When I moved to California after graduating from college, I did so with one desire: to do something about climate change. I thought climate change was something we needed to fix.
The Power of Principles
Image source: Canva
By: Megan Shahan
When I moved to California after graduating from college, I did so with one desire: to do something about climate change. I thought climate change was something we needed to fix; a simple problem (burning fossil fuels) with a simple solution (stop burning fossil fuels). And if no one else was going to do what needed to be done—as it seemed to this determined, idealistic, and fearful twenty-something—then I would do it. What “it” was, I did not know.
Luckily, I found myself working at TomKat Ranch, a place that doesn’t view climate change as a simple problem to fix, but instead engages with the nuance and complexity of the world as a living system and the role humans play in regeneration. As you may expect, this gave me the opportunity to learn about applying ecological wisdom to agricultural systems. Over the years, I gained a holistic understanding of the harm caused by our current model and began to reimagine a food system that works in harmony with Mother Nature; one that is more local, seasonal, humane. I was exposed to approaches (innovative and ancient) to growing food (and eating) that are better for our health and the health of the ecosystem.
The most important lesson I will take away from TomKat Ranch is that ecosystems are complex. Organisms interact in symbiotic and mysterious ways to create life on Earth. Because of this inherent mystery, we cannot predict exactly how ecosystems, or any complex system, will respond to a given input. So we distill what we do know into principles and use these principles to make informed decisions, monitor the impact of our actions, and adapt.
Principles, unlike rules or a set of best practices, empower us to navigate uncertainty grounded in what we know to be true. Rules tell us steps to take or avoid; principles show us the direction and invite us to engage our curiosity and creativity.
The principles of regenerative agriculture are simple:
- Know your context
- Cover the soil
- Minimize soil disturbance
- Increase diversity
- Maintain living roots
- Integrate livestock
The principles of regenerative agriculture are informed by the principles of living systems. Two foundational principles of living systems are interdependence and holism. They point to the truth that regeneration and resilience: 1) emerge from the wide diversity of relationships in the system and 2) can only be understood as an emergent phenomenon of the whole system. You may have heard the saying, “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” That’s holism. A human is more than a collection of bones, organs, and microbes. An ecosystem is more than soil, water, and microbes.
The thread of ecology, true to its interdependent nature, took me beyond the apparent border of agriculture. I learned of people applying ecological principles to systems I had yet to consider through this lens, such as organizations and economies. This may seem inconsequential at first glance, but the power of principles lies in the way they train your attention over time. I began to notice things I would not have noticed before. The way I understood the world and my role in it began to change. (Evolution is another principle of living systems—we are changing, always.)
We collectively have the information we need to regenerate the Earth. When the lessons of ecology shift our perspective and we recognize and honor our deep interdependence with the living world, we begin to relate differently. We begin truly acting in our own self-interest, in a way that is symbiotic with the systems of life we are a part of. From this place, we can design systems rooted in the truth that human resilience is deeply connected with ecological resilience.
After nearly four years of diving deep into the waters of regeneration, I’m off to my next adventure: yoga teacher training. This has been an unexpected development in my life, but increasingly I am struck by the inherent connection between yoga and regeneration. For example, I just learned that beginning from where we are is the foundational principle of a yoga practice; recognizing our own starting point and learning to accept it. That, to me, sounds a lot like the foundational principle of regenerative agriculture: Know your context.
Principles have the power to transform—they are a pathway to train our attention, open our awareness, and examine our relationship with uncertainty (and the discomfort that lives there!). I am deeply grateful for my time at TomKat Ranch and for the many stretch marks it left on my mind and heart. I truly believe that not only is regeneration possible for the planet and for each of us, it’s our birthright. The more we connect with this life, the more balance and ease we find in our effort.