Tom: So glad to have you here at Finca Luna Neuva Lodge with your group, Téana.
Téana: Likewise, Tom. It's been an absolute pleasure to be here learning about the plants and animals. Could you tell us a bit about the history of Finca Luna Nueva and how you came to be involved?
Tom: The lodge and the farm were started in 1994 by Stephen Farrell. Stephen is our "Gandalf the Grey," our resident regenerative farming magician. He's been farming organically and with great passion for almost 50 years. He's farmed all over the world and he moved to Costa Rica about 35 years ago and he began to grow ginger. I had an herbal company in the United States and we were sourcing our ginger from Stephen because he was one of the few growers of organic ginger in the world way back in 1984, before organic really caught on in the herbal world. We wanted to have an organic source of ginger because it's what you want to do when you're using herbs for healing. You don't want to be using herbs that are all contaminated with pesticides.
Téana: How big is the farm?
Tom: There's 220 acres here. About sixty percent of the farm is primary rainforest, which we've kept as primary rainforest to have the full value of the nature spirits, and natural energy and intelligence of the ecosystem.
Téana: For those who aren't familiar, could you explain primary rainforest?
Tom: Old and wise, not fledgling but established. The full glory of the Central American neotropical rainforest. I used earlier the reference to Tolkien with Stephen as he was "Gandalf the Grey" -- this is where the seniors are, where the elders are present. So when you walk through the primary rainforest you're with those architects of the of the rainforest who've been around for a while, who not only have seen it all, but also express it all in their structure and in their beauty. And so we are living on the border of 250,000 acres of primary rainforest, cloud forest, transitional forest - one of the largest forest fragments in the western hemisphere.
Téana: It looks and feels incredibly fertile here.
Tom: Here at Finca Luna Nueva, we have volcanic soil and we have plenty of rain. And we therefore have just almost unlimited fertility. What I jokingly say about this area is be careful what you drop on the ground because it will grow. This is fertility central and that's why we have thousands of fruit trees on our farm.
Téana: What I observe here is that there's a seamless bleed from the biodiverse and multi-layered forest into the farm. Can you talk about why that is and the lessons that you as a farmer have learned from the forest?
Tom: It's our guiding principle that we should grow food like a forest. And a forest is chaotic in a perfectly orderly way. There is an organizing genius to the madness and the chaos. There was a friend of mine who is one of the great ethnobotanists in North America who came here and looked at the canopy in this great tropical rainforest and was stunned by the layers and the diversity of form and the multiplicity of color and the chaos. But yet the organizing genius of the display of life in the rainforest -- everything is producing and every, every inch of sunlight is being captured. There is no bare earth. The leaves are racing up into the canopy and ninety-nine percent of the sunlight is captured before it gets to the ground. And where there is ground that's available, it's being covered by vines and by an endless display of life because solar energy is endlessly bathing the planet. And that's from which all life comes.
Téana: And so why not replicate that when you create a growing zone? Why do anything other than that? This is rainforest.
Tom: Exactly. We should grow food like a rainforest grows food. And so we therefore do not have orderly rows, straight lines. Straight lines make you crazy. Look at my house. The house itself is Fibonacci central with spirals, and we believe that there should be tall trees next to shorter trees, next to vines, next to things that grow on the ground and everything should be supporting everything else. And there should be things that come into fruit at this part of the year and things that come into fruit in other times of the year.
Téana: Our farms can be as biodiverse as forests then?
Tom: Correct. This is a neotropical regenerative farm. And the whole idea of being a regenerative farm is that after every after every harvest, the soil is richer. There's more organic matter in the ecosystem than there was before the harvest. We're not here giving "achtung" demands to Mother Earth. We're exploring with Mother Earth what we can produce in a way that will nourish her. In a way, everything here is done spiritually. It's done as an offering to Gaia. It's done to, to nourish the ecosystem. And so we're not here with the plow to rip apart the body of Mother Earth as you sometimes might see in national organic program, linear, bare earth certified organic farm. That's what those people do. That's not what we do. That's not the way we think you should farm.
Téana: Tell us about healthy soil, what's the most important thing for us to know?
Tom: At the root tip, there are literally countless millions of micro-organisms in every thimble full of soil and healthy soil. There could be six billion micro-organisms and at the root tip there will be one hundred times that number in an infinite variety of life. We're not looking to dummy down this ecosystem to grow one thing. We are looking to support that infinite expression of life because life begets life. Life flows from life and everything that grows on our farm is an expression of that infinite display, that playfulness of the variety of life that we have here.
Téana : Tom, it may not be clear for many people what the difference is between organic farming and regenerative farming. Could you explain that a little bit please?
Tom: With Stephen Farrell and our colleagues here, we practice both organic and biodynamic agriculture. So I love organic farming and biodynamic farming. But those systems are in a sense, systems that both prescribe and proscribe sets or practices and inputs, they're about practices. Regenerative agriculture is about outcomes. Regenerative agriculture is the term used to describe any system of agriculture, which regenerates an ecosystem. And the bellwether, the clearest litmus for regeneration, is whether there is more organic matter, more carbon in the soil at the end of the harvest than at the beginning of the harvest. Is there more life force and the soil? Organic and biodynamic farming should be regenerative. Conventional agriculture ought to be regenerative. We want all systems of farming practices to be regenerative, but they're not necessarily regenerative.
Téana: Even conventional agriculture could be regenerative?
Tom: In an ideal world, the Venn diagram of organic and regenerative and organic and conventional and organic and biodynamic, there would be perfect overlap, but we're not living in that ideal world as of yet. So the regenerative agriculture movement invites all farmers, all ranchers, from whatever practice they are using in their food production system to join the regenerative agricultural revolution and learn how to nourish their soil in a way that they are regenerating their ecosystem. If you're already organic, join us in the regenerative movement. If you're already biodynamic, join us in the regenerative agricultural. If you're already conventional, join us in the regenerative agricultural movement. We have a lot to offer to all farmers and ranchers worldwide.
Téana: So I think what I'm hearing you say is that organic, while it may be better for your health because it's not sprayed with pesticides, is not necessarily better for the earth.
Tom: It is not necessarily better for the earth, but it ought to be.
Téana : Absolutely.
Tom: So what we would say to all practitioners of organic agriculture is, congratulations, you're doing great things for human health, but let's look at planetary health: are you farming in a way that nourishes and regenerates the ecosystem? If you're passing plows through the soil multiple times during the year to control weeds, then no, you're not doing the best for the planet.
Téana : And that's because every time we till, we release carbon up into the atmosphere?
Tom: Tilling is killing. Every time you pay us a knife through the flesh of Mother Earth, you are exposing her flesh, her soil to decomposing forces and to erosion. We need to understand that the earth itself is living. Mother Earth is Gaia. Mother Earth and her and hers. Her flesh should be respected. It is not respectful to pass knives through the structure of Mother Earth. And therefore, if you're organic and you're passing knives through the soil regularly to control weeds, that is disrespectful, that is harmful, that is not to be encouraged and not to be applauded.
Téana: I see now, tilling is killing.
Tom: Putting poisons on the soil, whether those poisons are the conventional pesticides used in conventional agriculture or the poisons that are permitted under the national organic program, we don't want to put poisons on the soil and on our food. So what we in the regenerative movement would say is let's learn how to produce food like a forest. Let's learn how to produce food like a prairie. In a forest, you don't see Mother Nature systematically and regularly tilling the soil or applying poisons topically or systemically to the plants. But yet, the forest is profoundly productive and gives enormous food. So we need to be biomimetic. We need to mimic the way that a forest produces food or that a prairie produces food, or that sea grass meadows produce food along rivers, riparian zones produce food.
Téana : The other thing we don't see out in the forest is monoculture. And so I'm just thinking, how do we help organic farmers who are growing lettuce in rows in California? How do we help them transition to regenerative agriculture?
Tom: There are wonderful regenerative agronomists, regrarians. There are people all around the world who have learned in every growing zone with every type of crop, with every soil type, with every amount of rain, how to grow food in a way where the soil is always covered with growing plants or with plant life. You never want to have bare earth. You want to have a multiplicity, a poly-culture with plants, with different sizes and shapes at different heights capturing the sun.
There is no excuse for growing food in a way that destroys the ecosystem. It is not permissible. It is, it should not be allowed. It should be punished if people grow food in a way that damages mother earth.
Téana : Yes, brother. And even the excuse of "well, but we have to produce so much food, so many heads of the same kind of lettuce..." That's not an excuse either.
Tom: The most productive ecosystems in the world are in home gardens all through the world, where small holders on small plots of land using polyculture, using multi-strata of multiple species in small spaces are producing food. Seventy percent of the food of the planet is grown by small holders on small plots of land. They are the most productive producers of food. We will produce more food that is more nourishing and more delicious and more abundant in ways that are harmonious with Mother Earth and that regenerate the ecosystem, if we mimic the way that forests and prairies produce food.
Téana: There are something like two billion small-holder farmers on the planet.
Tom: Yes, and there are five hundred plus million small-holder farms demonstrating that a highly localized food production system using regenerative principles is where the most food with the, with the least expensive input is produced. The vanity of modern industrial totalitarian agriculture, which is now washing away and impoverishing the ecosystems around the globe, the vanity that those are producing food for humans. No, those are producing food inputs for concentration factory farms around the world. If you want the worldwide, where is the food produced? It's being produced abundantly by small holders.
Téana : Thank you. So Tom, just to get really clear on why tilling is not a good practice, is it because it actually releases carbon that we're wanting to bring back down into Mother Earth, back from the atmosphere, or is it that it disturbs the complex microbiome that's happening invisible to our eyes underground?
Tom: It's yes and... So somewhere around forty percent of the atmospheric toxic greenhouse gases in the atmosphere came directly as a result of agricultural malpractice and much of that that came directly from the decomposition of organic matter that was facilitated by the practice of tilling. Some also comes from the very toxic nitrous oxide off-gassing from synthetic nitrogen fertilization in conventional agriculture. But a great deal of it comes from the off-gassing of the volatilizing of organic matter in the soil permitted when a knife has passed through the soil, namely tilling, exposing the organic matter to the decomposing micro-organisms that couldn't get at it. But once they get at it, it's a feeding frenzy.
And you know, when you've got your trillions of microorganisms in your gut digesting your food, sometimes you belch and you fart? Well, when you've got the countless infinities of micro-organisms eating soil organic matter because of tilling, then in that, in the aftermath of that feeding frenzy, you have the off-gassing, the farting, and the belching of those countless infinities of micro-organisms, literally volatilizing release in the organic matter up into the atmosphere in a in a cloud of carbon dioxide, hundreds of billions of tons of CO2 in the atmosphere causing global warming and the and the climate crisis came directly from the off-gassing of organic matter because of tilling practices.
Téana : Wow. Okay. Thanks for explaining that so thoroughly.
Tom: My pleasure.
Téana : It's been such a pleasure to visit Finca Luna Nueva and to get to know you Tom and your important work on regenerative farming, establishing that as a key component that we can all use to help us to reimagine a world that works for all creatures -- all sentient beings including the plants and flowers, animals, and humans.
Tom: Beautifully stated.
Téana : For our readers who may want to know more or visit Finca Luna Nueva, how would they find out more?
Tom: They could come visit our website, and thank you for asking, at www.fincalunanueva.com.
Téana : Thank you. And then let's also direct them to the carbon underground website to learn more about regenerative farming.
Tom: Wonderful. And that's the not for profit that a few of us are founded to help nourish the regenerative agricultural revolution worldwide. Our website is www.thecarbonunderground.org.
Téana : Okay, fantastic. Thank you so much, Tom. It's been a joy speaking with you.
Tom: Con Mucho Gusto. Pura Vida.