Top 3 Steps to a More Regenerative Lifestyle
Are you inspired by the concept of regenerative agriculture but unsure about how or where it might fit into your own life on a daily basis?
Many of us understand the need to shift our food systems and lifestyles towards more regenerative approaches, but it can be hard to apply that in practice. It’s particularly challenging if we live in urban environments without easy access or reference to bigger, wilder renditions of the natural world.
But wherever we currently lay our heads, there are plenty of possibilities to nurture biodiversity and manage our resources better – and this can bring us a multitude of benefits, from our mental and physical health to our bank balances, neighborhoods, and communities. Curious? Take a moment to consider the following prompts and explore how you might integrate regenerative principles into your own life and the world around you.
1. Stop, look and listen
Like a farmer leaning on a gate or a hunter scanning their domain, take a moment to look around and notice what’s happening in your home ecosystem. Where does the light fall? What’s growing where? Which houseplants are thriving, and which are not? Where is there wildlife – insects, bees, or birds? What resources exist that you could make more of – for example, rainwater that could be collected and used to water plants; a mown berm that might thrive when planted up; grass clippings that are going in your green waste bin but could be used on-site as mulch or compost; a concrete wall that heats up in the sunshine and might help heat-loving plants to thrive?
This is a great moment to take stock of what you’re bringing in and taking away. Be brave, go through your rubbish bin, and notice what you’re getting rid of on a regular basis. Could you make different choices about what you buy and set up systems to dispose of packaging and leftovers differently?
For example, where can you opt for cardboard instead of plastic wrappers or cotton rather than synthetic fabrics – and can you compost those directly on-site? Get experimental: you might even want to mimic the hilariously named Soil Your Undies’ experiments of scientists, farmers, and students across the globe, who’ve been burying pairs of 100% cotton underwear in their garden beds and farm fields and then digging them up after 60 days and observing the degree of deterioration, as a way of assessing microbial activity and getting a reasonable snapshot of overall soil health.
2. Build biodiversity
Biodiversity is key to resilient, regenerative systems, from the microscopic worlds of our gut biomes to that of our planet as a whole. While we don’t often think of cities as places where lots of biodiversity is welcome, it’s just as critical in these environments as anywhere else – if not even more so.
There’s growing evidence that urban dwellers’ bodies tend to lack the microbial biodiversity of those of rural residents and that that’s connected to a number of immune disorders, mental health issues, and multiple other wellbeing challenges. That’s leading a number of researchers to call for “urban re-wilding,” by means such as implementing more accessible green spaces, communal gardens and orchards, living roofs, and so on. In a recent study, kindergartens in urban centers in Finland installed “forest floors” on their grounds, and the gut flora and immune systems of children attending the kindergartens changed noticeably after just a month of exposure.
“This supports the assumption that contact with nature prevents disorders in the immune system, such as autoimmune diseases and allergies,” said Natural Resources Institute Finland researcher Aki Sinkkonen in a press release about the research. “We also found that the intestinal microbiota of children who received greenery was similar to the intestinal microbiota of children visiting the forest every day,” said University of Helsinki co-researcher Marja Roslund.
While installing a personal forest floor might not prove particularly popular with the landlords, there are plenty of ways to build and nurture the biodiversity in your surroundings – even on a very small scale. You could set up a compost, bokashi system, or worm farm on a balcony or backyard to dispose of food waste, grass clippings, paper, cardboard, and other compostable packaging types. Then, use the microbe-rich dirt to super-charge your garden beds or pot plants. Avoiding, or at least limiting, the use of fertilizers and pesticides will also help to boost your soil’s health and microbial diversity.
Growing pollinator-friendly plants that attract birds and bees is another great option: check out Lawn to Wildflowers for inspiration, information, and support! If you start saving seeds from what you grow, you’ll quickly end up with more than you have space for, which is an excellent opportunity to trade with other growers or give neighbours and friends a gift that really does keep on giving.
Even in the darkest, smallest apartment, there are opportunities to bring in more life – and to grow nourishing, zero-food-miles crops, too. Get inspired by this story of an apartment-dwelling oyster mushroom entrepreneur in urban Accra, Ghana, and grow your own in the bathroom or kitchen – anywhere that’s out of the sun and out of the way. Brew kombucha or sauerkraut, or hatch your own sprouts. These are all great ways to get kids involved and connected with where their food comes from, too.
3. Observe, connect with and impact wider systems
As many environmental activists and advocates have observed, individual-level change is important, but system-wide change is even more so. In a 2015 interview with publisher Chelsea Green upon the publication of his book The Permaculture City, Toby Hemenway shared that, “[o]ne thing I kept noticing, as did many other permaculturists, was that we could design and build these wonderfully productive and biologically healthy landscapes that would function beautifully, but they’d repeatedly be destroyed or compromised by social or economic factors. A great shared garden that was the hub of a community…would be bulldozed for development, or a group of people would find houses in the same neighborhood and build a supportive, informal community and then, because that made the place so desirable, be gentrified out of their homes. So we can build great gardens and landscapes, but we can’t sustain them in a dysfunctional or unjust culture. If being sustainable was simply a matter of buying or building the right stuff, we’d have been there long ago. It’s the political and social side that is the hard part.”
So, what opportunities are there for a more biodiverse, resilient landscape right where you live? And what’s currently getting in the way of making that happen or ensuring that it stands the tests of time? Insecure tenancies, restrictive council bylaws, income inequality, community breakdown – none of us can address all of these issues alone. Still, we can align ourselves with the people, organizations, and politicians who are moving change in life-giving directions.