Farming to Heal the Planet: How Ancient Nutrition is Making a Difference

Susannah Shmurak

by | Read time: 5 minutes

By now we’ve all heard that our purchasing choices can have a big impact on the health of the planet, such as switching to natural cleaners or zero-waste products for our homes. When we choose eco-conscious products, we lessen the impact our purchases have on the planet. A few forward-thinking companies are taking their commitment to environmental protection far beyond limiting their impact, working to help heal damaged ecosystems and pull climate-warming greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere.

Eco Brand Ancient Nutrition Planting Trees as Part of RANCH Environmental Project | R.A.N.C.H. Project

How is Ancient Nutrition making a difference?

Ancient Nutrition, a maker of supplements that combine the wisdom of Traditional Chinese Herbalism, Ayurveda and modern science, has made an ambitious commitment not only to reduce the impact their products have, but to help fight climate change and repair degraded ecosystems. They recently announced their R.A.N.C.H. project, focusing on Regenerative Agriculture, Nutrition and Climate Health. Regenerative agriculture, a system of farming practices that aims to rebuild soil and store carbon, will allow the company not only to avoid climate-warming emissions, but also will help sequester atmospheric carbon in the soil. Ancient Nutrition aspires to be carbon negative by 2024 with a combination of shifts in their own practices and purchased offsets.

What exactly is regenerative agriculture?

Conventional agriculture practices, used in the vast majority of modern farms, tend to focus on monocultures, vast plantings of a single crop. This method works against nature’s preference for biodiversity and requires enormous inputs of chemical pesticides and fertilizers to prop it up, with huge costs to the environment. These chemicals take large amounts of energy to produce and ship, and when they break down, they’re a key source of climate-warming greenhouse gases.

While organic farming limits the chemicals used in growing food, most organic farms employ many practices of conventional farming, such as mono-cropping and tilling, which have negative impacts on the environment. Regenerative agriculture goes beyond organic practices and takes further steps to make farming an environmentally-positive enterprise.

While conventional agriculture’s reliance on tilling have allowed up to half of the world’s topsoil to wash away, regenerative agriculture aims to build rather than deplete soil, helping to ensure that we can continue to grow food while drastically cutting water and air pollution. No-till agriculture both preserves precious topsoil and keeps carbon stored there rather than releasing it into the atmosphere.

The soil building that occurs with regenerative agriculture also helps with water management, allowing crops to better withstand times of water scarcity and survive large rain events, which have become more common in our changing climate.

Ancient Nutrition’s regenerative farms

Inspired by renowned permaculturist Geoff Lawton, Ancient Nutrition’s co-founder and CEO, Jordan Rubin, subscribes to the belief that “all of the world’s problems can be solved in a garden.” Ancient Nutrition’s commitment to “leaving the planet better for future generations” has spurred some ambitious projects aimed at re-envisioning the way the world produces food. At the Ancient Nutrition Center for Regenerative Agriculture & Sustainability, an experimental organic farm in Tennessee, the company is testing out groundbreaking strategies for farming nutrient-dense foods sustainably.

Rubin is overseeing efforts to plant numerous varieties of “America’s forgotten superfoods,” plants that have long been used by native peoples but haven’t yet been explored for commercial food production. Focusing on “unimproved species of native plants,” Rubin and the farm staff are exploring native perennial plants such as aronia, pawpaw, sumac, tamarillo and dozens of others. Native and unhybridized plants typically have better disease and pest resistance than their hybridized counterparts, so the focus on natives is a critical strategy for avoiding chemical pesticides. Unimproved plant varieties may also have richer concentrations of valuable phytochemicals.

In addition to the fruits and nuts these trees and shrubs produce, the farm is developing ways to make use of less-utilized parts of the plants they grow. “We’re not looking at solely the fruit,” Rubin explains, “we’re looking at the bark, we’re looking at the leaves, we’re looking at the overall health and viability of a plant in a system where we don’t use synthetic pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides.”

The focus on perennial plants means that crops may be grown without tilling, allowing carbon to stay stored in the soil and preventing soil erosion. Minimizing soil disturbance also preserves soil structure and microbial life, which supports healthy growth of plants and may yield a superior product.

Planting a permaculture food forest

“We believe it isn’t enough to just donate to efforts to plant trees, which we are doing and we love,” Rubin says. “We want to do it ourselves.” The staff of Ancient Nutrition has begun planting what will become a permaculture food forest of one million shrubs and trees. In addition to plants native to the area, Rubin has propagated exotic and tropical plants by scrupulously saving seeds from fruits his family consumes, including hundreds of avocado, papaya and guava seeds, as well as seeds from unusual fruits like mangosteen, dragonfruit and cherimoya.

Though the process of building their million-member perennial food forest will take just four years, Rubin believes what they plant “will provide superfoods for humans and animals for a long, long time.” Some food-bearing plants, Rubin notes, may produce for 150 or even as long as 500 years. “That’s the great thing about perennial systems,” he says. “In certain species you plant a tree and your great-grandchildren eat from it.” Seeking to create a sustainable source of food for generations to come, Rubin plans to “do it one millimeter of topsoil at a time.”

Eco Brand Spotlight Ancient Nutrition R.A.N.C.H. Project Farm Animals | company also operates Heal the Planet Farm, a 350-acre farm on the 4000-acre Beyond Organic Ranch in the Ozarks, where they focus on permaculture and regenerative practices, using perennial food plants to cycle nutrients efficiently and build soil while growing the superfood crops that become ingredients in their supplements. Part of the soil-building strategy relies on managed grazing by a variety of livestock, whose waste contributes vital nutrients. Ancient Nutrition maintains herds of water buffalo, yak, sheep, goats and other livestock, which build soil as they graze.

These experiments in sustainable agriculture, Rubin explains, help to model ways that food producers can be “transforming our landscape to be much more sustainable.” In efforts to further close the loop of what’s needed on the farm, they compost waste from supplement manufacture, which provides nutrients used to grow new crops. They save seeds from their crops to lessen inputs further still.

Other climate-friendly practices

Ancient Nutrition’s commitment to environmental stewardship is not limited to their farming practices. They also plan to cut their use of plastic by 25% and transition to more sustainable packaging. As part of their mission to make the world a better place, they support the non-profit organization Mully Children’s Family, which helps combat poverty, disease and hunger in Kenya while planting trees to fight climate change.

Ancient Nutrition has applied to become a B-Corporation, which means they’re undergoing a rigorous evaluation process to certify that their business benefits society and the environment. B-Corporations must meet exacting standards for their impact on both planet and people.

When we buy products from companies that put sustainability at the forefront of their operations, we can relish the knowledge that we aren’t just getting the healthiest products possible, we’re supporting efforts to improve the health of the planet and everyone on it.