Happy New Year! Welcome back to Season 2. This year we will be releasing new episodes every OTHER Monday.
In this episode, we share with you our new format, a soil health clip from Dr. Jill Clapperton and our feature interview with soil health guru Nicole Masters from New Zealand discussing her great book, For the Love of Soil.
In this interview, we cover a wide range of topics from how regenerative farming cuts fertilizer prices for producers to why it is so important for consumers to understand the holistic approach behind creating healthier food vs focusing on the latest hot topic being pushed by activist groups.
About Nicole Masters
Nicole was born in Auckland, New Zealand – She is an independent agroecologist, systems thinker, author, and educator.
Nicole’s formal background is in ecology, soil science and organizational learning from Otago and Auckland Universities.
She has been providing agricultural consulting and extension services in Regenerative Agriculture since 2003, and is the Director of Integrity Soils Limited.
With her team of soil coaches, she works alongside producers in the U.S., Canada and across Australasia.
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Farmers, gardeners and ranchers often ask me for a simple prescription to cure the ailment. Be it a nitrogen issue, weeds or any other wicked problem, they want to. Be told the answer. But just as there is no one way to raise a child, there is no single answer. When thinking about soil, to find solutions to complex problems, new approaches and new things thinking are required. What would nature do? Through a deepening of our relationship with Nature's dynamics, we enhance natural systems, reduce waste, and reduce the need for external inputs. Happy New Year and welcome back to our podcast, Tasting Terroir, a journey that explores the link between healthy soil and the flavor and health of your food. I'm your host, Sarah Harper. That was an excerpt from the book for the Love of Soil by Nicole Masters. Nicole was born in Auckland, New Zealand. She is an independent agroecologist systems thinker, author and educator. Nicole's formal background is in ecology, soil science and organizational learning from Otago and Auckland universities. She has been providing agricultural consulting and extension services in regenerative agriculture since 2003 and is the Director of Integrity Soils Limited. With her team of soil coaches, she works alongside producers in the US, Canada and across Australasia. You'll get to hear more about the book and a discussion between Nicole and my co host, Dr. Jill Clapperton, in my interview with them both later in this episode. But first, I want to take a moment to share an update with you about changes that we're making to the show for this coming year. It's been a while since we've talked. I'm sure you've noticed I've missed bringing you all the amazing stories of people that are making our food system better by building up soil health. But alas, there are some things that are out of our control. Toward the end of last year, I. Got pretty sick and had to take some time to recover. Then, of course, there were the holidays. But even before that, I was realizing that the pace of creating a high quality episode each week while balancing the attention I need to pay to the people actually paying me, was getting out of balance. To put it in terms that this show deals with, I was mining myself dry and not allowing enough time to regenerate. It takes a lot of time to schedule, interview, edit and produce an episode. All of these actions are a labor of love for me, but they are time consuming nonetheless. And for me, there is no team to hand it off to. I do every aspect of the show myself. It was clear by the end of the year that the pace I was. Going at with this show wasn't sustainable. In thinking about how to address this challenge, I had a few different options. But what I did not want was for this show to devolve into a series of interviews with whoever I could. Grab just to make sure that we. Kept getting an episode out each week, but I also did not want to. Pod fade, if you will, just steadily. Putting out fewer episodes at an unpredictable pace. To me, the reason to listen to this show versus many of the others about food or soil health lies almost completely in the fact that we can bring you access to some of the best people in this space. Through their connection to Dr. Jill Clapperton and others in our network and through the knowledge I've accumulated over the past 20 years to provide a different perspective in the questions asked and the discussions shared a different perspective than you would hear on most other shows that maybe focus on just the science or just the nutrition, but don't pull them all together. So I've decided to make some changes to the show which will help make it a more sustainable project for me and hopefully a more reliable and valuable one for you. First, I'm moving the show release day to Mondays starting today. This gives me the weekend to finish up an episode that I may need a little more time with, and it gives you a chance to start the week off right. Of course, you can listen to our shows anytime you want when you subscribe to our podcast on your favorite podcast platform or listen to them through our website, globalfoodform.com and just click the podcast tab. Next, I'm going to release new episodes every other week instead of every week. This will ensure that I'm putting forward really high quality shows while not shortchanging the folks in our community who value what we do enough to pay for it. Finally, I'm going to start our episodes with a clip or two from various presentations and work that Dr. Joe Clapperton has done on the topics of soil health and nutrient density. In addition to providing a feature interview in each episode. In this way you'll get a chance to learn more about the science behind building up soil health from one of the best sources out there. This background will help empower you as a consumer and home gardener, as well as giving you a base to get even more out of the expert interviews that we feature. I know you didn't ask for this. Explanation, but I did want to let you know that I really appreciate you. Our audience and I view this show as building a relationship, not just pushing out marketing content. Of course, you can always find more information and go to a deeper level on the topics we discuss here by joining our private social network, Globalfoodfarm.com. We'd love to have you. Okay, now that we have that out of the way, on with the show. Following our new format, I'm going to start this episode by sharing a clip from one of Dr. Jill Clapperton's most in demand recent topics. She presented this information at the United Kingdom's Groundswell event and has subsequently shared it with our network. In this clip, she explains why keeping the soil covered is so important and how plant roots play a vital role in building up good soil structure that life depends on.Jill Clapperton:
We need to actually cover the soil and remove or totally get rid of any kind of soil erosion because as soon as we start losing our soil, we lose our capacity for any kind of soil health. Because what runs off first, it's the light stuff, it's not the sand and the rocks and things. It's the topsoil that runs off. It's the organic matter that runs off. It's the organic matter that dissolves and runs off. And so we lose our entire capacity for having soil health as soon as we have any kind of runoff, any kind of soil erosion of any kind. The characteristic that really defines soil health or healthy soil is soil structure. And it's one of the easiest things to measure. So infiltration can also be a measure of soil structure. If we have good soil structure, we have better rooting, we have created a better habitat and as soon as we have, the roots can penetrate the soil more. That means that they can get more energy, they can get more nutrients, they can actually explore the soil more so that they can tap into these other nutrients. And the more they explore the soil and the more they find more nutrients, the more lateral roots they'll make because lateral roots costs energy and you need to have the photosynthesis in order to support lateral roots. So you can see once again how having better rooting gives you better above ground. And better above ground can give you more rooting. Roots and soil are mixed with bacteria, fungi, protozole, microds, earthworms, insects, algae and we all act to create soil structure. And this leads to right, better water and air infiltration. So better water and air quality, you get root penetration which gives you better above ground growth, which leads to better rooting. You get more predator, prey, reinteractions which means that you start to recycle your nutrients. You have a greater diversity of soul organisms which microorganisms and fauna decomposition starts happening above and below ground and not just below ground, because below ground is our number one source of carbon and we get a lot more plant communication which means that resources are moving from a source to a sink. So a plant in your row that's struggling perhaps or doesn't have quite enough, can actually be shuttled some of the nutrients it needs from the other plants that are within that community.Sara Harper:
As you can see from Jill's description, soil structure plays a key role in so many different aspects of growing healthy food. And the practices that farmers use on the field can play a big part in improving that soil structure and therefore the health of the soil. This will be helpful to keep in mind as you hear from our next guest. I'm really pleased to be able to introduce you to another fantastic soil health educator and consultant, Nicole Masters, and her book, for the Love of Soil. As noted in the introduction, she has a long history of helping others to improve their soil health and in so doing, improve their businesses, their lives, and of course, the food and fiber that comes from it. In the first part of the interview, Jill and Nicole exchange insights about their shared journey to improve soil health, followed by my interview with Nicole about her book.Nicole Masters:
Just look at the book.Jill Clapperton:
Congratulations on the book.Nicole Masters:
Oh, thank you.Sara Harper:
It's a great book.Nicole Masters:
Yeah. Is it? Getting more feedback from people who are like, I was hardcore, conventional high input and this book changed my life. And I'm like, that's what it's about. And it's not the messenger, it's the message. How do we find those catalysts to spark someone off? And who knows what they're going to do? But hopefully that involves using a lot less AG chemical and being more profitable and having insects and everything come back.Jill Clapperton:
But intuitively, Nicole, we all know that what you're doing is affecting food quality and the nutritional composition of the food. We just haven't been able to measure it yet.Nicole Masters:
Yeah. So I'm very excited to be able to see us be able to do this because this is the piece that's really missing. And I think talking with the brands is a lot like the clothing brands are really getting it, which is interesting. And so it's like the clothing guys want to drive it. They're not necessarily measuring nutrient density, but they're getting in behind it because they're closer to a consumer that's saying, hey, we want this kind of output. And I think the commodity market is kind of slowing things down, obviously, on that side. So it's like, how do we find these marketplaces and support the people that are going to provide that? Let's just go around the commodity system because we can't just don't know how are we going to work within it?Jill Clapperton:
Everybody holds up isolated cases. What I hear all the time is like, oh, well, there's only one or two. And I'm like, no, there are lots of people that are doing really amazing things. You just don't hear about them all the time because some of them are really introverted and they're just doing their own thing.Nicole Masters:
They're doing the work.Jill Clapperton:
Little tiny things help other things. That's why I like Whole Foods and I like people talking about whole systems, because we don't know what tiny little change or what organism that changes everything. Like, does that metabiosis change? We don't know what those organisms are. And that tiny change might be, in ten years time, going to change the whole thing.Nicole Masters:
And we have no idea.Nicole Masters:
I think being able to measure the quality of the food at the output is one way that we can start to capture this without these huge data saves.Jill Clapperton:
Well, it's also when you think about it, actionable results are really what it count? What counts? Like what can I action? I have all these numbers. What do they mean? Can I do anything to affect them? Which is why we really need these curated experiments so that we can start to understand what is changing, how are we changing, what are we doing?Nicole Masters:
I had this AHA moment. I work with horses. I love horses. They're kind of one of my first loves. And this brilliant instructor I was working with said the premise of natural horsemanship, which is a lot of my training is based on, is deeply flawed because it's based on animals in the wild that are not domesticated, that are in a flight or fight stage. And you're basing all of these assumptions on that and I'm like mind literally blowing. Oh my God. And so it's like where do we come from when we are making some of these choices? And it could be a flawed assumption that we decide a couple of decades time.Jill Clapperton:
Well, we're not based on natural systems. We're based on a very high intensity tillage based system with a lots of chemical inputs and we're expecting to make decisions based on that and we can't. I mean, it's sort of like when learning about nutrition, most of our daily requirements are based on your average middle aged man. Well, I'm not that how does it work for me?Nicole Masters:
Yeah, well, I think it's the science of averages. And what we're seeing are all these outliers that is the really fascinating place and where the curiosity should be. And scientists that I come across ignoring the outliers and I'm like, surely as a scientist, the definition of curiosity is to let's look at those what is going on over there? And it's been a little frustrating, I must say. And now I'm just like, we'll just.Jill Clapperton:
Get on with it, get on with it, just move along because the farmers are going to push hard and the producers are going to push hard. And so either get out of the way or jump on the wagon.Sara Harper:
Well, along those lines, I wanted to get maybe both of you to share your perspective about so you talk about it a lot in the book and of course your work with producers, Nicole, is that I've really tried to build this path for value added capture, for regenerative farmers. They deserve it, they deserve it and it should be there and all of that. But I've had to kind of retreat back to look, farmers should just do this for themselves because it's so much better for their health, their personal health, their stress level, their land, save their costs, reduce their inputs, all of that. And they should still fight for a claim of the value that they're creating. They shouldn't give up on that. But especially with high inputs, that catches people's attention and adds another level of stress for conventional farmers that maybe is an opportunity for some of them to come to this thing that may have been off putting to them, or they may see it like organic, or another niche that seems like I can't be that or that's not me. So do you see that, and what's your experience with this time and with the appeal to regenerative to farmers that. May be more open to transitioning?Nicole Masters:
I definitely think that nitrogen prices are very stimulatory on thinking outside the box. And I make the pretty bold claim that I'll stand by, is that I can walk onto any high input conventional property, reduce their nitrogen inputs by 30% without any change in yield. And I'm very confident in being able to say that. And I think that's got to be something that's attractive to people in terms of I want to I ask this question in my workshops, which is, what do you value about the current modern conventional system? Because there's entrenched values that people feel when we're talking about conventional agriculture or regenerative agriculture that we're actually attacking their values. It's not about this different idea. It's about you are literally attacking what I care about and what I value. Okay, so what are the values of in conventional agriculture? Well, maybe it's efficiencies. Maybe it's the machinery, the technology, the commodity market not having to do all the marketing. Well, okay, cool. Well, let's keep those pieces that are your values that work well. We don't have to throw everything out with the bathwater and then look at how do we bring that into a system where we are bringing more vibrant health to that ecosystem and fulfilling on other things you might value, which might be your own health, spending time with family profitability, whatever that piece is. And I think what we're going through is a society of polarization where people can't talk about anything, if that's guns or politics or immunizations or whatever. And so we're creating this society that can no longer have any conversation about things. And this is happening with conventional and regenerative as people are digging their heels in and, like, throwing stuff over a parapet at each other instead of, hey, there's some pieces of this that we know that work really well. Okay, let's think about that. And then what is the downside if we go too far in one extreme or the other? And let's talk about that. If you only build soil health but you're not profitable and your animal performance is suffering. Okay, cool. Let's pull that back a little bit. There's this pendulum of, okay, you as an individual, what are your goals? How do we work with that? And I'm always concerned about dogma and the wrong and righteousness that kind of comes into industries, and I think that is very off putting to people, people getting really adamant. Let's take Glyphosate. That's another one of these polarizing topics. People get real mad about, hey, you're doing the best you can with what you've got. What are other ways that we can help increase that efficacy while you work this out? And maybe that's going to take you three to seven years. I don't know what it looks like, but I think it's everyone's individual responsibility to just be empathetic, just start listening to each other. Yeah, that's my I think I went down the rabbit hole. I apologize.Sara Harper:
No, it's wonderful. Wonderful. I know you share a lot of that, Jill. I've heard you talk in a similar vein.Jill Clapperton:
It's all about helping people take the first step. And part of that is, just like Nicole said, is starting a conversation and understanding that there's so much similarity. Like, if we focus on what we have in common instead of what we don't have in common, I think we get along. So we'll move along so much better. Because if we really looked at it, okay, I might be not this or I'm not that, but I'm all these other things, and so are you. Well, we have a lot in common, so let's focus on what we have in common. Focus on the positive and not on the negative, and let's not pigeonhole ourselves, because there's thousands of shades of gray. Everything isn't just black and white, and I think that's an important thing to think about, too. And everybody has their own level of risk tolerance and what steps they can take. Maybe I could take this step, but you can take this other big step because that's your level of tolerance. Well, good. Congratulations. But I'm happy for you to do that. And I'm happy. And please just tolerate the fact that I can only take a small step and embrace the fact that I'm taking any step at all. And I think that that's an important.Sara Harper:
Thing for people that aren't as familiar with you. You've got this great book that's for the love of soil, and really maybe just tell people what went into that, and what does that give them when they dive into that book?Nicole Masters:
Yeah, I was often asked to write a book for, like, soils for dummies, and there's really nothing stupid about producers or soil. So trying to find a way of my implicit understanding when I'm out in the field and I can see things, see what weeds are saying, what are these insects saying? What are the species diversity and animal health? How is this all speaking? And then how do I make that explicit in a way that someone could take the book and walk out in the field and start to think, let's dig a hole. What are we seeing here? How do we know if this is healthy or not healthy? What are the implications? Is my water cycle working? Am I even growing good nutrient dense food? Yeah. So to just really empower somebody so that they can start to see and read the landscape.Sara Harper:
And obviously, producers, farmers and ranchers would get a lot from understanding the different chapters that you go through and really talking about the underground microbiome, the livestock, all of that that helps make soil healthy. But I found too, and I listened to the audiobook, and I appreciate you reading it. It always nice to hear the author.Nicole Masters:
You can go. That's not a hugely professional speaking voice, but I must say, every book that I've really enjoyed has been read by the author. I mean, I think it's berating sweet graphs. It's just such a phenomenal book, and she could be a professional reader, but the impact that that has is someone actually speaking to you directly, it feels.Sara Harper:
Like, right from their real experience, and as you tell the stories, you're remembering them, you're sharing them. But what I thought was great, too, is that it's very accessible for consumers and for people that aren't farmers. There's obviously a lot of detail for the farmers, but there are kind of a new class of consumers that are starting to get really interested in this and understanding the link between soil health and the microbiome and their gut health and all of that. So there's a tremendous amount of information for them. Did you have consumers in mind as you're doing this book, too, or how is that a challenge to balance these audiences? How are you thinking about consumers?Nicole Masters:
Well, part of it, too, was thinking about anyone that eats food needs to know this what is actually happening in the food system, and why in a way that's not like all farmers and ranchers are so bad. They're doing all these terrible things, and it's like, well, here's the structures that are in play, and here's some of the history as to why this has come about. And I think understanding that is what empowers us, too, so that when you go to your farmers market or you're in Whole Foods, you can ask specific questions so that it's going to help against the greenwashing. I think, of food systems where people would just say, oh, it's natural, and you're like, well, what does that actually mean? Or it's regenerative. Okay, can you explain to me how you see regenerative agriculture and spray free? Okay, well, what does that mean? Or organic? Oh, you mean you've cultivated your fields a thousand times and chopped up all the microbiology. Okay. I'm interested in what you're doing. So, yeah, it was very much, you know, if you eat food, let's think about what's in that food. What are some of the food additives that are not? You know, I often think we shouldn't be labeling organic where we should be labeling what sprays went on to this food so you can make a better decision about actually, you know what? I don't want dicamba and paraquat and glyphosate to be on my food.Sara Harper:
And that's back to the point you raised earlier with Jill, Too about glyphosate. And that was great that you brought that up because environmental groups well meaning in some cases, but they often will shine a light on one thing, just like brands will shine a light on one thing as a positive. The activist groups shine a light on one thing that's a negative. And both are missing the holistic link between everything. It almost seems impossible for us to talk about a holistic system. Just kind of like we're so polarized, so we get into these us versus them. Well, everything has a counter effect. Do you think farmers that you're working with, they already know that and they've been pushed out of that because of kind of the input system that they have to work within? Or has it become less intuitive as they've gone to school and this is how you been taught, this is how you farm.Nicole Masters:
I can't think of many producers that were born with it. Some of them had influences from grandparents that still remember some of the traditional knowledge or working with people that have exposure to indigenous traditional thinking and knowledge that are thinking in whole systems. But our whole education system, our whole language, the Western language, is designed to describe things as nouns and separate everything. And so we go through academics or we go through school or even how we're raised. We're raised to see things in their separate pieces instead of the whole. And that was part of the challenge of the book, too, is that we can let's zoom in, but then we need to keep zooming out. And we do that for our own body. It's like, I don't know, say you've got a rash and you just put cream and you keep putting cream on that rash until you get allergic to that cream, probably instead of going, okay, what have I been eating in the last week? What have I washing my clothes? And what's that piece? And that diagnostic. And that's where I think the diagnostics in this book that talk about looking at landscape also apply of thinking about the human body. And the more that we can keep thinking, how does this work in nature and what would be an unintended consequence of doing this? I think the anti brigade, let's say glyphosate, we hate glyphosate. We're going to ban it is the other side of the hand of the hey, we're going to use dicamba and genetically engineer it. It's not really shifting our whole systems thinking. And if we ban glyphosate, you know what, there's going to be another chemical behind it and it's probably going to be worse.Sara Harper:
What about paracquite?Nicole Masters:
Great. Yeah.Sara Harper:
Personal experience with that one.Nicole Masters:
Yeah. The joy of people that have had multiple chemical exposures from the womb. So my mother and father were both and my grandparents were exposed to PFAS and PFAS through military. Through the military. And so the influence that that's had on Epigenetics and I have a gene called the MTHFR gene, which about 40 million Americans have, but it gets switched on by exposure to chemicals early in life. And what it does is it means that the methylation pathway in my body to detoxify through the liver doesn't work. And that's why I got so sick with paraclot. But I think that's part of my passion is we can have a little bit of chemical exposure and not get sick. And we can do that even in agricultural settings. If we set up a microbiome that's incredibly healthy and vibrant, you could have Glyphosate coming down in the rainfall, you can have sprager from the neighbors, and you still have a microbiome that's able to consume and break that down and recover. But we don't have that anymore. And thinking about that with our own human bodies. Right. How do I build resilience in every single aspect of life? And that includes my mental resilience, my physical resilience and the resilience of land.Sara Harper:
Well, that's so interesting because the number of the producers in our network that Jill works with, because they do no tell, they always do never tell. Some of them do end up needing to use small amounts of Glyphosate much less than they ever did, and yet they test the end result of the actual grain and it's glyphosate free. It's not there because, to your point, their soil is so healthy from all the other things that they've done that any residual stuff, it's not sprayed on the crop and it's, you know, all of that, and it's not used as a desiccant, of course. And then the soil is able to break down completely whatever little amount was left before it was planted. And so if you're looking at the actual grain that they're going to sell, it doesn't have it there. And yet the system isn't designed to look at that. The system is designed to just look. At did you ever use it and treat someone that ever used it the same as someone that way overused it? That caused a lot of problems.Nicole Masters:
Yeah. And I think one of my early hires about this was in 2006 in a project in New Zealand where they applied two soil that was being regeneratively, managed and all that two 4D was gone. They couldn't find a trace of it at all. It had been split out into its different components. And what does it take to build a system like that? And then yeah. What's the quality of what we're measuring? So I'm in total agreement with your point, Sarah.Sara Harper:
Well, because when you push to ban certain things, again, not in this holistic like picking certain things and we're going to ban that, then you're going to push a lot of people to tillage you're going to do other kinds of destruction that doesn't show up on the little spotlight that you're looking at, but could be far more destructive to the overall goal. And a lot of times. Those edicts are being pushed by people that don't know anything about the soil, about microbiome, about farming, about anything. They just have their pet project that they're going to drive this issue and do a lot of harm.Nicole Masters:
Yeah. And I think there's so much research now about glyphosate and about how destructive it is. But you could point that to every single ad chemical. Yeah, all of them, if you ran down that rabbit hole. I mean, there are a couple I do think need to be removed from sale, and that would be things like poor Pyroids and neonicotinoids. I do think there's a couple that really don't belong to exist in the world at all. And there's other ways that we can substitute in terms of biocontrols on seeds or there's other options. But I think in terms of glyphosate, it's easy to target it because there is so much negative research that's just growing. But then go and do that on Paracquot, go and do that on Dicamba or two. We're not going to be happier with any of them. So let's look at how do we do. We need to do crop rotations where every three years or four years you take that crop out and you're going to put in multi species cover crops and allow that soil to recover and rejuvenate bring in livestock. What are you going to do to kind of earn the right to use that chemical input?Sara Harper:
That's a great way of reframing it. Because that's the other thing, and to your point about it being so partisan and so just polarized, like, if you say anything of nuance about glyphosate, then you're automatically accused of like, shilling for the chemical companies. Which our whole point is we want producers to be able to depend less on all of it, less on all of the inputs. And that's what you and Jill help them do. And we want more producers to be able to depend less on it, but just this simplistic idea that people outside of the knowledge of the system can come in and start diagnosing. Like you wouldn't go in and tell your brain surgeon, well, actually, I think you need to do it this way, and I don't think you should be able to use that tool at all, ever.Nicole Masters:
Yes. No anesthetic just don't do that.Sara Harper:
No, just actually just cure me. That's what I want. I'm wondering too, because our podcast is tasting terroir, and I think that there are increasingly, you know, if you have a garden or if you work with producers or you grow your own food, you know the difference. That can come in the taste of something even just because it's fresh and because you picked it right away and ate it. But then as you add these practices, have you had experiences with seeing a change in flavor? Obviously the nutritional changes there, but have you yourself or with others that you've worked with, see that connection or what are your thoughts about that?Nicole Masters:
Absolutely. And I think of a couple of them. It's almost an orgasmic experience thinking back. There's a cherry producer in the Hawke's Bay in New Zealand that's been running a program for quite a while. And every year, just before Christmas, because it's been cherry season, is I'd go and buy like three or four boxes and I'd probably eat like £5 myself in the drive home. The flavor is insane. And now they've got to the point where there is a line of traffic on the side of the road pre Christmas lining up, and you're only allowed to buy one box of cherries because the demand is so huge. So I have to bring, like, three friends so I can get my three boxes. And I'm like, no, I'm not sharing with you. But it's like an experience that you can't even compare it to anything that we eat that you buy from the grocery store. It's not like buying a box of candy or, you know, just fruit and vegetables you would normally buy. Like the the experience is so nourishing, you know, and I don't need to eat £5, and maybe I don't, but I do have a bit of a thing for cherries. I was at Apricot Lane Farms this summer and to eat that fruit that's coming off that property and it's like every single piece of fruit just there's, like your palate. The whole thing is expansive and you feel literally like you're more energized after eating that kind of food and have that kind of experience. And I think we've forgotten. And I remember actually, my son, when he was two years old, and I couldn't find him and a terrible parent. And I had these big, long concrete steps and I'm like, oh, my gosh, where is he? And I'm going crazy, running round and round and round. And then we're up to my dad's place. He was like, I don't know, 400ft away. And there I find him underneath this we had one of these blood plums, like the Japanese blood plums, and he's sitting underneath this tree and he's just dripping everywhere with this incredible fruit. And it's like that little guy was like, I know where the good stuff is, and he's going to go and test for it. And actually watching him as a teenager, even eating food out of our garden, we were growing a kale with a bricks at 15. I put that as a challenge to all of you that are listening. You see if you can grow a kale at 15 because, oh, my gosh, it is sweet, it is flavorful. And to watch him walk to school and grab a handful of kale on the way to the school bus and I'm like, that's not normal. Children shouldn't want to grow a handful of kale and eat that, but we haven't kind of destroyed their taste buds at that stage of life either.Sara Harper:
Yeah, well, that is the other important thing, setting up somebody's palate well from the beginning, and then also giving yourself patience, that you can reset your palate even if you haven't been eating well, that you can give yourself time. And you will start to really both sense the subtleties of these different minerals that are in healthy, grown food and appreciate them.Nicole Masters:
Yeah, I think that was my biggest shock moving to the US is I couldn't tell the difference between pork, lamb, beef and chicken because it just tastes like corn. And then people are like, oh, I don't like grass dead, because it's so gaming. And I'm like, what is that? Well, one that's not eat gaming beef. That is a flavor profile that maybe you don't want. But I think of older spring ranch out in Idaho, their beef is so sweet and so tender and so flavourful, and they're grazing on native prairie. And through their grazing management, they've increased their ground cover and their species diversity by 300%. And it comes through the meat. You can taste it. So I think my challenge is sometimes dealing with people that only want to eat stuff that tastes like corn is, let's play a game. Let's really try and taste some of these different things. And can you even taste it? And maybe you can't taste it because you got ketchup all over everything or you're drinking Coca Cola. I don't know. Yeah, I think what we've seen is more salt and more sugar and preserved food, so that toast stuff is tasting better while the food on the stores is tasting worse because there's very low nutrient density in it. So I can understand why people are eating processed food. We just got to get them over the bridge and onto good quality food.Sara Harper:
Yeah, well, and then in your last chapter, you talk about the future is now and the role of the consumer. And I'm very passionate about that, too. I feel like consumers have to both ask for better support, better, and really do more than just there's all this consumer research that says especially younger consumers. They want this and they want that. But obviously they aren't following through because the processors aren't providing it. I mean, they just aren't they won't take it. With all the brand claims about Regenerative, you would be surprised. People would be surprised to know that the inside of the food industry just really doesn't want it. It's a complication. If it were all just you could keep the same commodity structure, they'd be fine with it, but they don't want the personalized, the connection with Traceability, all of that. At least that's my experience. What's been yours?Nicole Masters:
Well, we were looking at developing, working with the largest dairy producer in New Zealand to have a Regenerative label. Right. And talk about this milk is higher in CLA and all of these different components of milk. And the reason that they turned us down in the end was that that makes our mainstream products sound like it's not bad. And they were like, okay, I can see that as a marketing problem. But also the commodity system is designed to make those suppliers a lot of money and not be paying the producers. So really it's the whole system that needs to shift. And I'd like to think that consumers have power, but really it is these guys that are steering where they get product from. And if you think of some of these producers, I think of Eastern Montana. It's like, how are you going to get a product to someone's table in California? It's incredibly difficult and the only place you can sell stuff into is the commodity market. So I think if we can close the number of steps and create more cooperative models and be looking at the quality of what we are, then getting into the marketplace and we're seeing some really cool stuff. I saw some really good examples of this when I was in the UK last week of producer groups getting together and actually having that supply chain minimize. How many steps are there before you get to marketplace? And yeah, it's going to take a community in order to do that, but very difficult to do by yourself.Sara Harper:
There are a number of producers who are in some of our network who are actually selling direct to the public and selling through online. And what do you think about that? Because obviously they're going to be limited in their scope. But does that have the ability to shape the larger commodities and the larger brands and what they're doing?Nicole Masters:
It would be nice to think so. I just think ranching and farming, producing food is a full time commitment in itself. And then we need to add on that next layer or you're going to add on chickens and turkeys. You're going to add all these pieces and then you're going to direct market that. And then you're going to be talking to producers and consumers. That whole piece. It's friends of mine that do it and do it very well. All I would say have ADHD people that don't sleep and that seem to thrive off high stress. And if that's your goal, then I think that's brilliant. Do it. But I also think we need to be thinking as communities and how do we do this more collaboratively? Instead of I'm isolated, I'm separate, and I need to kind of control all of this and do it all myself because it is a recipe for a burn out. And then what are you dropping? Oh, okay. I don't spend time with the kids. Cool.Sara Harper:
Yeah, it's an excellent point. And then maybe that consumer demand or questions could be turned toward a systematic requirements. Obviously, all of these buyers have specs that they fulfill. Well, I know we're coming to the end of our hour. So what is your definition of regenerative agriculture?Nicole Masters:
This is the thing with definitions of hate boxes. It's kind of like, what is the definition of conventional agriculture? Good luck. So I like Lady Eve Balfour when she was talking about organics, she said, organics is an attitude. And I think that's a big part of regenerative agriculture. So we define it as a way of being in the world, and it's a way of being that encompasses complex ecological adaptive systems thinking. So it's the thinking that is given by your way of being in the world. And for us, it's a journey that you're on, a journey of growing food or turf and fiber that improves the outcomes for soil health, biodiversity, ecosystem health, while producing high nutrient dense, quality food and happy producers. So if you're not profitable and you're miserable and you're stressed out, you're not regenerative. I'm sorry. In my definition.Sara Harper:
No. I think that's great. Well, thanks so much, Nicole.Nicole Masters:
No, I look forward to seeing what you guys create. The world needs it. We are ready, so bring it on.Sara Harper:
Okay. Thanks again.Nicole Masters:
All right. Thanks, Sarah.Sara Harper:
Okay. You've been listening to Tasting Terroir, a podcast made possible by a magical collaboration between the following companies and supporters, all working together to help farmers, chefs, food companies and consumers to build healthier soil for a healthier world. Risotera. Owned by Dr. Jill Clapperton, Risotera is an international food security consulting company providing expert guidance for creating healthy soils that yield tasty, nutrient dense foods. Check us firstname.lastname@example.org. That's RH Izoterra.com and the Global Food and Farm Online Community, an ad free global social network and soil health streaming service that provides information and connections that help you apply the science and practice of improving soil health. Join email@example.com and from listeners like you who support us through our Patreon account at patreon. Comtastingterwire, patrons receive access to our full length interviews and selected additional materials. Patrons will also have the opportunity to submit questions that we will answer on the podcast. Tune in next week to hear more interviews and insights with myself, Sarah Harper and Dr. Joe Clapperton, as well as the regenerative farmers, chefs and emerging food. Companies in the Global Food and Farm. Online community and beyond. If you like our work, please give us a five star rating and share the podcast with your friends. Thanks so much for listening and for helping us get the word out about this new resource to taste the health of your food. Until next week, stay curious, keep improving, and don't stop believing that better is possible when knowledge is available.