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In celebration of Earth Day: a conversation on the deep roots of regenerative farming [replay]

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KAYTE YOUNG:  From WFIU in Bloomington, Indiana, this is Earth Eats and I'm your host, Kayte Young.

LIZ CARLISLE:  When I try to understand why on Earth would agriculture be practiced that way, the answer really is colonization. The answer really is, this wasn't about managing land for everybody's mutual benefit. This was a process of extraction.

KAYTE YOUNG:  This week on the show we explore the deep roots of regenerative farming with Liz Carlisle, author of Healing Grounds, and we learn about restoring native prairies and bringing buffalo back to the land with Latrice Tatsey of the Blackfeet Nation in North Western Montana. Stay with us.

KAYTE YOUNG:  Thanks for listening to Earth Eats, I'm Kayte Young.

KAYTE YOUNG:  On a show about food and farming, a show called Earth Eats, the subject of climate change and the role of agriculture comes up quite a bit. It's becoming increasingly clear that the dominant forms of agriculture practiced in the US, namely mono-culture row cropping, relying on chemical fertilizers and pesticides, heavy tilling of the soil year after year, confined animal feeding operations, these systems have released carbon into the atmosphere, and are contributing to the warming of the planet. As we turn our attention towards more sustainable growing methods, regenerative agriculture is presented as something new. These methods of rotational grazing, cover cropping, agroforestry, even composting, they come from indigenous practices or they come from Black farming traditions which can be traced back to farming on the African continent or from indigenous farmers in Central and South America. And some might say, well it doesn't really matter where they come from, the point is to put them into practice, and quickly, because we're running out of time.

KAYTE YOUNG:  In Liz Carlisle's new book, Healing Grounds: Climate, Justice and the Deep Roots of Regenerative Farming, she tells the stories of four women of color working in regenerative agriculture and she makes the argument that the origins of these practices and the involvement of the people who's knowledge has been ignored, whose land has been stolen, whose labor has been exploited - this is the crucial piece in coming to terms with the climate crisis we all face. One of the people featured in the book is Latrice Tatsey, a bison ecologist on the Blackfeet Nation in North Western Montana.

LATRICE TATSEY:  [FOREIGN DIALOGUE]. Hello my name is Buffalo Stonewoman, Amskapiipkini. My English name is Latrice Tatsey, I am from the Blackfeet Nation born and raised. I grew up on my family ranch where I'm currently doing this interview from and, just being a student and a learner, studying the land and the animals, and using that to further my education through the university systems while pursuing my knowledge through the cultural sciences and the cultural path, and that's what I see myself doing throughout my life, working with students to bring them back to the land. So I just see myself as a researcher, a mom and, and just wanting to continue to learn all that I can while sharing the knowledge that I have with, with others.

KAYTE YOUNG:  I brought Latrice Tatsey and Liz Carlisle, the author of Healing Grounds, together for this conversation.

LIZ CARLISLE:  I'm Liz Carlisle and I was born and raised in Montana, I'm from a settler background. I had the incredible privilege of actually spending some time in the territory of the Blackfeet Nation when I was a young person and, my interest in agriculture came from my grandmother's story. She lost our family farm in the Dust Bowl and I've always been hungry to reconnect with land but in a good way, and to try and understand that tragedy that's happened across the prairies of the North American continent, and how I could be part of a healing process. Now I'm an Assistant Professor in the Environmental Studies program at UC Santa Barbara. I get to work with some really amazing students and I also have the privilege of speaking with leaders like Latrice, who's part of this conversation today, who are really doing the work on the ground to turn the story around from agriculture as extraction and this oppressive process rooted in colonization, to agriculture as healing, resistance, as indigenous communities and communities of color rising and leading us all into, a future that we can be proud of, that we can be proud of the legacy that we're leaving for our children and our grandchildren.

KAYTE YOUNG:  Liz Carlisle is the author of Healing Grounds: Climate, Justice and the Deep Roots of Regenerative Farming, which is the topic of our discussion today. I wanted to hear from Liz about what led her to writing this book.

LIZ CARLISLE:  I've been really concerned about agriculture's role in climate change, specifically since 2008 is when I started pursuing this as the direction of my work and the direction I would take professionally. But it's rooted more deeply than that for me. It is because my family lost our farm in the Dust Bowl and lost our land connection and I think in a sense like lost our way [LAUGHS]. I've been looking for that how can we be in a healing reciprocal relationship with land ever since. But I've been studying this question of how farming can be transformed from a climate problem into a climate solution as a researcher and I've gotten to talk to a lot of amazing farmers and scientists who are working on this question. And in recent years there's been a really big debate about how much of a climate solution regenerative agriculture really is. So you'd have something like the '4 per mille' study, a big international study that's concluding, oh my goodness, like, this could offset up to a third of human-caused emissions. A global transition to regenerative agriculture.

LIZ CARLISLE:  But then you also have people saying, no, this is really just smoke and mirrors. It's more of a marketing campaign. There's not really very much regenerative agriculture can do to restore carbon to soils. And so when I started researching this book, my question was, "Is regenerative agriculture a powerful climate solution or is it not?" [LAUGHS]. And I think what I learned is that, well, it depends on how deeply you approach it. So if we keep business as usual in agriculture, but add some individual practices like no-till or some cover crops here and there but call it regenerative agriculture, that is the smoke and mirrors [LAUGHS]. But if we take the word regeneration at its heart and if we really follow the lead of the indigenous communities and the communities of color that have these ancestral traditions of regenerative agriculture and reciprocal relationships with land that go back hundreds of years, thousands of years, back to time immemorial, if we really take that seriously, reshaping our society's relationship to land and really healing colonization, that actually does have a lot of power to shift the direction of climate change and at the same time, to address racial injustice and colonization which of course we need to do anyway. So that, for me, was the journey of this book, is realizing that if we approach regenerative agriculture not just as a climate solution but really as part of a larger process of decolonization, we're going to have a whole lot more success.

LIZ CARLISLE:  I got to connect specifically with four women and we get to speak today with Latrice Tatsey from Blackfeet Nation who's doing super-inspiring work on buffalo restoration and I think as a regenerative grazing expert, speaks both to the importance of buffalo restoration and specifically tribally-led buffalo restoration, but then also has this experience of being a cattle producer and understanding what cattle producers, and indigenous cattle producers in particular, are learning from these deep relationship that they have with native herbivores. And then in the second chapter, I got to speak with Olivia Watkins. She has an agroforestry operation - she's forest farming in North Carolina, on a piece of land that's been in her family for over 100 years, and when she talks about conserving forested land, she's also talking about conserving Black-owned land, which is a incredibly powerful legacy given all of the obstacles that Black farmers have faced over the last, hundred years plus.

 And then, I live and work in California now even though I was born and raised in Montana and in the last couple of sections of the book, I got to speak to a couple really inspiring agroecology readers here in the state of California. Aidee Guzman, who recently finished a PhD at UC Berkeley looking at the connection between above ground biodiversity and the below ground biodiversity in the soil that really helps drive carbon sequestration processes, and she herself is from a family that immigrated from Mexico, from a diversified small farm that's been in her family for a long time and then worked in agriculture in this country in more industrial farming operations. And through her research, she knew that there were all of these immigrant farmers in the Central Valley who weren't being contacted by researchers or even counted in the USDA census of agriculture and she partnered with these farmers who, mostly immigrants who had these diversified small farms and demonstrated that they were also cultivating this below ground biodiversity that's so important for soil carbon sequestration.

LIZ CARLISLE:  And then actually her neighbor not that far down the road in the Fresno area who is featured in the fourth chapter, is Nicki [UNSURE OF NAME], who has this extraordinary family background. It was her grandparents' generation that were incarcerated during World War Two simply for the "crime" of their Japanese descent and they lost their farm, they lost everything and they had to rebuild. But they made this decision to literally seed their future in this soil and this place where they had been told they didn't belong. And she, she's farming organic peaches and nectarines. Her dad converted the place to organic and doing all this really incredible work as an organic farmer but also as an advocate for immigrant communities and all sorts of communities who have been told they don't belong in agriculture.

KAYTE YOUNG:  I'm speaking with Liz Carlisle and Latrice Tatsey about Carlisle's new book, Healing Grounds. We'll be delving into that second chapter focused on Latrice Tatsey and the buffalo restoration project at the Blackfeet Nation in Northern Montana. Stay with us.

KAYTE YOUNG:  Kayte Young here. This is Earth Eats. I'm talking with Liz Carlisle, author of Healing Grounds, and Latrice Tatsey, whose work is featured in the book. Tatsey studies bison ecology. I asked her to explain.

LATRICE TATSEY:  Well for me we refer to bison as in-nii and to study it and talk about studying it, it started culturally with my people and carried on through generations and generations. And even with a lot of the extermination of the buffalo, the knowledge base stayed with my family, even as we adopted agrarian practices such as ranching. And my father, he is a really big part of my identity in understanding our working with and being a part of, of this ecology, because growing up, where we live in Badger Creek, there's tee-pee rings, there's buffalo jumps and there's histories of the agencies that were in this area, where,, when they were switching to agrarian practices, so there's this, this rich history where I live and so growing up I was so fortunate.

 And I didn't know that as a young kid - I was a four and five year old riding on the back of a horse - that my dad had me finding [UNSURE OF WORD] throughout the hills while checking cows and, and looking at buffalo jumps and looking at tee-pee rings. Like I knew where those things were but I didn't understand the importance of them until I got older and I realized then that wow, I really like science - this is where I want to go. But I realized there wasn't a Native identity in science and I was just like that, that can't be because our upbringing, our survival was based off the land. How do we put a voice in science and how do we use our knowledge as a tool to help heal the land and what we've known from utilizing it from time immemorial, like Liz was talking about for indigenous people and people of color because this knowledge base is deep-rooted within us.

 And so at that point, I start studying these things and realized this is where it really aligns with the cultural teachings that were shared with me, from my father, that he learned from his grandparents who learned from his grandparents and so on. Knowing that, this information gives you the identity again and who you are, and now as an adult and doing this research, I want to have that identity in the work that I do, especially when it comes to agricultural practices because you read so much research and things that they do in the east, don't work for our arid country. And I was like, where do we learn more? And it's always been going back to our history and so learning of bison behavior, of the stories that our people would share, because we're oral sharers; we don't necessarily write everything down.

 We share information through, through visiting like we are now. And so you hear these stories of where, our people would burn grasses because they would want, the in-nii, the bison, to return to these areas and so you learn how they would help these natural processes because they knew this management that they were doing, because these animals were moving to different resources, there had to be a way to manage that in such a way that would benefit them. And so the more I start reading this research that was being done on bison behavior by early scientists and realize this information is just reconfirming of what our people already know, so how do I take what we know and make it to where we could use these teachings to work with and foster the eco-system and, and renew it?

 Looking at bison behavior, you look at the evolution of the world and animals and based on where an animal is, they build and they foster this relationship with the land. And I realized bison have evolved in the Great Plains area and there's these ecological relationships and wondered what do we not know about it yet, and what can we learn? And so doing this, and with my research for my graduate program, I really had to go back to the land and not look at it in such like Eurocentric or Western science, since everything in the West has to be labeled a certain way, and go back to the cultural teachings. And I was like, this, this cultural information, this is cultural science. And so in honoring it as such, as a science, and really visiting people who were working with the tribal buffalo herds and Eurocentric science or Western science, they take the people and they want it just to be the study of your control and then you have your experiment and everything.

 And so in honoring it as such, as a science, and really visiting people who were working with the tribal buffalo herds and Eurocentric or Western science, they take the people out, and they want it just to be the study of your control and then you have your experiment. For me, I don't see science that way. In our culture, we are connected to the environment as people, we are a part of nature. And so that's how I really wanted to approach my work so when I was working with the bison managers and I wanted to know, where do these animals go, and what do they see, and bring in that human perspective back to the science with the observation because in science, observation is so important. And so I really, started asking what do you see these animals doing?

 And they tell me, in the morning, they're here and then in the afternoon, they moved here and in the evening they're way over here. And I was amazed. And this is the herd that I've done my study on and so then I could do a randomization of my data and just have a program, pick these sites on a map. Or I can listen to this information and try to see what these relationships are when I take my samples, and really see what these animals are doing and what I'm finding is soil is tricky. You don't see stuff right away and, and that's okay because everything takes time When you rush your process. There's all these things you figure out we're missing. These animals were historically on this land. They were removed and now they're being reintroduced so it's relearning what these relationship are from the tribal perspective of the management and the goals. .

 Because, you could say all these ecological benefits are awesome, but what benefits are also important in that is the reintroduction - just bringing the identity back to the land by reintroducing these animals, but also bringing the identity back to the people because that was lost for such a long time. And this book is all about healing and listening to Liz and these stories that are being told. It's going back to the land to heal the land but also to heal a part of yourself, because we are a part of nature and we are just as much part of that as all these animals and, and putting ourselves back out there is one of the most important things we can do and understand from a larger ecological perspective that we are a part of this eco-system. We're not above or below it.

 We are, in balance with it and how do we create these balances with all these imbalances that are going on around us, and so for me, that's the really big picture of all of these sciences and looking at people who've lived on this lands, had these relationships and understand what these lands were capable of, but also of looking at the histories of them because the identity to the place is really important. And like Liz said, with her family identity, she'll always have the identity to that land, just as many indigenous people who are pushed out of their lands, those identities are still there. And so I'm lucky that our tribe, we're still in our original territories. But now we're starting to bring back these animals that were once removed, but we're learning about them on these ecological levels and also bringing back our identity and so for me, that bison ecology, in-nii ecology, encompasses all of that. All of those processes.

KAYTE YOUNG:  What are some of the key differences between the way that you raise bison and the way that you would raise cattle, and their effect on the land?

LATRICE TATSEY:  First, you, you really have to understand their behavior and understand their evolution and how they evolved with the land. And so for bison, you really look at, they were constantly nomadically moving and then you look at cattle and you understand where they come from. They were really riparian animals and from areas where they didn't have to move throughout the land so much to graze and that, that's not really their, their nature or their habit. And so you really learn and get a real knowledge, like a vast knowledge base of these animals and so in, in doing that, you're learning about them and from being a rancher, I know in the summer these cows will not move out of these riparian areas that we gotta fence off. They get so hot that they, they just want to eat, drink and rest. And then looking when studying the bison herds in, in the same type of conditions, and watching them, they're constantly moving, drinking, moving.

 And so knowing those things and so when you understand these behaviors, you, you can start to realize you can't introduce these practices to cattle because the way that these bison are grazing is really beneficial to these plant communities, it's really beneficial to these watery sources, it's really beneficial to the soil. People come up with these hot terms such as "regenerative grazing" but bison have been grazing that way for a long time. And so now I'm going to watch what these animals do and then see how I could replicate it for management and that's some of the work that I am doing with Piikani Lodge Health Institute, working with ranchers. And so we're just trying to get a really good idea of, what can we learn from these animals to apply to ranchers who aren't comfortable. It's not that they don't want to switch operations because we're not here to say they need to.

 Because if you don't honor people's cultures, you're really taking away from them by saying cattle or buffalo aren't important. And they took a piece of that cultural identity from the person and if you say that to someone who's made this their life when it comes to cattle or buffalo, you're going to really rub someone the wrong way and you don't want to do that because you want to be just as respectful to the people in their ideals as you would want to be treated and you would want to treat the land. And so looking at with bison re-introduction you've also got to look at these ranchers, who have these leases on these lands, who are possibly going to be losing them to re-introduce bison and you can't just say "We're going to take that land, we're going to put in buffalo, and that's just the way it's going to be," because there's going to be so much animosity that it's not going to be very productive.

 So it really comes down to talking with these rangers, and that's what I do from a rancher background but also be a advocate for in-nii and bison because those relationships that they have with the land is also really important. So it's about really finding this balance and how you can use this, this information and, and find a way that can persuade ranchers to compromise. Because you don't want to just take that away, because I feel like that's what creates these fights between cattle ranchers and bison ranchers throughout the whole United States, because they're pitting them against each other and that shouldn't be, because with all the research I've been reading, they graze differently.

 It's really interesting, learning how they graze. I have three buffalo cows right now; eventually when my herd builds up, could I graze my buffalo in this pasture, move them on, then graze my cattle and let this pasture rest? And what am I going to see? Because we talk about diversity right? And we're talking about this diversity of plants on the soil and what that does for the diversity of the soil - not only for plants but for animals? Because before we decided to plow the land, we realized we had grizzly bears, wolves, elk and in-nii. Now, these animals are known to be more towards the mountains, but prior to that they were a part of these landscape eco-systems.

 And so not only for farming and planting, but we want to know what benefits we can see by diversifying our grazing, too, and so that's something that is future work. But that really relates to regenerative in the ways that I want to move forward with it, because both of these animals are important. I've raised beef cattle from a bottle-fed one - I had a pet calf growing up - and then, now raising my own buffalo cows, they put in identity in you and you put your identity in them and so I feel like if I weren't one or the other, then I wouldn't be honoring the full me, of who I am and my background. I don't know if you hear a lot of indigenous people say this, but they say a lot of times, you walk in two worlds, and a lot of times I do that but I'm always the one who's trying to like break down that stereotype and be like, we're walking in the same world.

 As people we create these boundaries and they're seen, you can't see them, but we create them and I feel like with what Liz is doing and with the work that the individuals are doing in her book, we're saying, these boundaries don't exist because culturally they never existed and how do we share that with you and to ensure that, we're managing these lands in a way that they heal and we heal but we get to keep our identities within our own practices.

KAYTE YOUNG:  I'm speaking with Latrice Tatsey who lives on land in the Blackfeet Nation in Montana and studies bison ecology. She's featured in the new book, Healing Grounds: Climate, Justice and the Deep Roots of Regenerative Farming, by Liz Carlisle. We'll hear more from Liz and Latrice after a short break.

KAYTE YOUNG:  You're tuned to Earth Eats, I'm Kayte Young. Let's return to my conversation with Liz Carlisle and Latrice Tatsey. Liz, you make the connection in the book between settler, colonialism in the 1800s and early 1900s, barbed wire fencing and the 1887 General Allotment Act which is also known as the Dawes Act. And you say that these are crucial to understanding the origins of the climate crisis brought about by US grain agriculture and I was wondering if you could make that connection for us.

LIZ CARLISLE:  Thanks so much for asking that question. So I'm coming to this research, thinking these questions about how do agriculture and climate relate to each other, and how can we shift agriculture so that's it's less of a climate problem and more of a climate solution. And one thing that's really clear to me is that there used to be a lot more carbon in the soil than there is now and we're lucky that there still is as much as there is, [LAUGHS]. Soils globally are a really important carbon sink and if it weren't for all the carbon stored in the soil we'd have a heck of a lot more of it in the atmosphere. But historically there was a lot more carbon stored in soil, and one of the primary reasons that carbon is no longer in the soil is because of a form of agriculture that involves really heavy tillage and plowing, so disrupting those soil eco-systems to begin with and then not necessarily replacing that vegetation. So if you look across, the North American continent and you look at areas where, farming is bring practiced in this settler, colonial mode, you often see crops that are planted in monoculture during the growing season but then the soil is bare in the winter. There aren't a lot of perennial plants.

 Some farmers are starting to experiment with cover crops and things like that but mostly if you drive through the middle of the country in the winter, you see soil just eroding, due to wind, due to rain, due to snow, and part of what's happening in that process is that carbon is continually being released from those soils. And actually not just carbon, also nitrogen. So we have this state of agriculture right now in much of the North American continent where not only was there a lot of carbon already released, with the first plowing, but there's continuous carbon being released because there's not roots in the ground all year round. And so when I try to understand, why on Earth would agriculture be practiced that way, the answer really is colonization.

 The answer really is,this wasn't about managing land for everybody's mutual benefit. This was a process of extraction in so many senses. So the reason that agriculture was designed in a way that extracts nutrients from soil is it was part of this larger extraction. People were being extracted out of land that they'd had a relationship for, with, for ever and ever and ever. The whole idea, the United States was a colony. The whole idea was to extract wealth and resources from this land and collect them and, concentrate them for elites, originally in Europe, and later on all of that happened within what became the United States. And a really important way in which all that played out in the Western part of the country, where it's a lot more arid and prairies have this very particular relationship. They're incredibly powerful and rich eco-systems that can store a lot of carbon and be very ecologically productive, but they're also fragile in important ways, these arid eco-systems in the Western part of the United States.

 And all of the organisms that had lived there prior to European colonization, understood this. Latrice talks about how bison would go really, really long distances and graze selectively, and that was in balance with the kinds of plants that survived on these semi-arid prairies. And then indigenous peoples who lived with these animals and with these plants, had burning practices that amplified these kinds of cycles of regeneration and vegetation, and so there was a life way of mobility that was really important to the reciprocal relationships among people and plants and animals and soils. And so when European colonizers came to the western part of what's now the United States, with this goal of creating wealth through private property and pushing indigenous peoples off their lands, and when they created fences and reservations, they fenced all of these lives that had been in continual motion.

 They isolated them from each other, and all of these beings that relied on their relationships with each other for their thriving and their survival - people, animals, plants, soils - they were fenced off by fences, by reservations, by the Dawes Act, by these policies, from their relationships with each other so that all of this land could be stolen, carved up into private property and wealth could be derived from it in an extractive way. The processes of colonization and the processes through which we have a climate problem on the North American prairie are so closely intertwined and that's why if you're talking about healing these lands, if you're talking about trying to restore these lands, you really have to ask these questions about the Dawes Act and boarding schools and reservations.

 The way in which people and land and animals were treated, it was often the same officials in the same agencies and as Latrice has said, the people who are part of these ecological relationships are absolutely at the center and if you're not restoring sovereignty to those peoples, you're not restoring anything [LAUGHS] about these eco-systems. Fences just do not make sense for, the western part of the North American continent, or really any other semi-arid area around the world, and the purpose of those fences wasn't about ecological productivity, although that cover story was presented sometimes about forage and cows and things like that. The real reason that fences were built is because that is what facilitated, wealth through private property and, and theft of land through this private property concept, which was not consistent with the way indigenous peoples were relating to, sharing, or governing land.

 So there's been this story for a long time that fencing had something to do with ecological management of cattle [LAUGHS] and that got propagated through early range science for many, many decades, but I think even what a lot of scientists who work with cattle are now starting to realize is that the history of their own discipline was just completely colored by the fact that it was invented to serve this colonial purpose. And so if you really do care about animals and land and people who live with animals and land, you have to start questioning why these fences were put in place and how really would we live on land with animals if the goal was the mutual flourishing of everybody?

KAYTE YOUNG:  I'm curious you both brought this up and I would just like to hear a little more detail about it. The, the practice of burning, and how fires and grazing interact when it comes to bison.

LIZ CARLISLE:  Yeah, I mean it's been a really interesting time for me to be alive with respect to fire ecology because I was born in 1984 and we were still in this fire suppression period - that's the way a lot of, US Government agencies were thinking about how to manage fire and Smokey Bear and all that stuff! [LAUGHS] And then the fire in Yellowstone Park happened when I was a little girl and people in Missoula, Montana where I was born and raised, were very concerned, that Yellowstone would never come back, because it drives this huge tourist economy in our state and it's never going to look the same and people were just like wringing their hands. And people were very surprised to see what Yellowstone looked like two or three years after that fire, and that plants were growing here! [LAUGHS].

 And since that time, there's starting to be more tribally-led burning and asking indigenous people, how did you manage this land with fire previously? And this concept of good fire and more and more intentional burnings happening on not just tribally-owned lands but also now some of these parks that are understanding, this is indigenous territory and we need to at least pursue co-management. I've had the chance over my lifetime to see this shift and to actually see land coming back after a good fire that's been set in an intentional way. I don't study fire ecology but it was fascinating for me to hear from Latrice and from some of her colleagues about why fire was a really important tool historically and, and why it's important that we bring it back, just because it amplifies these cycles every generation.

 And this patchiness of the prairie landscape that was something that was so hard, I think, for the Euro-American colonizer mindset to understand, where for so long the idea was well, a good healthy ranch has this very homogeneous vegetation, this very homogeneous forage and to understand that a prairie that's ecologically healthy and storing carbon doesn't just look like one homogeneous stress of grass - it's not a golf course! Like that actual diversity that fire amplifies, of different kinds of vegetation and different stages of growth, is exactly what so many of the species need for their habitat and what is driving all this life that's then cycling carbon and just all of these ecological relationships.

LATRICE TATSEY:  And I would just like to touch more on what Liz was saying too. Especially in, in the foothills of the mountains where we live, with all the fire suppression that we've had this - I hope I'm using the right term, is it regression? Where all of these pines are coming in and, and they're the same age and they're pushing out the grasses. What happens is those pine needles will drop and those pine needles are a little more acidic. So it's creating the soils to be a little more acidic because grasses need more of a neutral pH and so a lot of that burning stopped until these [UNSURE OF WORD], you get these intense fires because there's so much downfall and so much older brush, that when these places catch, they burn so hot that it neutralizes the soil to where nothing can grow for long periods of time because all the nutrients are so wiped out.

 And so it's a to and fro of, figuring out when you do reintroduce it to these areas, how is that going to be based on the history, that of burning and the stopping, and bringing that balance Liz was talking about back? Because right now, like again what we see when these fires take off, they burn so hot.

KAYTE YOUNG:  That's really interesting 'cause someone like me, I just think fire is fire! I don't think of a hotter fire or cooler fires so but that totally makes sense, that if you're burning a lot of pine and fallen branches of pine, that it's going to be hotter and maybe do more damage to the soil organisms than a more surface fire of grasses. So it does make sense and it's really interesting.

KAYTE YOUNG:  I would love to hear just some closing thoughts from, from both of you. I mean, we've already talked a lot about what's at stake with this work and why, thinking about these regenerative practices is so important. What do you think we could be doing in terms of where should we be pushing policymakers at this point in time? What are some of the opportunities that are before us now? I was wondering, Liz, if you could talk to that, if that's something you've been looking at?

LIZ CARLISLE:  I think policy is a really important part of this and I think one of the biggest lessons for me in this book is that there is no substitute for restoring indigenous leadership and leadership from communities of color in terms of these regenerative agriculture practices that are actually rooted in these much, much deeper ancestral relationships to lay out. And so if you're just talking about cover cropping and no-till, that's just the surface level. There's so much beneath that and there's just no substitute for addressing the fact that 98 per cent of agriculture land in the US is white-owned and the reasons for that have do with, stealing all this indigenous land and then adding to that process with additional layers of land theft, from Black people, from immigrants, from people who have worked on land for years and years and years but never had any opportunity to become farmers themselves.

 So I think it's really important to actually pursue land justice policy. I've been really excited by a bill that Cory Booker and a number of senators put forth, that would actually grant land grants to Black farmers. I've been excited by the Land Back movement, I'm really excited to see Deb Haaland in her position. I'm excited to hear much more conversation about returning national parks to their indigenous land stewards. So I think land justice has to be at the center of how we think about regenerative agriculture. And then I also think, we need to shift the existing public subsidies that we put into agriculture. I think it's appropriate that we spend a lot of public money on the farming sector because it has a lot of potential public benefits.

 There's a lot of public goods at stake both in terms of the land stewardship and in terms of healthy food, but the way that we direct that money currently doesn't officially allocate it to serve its public benefits. It's just mostly propping up these monoculture commodity systems. And so we need to redirect those subsidies to support people who are growing healthy food for their communities and I think buffalo restoration is just a perfect example of, a cultural food that's healthy on so many levels beyond a reductive nutrients approach, although you can certainly analyze in that way too and talk about omega-3s. So we should be using our farm subsidies in a really targeted way to support producers who are doing things that give back to the land and who are growing healthy food for their communities. And then most importantly, we really need to give land back to indigenous communities and we need to ensure land access for communities of color.

KAYTE YOUNG:  Liz just mentioned Deb Haaland and if that name's not familiar, she was talking about the current Secretary of the Interior who made history when she became the first Native American to serve as a cabinet secretary. She's a member of the Pueblo of Laguna and a 35th generation New Mexican. I asked Latrice for her closing thoughts.

LATRICE TATSEY:  What Liz was saying is bringing more diversity into these areas is important just because they've been excluded for so long that when these ideas come back, it's like they're suddenly considered new, but no, not necessarily. These, these ideas and this knowledge is deep-rooted in these people, and so including them in these conversations is important. Our people, we have a medicine wheel and in that medicine wheel there's four colors, and those four colors represent everybody who lives on Mother Earth. And so we were all about inclusion, including everyone and I think we just need that to happen for people of color. We could brainstorm so many great ideas but if we bring in so many more people of different backgrounds, with those collaborations, we could change so many things. But that won't happen until we bring everybody in, in a way that respects their ideas and sees them as crucial information, not just something that someone of color is just saying and that could be not utilized because that has happened so much to people.

 Even including my dad and you couldn't even imagine what it would have been like historically for, for his parents and grandparents, but now me having a voice, and that starting from my grandparents to my dad to me and to my children, we're able to shatter those glass doors and put ourselves in these positions where people of color, indigenous, Black, everyone, should have always been.

KAYTE YOUNG:  Well thank you both so much for taking this time with me and I really appreciate you bringing this book together, Liz. It's, it's really great, so thank you.

LATRICE TATSEY:  Thank you. This is is my first podcast ever so, looking forward to re-listening to the conversations because our people shared information through story and through talking and, and for me, I'm like, this is, this is what we're doing and we're sharing that knowledge base in a way that was culturally practiced by my people, so, thank you.

LIZ CARLISLE:  It's just been an absolutely wonderful way to spend this last hour in conversation with you two, and I just really, really appreciate it. Thank you.


KAYTE YOUNG:  That was Latrice Tatsey, member of the Blackfeet Nation in North Western Montana. She studies buffalo ecology and is finishing up a graduate degree in Environmental Science at Montana State University. We also spoke with Liz Carlisle, Assistant Professor in the Environmental Studies program at UC Santa Barbara and author of the book Healing Grounds: Climate, Justice and the Deep Roots of Regenerative Farming just released in March of 2022 with Island Press. Find more on our website,

KAYTE YOUNG:  That's it for our show this week. Thanks for listening. We'll see you next time.

DANIELLA RICHARDSON:  The Earth Eats team includes Eoban Binder, Mark Chilla, Toby Foster, Abraham Hill, Josephine McRobbie, Payton Whaley, the reporters at Harvest Public Media and me, Daniella Richardson.

KAYTE YOUNG:  Special thanks this week to Liz Carlisle and Latrice Tatsey.

DANIELLA RICHARDSON: Our theme music is composed by Erin Tobey and performed by Erin and Matt Tobey. Additional music on the show comes to us from the artist at Universal Production Music. Earth Eats is produced and edited by Kayte Young and our executive producer is John Bailey.

portrait of Latrice Tatsey next to a portrait of Liz Carlisle

Bison ecologist Latrice Tatsey is featured in Liz Carlisle's new book released in March of 2022 with Island Press. (courtesy of the author) (courtesy of the author)

“When I try to understand–why on earth would agriculture be practiced that way? The answer is colonization. The answer really is--this wasn’t about managing land for everyone’s mutual benefit. This was a process of extraction.”

This week on the show, we explore the deep roots of regenerative agriculture with Liz Carlisle, author of Healing Grounds:Climate, Justice and the Deep Roots of Regenerative Farming. And learn about restoring native prairies and bringing buffalo back to the land with Latrice Tatsey of the Blackfeet Nation in northwestern Montana. Tatsey is one of the researchers featured in Carlisle’s book. 

adult and two children wearing face coverings, looking down and working with a round metal tray and ziplock bags in a lab setting
Latrice Tatsey sifting soils from her sample collections from the Blackfeet Buffalo Ranch with her daughter Baeley and her son Terrance.(courtesy of the author)

On a show about food and farming--a show called Earth Eats--the subject of climate change and the role of agriculture comes up often. It is becoming increasingly clear that the dominant forms of agriculture practiced in the US, namely monoculture row-cropping, relying on chemical fertilizers and pesticides, heavy tilling of the soil year after year, confined animal feeding operations–-these systems have released carbon into the atmosphere and are contributing to the warming of the planet. 

As we turn our attention towards more sustainable growing methods, regenerative agriculture is often presented as something new. Liz Carlisle’s new book Healing Grounds: Climate, Justice and the Deep Roots of Regenerative Farming, reveals the deep roots of these practices found in communities of color, both historically and currently. She tells the stories of four women women of color working in regenerative agriculture, and she argues that the origins of these practices, and the involvement of the people whose knowledge has been ignored, whose land has been stolen, who’s labor has been exploited, this is the crucial piece in coming to terms with the climate crisis we all face.

One of the people featured in the book is Latrice Tatsey, a bison ecologist in the Blackfeet Nation in northwestern Montana. I brought Latrice Tatsey and Liz Carlisle together for this conversation.

Music on this Episode:

The Earth Eats theme music is composed by Erin Tobey and performed by Erin and Matt Tobey.

Additional music on this episode from Universal Production Music.


The Earth Eats’ team includes: Eoban Binder, Alexis Carvajal, Alex Chambers, Mark Chilla, Toby Foster, Daniella Richardson, Samantha Shemenaur, Payton Whaley and Harvest Public Media.

Earth Eats is produced, engineered and edited by Kayte Young. Our executive producer is Eric Bolstridge.

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