Greg Hart: New Zealand Pioneer of 'The Family Farm' on Regenerative Agriculture & Restoring Ecosystems

Interviewed by

Tim Lynch

Greg Hart: New Zealand Pioneer of 'The Family Farm' on Regenerative Agriculture & Restoring Ecosystems

​It’s all about an unfolding journey of working with the land experimenting with new and unconventional methods to bring balance to the ecology and yet be able to have the soil sustain them with high quality, nutrient dense - organic food. A life that he and his wife Rachel and children absolutely love.

Greg has also been involved in a significant tree planting program that coincided with the Air New Zealand Environment Trust wanting to plant trees to offset some of their aircraft emissions. This enabled them to bring their environmental footprint back down to earth - by planting 85,000 trees, the vast majority being natives.

The Family Farm

Greg Hart, his wife Rachel and family live beside a 30 hectare lake - (80 acres) on 1500 acres or 650 - hectares - which Greg says is an average size farm in the Hawkes Bay region for 1 and a bit person to run …

Their lake was where tuna or eeling took place by early Maori - plus waka or canoes have been found sunken in the lake too. These link back to Maori families, that Greg has connections to.

His farm is a mixture of beautiful rolling hills and some flat land and some steeper hill country with about 30 acres of remnants of native bush which he has been recently adding to.

Unfolding Journey of Discovery

It’s all about an unfolding journey of working with the land experimenting with new and unconventional methods to bring balance to the ecology and yet be able to have the soil sustain them with high quality nutrient dense organic food. A life that he wife Rachel and his children absolutely love.

He has a web page called ‘Restoring Paradise’ - where 1,000 years ago his area would have been in perfect balance …

It’s about working with the land, not extracting maximum yield - experiencing family, joy, people visiting and sharing.

Greg has been involved in a significant tree planting program that coincided with the Air New Zealand Environment Trust wanting to plant trees to offset some of its aircraft emissions and bring its environmental footprint back down to earth - by planting 85,000 trees, the vast majority being natives. The plan was to restore ecosystems and regenerating native forests.

To also become a working model of a sustainable regenerating agricultural system and have an open farm where visitors are encouraged to come and reconnect to nature and see where and how their food grows and comes from.

Because at present, NZ’s ecological systems, particularly due to dairy farming are becoming more out of balance.

A big driver for Greg is about sustainable food systems and food milage based on oil, and all the fossil fuels consumed in growing food. Grain imports coming from overseas to feed the pigs and chickens has a large ecological footprint.

In Greg’s estimation even his hens are not really sustainable either due to lack of granular food - with less organic wheat being grown in NZ.

Perennial as against Annual crop planting

Greg’s looking at more perennial crops so as to stop the continued cycle of growingeach and every year, with more labour and fuel consumption disturbing the soil, the soil microbes, greater erosion etc.

He has noticed that his pigs are doing quite a lot of damage to the soil on his farm and he has concerns about lack of soil cover and that with recent rains - can wash away this precious soil into drains and away. etc.

Regenerative Agriculture

The present focus is on regenerative agriculture - it is somewhat like organics and an ecological approach to sustainable land management - like building up soil carbon and humus in the soil. This is by reducing our carbon emissions due to the way this particular system sequesters Co2 out of the atmosphere and locking it down in the soil, as the soil is the biggest sink of carbon - it’s naturally built into the ‘earth system’.

So regenerative agriculture takes and locks down carbon and makes the soil more fertile resilient and also capable of producing more nutrient dense food.

Darren Doherty, a Permaculture practitioner teacher from Australia states: if the 5 billion hectares of agricultural soils around our planet were to increase their soil carbon content by 1.6% it would take out 100 parts per million of co2 out of the atmosphere - which is quite doable - this locking it back down in the soil. We could drop c02 content from 400 parts per million to 300 parts per million and it would really benefit our global food production.

Regenerative Agriculture increase biodiversity - whereas the present Neo-Liberal system is still cutting down forests to expand industrial agriculture - Greg is heading in the opposite direction and setting aside the less productive food growing areas and planting trees and restoring ecosystems and he is noticing the incredible increase in insects and bird life and nature is growing back into restoring itself with natural cycles starting to kick back in.

Water Quality

This brings up water quality and with quality humus this acts as a natural water filter and the need to keep the soil after heavy rains from washing into water courses, rivers and out to sea - affecting fishing beds etc.

Holistic Thinking

Greg uses a holistic grazing system and again ‘ holistic thinking’ is embedded throughout the methods that he is using right across his farm as he endeavours to intuitively read what nature requires to rebalance itself and build up the soil carbon with its trillions of microbes - the microflora - especially bacteria and fungi - the 'workhorses' of our planetary ecology.

The use of industrial fertilisers and chemicals are harming the soil biology - especially over the long term - when he wants the soil and planet to be thriving from day one.

Greg's Philosophy is ‘do no harm.'

One of his farming heroes is American Joel Salitin - PolyFace Farm - Time magazine called him the most innovative farmer in the world and he is also a brilliant communicator - He is stacking enterprises on his land - by looking and mimicking how nature generates food.

Embedding Micro Enterprises across the Farm

Being innovative, Greg has created some small micro units - where someone can milk the cows and rear some calves and make an income from that.

He is also direct marketing meat from the farm with home kills - and he has people with beehives - doing honey etc - and he sees there are incredible opportunities on the land that he is stewarding and care taking.

Having his own Lodging for Guests.

Having a portable saw mill is advantageous - he uses after cutting down his own trees into timber - which he used to clad his lodge that sleeps 17 people down on his lake side.

The Lodge can be used for reunions, events, workshops, presentation etc and many families and groups come to hang out in nature and reconnect with themselves at a deeper level.

Even Corporate groups to breathe deeply again and chill out. It’s especially handy around education about earth systems etc, and of the necessity for people to understand the transition to regenerative agriculture.

Deepening Our Connection

That there is so much more that can be done to work with the land but Greg emphasises that it is about people working together and deriving more meaning at the same time.

The interview covers Pure Hawkes Bay - http://purehawkesbay.org/ - that is wanting GE free status for the region and has a lot of local Council support whilst the Federated Farmers from the opposite perspective are arguing against it and the conscious people of the region!!!

Greg's farm is an all grass system - no crops like turnips, swedes, maize and potatoes - as he wants to keep the tractor in the shed and see if he can live without disturbing the soil as much as possible.

Which leads again back to Holistic Grazing

Alan Savoury originally out of Zimbabwe observed the grazing animals of Africa from buffalo and zebra and to the bison of the American plains and with near on millions of animals in these herds - these animals live on a very long seasonal rotation and continually move along eating the tops of grass a lot of it tall and defecating and urinating at the same time.

Whilst following hoofed animals break down most of the stalks which are composed of mainly carbon and are pushed down into the dung, into the soil that over time this has built up a deep rich organic soil rich in soils microbes.

These African areas and great plains in America have some of the deepest richest soils that we have on our planet. That the richness of the soil allows great numbers of animals to be fed over millennia and the animals just kept moving - hence these areas are incredibly rich in grass, soil and deeply rooted plants and grass life. It’s turning sunlight into food for grazing animals. It’s also like composting on the soil surface.

Grass is basically a carbon pump, the leaves are solar panels - plants are one of the most effective ways of sequestering co2 out of the atmosphere and pulsing it down into the ground.

Greg is doing the same with his cattle using electric fences and moving the cattle everyday - and the rotational moving around the farm has the grass regenerating very fast and healthily. Because they are not eating every blade of grass percentage of leaves and stalks are still being ground into the soil along with dung and urine - the grass springs back into life quickly after …

Back to Joe Salitin and a carbonaceous diaper - dung + leaves and stalks + urine builds up and covers your soil. Caring for it. Listen to the interview.

Note that pastoral agriculture is still the backbone of the NZ economy - but is is based on importing mega amounts of fertiliser for agriculture a lot of it phosphate from North Africa and Greg says that all the energy in mining it and trucking or railing it to ports - shipping to NZ then trucking to where it is processed then trucking it out to the rural regions and putting it in an aerial top dressing lane has huge costs as well as an ecological footprint skyrocketing.

Will we have a crimp in fossil fuels in the future? If so Greg is prepared to work as if there could be one.

Greg has learnt from courses in Biological Agriculture - (Listen to 4 interviews by Graeme Sait, as well as Arden Anderson, Christine Jones on GreenplanetFM.com) as well as organics and biodynamics and he finds that this holistic grazing management using these natural cycles has so many benefits.

Utilising Grazing and Tree Cropping Together

Greg then talks about environmental web sites that are saying if we want to save the planet we have to give up meat. Saying that he does not see any vegetarian eco systems in the world - yet animals are part of this nutrient cycling - and he is focusing on growing food producing trees on his farm - to get away from cultivating annual crops for our food.

Where instead an integrated perennial polycultural system where you have food producing trees nutrient cycling trees and animals also working through the system - grazing under the trees etc.

Greg talks about vegetarianism and a meat diet - (listen) re rice and pasta wheat not grown in NZ same for pulses are all imported. These use up food miles. Meat is local.

Mark Shepard - ‘Restoration Agriculture’ - that all our energy and cultivation is going into annual crops - rice, wheat, soy and corn - it’s so energy intensive every year - that the soils get ploughed up and the sun bakes and bleaches soil organisms in the heat and then rains can come and wash the soil away - it is disastrous at many levels - there is no sustainability in this, especially when you add chemical sprays and fuel use.

Nut trees in NZ, Greg says is a grand idea reducing our need for a lot of annual soil cultivation. Walnuts, Almonds, and Hazelnuts have potential in this country.

Universities - the need for natural soil science.

Universities are not doing deep soil science - studying nature - but instead are looking at chemical band aids and trying to force feed the plant whilst in many cases destroying the microorganisms that are pivotal to feeding the plant.

Many scientists are also spending so much of their time writing submissions for funding that they are spending a great deal of their time endeavouring to dream up ways so as to be financially viable. The commercial expediency of the Neo Liberal winner takes all approach to business - is devastating true scientific research in NZ.

Today’s industrial farming has only one big winner, and they are the large agro combines and corporations. Whilst the farmer in so many instances is chemicalising his farm, depleting nature and selling unhealthy produce onto the market.

Sam Lang - Nuffield 2016 scholar traveling the world staying with Greg looking at sustainable systems and to get financial support to do these studies finds that finance is quite difficult to obtain in the current commercial environment - especially researching a green option.

Covering his crowd funding program with ‘million metre streams’ -https://millionmetres.org.nz/ - planting around his lake on his property.

Diversity of nature and a diversity of people who end up visiting - it’s the friendships and relationships and the warmth of connection - he loves sharing with people a farming experience.

People can also become ‘a friend of the farm’ with an annual membership and people can - using that money plant trees with Greg's vision of ‘Fields of Food. https://www.mangarara.co.nz/product/friend-the-farm/friend-of-the-farm-subscription

He has just had a visit from the Grand Chancellor James Cook hotel in Wellington and this keen group have turned up 5 years in a row and each year they grow another row of food trees on his farm - and this is what happens when you are receptive to work with the NZ public. In the future Greg says that there will be so much food that visitors will take it away and surpluses given to charities …

We also have to get away from this scarcity mindset - to one of abundance

This is only a portion of this very interesting interview. - Tim

These 2 recent videos which include Mangarara - The Family Farm and Greg's philosophies. "Restoring Paradise" and "Regenerators"

www.mangarara.co.nz

 

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Tim Lynch

Tim Lynch

Tim Lynch, is a New Zealander, who is fortunate in that he has whakapapa, or a bloodline that connects him to the Aotearoan Maori. He has been involved as an activist for over 40 years - within the ecological, educational, holistic, metaphysical, spiritual & nuclear free movements. He sees the urgency of the full spectrum challenges that are coming to meet us, and is putting his whole life into being an advocate for todays and tomorrows children. 'To Mobilise Consciousness.'

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