalk 00:23:01]-
Dr. Mark Hyman (00:23:01):
Yeah, 60. That’s right. 60% is three, wheat, corn and rice.
Gabe Brown (00:23:04):
Yeah, that’s ridiculous.
Dr. Mark Hyman (00:23:04):
Gabe Brown (00:23:06):
And then we’re supposed to stay healthy. It doesn’t make sense. The next principle after diversity is leaving the root in the soil as long as possible throughout the year. And the reason for that is just what I described earlier. Plants take in sunlight through photosynthesis, they’re able to extract all these compounds out of the atmosphere, and then they convert it into amino acids and all these other compounds, which part of it is used for plant growth, the rest of it they leak out into the soil to feed biology. And it’s that biology running its life cycle that provides the vast array of nutrients that the plants need.
Gabe Brown (00:23:45):
So if we don’t have a living root in the soil for as long as possible, we’re not taking advantage of that. And that’s why on our ranch we grow such a wide array of different species. We’re trying to capture as much of that solar energy as possible in order to pump it into the soil, to feed soil life. I have not used any nutrients, synthetic or applied manures, compost, compost DS, et cetera, since 2007, yet we produce very profitable cash crops, cover crops, and perennials, year after year after year.
Dr. Mark Hyman (00:24:25):
Wait, wait, just let me get this straight. You don’t use fertilizer, you don’t use manure, you don’t even use-
Gabe Brown (00:24:29):
Except what falls out of the animals when they’re just cycling. Yeah.
Dr. Mark Hyman (00:24:31):
As they’re just pooping around.
Gabe Brown (00:24:33):
Dr. Mark Hyman (00:24:34):
You don’t use compost.
Gabe Brown (00:24:36):
Dr. Mark Hyman (00:24:36):
You just use nature.
Gabe Brown (00:24:38):
Dr. Mark Hyman (00:24:39):
And the natural cycles to build the soil. That’s amazing.
Gabe Brown (00:24:42):
Speaker 3 (00:24:42):
Hi everyone, hope you’re enjoying the episode. Before we continue, we have a quick message from Dr.
Dr. Mark Hyman about his new company, Farmacy, and their first product, The 10 Day Reset.
Dr. Mark Hyman (00:24:51):
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Dr. Mark Hyman (00:25:17):
Well, I hate to break the news, but there’s no magic bullet. FLC isn’t caused by one single thing, so there’s not one single solution. However, there is a systems-based approach, a way to tackle the multiple root factors that contribute to FLC. And I call that system, The 10 Day Reset.
Dr. Mark Hyman (00:25:33):
The 10 Day Reset combines food, key lifestyle habits, and targeted supplements to address FLC straight on. It’s a protocol that I’ve used with thousands of my community members to help them get their health back on track. It’s not a magic bullet, it’s not a quick fix, it’s a system that works.
Dr. Mark Hyman (00:25:49):
If you want to learn more and get your health back on track, click on the button below or visit getfarmacy.com. That’s, get, farmacy with an F, F-A-R-M-A-C-Y.com.
Speaker 3 (00:25:58):
Now back to this week’s episode.
Dr. Mark Hyman (00:26:01):
You touched on a little bit, but I don’t think people understand the difference between dirt and soil. And they can certainly read your book, From Dirt to Soil, but I think that it’s worth explaining. Because I think most people thought, okay, well, you’ve got the soil and it’s just dirt, and you put the plants in and your fertilizer and it grows, but you’re talking about an entire ecosystem in the soil that is required to store carbon to feed the plants. Actually, the reason the plants become nutritious is because of the life in the soil.
Gabe Brown (00:26:31):
Dr. Mark Hyman (00:26:31):
And that it holds water, and it has all these other benefits that bring biodiversity back to the farm. So can you kind of walk us through what’s going on in there?
Gabe Brown (00:26:41):
Yep. Let me use my own ranch as an example. My father-in-law practiced what I call recreational tillage. When he retired, this is a true story, when my father-in-law retired, he went out and bought a disk just so he could go disk for neighbors because he just enjoyed it so much. And so his son-in-law proceeds to go no-till and that just drove him crazy. That was totally out of his wheelhouse.
Gabe Brown (00:27:09):
So I tell people on a funny side note is, what did
Gabe Brown get left in my father-in-law’s will? Is disk. Is disk. He left me his disk in his will.
Dr. Mark Hyman (00:27:21):
You could put it in a museum. Maybe it’ll be in the museum.
Gabe Brown (00:27:24):
So yeah, but my father-in-law disked that soil. So what happened then is it compressed the soil, it was no longer able to infiltrate water. And we were just this past week, we did a school Soil Health Academy in New Mexico, and down there they were saying they’re just in drought. You know, it’s desertifying pretty much the whole state of New Mexico, and they can’t… I told them, “You don’t have a moisture problem.” Because here’s what I did. I did my homework ahead of time and I actually found out that a lot of New Mexico gets more moisture than I do here in North Dakota. Yet look at the amount of crops I grow compared to that desert, you know?
Dr. Mark Hyman (00:28:10):
Gabe Brown (00:28:10):
And the reason is they cannot infiltrate what moisture they do get. I was very fortunate that when we bought this ranch in 1991, the local Natural Resources Conservation Service came out and they did infiltration tests to find out how much water we could infiltrate into our soil. We could only infiltrate a half of an inch of rainfall per hour.
Gabe Brown (00:28:33):
Well, most of the rain we get here comes in violent thunderstorms, it might dump two or three inches. Well, what happens is the majority of it runs up and doesn’t infiltrate. And why is that? Because my father-in-law disked that soil, disked that soil or overgrazed the pasture so there wasn’t the armor protecting it.
Gabe Brown (00:28:56):
Once you have a living plant, plants build soil aggregates. And I tell people, “Your soil should look like a dark chocolate cake. It should have all this air spaces in it.” Now, we should probably find a better definition of chocolate cake but most people can relate to that. You know, I hate to say, dark cottage cheese, because that maybe isn’t the best either, maybe Swiss cheese or something, but it should be full of these pore spaces. And those pore spaces allow water to infiltrate into the soil and then biology lives in and on thin films of water in those pore spaces. There is as much biology in a teaspoon full of healthy soil as there are people on this planet.
Dr. Mark Hyman (00:29:43):
Gabe Brown (00:29:44):
Now think about that. Just a tiny little bit of soil, healthy soil, has that much biology in it. Yet how many farmers and ranchers think, or gardeners, think of feeding that biology? They don’t. How many think of providing the home for that biology? So I started focusing on, okay, how do I build those soil aggregates? And then how do I not destroy them? Well, in order to keep those soil aggregates, you have to minimize disturbance, not till, you have to have diverse plants growing, and then you have to keep the soil covered. And I started doing that. And those lessons were taught to me during those four years of natural disaster. Now, today we have had scientists out here who have documented we can infiltrate an inch of rain in nine seconds.
Dr. Mark Hyman (00:30:35):
Gabe Brown (00:30:35):
So we went from half an inch an hour to an inch in nine seconds, the second inch in an additional 16 seconds. So two inches of rain in 25 seconds. Bring on the typhoon or a hurricane, I can infiltrate.
Dr. Mark Hyman (00:30:50):
Wow! So while your neighbors’ fields are flooded and/or they are dry, yours are fine?
Gabe Brown (00:30:55):
Yep. Exactly. We just went through three very dry years, 2016, 17 and 18. We had 5.6, 8.2 and 11.6 inches of total precipitation each of those three years. I still grew a profitable cash crop, we still ran the same numbers of livestock, and we still were able to feed those livestock without buying any extra feed.
Dr. Mark Hyman (00:31:23):
What happened to your neighbors during that time?
Gabe Brown (00:31:24):
Yeah. They were collecting crop insurance and disaster assistance, which is one thing I’m very proud of, we do not accept any government payments. We refuse to do that. Why should the urban public have to subsidize my business for my poor management? They [crosstalk 00:31:41]-
Dr. Mark Hyman (00:31:40):
Yeah. I want to get into that because that’s a whole topic. We’re going to get into that in a minute. I want to get back to the soil because you touched on the water. I mean, you can now hold so much water, which will prevent droughts and floods. Tell us about the microbiology in there, because there’s always mycorrhizal fungi and all these other things. And the plant root, the living root, feeds all of that and uses the carbon in the atmosphere. So explain how the idea of carbon sequestration works because the UN says that if we took 2 million of the 5 million degraded hectors of land around the world and convert to regenerate agriculture, we could stop climate change for 20 years. And all it would cost is 300 billion, which sounds like a lot, but it’s basically less than we spend in the US, Medicare spends on diabetes.
Gabe Brown (00:32:23):
But the thing of it is I would question their statistics on why it would cost money, because farmers and ranchers, given knowledge, and that’s one of the things that my partners and I are up against every day, it’s the lack of knowledge. You know, farmers and ranchers get it pounded into them they have to stay in this current production model because we have to feed the world. And so you need to keep adding all these synthetic inputs in that. And really if they had moved to these natural regenerative practices, follow the six principles, which we didn’t get into the sixth one, which is animal and insect integration, but all they’d have to do is follow those and they could regenerate their soils and stop this desertification.
Gabe Brown (00:33:15):
So what happens is if you have a plant community, you’re going to collect solar energy, sunlight. That plant then through photosynthesis, and we all learned this in seventh grade biology or earlier, take that solar energy through photosynthesis, converts it into amino acids and all these other compounds, part of it’s used for growth of the plant, part of it is pumped out into the soil to feed mycorrhizal fungi and biology. And then it’s that biology that consumes that by running its life cycle that provides the nutrients for the plants.
Gabe Brown (00:33:54):
And scientists now know that plants have the ability, say for instance they’re short of copper, they can actually excrete root exudates out that attract biology to bring it copper, to bring it the nutrients it needs. It’s amazing. There’s some amazing work being done out there. Dr. James White at Rutgers is doing some amazing work on rhizophagy and plants, how they can communicate with biology. And now they know that plants actually consume biology, that biology enters the plant root.
Gabe Brown (00:34:32):
So those of you who are vegetarians and think you don’t consume, sorry you do, you consume this biology, it’s in the plants. And it’s absolutely amazing what’s happening. But that biology then, in running its life cycle and consuming all this dead plant material, that converts carbon into humus which is carbon stored long-term. And that’s how we take carbon out of the atmosphere, put it into the soil.
Gabe Brown (00:35:06):
Now importantly is we can accelerate that. We’ve proven it by having grazing ruminants out on the landscape. And this is a real missing component in production agriculture. We’ve removed the animals from the landscape-
Dr. Mark Hyman (00:35:22):
This is your sixth principle?
Gabe Brown (00:35:24):
This is the sixth principle, and we’ve stuck them in feedlots or confinements. I am the first to say that we need to do away with these CAFOs, these confined animal feeding operations, and we need to get animals out on the landscape. Because that’s truly how we sequester more carbon. We need more animals out on the landscape, not less.
Dr. Mark Hyman (00:35:50):
So you’re saying that there’s a lot of movement toward veganism as a strategy for reversing climate change and the animals are really the problem, but you’re saying that they’re actually the solution when done the right way? And I think Russ Conser coined the term, “It’s not the cow, it’s the how.” [crosstalk 00:36:05]-
Gabe Brown (00:36:05):
Dr. Mark Hyman (00:36:06):
Gabe Brown (00:36:07):
And this is what I ask people who have that belief. Okay, how many large ruminants were there grazing on North America or say in the United States, wherever you want to say, pre-European settlement?
Dr. Mark Hyman (00:36:23):
Gabe Brown (00:36:24):
Yeah. More. Yeah. There’s actually most all scientists will agree, there were more grazing on the landscape back then than there are today. Then why didn’t we have this problem back then? If it’s the animal, then why wasn’t that problem occurring back then? Right?
Dr. Mark Hyman (00:36:45):
Gabe Brown (00:36:46):
Well, the answer is, and if you understand how nature functions, when a ruminant or animal bites a plant, that plant then has to slough off more root exudates into the soil to attract biology to regrow. So it actually speeds up and accelerates the amount of carbon that can be pulled out of the atmosphere and put into the soil. So the more animals we have, the more that’s going to occur.
Gabe Brown (00:37:13):
And then people might say, “Yeah, but we should go back to all bison and that…” Let’s be real. That’s not going to happen. We don’t have the predators to move the animals across the landscape. That’s why on our ranch, we practice what’s called adaptive grazing. We become the predator in the way that we move our animals daily. When you have a chance to come to our ranch, you’ll see us moving our cattle and our chickens in that daily. They move around the landscape. We move them in order to simulate what occurred on the Great Plains here centuries ago or what is occurring on the Serengeti. We essentially become the predator. In so doing, we’re accelerating the amount of carbon that’s being stored in our soil.
Dr. Mark Hyman (00:38:01):
Yeah. I mean, you report that on your ranch you can store 96 tons of carbon per acre in the top four feet, and typical ranches maybe can store 10. And you’ve gone from about 1% to 6% organic matter, which is a lot. And usually it takes thousands of years to build that up, and you’ve accelerated that process through this technology, which is basically mimicking nature. And it’s not how we raised animals before.
Dr. Mark Hyman (00:38:28):
I mean, we typically were very destructive. David Montgomery has written a book about how we’ve destroyed our agricultural resources. It’s led to the demise of civilizations by overgrazing and by tilling and all these bad methods. It’s not like it’s a new thing, we’ve been doing this for thousands and thousands of years, and this is really a new model. It’s not as same as going back to an old model of farming, it’s actually a new model of farming that has the insight that we need to create ecosystems. And if we create healthy ecosystems, then the food will be great and the land will be great and everything will be great, but we really haven’t figured that out.
Gabe Brown (00:39:06):
Yep. The beautiful thing is we’re all learning along the way. And it’s not like we’ve invented a new system in regenerative agriculture, we just have a better understanding of it. You know, we just have a better understanding of how nature functions, of how the water cycle works, the nutrients cycle. Because of that, we can now know, okay, I need to move these animals in such a manner, we need to give proper amount to recovery time so those plants can recover, and then they can be grazed again.
Gabe Brown (00:39:43):
And I tell people, “Do you think the bison that were on the Great Plains centuries ago just parked in one place and stayed there year round?” No, they were constantly being pushed by wolves and they migrated according to the moisture conditions and where the green grass was. And they kept moving. Well, when we put barbed wire around these pastures and just started putting our livestock in there and confining them and not moving them, that caused the degradation of the resource. When we tilled the land, started plowing, John Deere, when he invented that plow, we started plowing and turning over the soil and planting these monocultures, that caused the loss of biodiversity.
Dr. Mark Hyman (00:40:26):
This is all John Deere’s fault then.
Gabe Brown (00:40:30):
Yeah. It’s probably not the plow, it’s the how. It’s like the cow, right?
Dr. Mark Hyman (00:40:34):
Yeah. It’s incredible. And I think people don’t understand the importance of soil. That’s why your educational group is called the Soil Health Academy, it’s not how to grow vegetables or how to grow animals or livestock. It’s really about the soil. And what’s terrible, as you mentioned, these ruminants, they produced eight to 50 feet of top soil in some areas of the country. We’ve lost at least half of it in many areas, and it’s been projected we’re going to lose all of it within 60 years. And no soil, no plants, no humans.
Gabe Brown (00:41:06):
That’s exactly right. Where do we derive our nutrition from? Where does it come from? It comes from the life in the soil. And as we degrade that soil ecosystem, we no longer have the nutrients in our food. Just look at what’s happened to nutrient density of the food that we consume.
Dr. Mark Hyman (00:41:27):
Yeah, tell us about that.
Gabe Brown (00:41:28):
Yeah. It’s dropped. David Thomas has some good studies out there on nutrient density. And it said that a person today would have to consume twice as much meat, three times as much fruit, four times as many vegetables, compared to those same food sources back in 1940. That’s the amount of nutrient density we’ve lost. And one of the things that our group, Understanding Ag, is working on is how do we measure this nutrient density? And is there a difference?
Gabe Brown (00:42:10):
You mentioned Dr. David Montgomery. Dr. David Montgomery hired us last year. We went around to 24 regenerative farms across North America. And then we grew a crop species or a vegetable or a pastured protein on those regenerative farms, then we went to 24 neighboring farms and we grew the same species. So whether it was a carrot or wheat or corn, and then we measured the nutrient density of those. It’s absolutely amazing the difference that we’re seeing.
Dr. Mark Hyman (00:42:48):
What happened? I’m dying to know.
Gabe Brown (00:42:49):
Yeah. Now, Dr. Montgomery is our client, so I can’t release the results. You’ll have to read it in his new book, which will be out this coming winter, but our goal is now, okay, we need to prove that. We need to show scientifically that regenerative farms will produce food in higher nutrient density.
Gabe Brown (00:43:11):
Now, I can share with you some work we’ve done on our own ranch. We’ve been measuring the fatty acid profile and nutrient density of the products that we produce, whether it’s our beef, lamb, pork, eggs, honey, absolutely amazing what we’re seeing. We’re seeing that our beef now has, and you talk about this in your book, Food Fix, the omega-6 to 3 ratio, we’re down to 1.3:1-
Dr. Mark Hyman (00:43:38):
Gabe Brown (00:43:38):
For beef, which is about unheard of. We’re getting down there where our beef is about like eating wild salmon.
Dr. Mark Hyman (00:43:47):
What does a typical feedlot beef have as a ratio?
Gabe Brown (00:43:49):
Typical feedlot beef will have an omega-6 to 3 ratio anywhere between 9:1 and 15:1.
Dr. Mark Hyman (00:44:00):
Gabe Brown (00:44:00):
Okay. Now though, if that feedlot beef was fed distillers grain, and distillers grain is a byproduct of the ethanol industry, we’ve measured it. My partner, Dr. Allen Williams, has measured it as high as 55:1.
Dr. Mark Hyman (00:44:15):
Gabe Brown (00:44:16):
Dr. Mark Hyman (00:44:16):
I just want people to understand that. Typically, historically we had maybe a 1:1 to 4:1 ratio of omega-6 to 3, is in our hunter-gatherer diet.
Gabe Brown (00:44:25):
Dr. Mark Hyman (00:44:25):
And now in America, we’re often higher than that up to 10, 20:1, and that’s bad for your health. It’s not that omega-6s are bad, it’s just the quantity and the lack of omega-3s.
Gabe Brown (00:44:35):
Dr. Mark Hyman (00:44:35):
And what you’re saying is basically a regeneratively raised beef burger is about like eating wild salmon? That’s pretty amazing.
Gabe Brown (00:44:43):
Yep. And we’ve got the proof to that. We’ve been doing a lot of testing on our own products here on our ranch and we found it all equates back to soil health. The healthier your soil. And it only makes sense because we can do the same thing with vegetables. We’ve measured our carrots over 2000 times higher in carotene than carrots grown in a tilled farm. Okay?
Dr. Mark Hyman (00:45:16):
Gabe Brown (00:45:16):
2000 times. [crosstalk 00:45:18]-
Dr. Mark Hyman (00:45:17):
It’s almost like making it wild food because wild food has that order of magnitude more nutrient density than farmed food, but you’re saying you can turn farm food into wild food by taking care of the soil and letting the nutrients accumulate because of the microbiology in the soil that then the plants can use, that then we can use. It’s an amazing cycle.
Gabe Brown (00:45:37):
Exactly. Exactly. And what we’re finding, the work by Dr. Fred Provenza and Dr. Stephen Van Vleet and Dr. Kronberg, is if we have the diversity in the diet of the animals, they’re out there grazing a very, very wide array and diverse amount of plants, they’re going to have all these different biochemicals. Then the meat they provide is going to be much, much healthier for us because it’s going to have all these.
Gabe Brown (00:46:06):
I might catch some flack for this, so you can cut this out of it if you want, but I was having a debate once with a vegetarian. And so I asked the vegetarian, I said, “Well, how many plant species did you eat today?” And they said, “Well, I ate 14 different plant species.” And I said, “Really?” I said, “That steer that I ate that steak from, the last day it was alive it ate over a 100 different plant species. I’m more of a vegetarian than you are.”
Dr. Mark Hyman (00:46:36):
Well, you know-
Gabe Brown (00:46:37):
Understand what I mean? It’s all these compounds that drive health. Okay. So our plants then also are going to be higher in all these different chemicals because of all the biology and all the mycorrhizal fungi transferring nutrients. That’s what it’s about. Then we can truly start looking at food as preventative medicine.
Dr. Mark Hyman (00:46:59):
It’s amazing. I mean, I had Fred Provenza on the podcast, and it was shocking to me to learn that regeneratively raised beef with animals allowed to forage all these diverse plants, which each one is different. It’s like taking a multivitamin and taking all these herbs, and they will seek out based on the flavor profile the most nutritious, the most nutrient-dense, sort of like that plant that seeks out the bacteria that’s going to bring it copper, it literally knows through its innate intelligence which things to eat, to drive the best health and all the medicinal compounds.
Dr. Mark Hyman (00:47:33):
So what they’re finding isn’t just theoretical, they’re finding literally these vital nutrients, which we thought only was just in plants, in animal food that’s been raised a certain way, but not in a feedlot cow or a factory farm chicken, but in these naturally raised environments like you’re creating, which is just astounding to me. I mean, it’s just shocking. And the question is, what does that mean for human health? What are the implications? We have to learn more, but it’s still striking. And so this is staggering.
Dr. Mark Hyman (00:48:03):
Let’s just sort of recap a little bit, because I think I want to just summarize that. I want to get into some of the issues around scalability, how other farmers are thinking about this, what are the challenges to scaling this up? And I think what we just learned is that what you’ve done is taken a farm that was an industrial farm with monocrop cultures and convert it over a pair of 20 years to making the most incredible food, which is far more nutrient-dense with no inputs except maybe some herbicides which you’re trying to get rid of-
Gabe Brown (00:48:38):
Well, our ranch could be certified organic if we wanted to. All of my pastures and hayland have not seen a herbicide in over 25 years plus if ever and our cropland has not seen herbicide since 2010, with the exception, once in a while if I can’t get the animals rotated around and I have a neighbor who complains about my weeds, which are really forbs, then I’ll go spray a little bit, spot spray a little patch just to appease the neighbor.
Dr. Mark Hyman (00:49:15):
Gabe Brown (00:49:15):
So for instance, last year my total chemical bill on 5,000 acres was $19.95.
Dr. Mark Hyman (00:49:22):
What does that compare to a 5,000 acre neighboring farm? What’s their bill for pesticides, fertilizer, herbicides, fungicides?
Gabe Brown (00:49:32):
Hundreds of thousands.
Dr. Mark Hyman (00:49:33):
Hundreds of thousands of dollars?
Gabe Brown (00:49:35):
Oh, easily. Yeah.
Dr. Mark Hyman (00:49:37):
And they’re giving that to the big ag and seed and chemical companies, and you’re not buying seed from Monsanto, probably?
Gabe Brown (00:49:44):
No. All of our seed, we keep all our own seed. We only grow heirloom vegetables and we keep our own seed there. Most of the grains that I grow, that seed has been seed I’ve preserved for 20 plus years, it’s acclimated to my environment. So the hundreds of thousands they give to the big ag industry, Gabe puts in his pocket.
Dr. Mark Hyman (00:50:10):
Wow! Okay. That sounds pretty impressive. So we’re going to get into the money part of this too, [inaudible 00:50:15]. And you are able to be drought and flood resistant, you’re able to grow crops when your neighbors can’t and they’re collecting payments on insurance from the government, you’re storing huge amounts of carbon that can help draw down the carbon in the atmosphere and reverse climate change, you’re producing more nutrient-dense food, the animals are happier, your life is easier, a lot less work, apparently. And so this is a no brainer.
Dr. Mark Hyman (00:50:45):
So the question is when you go around teaching other farmers, because you’re a farmer, you’re not some hippie from LA who’s like, “Oh, this is a cool idea,” you’ve actually been doing this for your whole life even before there was a word for it. What do you say to your colleagues? And do they listen to you? Are they interested? Are they frustrated? Because I imagine right now, they’re squeezed between the government payments and the big chem and ag companies, and they’re squeezed and they don’t win. The farmers are not the villains, they’re the victims. And you’ve showed a different way to them, but do they go, “This is crazy,” or, “I’m willing to do it”? What do they say?
Gabe Brown (00:51:26):
I have been actively out promoting this for the last almost 20 years. And the snowball is finally starting to roll downhill. The interest in regenerative ag right now is huge. We get inundated with phone calls and emails every day, “How do we go down this path?” Well, people say, “If this is so good, why doesn’t everybody do it?”
Gabe Brown (00:51:52):
Well, number one is fear. It’s fear of the unknown. Realize that our land-grant colleges, our extension agents, big ag retail, is not promoting this. So farmers are afraid of the unknown. Second thing is financial. The vast majority of farmers and ranchers have to borrow money every year in order to get a crop in the ground and in order to keep operating. Those lending institutions, they’re only going to lend to them if they take out revenue insurance, in other words, Federal Crop Insurance.
Gabe Brown (00:52:28):
Well, Federal Crop Insurance dictates which crops they’re going to, and the amount they’re going to pay the farmers. So farmers know, well, I’ve got a proven history of growing this much, I can go in and sign up, pay this type of a premium of which the federal government subsidizes approximately two thirds of the cost, that’s coming from the taxpayers.
Dr. Mark Hyman (00:52:52):
So your insurance premium for the insurance is paid for by the taxpayer mostly?
Gabe Brown (00:52:56):
Approximately two thirds of it.
Dr. Mark Hyman (00:52:57):
Gabe Brown (00:52:57):
Yes, approximately. And they know as long as they keep their expenses below that the government’s going to give them a check. Well, the banker tells them, “You better do that or we won’t loan you the money.” So farmers and ranchers are stuck there. But what we’re seeing now is a growing number of farmers and ranchers that are saying, “No, this isn’t right. We can’t continue down this path.”
Gabe Brown (00:53:21):
And this is unfortunately being proven out in the current COVID pandemic, is look at what’s happening in the, especially, the meat processing business. You know, there’s huge numbers of hogs being euthanized, poultry being euthanized, you know of cattle that are ready for slaughter but no place to slaughter them. And so you have this disaster which then the federal government is going to bail out, so to speak, a lot of producers. And because of that, the producers will keep in this mindset. Same thing with crops. They’re expecting a record corn crop being planted this spring, yet corn is actually lower in price than it was 40 years ago.
Dr. Mark Hyman (00:54:09):
Gabe Brown (00:54:10):
40. Does that make any sense? Does that make any sense at all? No. Why is that? Well, it’s to feed an ethanol industry, which doesn’t make sense either. 43% of the corn produced in the United States goes for ethanol production, that’s ridiculous. And then you have about 12%-
Dr. Mark Hyman (00:54:29):
Doesn’t it take about a gallon of fossil fuel to make a gallon of ethanol from?
Gabe Brown (00:54:34):
No, it takes over that. Yeah.
Dr. Mark Hyman (00:54:35):
Gabe Brown (00:54:36):
Dr. Mark Hyman (00:54:36):
So you basically have to take a gallon of fossil fuels to grow enough corn to make a gallon of ethanol?
Gabe Brown (00:54:43):
Well, if you figure the amount of fossil fuel it takes to make all the fertilizers and pesticides and fungicides, et cetera, it’s over a gallon. [crosstalk 00:54:53]-
Dr. Mark Hyman (00:54:52):
It’s a crazy industry, it sounds like.
Gabe Brown (00:54:56):
And then on top of that, byproduct of the ethanol industry is distillers grain, and that goes into livestock. That throws their, it’s bad for their health, but then it throws off the omega-6, 3 ratio, bad for our health.
Dr. Mark Hyman (00:55:12):
Gabe Brown (00:55:13):
Yeah. It doesn’t make sense.
Dr. Mark Hyman (00:55:14):
So you go around the country and the farmers are saying, “This sounds like a good idea.” Do they want to do it or are they resistant to do it? Are they afraid of the economic issues? Because it sounds like it’s a no brainer when you explain it the way you do, when you show what you’ve done on your farm. And not only that, you not only create better food, but you have a much more profitable operation. You were telling me you make far more than your neighbor and produce better quality foods. So why wouldn’t they do it? Is it the conversion takes a while? Is it there [crosstalk 00:55:41]-
Gabe Brown (00:55:41):
It’s what I said, fear of the unknown and the banker, the current farm program. The current farm program is almost totally antagonistic to regenerative agriculture. It’s just they put so many restrictions on you for growing cover crops and all these things that I do on my ranch, “Oh, you can’t do that because then it’ll negatively affect your cash crop.” No, it won’t. It’ll positively affect. But the science that’s being done to justify their way is done under the old industrial model.
Gabe Brown (00:56:15):
And so there’s very little new science out there about the regenerative model, because who’s going to pay for that. You know, it’s who pays for most of the research at our land-grant colleges? Well, it’s big ag, right?
Dr. Mark Hyman (00:56:28):
Gabe Brown (00:56:28):
Big ag isn’t going to pay for regenerative studies. They’re just not.
Dr. Mark Hyman (00:56:32):
Right. Right. It’s like pharma they’re not paying on studies on nutrition and health, they’re studying on drugs and health [crosstalk 00:56:39]-
Gabe Brown (00:56:38):
Yeah. Now we do have to realize that consumers are partially to blame also because consumers want a cheap food. Okay? So that was the mindset, we got to produce more and more food to feed the world. Well, I say they’re producing food-like substances, they’re really not producing food anymore. You know, it’s totally different. And you know, the soil is just a chemistry set to hold the plant up right, it’s not this living dynamic system that can truly supply us nutrient-dense food.
Dr. Mark Hyman (00:57:10):
So with the crop insurance, does that keep prices low or how does that affect the price of the processed food or not?
Gabe Brown (00:57:19):
Yeah, it’s the most ridiculous thing you’ve ever seen from the standpoint, what it does for a farmer is you’re being paid based on your past yield history. So every year the farmers have to go into the farm service agency and report their yields. I don’t, but if you’re in the program, you do. And you build and establish that history, then you can take out crop concerns based on that. Well, your average yield is this, say 200 bushels of corn per acre, you’re going to take out crop insurance to pay you 90% of that, so that’ll guarantee you 180 bushels an acre at this price, but the price is based on last year’s average price during a certain window of time. And the government sets that.
Gabe Brown (00:58:08):
Well, the more that’s produced, the lower the price. So farmers are just, they’re on this treadmill going in circles and they’re spiraling downwards, getting lower and lower price, and that’s been proven out. Unless there’s a major drought like it happened in 2012, it’s not going to change. That though keeps prices low, which keeps food in the stores low, which keeps happy consumers. But how happy are they really when we have the kind of human health crisis that we have?
Dr. Mark Hyman (00:58:42):
No, it’s terrible. So the farmers you think would be willing if there was a bridge that was created for them to change over? Because I know you’re working with a group called Understanding Ag and you’re working with General Mills. And General Mills has committed a million acres to regenerative ag, Danone is now paying farmers to convert over. The government isn’t doing it, but these companies are. Why are they doing it and how do we get this to scale?
Gabe Brown (00:59:10):
You know, we were approached a little over two years ago by General Mills because what they saw was one of the things farmers need is just what I talked about. They need knowledge. They need education. More or less they need to be guided down this path. They need a coach. Much as you coach people in medicine, okay, and in their eating habits, farmers need to be coached as to move down this path.
Gabe Brown (00:59:38):
So I give General Mills a lot of credit in that they saw what… they had toured my place a number of times, several of their team, and they toured other regenerative farms and ranches, and they said, “Okay, you guys know what you’re doing, you know how to do it. Okay, will you help guide these farmers?” And they’re footing the bill for that. And we’re having tremendous success. We right now we’re on over a 100 different farms throughout the Central Plains here with General Mills, working with them, and we’re also doing some work in Michigan on some dairies with them.
Gabe Brown (01:00:17):
We’re being approached by a number of multinational companies that see this. Now think of it from their standpoint, why would they do that? Well, they want a steady supply of high quality products. And they see regenerative ag, because of the resiliency it can provide, is the way to get that steady supply of high quality products.
Gabe Brown (01:00:40):
In talking with them, and I’ve been very involved at General Mills in Minneapolis a number of times speaking with their top executives about this, they really believe long-term this nutrient density is going to become more and more important. The nutrient density of the grains and products they use. So how do they get that nutrient density? They’re not going to get it out of a lab, it’s only through that living soil ecosystem that they can get it. And so how do they do that? Through regenerative ag.
Dr. Mark Hyman (01:01:17):
Well, that’s a good sign that these big corporations are realizing that their supply chain is threatened, that they need to change the way we’re growing food, because the way we’re growing food is threatening our future ability to grow food and their supply chain is threatened so they have to do this as a business imperative, not as a sort of an ecological move or environmental or social justice or social activism, they’re doing it because it’s an economic issue. So what would be the changes in our policies that need to happen to make this happen? Do we need to abolish crop insurance and agricultural supports? Do we need to just support regenerative movements?
Dr. Mark Hyman (01:01:51):
There was a new bill that was introduced into the Senate, a bipartisan bill, called the Growing Climate Solutions Act, which gives carbon credits for farmers for sequestering carbon, which seems to incentivize for regenerative ag. So what are the kinds of things that need to happen?
Gabe Brown (01:02:09):
And I often get asked that, “Gabe, what do we need to change in Washington to make this happen?” And I say, “Good luck.” Now that doesn’t mean we don’t try, okay? Of course, we try.
Dr. Mark Hyman (01:02:22):
If you were the Secretary of Agriculture?
Gabe Brown (01:02:24):
Yeah. Secretary of Agriculture, what I would do? I would abolish most of the Department of Agriculture. I think it actually hinders progress. What we need to do is we need to educate. For one, we need to educate farmers and ranchers truly how these ecosystems function, we need to educate municipalities because we’re actually able to clean up the water with these proper practices on farms and ranches. We’re able to hold the nutrients on the farm and ranch, not in the watershed, so we can clean up that water supply.
Gabe Brown (01:03:01):
We need to educate consumers that through their buying dollar, they are dictating what happens out on the land. And to me, that’s huge. You know, why shouldn’t we not be supporting local farms and ranches that are doing a good job and doing things in a regenerative practice manner that provides us food that’s higher in nutrient density?
Gabe Brown (01:03:28):
The other thing I really think, and this is where the federal government could be involved in a way is, we need to get the technology to be able to measure these things. We need to be able to measure true ecosystem services. You know, what are regenerative farms and ranches doing to provide those ecological services, clean air, clean water, nutrient-dense food? Okay. How do we measure that?
Gabe Brown (01:03:55):
You mentioned carbon, and it’s a good thing that they’re looking at that, but show me how you’re going to measure carbon economically enough to make it viable. We spent $170,000 to measure carbon on 600 acres of my ranch. When we’re all done, we realized we have a bunch of incomplete data because we’re now able to store carbon much deeper than the four feet that we measure. So how are you going to do it economically?
Gabe Brown (01:04:25):
Now, I think the technology could be out there, but I think where it really lies is in measuring the water cycle, because it all ties to the water cycle. Are we able to infiltrate water and then move it throughout the profile and store it there via that carbon? And that’ll give us a more accurate measurement there.
Dr. Mark Hyman (01:04:44):
So that’s powerful. I think if we really could scale this, it could be a big deal. And I think the argument also I’ve heard is that, well, it sounds nice and it’s kind of a hobby farm, but this is really not what’s going to feed the world, but you’re going to have 10 billion people. And I think the people usually saying that are the Monsantos of the world and the big ag companies, but you have a different view. And I think even meat, the whole idea of we should eat less meat because we can’t feed the world more meat if we’re doing it the way we’re doing it, and I think that’s true, but the question is, what if we did it this way? What are the implications of scalability both in terms of being a viable form of feeding the world and also the meat question?
Gabe Brown (01:05:28):
Yep. So here’s how I answer that question. I get asked that all the time.
Dr. Mark Hyman (01:05:32):
I bet you do.
Gabe Brown (01:05:34):
I say, “Okay, go to a cornfield in Iowa. How much corn do they produce there?” Okay. They will yield more than me than I will of corn because they have more moisture, they’re in a different environment. Okay. Well, let’s start over. Let’s look at this. Go to my neighbor who’s growing corn and I’m growing corn. My neighbor with all this synthetic inputs may yield slightly more than I do. However, I’m already over 25% higher than average in our county. So I’m not at a negative, I’m 25% higher than average of the county. So not only will I grow corn on my acres, but I will grow a cover crop.
Gabe Brown (01:06:20):
That cover crop then will be grazed by my grass-finished beef, then I’ll bring my grass-finished lambs on there, then I’ll bring my pastured hogs on there, then I’ll bring my 1400 laying hens that are producing eggs on there, and I have bees that are producing honey off there. So you add up all these myriad of different enterprises that I have, I’ll produce way more nutrient-dense food per acre than any of them they will.
Dr. Mark Hyman (01:06:51):
Gabe Brown (01:06:52):
So it’s an absolute fallacy to say that we’re going to produce less food in a regenerative model. No, we’ll not only produce more food, but it will be higher in nutrient density.
Dr. Mark Hyman (01:07:05):
That’s amazing. And so what about the argument about meat? I mean, can we really grow enough cattle? And Allen Williams has done some of these calculations, but the whole conversation is that we just don’t have enough land and we can’t do it. What do you say to that?
Gabe Brown (01:07:23):
Okay. Look at the amount of landscape that is not being utilized. You go on to any farm in the Corn Belt, whether they’re growing corn, soybeans, they all have these areas where there’s no livestock. And then most farms have removed all the fences. They don’t run livestock at all. What a waste. What a waste not to integrate animals on there. If they would grow a cover crop, they can still grow their cash crops, but then you also grow a cover crop and that cover crop will keep those nutrients on the land instead of letting them move out into the watershed. Then you bring livestock on there to graze, you’re going to sequester more carbon. I explained that earlier. You’re stacking enterprise, you’re going to provide way more. There’s plenty of acres.
Gabe Brown (01:08:19):
Now, I will be the first to say, and I said it earlier, I do not believe we need these animals in confinement. They need to be out on the landscape where they’re doing some good. And people often say, “Oh, but cattle emit methane.” And right, that’s a big problem. You’re going to have this problem. But how many of them ever talk about methanotrophs?
Gabe Brown (01:08:45):
Methanotrophs are free living bacteria that actually consume that methane. When cattle are out grazing there’s methanotrophs that consume that methane, but nobody talks about that. Let’s get them out on the landscape and we won’t have these issues.
Dr. Mark Hyman (01:09:02):
Yeah. I mean, you think we could produce the same number of cattle we do now in the United States using regenerative agriculture?
Gabe Brown (01:09:08):
No, I think it would produce more. Now, is it necessary? I’m not going to get into their argument whether we should eat less meat, I’ll leave that to you. You’re the expert on that. The only thing I will say is before you go out and educate people, let’s truly do those studies to show, as Dr. Provenza showed, as I shared with you, just how nutrient-dense is this meat and what is the profile of it for all these different compounds? Then you be the judge, you’re the doctor, not I, but let’s eat the right kinds of [crosstalk 01:09:45].
Dr. Mark Hyman (01:09:46):
Yeah. And the other thing you didn’t mention is that 40% of the agricultural land is not suitable for growing crops-
Gabe Brown (01:09:51):
Dr. Mark Hyman (01:09:52):
It’s only for upcycling really inedible food that humans can eat into incredibly nutrient-dense protein, which is in short supply. So I think that’s a very interesting perspective and I feel like there are companies out there saying we should abolish meat completely from the landscape and it’s bad. I think it’s really important to understand it’s a nuanced argument, it’s not black and white, it depends on what and how and… your example, I probably don’t imagine you thought you were going to be the king of regenerative agriculture 20 years ago, you were just trying to like make a living and stay out of bankruptcy and keep your farm going and-
Gabe Brown (01:10:29):
Yeah, that’s exactly right.
Dr. Mark Hyman (01:10:29):
And somehow you ended up in this place by force of bad circumstances that ended up being a blessing, because you showed the world really how this works. And to me if we can take this model and scale it up, it is an answer to so many of our problems, to our environmental problems, our biodiversity problems, our water problems, our soil problems, our climate problems, our health problems. And so as a doctor, people tell me, “How are you going to solve chronic disease?” I think it starts on the farm. It starts in the soil. And then when you go down the stream from that everything kind of figures itself out.
Dr. Mark Hyman (01:11:08):
And I think that maybe we can get you to be Secretary of Agriculture, I think that would be a good thing. We’ll see what happens in the next election, but I think we need some real changing of the guard and changing our policies because-
Gabe Brown (01:11:20):
I don’t think
Gabe Brown would last.
Gabe Brown would not last in Washington.
Dr. Mark Hyman (01:11:24):
Well, how about advisor to the Secretary of Agriculture? How about that?
Gabe Brown (01:11:24):
There we go. There we go.
Dr. Mark Hyman (01:11:29):
I think you could.
Gabe Brown (01:11:29):
Dr. Mark Hyman (01:11:30):
I just really honor your work. You are just out there really working hard to educate people. It’s a thankless job in some ways, because you’ve been doing this against the tide, you’ve been seeing incredible resistance. But one last question, do you think that farmers out there that you’re encountering, because you’re out there with the Heart of America talking to these guys, are they open? Are they listening? Do they get it? Do they want to change and they’re stuck in the system and don’t know how to get out? Or are they just like don’t want to hear about that?
Gabe Brown (01:11:59):
Very much so. And unfortunately, it’s often financial hardships or health implications that drive farmers or ranchers down this path, but there’s a growing number that really, really are interested. We just held the Soil Health Academy last week in New Mexico, we had a really good group, especially of young people that were there, and they were like, “I don’t want to farm and ranch in that industrial model, I want to do it in a regenerative way.” And to me that’s really encouraging, and we’re seeing that all over the world.
Dr. Mark Hyman (01:12:37):
What was the average age of farmers? Somewhere in the 60s or something?
Gabe Brown (01:12:41):
Yeah. And the average age we saw at our school last week was probably in the early 30s.
Dr. Mark Hyman (01:12:47):
That’s incredible. So we need a new generation of farmers or else who’s going to grow our food? And I think when you think about the 40 million people who are unemployed in America, it might be smart to think about putting people back in land. I think that’s what’s happening in Italy, actually. When you look at what’s happening with the economic losses there, a lot of people are going back to work on farms. So-
Gabe Brown (01:13:07):
Well, and we’re seeing it here with COVID. Look at the garden centers are sold out of seed because people want to go back and grow their own food. That’s fantastic.
Dr. Mark Hyman (01:13:18):
I got to remember not to turn over my soil. I think I did that this year by accident.
Gabe Brown (01:13:21):
Dr. Mark Hyman (01:13:24):
Well, Gabe, you’re an incredible man, you have a big heart, brilliant mind, and you’re doing God’s work to change the things that matter most. And I think if this work scales, and I think it will, because it just makes sense. And certainly a big business is caught on, the government’s going to catch on soon and we can get some real change in the policies that are going to drive farmers to be able to make the conversion to regenerative agriculture. And it’ll benefit all of us.
Dr. Mark Hyman (01:13:48):
I want everybody to make sure they get a copy of From Dirt to Soil to really understand this. Gabe’s son and he have a great online business called Nourished By Nature. You go to nourishbynature.com. It’s fabulous. I went on there. They have all kinds of regenerative meat, and it’s hard to find regeneratively raised food. So you can find it on Gabe and his son’s website, Nourished By Nature, and order chickens and lamb and pigs and beef. It’s like amazing. I want to get some.
Gabe Brown (01:14:16):
Thank you. It was a real pleasure visiting with you today.
Dr. Mark Hyman (01:14:19):
Yeah, so great. And I’ll be sure to come out to North Dakota soon and see you when this all craziness is over. Thank you so much for being on the podcast. And everybody who listened, I hope you enjoyed this. And if you loved it, please share it with your friends and family on social media. Leave a comment, we’d love to hear from you. Start maybe a farm or a garden yourself, that would be a good thing. And we’ll see you next time on The Doctor’s Farmacy.