Professor. Consultant. Producer. Regenerative Agriculture Advocate.
Champion for Peace, Animals & the Environment
Board Policy Chair for the Rodale Institute
Elizabeth Kucinich shares her journey to the United States, her work for social justice, monetization reform and the NEED Act (National Emergency Employment Defense Act), her work as a film producer, animal rights, a nutritious Vegan diet, sustainable agriculture and using regenerative organic practices to help reverse climate change effects by sequestering carbon through photosynthesis and simple crop rotation practices. You won’t want to miss this one inspiration in every sentence!
Tell us a little about yourself.
I’m British, as you can tell from my strange accent, I came over 11 years ago to work on monetary policy reform, my key drive really, being a little bit lazy wanting to change the world as quickly as possible, I wanted to find out and think about what was the key driver that was actually causing the so much social and ecological destruction. Cause I didn’t believe that it is because we human beings are innately evil, but that there are systems set up that are quite flawed and maybe the previous designers hadn’t thought them thru in the way they should.
When I was 18, I started looking into monetary policy and understood it was our debt-based money system that was creating all of these pressures, that means we are borrowing money into existence! Not borrowing money once it’s in circulation but borrowing money to even get it to exist in the first place. So there is a debt for every dollar that we have circulating in our economy before we even borrow it for buying cars and houses and things like that. That is what is causing in trying to keep up with this exponential growth of debt and interest that is being charged on this circulating money that’s what’s driving us to have to turn more and more of nature’s resources into stuff and then junk every single year in what is called “Growth” in order to just to keep up with this!
I came over to the states to work on Monetary Reform and look at restructuring of the money supply. My first week in, after my first week I managed to meet with this gentleman named Dennis Kucinich! And the second time I met with him we got engaged and three months later we were married!
He happened to be a member of Congress who’d run for President!
And we then spent five years working with legislative council to get a landmark piece of legislation introduced called the NEED Act
That was around the time of the banking crisis, that really looks at transforming our systems, the flaw that we have as human beings is to thinking about deficit rather then abundance and this really would be to change our thinking into abundance!
Something else I work on now and am very much focused on is agriculture policy and food policy because we are misunderstanding nature in a similar way! Yes, we live on a very finite planet and it is becoming more finite because we are abusing her but it has extraordinary potential!
For example ways that we can actually address climate change to bring abundance back to our communities. If you are interested I could go into that for a second.
I would love to hear that. Can I quickly tell listeners Dennis Kucinich is one of my favorite super heroes! Yes we would love to hear about climate change etc.
Yes he’s one of mine too!
I’m in Boulder Colorado at a conference on International Systems Theory
The theme of the conference is socioecological systems and regenerative approaches to not only can we have a sustainable world because sustaining destruction is not very sustainable but really how do we regenerate ?
How do we regenerate:
- our economy?
- our community?
- our environment?
It really takes just a slight shift in thinking, instead of looking at problems and how we solve our problems, we have to look at opportunities and also envision what we want to see.
So it’s true enough climate change is a disaster! A diabolical potential situation with effects that we’re feeling and seeing all around the world immediately right now! But let’s think, what we have in climate change, one of the key drivers is we’re really good at burning stuff and were really good at putting CO2 and other gases into our atmosphere but we’re not very good at bringing them back down again.
But we we can bring them down again and let me tell you we need to do that! Not only to resolve climate change but also, because what we have done with our food system, with the way we grow our food crops is that our soil has become depleted, our fields naturally were once were carbon sinks, they would pull down carbon out of the atmosphere because CO2 is absorbed by plants in this wonderful magical process called photosynthesis!
The easiest way that we can sequester carbon is through photosynthesis and nature does that very very well. But when were are farming the way we do, I’m not sure if people have fields around them, we probably see around now, that many of the foods have been harvested and the soil is exposed. So we have this wonderful sunshine where photosynthesis could occur if we had plants in the ground!
- take in that carbon
- turn it into themselves
- the carbon is the basis of life
- they make plant structure
- draw it down into their existence exude carbon in the form of carbohydrates out of their roots and they feed amazing micro-organisms!
There’s this symbiotic relationship between micro-organisms and plants they’re like an external digestive system, just like we know we have to eat lots of good probiotics in our food in order to have a healthy digestive gut! In the soil there’s all these amazing microorganisms that work with plants and help to break down all these different nutrients in the soil! So the plants have a way to uptake them! So the plants take down carbon, put it into the soil, and they feed microbes have an enormous body weight of carbon in their own structure. So we can sequester tons and tons and tons of carbon per year just through photosynthesis! And we need to do that because our system of agriculture has depleted the soil so much.
It’s carbon that:
- actually holds soil structure together
- helps to increase the availability of nutrients to our plants
- helps water to seep in
- helps prevent flooding
- helps to increase resilience when theirs drought
We have got this potential by having all this carbon in our atmosphere if we shift our agricultural production and methods, we would be able to draw that carbon down and
- increase resiliency in our food supply
- increase yields
- increase nutrient density
- and wonderful things
It takes a tiny little shift to take a problem and turn it into a tremendous opportunity!
So that sounds like a case for planting hemp that would sequester some carbon! So listeners may not know you’re an executive producer of GMO OMG which I talk about in Episode 91 and you’re working on your 3rd moving now called Organic Rising?
Filmed for about 4 years, we have so many years of documentary footage, may turn into a tv show. I am working on a number of different creative projects that is certainly one of them.
I was the executive producer of GMO OMG and also an other very depressing documentary called Hot Water which is about radioactive ground water contamination because of uranium mining… nuclear bomb testing… and other horrible things we have done and continue to do in America, it’s very good, I do recommend people watch it, but you might have to prepared yourself because your gonna be very depressed before you’re finished.
So you sounded pretty optimistic what do you propose with this problem of the soil degregation do you want to see crops planted?
Absolutely! So we work with a number of farmers, lots of farmers the thing is the trick is, biological carbon sequestration!
Really using the power of photosynthesis to draw that carbon is brought back down into the soil and to make sure the way we grow our plants that we never exposing the soil to the air and maybe we’re not tilling as much as we did in the past.
Biological Carbon Sequestration
- never expose soil to air
- not tilling so much
There are amazing organic farmers are doing some tremendous things!
Regenerative Organic Agriculture
For example, I work with a 3000 acre, organic, regenerative organic we call this particular approach because some organic methods still rape and pillage the earth, they don’t use chemicals, still use extreme amounts of destructive methods, but regenerative organic is focusing primarily on soil health.
Cover Crops and Crop Rotations
You grow cover crops, say a clover, that draws down not only carbon, during the times when your not growing your food crop, so it also fixes nitrogen into the soil, so it’s a way that plants don’t only take nutrients out they actually put nutrients back in.
In organic agriculture there are things like crop rotations where you plant something that puts in a lot of nitrogen to start with and then your next crop maybe is something that needs an enormous amount, and next crop to balance different things
then through your rotations,
- reduce your pest pressures
one kind of insect is not just attracted every single year to the same crop and you
- disrupt weed growth with all the different crops have different maturation cycles so it means that the weeds they might flower at certain times but youd have a crop that stops that from happening so you don’t have seeds dispersing.
So cover crops are the way to go!
There is one farm in Hudson Valley in one part of the tractor, the is something galled the plow packer pony. So every 4-5 years, they will plow and plowing can lead to degradation but when done responsibly can boost soil health as well. They’ll plow big clods and behind that immediately on the same tractor there are these little roller discs to create the seed beds, and behind that on the same tool, there is a seed tray that will grow an under-crop, something like a white clover and then there is a seed tray that will plant an over-crop something like oats, and in one pass of the tractor, in conventional agriculture one tract will spray, the next pass will plant…
and again and again and again where burning all this fossil fuel in this organic approach with one pass of the tractor you’ve planted this
2 stories of seed so the understory is the cover crop, clover – harvestable crop is sown at the same time, so come the summer or the fall, when your harvesting your cross you just take off the top layer and the bottom layer remains so carbon sequestration continues all the way through the fall, all the way through the winter through the spring.
When you can use a roller crimper so you have a wonderful material like a green carpet, of green material like a green compost, and it lays over the top. You cut things in the back of your tractor in the sowing season, put in the seeds and that green carpet keeps moisture in and adds nutrients to the soil and it allows for your next crop come up, so its a continual process, it allows carbon to enter into the soil and nutrients into the soil and so the and for the soil to never been exposed!
Yeah, I mean I have not heard of that book but I do have that question?
I think part of it is that there are so many government subsidies and industry talking points and you think that a lot of people they go to their seed supplier, they go to their chemical supplier and that’s how they learn how to do certain forms of agriculture! So we need to be able to encourage and make it easier so people not only know about these very wonderful systems that have been developed and also to be able to do that!
Because to have a farm you have to put a lot of investment not only in the land but in the machinery and all the inputs in the way that you structure your business. And when there’s been a certain system of agriculture that has dominated this thinking to completely change the way of your thinking about your fields. For example, oh we can grow cover crops instead of spraying fake nutrients based on petrochemicals, it takes a shift in thinking, and then it creates new opportunities for growth and new challenges!
So the new opportunity is somebody actually grow cover crops for seeds for the markets, the challenge is there are farmers want to grow cover crop seeds, because farmers are just learning about this, but there aren’t enough available. So there are tremendous opportunities for economic growth, there are challenges behind that. One of the reasons I love food and agriculture, because we can really change the world with this!
We don’t just have to be questioning and challenging , and fighting government and corporate structure we see as degrading. Because every single meal that we eat can determine a market we can be supporting a system of agriculture or earth stewardship that we appreciate or alternatively with every meal that we eat, we can choose something very much more destructive.
Instead of always fighting the big nasties and oh,thinking we are so disempowered, with food we are legitimate consumers, we have to consume it, and therefore, we have all the power of the world, and there’s so many of us, when only just a small number of us we change our diets and we have a perch and it has a massive effect on the biggest system!
On Being Vegan
Do you want to talk about being a Vegan, I know you and Dennis are big Vegan proponents and talk about it a lot. I myself have tried to go vegan but its hard for me, I’ve never been able to get there!
It’s not a religion! You have to live in a way that feels right for yourself. So the truth of the matter is, we have to if we eat we have to be very conscious of where your meat comes from not only with specific humane standards and also the way it was raised.
Has land stewardship been part of that animal’s life or has it been brought up in a horrible factory farm or a feed lot or something that is causing devastation to the immediate communities and also the ground water, and when we look at animal agriculture it’s the single biggest factor effecting climate change! IT’s a really big thing we can do by shifting if not going to 0 meat, by reducing the amount of meat that we have and increasing the quality of meat that we choose.
I work with the Plant Based Food Association which is a trade group that trade group that levels the playing field meat replacement products. We’ve got the Tofurky, and cheese replacement products, Miyoko’s cheese, for example. How to shift that diet so we become more healthy because we know a diet rich in plant foods is one that makes our bodies healthier but also helps make our planet healthier…
It’s not a religion, it’s not that you have to go out and become a vegan, very consciously thinking about our vegan habits, light of society and what your choices are, creating in the wider environment and wider society for the animals and for your own heath.
I got into this because when I was a child, my mother had Crohn’s disease, and she went to the Doctor and it was when Crohn’s was not as prolific as it is now, and people didn’t really know how to deal with it and they said, we really think that is for you to have large sections of your small intestine removed. Crohn’s disease is an inflammatory disease in the digestive system.
My mother said, I actually don’t believe you, I think there is another way of dealing with this and she started doing research, and she started following a plant based whole foods diets, she changed her diet and with that she changed my sister;s and mine. Very quickly reversed her symptoms of Crohn’s disease, now she is a powerful flourishing human being. She was always in pain when she ate, it was awful to watch my mother go through that. Now she’s a community healer runs a healing and teaching center just beside London, it’s an amazing transformation.
So I saw in my own life the power of taking control. It’s very good to listen to seem to be clever, and more educated, but when something inside you doesn’t ring true, it’s really worth doing your own research and watching my mother do that we then started looking into food production.
My family, were all beef farmers, and they were a lovely small family farm, all the animals were known by name… but that’s not the way most animals in our food system were brought up, most are in factory farms, I got very quickly… from about the age of 8, I started to campaign against factory farming, I would lobby parliament in London and my experience now is very much London, is authentically related to experience as a child…not theory what I lived through.
The interesting thing is my husband Dennis, when he was a child he had Crohn’s’ disease terribly. Dennis did have large sections removed and half a kidney…., because of these different issues that he had, and it wasn’t till he was in his mid-40s that he met someone who was vegan who said to him “Why didn’t you change your diet and see what that will do?” Many physicians don’t relate it to the foods you eat, and he changed his diet and within a number of diet,the symptoms and horrible stuff was gone! He was on steroids to reduce inflammation pain killers not on any medication, really in a matter of weeks, all of those symptoms clear up. Now he’s not on any medication, fully functioning, vegan, is healthier then ever.
I mean you look at pictures of him in his 40’s, he’s gonna be 70 this year!
Yes, that’s my Peter Pan! He flies about, jumps about, he’s a teenager, excitement of a puppy dog and the strength of a world fighter in this extraordinary human being that I’m lucky enough to be married to!
It really comes down to diet. So really listen to your inner intelligence of your body, if it says you have to have bacon with every meal I don’t believe you, but fair enough!
Let’s try a bit more vegetables and let’s try this whole grain thing this weird woman is telling me over this podcast! Let’s have a go! You know do it! There are great resources!
There are so many wonderful people out there it’s extraordinary to me the people you meet. It’s fun, I talk to people who say, I couldn’t eat a vegan diet cause I like food too much and I have never known a community more in love with they are so inventive to flavor and prepare the most extraordinary different plant foods and the whole world opens up when you start to think differently about the whole world!
Now you started to talk about your childhood. I remember it said on your blog is you played in your compost pile? Tell me about your first gardening experience?
Yeah! I always kid I thinking that’s why I’m so tall! that’s how we joke about it!
My family , my mother and my father at the age of 19 found this farm laborers cottage. The front door was tied up with a piece of string, the back door was nailed up, all land was just a waste land and they fell in love with it, and they had vision. About 10 or so years later I was born, had created a lovely home there and had about an acre and a half of land. We had a vegetable patch that my grand-dad used to help with and grow wonderful organic vegetables in very straight lines! I had an imaginary friend, Frankie Stewart and Franky Stewart’s father always grew bigger vegetables than mine and had this imaginary competition going on in my head.
mom is just out by London, 20 minutes from the center of London. the house is in the middle of a field, so we had the best of both worlds. IT was a home for wayward strays, so everybody who didn’t want a pet and would dump them over the fence and we would just take them in, so we had:
- guinea hens
And so mom had these massive compost boxes,
IDK how big they would be, maybe 8’x8’ and 6’ tall that would be filled up with grass clippings and would be filled up with grass clippings and waste I loved jumping in them and turning them and I love the smell of a good compost!
ME TOO! That’s one of my favorite gardening chores is to play with the compost and keep the compost going!
and it’s always warm in the winter! It keeps your feet warm!
I have not snuggled in my compost pile but I know my chickens love it! You’ve shared a ton of my golden seeds I call them with the audience today, is there anything else you want to talk about
If people are interested in looking at tje shift of agriculture and the potential for climate change I’m on the board for the Rodale Institute which is the oldest organic researched institute in America, it was established in the 1940s! They have a white paper called Regenerative Agriculture and Climate Change and that’s available on line. That quantifies everything!
My website is Elizabeth Kucinich.com
And anybody who is interested in continuing the conversation I’d love to hear from you!
We’re at the place where we need to make the best.
Than you for coming on and sharing your passion and everything you talked about today! And keep on doing the things you do and changing the world and you’re making a huge difference.
We’re all in it together, we’ll just do the little thinking at we can, well l=think we can make it happen, we’re all part of the long tradition of human beings that try to do their best, and the world really needs to step up and do what we can because were at a point we need to make the right choice and it’s establishing that we need to do those things!
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