A Busy Day
Friday night with a great evening meeting, a lecture panel discussion in Fairlight sponsored by Fairlight butcher Ryan and his team, and it was called Soil to Stomach. The keynote speaker was legendary and I think he is an absolute legend, Charlie Massy. Charlie has written a wonderful book called The Call of the Reed Warbler, which I thoroughly enjoyed.
I’m a dentist, and I can only imagine the impact that’s had on people on the farms and it has really changed people’s lives and is changing people’s lives day by day as more and more people read it. Charlie was the keynote speaker and gave a great presentation. On Saturday morning, about eight o’clock, I went over to Dr. Lewis Ehrlich Place and we again had a nice bath. What a great way to start a Saturday morning. After the ice bath, we headed over to Balgowlah for an introductory workshop on Biodynamics with Charlie Arnott and Hamish Mackay. It was quite a time and it seemed to fit an awful lot in.
I wanted to share some of those things with you. Firstly, the work of the lecturer on Friday night, now Charlie Massy, talks about five cycles that we need to all be aware of in this world of regenerative agriculture. I remember when I spoke to him on the podcast, pointed out that the word sustainable, which is gaining a lot of attention, and rightly so, but he takes issue with it to some degree and says the soils, the land, and the environment is actually already quite degraded. So sustaining that is not enough.
What we actually need to do is regenerate. Regeneration is important now part of that regenerative process. I’d encourage you to do that because I’ve got a couple of slides of four from the evening. I wish I had the whole presentation, but a couple that I wanted to share with you. If you’re reading this blog, you will know what it is.
One of the most important regenerative tools is cows and it’s not the how, but it’s the power that is the problem. I know animals are coming up for a lot of criticism and rightly so. The way they are managed is the problem. But cows, ruminants are such a critical part of our natural cycle and our ability to not only preserve but regenerate soil and healthy soils. They are Moers, they are inoculated as they are fertilizers and they are massagers of the ground. They mow the ground, they’ve got three stomachs with which break down all of that cellulose in grass and leaf matter and are full of microbes. They then defecate and not only do they defecate, but then they trample and massage the soil. So they are really important.
Charlie talks about five cycles
The solar cycle, which is all about what we all learned in first-year high school. I just heard that Elon Musk has given a reward of 100 million dollars to the first engineer that works out a way of sequestering carbon from the environment and reversing the carbon dioxide in the environment, which is causing global warming. Well, if a year seven student is paying attention, they could claim that 100 million dollars because we all learned about photosynthesis and that is the sun shines, it shines on leaves, taking carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, mixing it with water, putting carbohydrate into the soil carbohydrate, which is a carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. That is a great way of sequestering carbon as much leaf cover as possible, as much vegetation as possible is the best way of taking advantage of what Charlie Massy calls the solar cycle.
If a land has been cleared and fertilized, then water and dries out, then water does not penetrate. In fact, another guest of mine, Graham Rees in one of the podcasts we did once said to me that on denuded soil, which you typically see in any tilled soil, it takes between 10 and 30 minutes for the water to penetrate into one inch of that soil. Charlie made the point that it may not penetrate at all. It could sit there for hours or it could just wash away the soil and the water.
The two biggest resources that a farmer has are the soil on which he grows his food and the water, which is an important part of that cycle. But on denuded soil, on poorly managed soil, not only does he lose soil, but he loses water and in rich organic soil with a lot of life in it. Water will penetrate in the first 10 to 30 seconds, and he showed this amazing slide of exactly the same block of land that had been poorly managed in 1980. It’s just there’s a pond with brown earth surrounding it and very little vegetation on it. Then in 2007, after it had been subject to 27 years of holistic land management, you would not know that these are the same blocks of land and I’d encourage you to have a look at it.
Soil Mineral Cycle
So what’s the secret to that? Well, it’s what goes on under the soil and we have this adversarial approach to microbes and fungi. If we can just promote microbes and fungi to enrich the soil, then we have a soil mineral balance, which is the third cycle that Charlie talks about, which just provides so much of the nutrient-dense foods that we need to be healthy. He showed some great slides of that and showed what mycorrhizal fungi are.
He once said to me, in a teaspoon of healthy soil, you have a billion microbes and wait for it, 27000 kilometers of mycorrhizal fungi there. The fine hairs that fungi put out to break down soil and produce and break down soil and rocks to produce the minerals that go into the plants in a healthy cubic meter of soil. There are 27000 kilometers of hyphy and in a healthy teaspoon of soil, there are one billion microbes.
When you use herbicides, fungicides, pesticides, there’s none of that and that’s why the water just rolls off along with the soil. He shows, again, some examples of regeneration and we saw examples of that in our visit to Yoorala last year, where we were driving down a road. On one side of the road was a regenerative farm where, yes, it was dry and brown.
It was actually the beginning of 2019, at the height of the drought, and on one side was vegetation dry? Yes, it was brown, but it was covered with vegetation and on the other side was literally bare earth with a few animals grazing across what might have been 100 acres of land, so poorly managed land on one side and on the other side.
We had the solar cycle, the water cycle, the soil mineral cycle by the microbes in the soil, which brought in the fourth cycle, which was biodiversity. Ultimately, the more diverse the vegetation is, the more diverse the microbiome is, the more resilient the land is, and the healthier the land is. That’s true of the gut microbiome, the soil microbiome, the mouth microbiome and I think it’s a great metaphor for life in general.
Human social cycle
It involves you and me and every farmer and every consumer in the world. It’s the decisions that they all make. What goes on between our ears is perhaps the most important cycle of all, because if we don’t embrace this, if we don’t drive this along, then we are not going to effect change.
Ultimately, that’s where we have our greatest power. We get to vote three or four times once every three or four years but every single day in almost every decision we make, we get to vote every single day with our dollars. I don’t think we need to argue about money talks. It certainly does. It’s what drives decisions and economies. By making decisions and supporting butchers like Fairlight Butcher or in Ethical Farmers or Feather and Bone, I got to meet Grant Hilliard at the Feather and Bone, which was terrific. I’m looking forward to hopefully getting him on as a guest to discuss his wonderful book, The Ethical Omnivore, or Tom O’Neil with Ethical Farmers or on Bondi Road, Sam the Butcher.
Look, there’s lots of this is happening and decisions that we make. I remember many years ago, 15 or 20 years ago, I live in Bronte in Sydney, in the suburb next to Bondi. I walked into my local butcher, Lucas’s butchery and I remember about 15 years ago asking them, is the beef they sell grass-fed and finished? And the guy looked at me like I had just been talking a completely different language, looked like I was crazy. I thought he was going to take a knife to me anyway. He said, Oh yeah, why? And I said because it’s really important.
Anyway, I didn’t end up buying my meat there, but I do now because I’ve seen that in recent times. He actually advertises on the window. It may have taken 10 years for him to get around to it, but he now advertises on his window, grass-fed and finished beef. Good on it. I really admire that. That’s what I mean about driving change, walking into your butcher, and asking those kinds of questions really important.
Charlie was talking about a whole range of things, about agricultural practices, about complex adaptive systems allowing the soil to heal, enabling nature to work rather than trying to dominate it. He talked about the great drawdown, the most comprehensive plan ever proposed for global to reverse global warming. Edited by Paul Hawken, who is another person I’d love to get onto my podcast. He talks about regenerative agriculture as being a very important part of that. And Charlie also talked about how deficient our soils were. We talk about nutrient-dense foods and how deficient soils are in all those. There are 60 elements that we need to be healthy. You might remember that podcast I did. If you don’t go back and listen to Fred Provenza, who wrote that terrific book called Nourishment, and Fred talked about primary and secondary nutrients within plants and how deficient the soils are on the secondary nutrients, the phytonutrients.
I remember Charlie showed this photo of strawberries and I remember Fred Provenza. He’s just a lovely guy and so, so knowledgeable, Fred said. In the humble strawberry, there are 5000 chemicals, phytonutrients, phytochemicals that are that makeup that one food source and we don’t know what most of them do, but we know natural food is healthy for us. That’s why. The mineral depletion that has gone on in this industrial agriculture is profound. I’m just showing some slides that kind of Charlie shared and the whole use of fertilizers and pesticides, particularly glyphosate, is really a problem. Glyphosate is a huge problem. It’s a key.
Later, it interferes with some important pathways. It’s a huge disruptor to the gut microbiome. It’s water-soluble and therefore can penetrate the gut barrier and the blood-brain barrier, and it has severe epigenetic effects so the impacts of glyphosate are huge. Charlie talked about that and made reference to Professor Don Huba, who I will also be putting on my list to invite. So these are just some of the pathways that Charlie talked about. And, you know, we have a lot to learn from our ancestors.
Charlie referenced President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who came to power in 1932. Apart from the depression, there was a drought on and the Dust Bowl in America lost a great deal of soil from poor land management to meters of soil is just incredible when you consider that it takes nature 500 years to produce two centimeters of soil now 500 years to produce two centimeters of soil.
Well, two meters of soil is 100 times more than that so what is 100 times more than 500? I think that’s about fifty thousand years of soil gone, whereas regenerative agriculture, animals, ruminants are managed well, remember, it’s not the cow, it’s how regenerative agriculture has the ability to produce two centimeters of soil in three to five years. So that is pretty impressive and that’s why we all need to be supporting it.
I was so honored to be on the panel at the end of the day, and there were some great people that I met there. There were over 100 people there. What a great night. What a great energy soil to stomach. It was great. It was chaired by, of course, Charlie on it.
One of the things that are interesting is to consider change, why change is so difficult for people. I’ve often I think about this a lot. I included in a lot of my courses because if we are trying to affect change in an individual from one type of behavior to better behavior for their health, then exploring what are the barriers to change is an important one and when I look at regenerative agriculture, I see the same thing.
That road that I drove down in Yoorala, where on one side of the road the regenerative farm was clearly to the untrained eye, it was like a different planet. There was vegetation, yes, it was dry. But the ground was covered with vegetation, shrubs, trees, grasses. On the other side of the road, there was dust and the odd animal, poorly managed animal. The question is, what is going through that farmer’s mind on the dust side that doesn’t allow him to make the change to the other side and the same is true for any individual looking at change.
Change is really important
The story of change is a really important one and in my opinion, change is difficult for people depending on their attitude to it. Some people view change as a rejection of the past of what has gone before, of what their parents, what universities had taught them. We love certainty and when our parents tell us something when we learn something at university when we have it mandated to us, we love the certainty of that. And yet, if we are going to change, then that means we have to reject some of that advice. And so that rejection is very difficult for people to accept and incorporate into their lives. So they reject the new way of doing things. I prefer to see change as being a progression, a building on what our past has taught us using thought and observation and the latest science to incorporate the information from the past with the observations of the present and how we want to move forward into the future.
I actually find it empowering when I’m confronted with challenges that say, hey, I think you need to change the way you’re thinking about this, but not everybody sees it that way. Many people see it as a threat. The other thing that I think is really interesting is when we look at changes, do you see your life? What is the locus of control in your life? Do you see yourself as being an integral and important driver of that control?
We don’t have full control over things in our lives. We don’t have control over world events. We don’t have control over other people. We do have control over how we think about those things. So is your locus of control internal accepting that you have some control and hopefully a lot of control? Or do you view things as being, oh, I just have no control over what’s going on? I’m a victim of the whole environment, which and the people that surround me and I have an external locus of control.
If you are open to change, you have an internal locus of control and accept that you are an important driver in what controls your life. If you are resistant to change, then you prefer to then view things as having an external locus of control. This is what my parents taught me. This is what the universities taught me. This is what the government mandates. This is what the environment is. I have no control over any of that. That is an external locus of control and you would be resistant to change.
The other aspect of change is a tolerance of ambiguity. What I mean by that is and as I’ve said, we love certainty. It’s so much easier if there are simple solutions, good and evil, bad, you know, right and wrong, black and white. You know that is a way of looking at the world, which is very simple and easy if you like, whereas a tolerance of ambiguity recognizes that things aren’t always black and white.
There are lots of shades of gray in between that and if you’ve got a tolerance of ambiguity, you don’t feel threatened by these things. You actually feel empowered by them and as I’ve said many times, I feel empowered by all the things that I learn. And as I learn, I realize that there’s an awful lot I don’t know.
In fact, as I’ve said many times, the more you learn, the more you realize you don’t know. Some people find that threatening and some people find it very upsetting and very it’s disquieting if you like. I actually find that empowering. I find that quite exciting and I’ve learned my role. That’s why I use the word holistic and I have done for so many years is to try and make sense of how that fits into a whole pattern.
Having said that, when somebody tells me that something is 100 percent true, I take that with a grain of salt. So, you know, this is about how you view change. Is it a rejection of the past or is it a building on the future? Do you have an internal or an external locus of control? Do you have a tolerance for ambiguity? And they are the elements that I believe we need to look at when we’re seeing people that are into change or those that are resistant to change.
I’ve talked about homicides and after that workshop, which we finished, we got home about 10:00 at night, but we were up bright and early the next morning. At eight o’clock the next morning, I went over with my three bags of ice because everybody that comes over to Dr. Lewis, Eric’s place on a Saturday morning has to bring three bags of ice and the swallow bin. This is a new suit. I’ve been not an old one that’s been used for rubbish. We’ve got a new Sulabh in half. Fill it up, throw the ice in, and we start by doing the Wim Hof breathing technique, which is such an interesting thing.
This is homocysteine in action just by using your breath. The more I learn about breathing, the more incredible I think it is. I’ve often said the secret to living a long life is to keep breathing for as long as you can, but there is a very big difference between breathing and breathing. Well, and I’ve talked about what breathing well throughout the day is slow breathing, gentle breathing through the nose from the diaphragm. So that is how we should be breathing through the day. But we can use our breath to put our bodies under stress. Wim Hof, who I’d love to get on, I did speak to Deano Gladstone.
Go back and have a listen to the Deano Gladstone interview that I did on this and we’re going to be exploring this more as the years go, as the year goes on. But the breathing technique we did while we were waiting for the water to cool down because it was only when we threw the ice in after about five minutes, it was 10 degrees. By the time we’d finished our three sets of breathing exercises, it got down to about five degrees and this is what we did. We followed. He’s got a great app. I’ll have the links to that app if you like.
The Wim Hof App runs you through a breathing exercise, which basically gets you to do the opposite of what we do during the day. Remember I said slow, gentle through the nose from the diaphragm, breathing? Well, Wim Hof does exactly the opposite. He does fast, full breaths in and out, in and out, doing that 30 times and then asking you to inhale once and hold your breath and get you to hold your breath for a minute. Then a minute and a half. Then if you can up to two minutes and if you’re really good, you might get a little bit beyond two minutes and then slowly release the breath and have a gentle breath.
That’s one step and we repeat that three times. What that does is, it changes our body neurology. It puts us into sympathetic overdrive. It puts our body under stress, intentional stress. It changes the ALP, it changes the acid-alkali balance in our body, and then we got into the ice baths.
What I found really interesting about the ice bath is, I hate cold water. I probably wouldn’t go into the sea, although I’m trying to man up a bit here and try and be a little bit harder than I am. I shouldn’t say man up because my wife gets into the cold water much more readily than I do. But anyway, toughen up. Let’s put it that way. Toughen up.
I generally don’t get into the water in the sea if it’s under 18. But here I am getting into between two and five degrees and I have to concentrate. When I concentrate, yes, the first minute or so is cold. But then surprisingly, it’s not as bad as I thought it would be and we do that two or three times. The first time I did it, I was surprised that I was able to stay in the tub for three and a half minutes. The second time I got in on that first session, I got really cocky and I started to talk to those around me going, wow, I just think this is incredible.
What I realized was, as I was talking, I became really cold and I had to stop talking and focus again on my breathing, and my whole mind-controlled that. This has been a really interesting thing to do and we’re doing it regularly. I said to you, homeostasis is the idea of putting your body under intentional stress and that intentional stress can be ice baths, infrared saunas, exercise, fasting. We’re going to be exploring each of those things.
So that was my Saturday morning and after we got off, we left there around nine-thirty and made it to Balgowlah for Charlie on it and Hamish Mackay’s introductory workshop on Biodynamics. I’ve been fascinated by this for some time. I know very little about it. It was great to get this introductory talk about the various levels of the physical, the ethereal, the astral, all these different levels.
It’s talking about being in touch with nature and the energy that surrounds us. To some people, this may seem a little bit out there on the edge but in fact, the fact that astral bodies and the fact that the atmosphere has an effect shouldn’t surprise us. Remember, the sun comes up every morning and the sun is although it’s 93 million miles away, it’s pretty important to our everyday life. What about the moon? A couple of hundred thousand kilometers away? What about the moon? Does it have an impact? Damn, right it does.
It happens to move whole oceans and affect tide. Could the moon have an effect on agriculture? I’m going to learn more about that. This is what I mean about having an open mind to these sorts of things. I just love Charlie Arnott’s. I could sit and listen to Charlie all day. A great guy, lots of knowledge. Hamish, of course, obviously very knowledgeable in the area of biodynamics.
There we were in the scout hall and just making the point that there’s a difference between Newtonian physics, which is really easy to understand. This idea when you push against something, it moves. There are equal and opposite reactions that are physics from the 18th century. It was all about Newtonian physics.
Along came quantum physics and I’m not even going to try and explain quantum physics but quantum physics is the way the world works and it’s full of contradictions. It’s all about energy. It’s all about atoms. It’s all about atomic energy. It’s a far, far more subtle force that is affected and this was a fascinating thing. Then we learned about humans and we learned about how to use the humous, make it, and how to use it and this was just Hamesh demonstrating how to do this to put some of that humous into a bucket of water and to stir it around and then to spread this that liquid around the garden.
Interestingly, my wife and I did a humous workshop about 50 I know about 25 years ago with Chris Milliotis. Chris, we did a podcast and we did the humous workshop with him where we learned to put Humus into a bucket only a handful, and stir it. This is full of microbes and really healthy microbes and stirs it and then takes a brush and flick it almost like holy water around our property.
We were living, we had a really big garden in Bronte, but it was really sandy soil, really poor soil. We definitely noticed an improvement in our soil and we were doing that in that area but I want to learn more about the workshop. This was Hamish spreading it and I was there with my son-in-law, Sam Betteridge, who’s a permaculture educator and also the education officer Pocket’s City Farm. I was there with Dr. Lewis Ehrlich and we just had a great morning, there was an introduction and I would love to go down and do Charlie on it and Hamish Mackay’s program on Biodynamics.
For that matter, I’d love to catch up with Terry McCosker, with who I also did a workshop, a podcast with and do his regenerative agriculture program as well. So that was my day from Friday evening at six o’clock through to Saturday morning at one o’clock, fitted in quite a lot. And I wanted to share that with you.
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