Life Transition, Inner Ecology, Sacred Activism

The art of slowing down

Modern life is fast: we run through our lives like never before. We have more efficient ways of communications, faster transport than ever, devices that connect us to anyone, anywhere, anytime… But despite all the ‘improved’ technology, one thing is becoming increasingly scarce: Time.

One of the characteristics of modern life is its fast pace: we run through our lives like never before. We have more efficient ways of communications, faster transport than ever, devices that connect us to anyone, anywhere, anytime… But despite all the ‘improved’ technology, there is one thing that feels like it is becoming increasingly more scarce: Time.

There is a principle in Nature that says: the faster energy moves through a system, the more the system degenerates. Alternatively, the slower energy flows, the more generative that energy becomes. Why is that?

Imagine a rain storm.

Rain hits the roof of a house, flows down the gutter into the street, then into a strom gutter, and straight into the sea. Has anyone, anything, benefited from that rain? Most likely not… Probably, it has even degraded some parts of the local ecology in the form of soil erosion or compaction, underground water supplies depleted, urban pollution being thrown into the sea, etc… This is what happens in a degraded environment such as a concreted city landscapes: this is a good example of a degenerative cycle.

Now take the same rainstorm, in an environment in which nature has been either maintained or reintroduced. Imagine how some elements of nature could easily, and effortlessly, create a regenerative cycle: rain falls from the sky, hits the leaves from a tree and is being slowed down; as it gently touches the ground it is absorbed by biomass and infiltrated into the soil by plant roots. In the process the soil is being opened and nourished, biodiversity is being fed, underground water tables are being replenished, water is being filtered. This is what we call a regenerative cycle. In this process, not only is the energy of water being used, it is shared and its benefits are being multiplied: a lot of other natural services are also being supported: shade from the trees, healthy soil hosting life, atmospheric CO² sequestration, free food supply, etc.!

All of this comes from slowing down water. What happens when we slow energy down is that it is being made available to more parts of the ecosystem. More animals, plants, and humans are using it, and as a result more value is being produce : we have a greater diversity and scope of services. This is because in nature cooperation plays a larger role than competition.

One of the lessons we get from a careful observation of such phenomenon in Nature, is that cooperation creates abundance. The same amount of energy can be used any number of times as it is being passed on to different elements of the ecosystem: this ‘working with’ mindset allows emergence and regeneration. On the other hand, when we ‘work against’, when we are fast to grab and possess energy for ourselves only, we create scarcity and degeneration.

Maybe we should also consider this in our personal lives. The fast paced, individualistic lifestyles that have become the norm in modern industrialized societies DO NOT create abundance, resilience nor happiness. At best they create a very limited form of material wealth for a handful of humans only, the cost of which is the alienation of nature, our sense of belonging to something greater, our global resilience… and an unbearable amount of suffering for all of life on Earth.

When we want stuff right now, we do not appreciate the work it takes to get it. When we want results immediately, we do not learn the lessons along the way.

When we jump towards conclusions and opinions, we do not consider the complexity and subtlety of a healthy thinking process.

When we want fast food without the effort of growing it, we miss months of intimate relationship with it.

When we rush through our lives, we pass by surprising opportunities without seeing them.

Slowing down is very difficult for me: even if I see the benefits of it, there is always a part of me that says: “if you go faster, you’ll go further, you’ll do more, you’ll have more, you’ll be more”… Do you feel that too?

I have recently started a regular sitting mediation practice. After years of proudly practicing mindfulness (the art of keeping a meditative state of mind even in action, which has been more than life saving since becoming a father), I have come to realize that this was also a trap, another mind-game to pack more and more things in my overloaded days. Sitting meditation on the other hand puts me in a situation to accept stillness and tell myself: “It’s ok, everything is being taken care of, you don’t have to do or think about anything. Slow down. Be still.”

One of my commitments to myself for 2022 is to slow down.

Why modern agriculture is failing us

The agro-industry is only as strong as our complicity. Transitioning to Agroforestry systems is not only a matter of good and bad, or duty and obligation. It is a matter of enjoying a life of beauty, meaning, and nourishment that nature can provide…

… and it starts with your next meal!

How we are letting ourselves be deceived

Modern Agriculture is deceiving us in many ways.

Given modern agriculture has been successful at feeding an increasing population of humans in the 20th century, it seems the vast majority of people dare not criticize it. Yes, the mission of the industry to feed the world has been, mostly, successful: less people starve than ever before, at least proportionally speaking. For that reason, most of us think criticizing the agroindustry is lacking gratitude and inappropriate.

A key element of deceit is found in its name: almost never do its proponents refer to it the agro-industry or petro-chemical farming. Rather it goes under more flattering names such as traditional or conventional agriculture creating a psychological bond for consumers – even if the names are complete lies.

Last but not least, we have become addicted to cheap and available food from all over the place any time of year. Considering a radical change in our food systems threatens our comfort: can we accept eating new foods that match our local climate? Are we willing to let seasons decide our diet, to eat only local crops, and give up our international treats? This is a threat to our individualistic consumer-centrist mindsets that many people may see as a degradation of their lifestyle.

Fact check on modern agricultural practices

A heavily subsidized industry

One of the facts that is rarely mentioned when doing a cost/benefit analysis of the different agricultural systems is the level of subsidies needed to run them. In Europe we have the Common Agricultural Policy to protect our agricultural system. This is the subsidy system by which nations (and therefore corporations by means of lobbying) control price and production in a completely virtual way: rather than organizing our consumption from what nature grants us, we shape nature and agricultural outcomes to fit our needs. This system relies so heavily on subsidies that most French farmers actually earn their living from them rather than from their work growing food.

Not only does this have deleterious psychological effects on farmers, this subsidy system also creates a strong incentive not to change practices, and makes industrial farming look more productive and efficient than it actually is. Without subsidies, the economic comparison with agroforestry systems would be very different in favor of natural food production systems.

The hidden costs:

Modern agriculture also boasts economic results only because it externalizes so many of its real costs:

  • environmental pollution;
  • climate change (GHG and soil degradation);
  • public health (we are being poisoned by chemicals and GMO);
  • social costs: the countryside producing regions are dying, farmers are heavily in debt because of their investments in machinery;
  • spiritual costs: farmers have lost their privileged relationship to soil and earth and have been alienated from sacred relationship to plants and life.

Should we internalize all these costs, the industry would simply not survive. If corporations in the agrobusiness had to pay for restoring the environmental, climate, health and social damage, they would go bankrupt immediately. Still, they make billions of dollars on the heritage of our children and future generations.

The energy and transport dilemma:

The whole system of modern agriculture – which is based on David Ricardo’s comparative advantage economic theory – relies on cheap energy: the cost of fuel is largely underestimated, making transport cheap and the use of tractors affordable.

We know the era of cheap fuel is coming to an end: soon, as the resource runs dry, the cost of transport will go up, fast. The repercussions on the availability of food at affordable prices will be drastic and immediate.

Most major cities have about 3 days food security. Most countries import a vast majority of their food. When food prices skyrocket due to a petrol crisis, most countries will not have the time to reorganize their production systems to meet their population’s demand.

Why Agrofrestry systems will have to be adopted everywhere

Agroforestry and other natural farming systems can turn all of the above hidden-costs into collateral benefits.

Local food production

Where industrial agriculture relies on the implementation of centralized systems with complete disregard of local cultural and environmental specificities, agroforestry food systems rely on traditional knowledge and the proper assessment of the local context. It is a dynamic that works bottom-up and empowers the base, aka the people.

By relocalizing our food production we alleviate our dependence on fuel and external factors (the fertilizer and chemical industry), and learn how to best manage our local resources to fertilize the soil and build thriving ecosystems. While it is true that it takes more time, it can also be said that the yields increase every year, whereas industrial yields go down and are increasingly dependent on chemical inputs.

Last but not least, local food systems create immediate food security: this means people’s lives are not subject to market fluctuations and geopolitical ups and downs.

Public Health & nutrition

It is also obvious that the health of people will benefit from a local agroforestry food system. First because it will get rid of all the chemical and synthetic agents we find in industrial food and their related illnesses. Then because organically produced food, when grown in a living soil and diverse environment is more nutrient-rich and thus has a higher value for the body. Finally because by eating local and seasonal crops, we align our metabolism to the patterns and pace of nature and let her heal us deep inside.

Positive climate impact

The positive climate change impact of agroforestry plays out at multiple levels.

Because it is not dependent on fuel, its direct emissions of GHG are largely reduced through the use of little or no tractors and little to no transport. Food is consumed where it is produced.

Because Agroforestry focuses on healthy soils, it restores healthy ecosystems and their natural capacity to store atmospheric carbon into the soil. Instead of increasing global warming, these systems actually clean our atmosphere and, used on a large scale, could help reverse global warming. Many projects are proof of that (Ernst Gotsch and Sebastiao Salgado in Brasil amongst many others).

The restoration of biodiversity on a large scale is likely to produce butterfly effects that we can’t foresee, but that will benefit local and global ecosystems, and the earth capacity to regenerate living systems and her regulations mechanisms.

Recreating local economies and communities: CSA models

On top of these social and environmental benefits, agroforestry systems have the capacity to recreate local circular economies, and thus to regenerate resilient communities.

Agroforestry farms don’t just produce a crop. They produce a range of natural resources upon which a natural economy can be built:

  • Diversity of rich food for its people;
  • Animal products;
  • Community cooking;
  • Organic matter (tree branches, fodder, manure, etc.) for composting;
  • Educational opportunities;
  • Ecotourism opportunities;

Because maintaining these ecosystems and harvesting and transforming all these resources is labor-intensive, local jobs can be created, thus enriching the community and the lives of the people.

The sooner the better

 For all the reasons shared above, this transition will have to happen. The agroindustry model is not sustainable, and therefore will come to its end. The question of agroforestry and natural agricultural systems is not whether it’s better than industrial agribusiness: it’s a matter of making sure we can eat when the latter inevitably collapses. The damages done to the earth can still be fixed, and the sooner we engage our collective transition, the better for everyone. 

There are many reasons why the transition towards agroecological food systems is taking time: some of it is due to the immaturity of the movement that has yet to find its identity (for example, what should we call ourselves? agroforestry, agroecology, permaculture, natural farming… this is confusing).

Some of it is also due to the inertia of a dying system that does not want to let go. Let’s be honest: there is denial, there is comfort, there is fear… and there is corruption. All of these have to be addressed at an individual level, and at the national and international level if things are to change. Policy makers have to open up and assess what’s going on beyond the reports that the industry writes for them.

But there is one thing we can all do, every day, multiple times a day. A direct democratic system that stands no corruption. We can all decide where we source our food, and through that, what system we support. The industry is only as strong as our complicity. Agroforestry systems and the people that make the effort to develop them need our support to thrive. It is not only a matter of good and bad, or duty and obligation. It is a matter of enjoying a life of beauty, meaning and nourishment that nature can provide.

In short, it is down to us to make the change

Support your local farmer.

Look for your closest CSA and become a member.

What if it were possible? SERIES – part 1 – deserts restoration

‘What if it were possible?’ is a new series I want to write every week or so to share inspiring projects around the world, led by people like you and me who’ve decided to stand for active hope and planetary regeneration. I hope to share my enthusiasm that if this can be done, then nothing is impossible!

‘What if it were possible?’ is a new series I want to write every week or so to share inspiring projects around the world, led by people like you and me who’ve decided to stand for active hope and planetary regeneration. I hope to share my enthusiasm that if this can be done, then nothing is impossible!