Sustainable Solutions with Planet Aid Podcast Ep. 6: Committing to the path of regenerative farming

In episode 6 of the Sustainable Solutions with Planet Aid podcast, Planet Aid Communications Content Specialist, Monica Johnson, and Communications Manager Haley Chitty welcome Cali Noland, a cotton farmer and co-owner of Long Lake Farms, located in Coahoma, Mississippi. Noland shares her unique journey into regenerative farming. Read on for the conversation highlights, or listen to the full podcast on platforms like Apple, Google, SpotifyYouTube, or here on thePlanet Aid website.

Pathway to Regenerative Agriculture

Noland’s path to regenerative farming began with a personal health crisis that led her to explore natural approaches, including regenerative agriculture. As the owner of her family farm, she and her husband, Mark Noland, transitioned to regenerative farming practices after being introduced to a program by Citizens of Humanity. The support and incentives offered by the program, including premium pricing for cotton and financial assistance, helped them commit to regenerative agriculture practices for their farm.

"Before we came into contact with Citizens of Humanity, there were all these principles that really made sense. And we had already started with cover crops and with no-till on some of our land and felt pretty good about that," Noland explained.

For the Nolands, farming is not just a livelihood but a personal connection to the land. Surrounded by cotton fields and a lake, their farm serves as a reminder of the impact of their stewardship on the environment and their children’s well-being. Through regenerative agriculture, they aim to create a sustainable legacy for their future generations.

Regenerative Agriculture and Soil Health

Noland emphasizes the importance of restoring life to degraded areas, particularly focusing on soil health, as the key to regenerative agriculture. By prioritizing soil health through practices like keeping the soil covered with cover crops, minimizing disturbance through no-till techniques, and maintaining living roots in the ground, farmers can create environments where beneficial microbial communities thrive, leading to enhanced plant health and overall ecosystem vitality.

Having diverse cover crops is critical for soil regeneration. By using a mix of seeds that serve various purposes, such as nitrogen fixation, soil compaction reduction, and water retention, farmers can improve soil health and crop productivity. Cover crops like cereal rye, legumes such as hairy vetch, and tillage radishes play essential roles in enhancing soil structure, nutrient availability, and water retention, ultimately contributing to sustainable farming practices and reducing the need for synthetic inputs.

"Regenerative practices not only benefit soils but also have broader implications for ecosystem health, community well-being, and supply chain sustainability," Noland stresses.

In the context of cotton farming, Noland explains how implementing regenerative practices can transform a resource-intensive crop into a more sustainable and eco-friendly endeavor. By embracing principles of soil health, reducing synthetic inputs, and enhancing plant resilience, farmers can achieve significant reductions in environmental impact while maintaining or even improving crop yield and quality.

GMO Seeds

We're very adventurous farmers, and we like to kind of challenge the status quo and see what's possible.

When you are dealing with anything that is genetically modified, there are going to be some questions; however, the FDA states, "Most of the GMO crops grown today were developed to help farmers prevent crop and food loss and control weeds."

Noland discusses Long Lake Farms' use of GMO seeds for regenerative agriculture compared to their European counterparts who predominantly opt for non-GMO seeds due to their smaller-scale farms and different climates. The use of non-GMO seeds in the U.S. remains limited and experimental and companies exploring the use non-GMO seeds face challenges due to significant differences in farming practices.

"There's numerous issues with it just because it's so different than the way that cotton is farmed right now. So, for us, we hear brands and companies asking the question, ‘Is it a possibility to use non-GMO seed in cotton?’ And our answer is, ‘we're happy to try,’” Noland says. “We're up for experimenting, and especially on a small scale. We're very adventurous farmers, and we like to kind of challenge the status quo and see what's possible."

Brands and Regenerative Agriculture

Johnson asks Noland about brand expectations when it comes to regenerative farming and Noland delves into the disconnect between brands' expectations and the realities of farming. Some brands aim to cash in on the regenerative agriculture buzz without committing resources or support. However, Noland believes that visionary brands like Citizens of Humanity understand the importance of collaboration and mutual support with farmers. Several brands are even working to create eco-friendly products through regenerative practices that sequester more carbon than is emitted.

Noland’s urges brands to actively engage with farmers to understand to their needs and limitations to truly champion regenerative practices.

Noland also shares insights into the significant impact of direct partnerships with global brands. These connections benefit brands looking to make a positive impact and helps farmers see the potential of regenerative cotton to fetch a premium price.

Farmers’ Voices

Demands and requests from designers and brands in the textile industry are constantly evolving. By actively involving farmers in conversations, brands can ensure that their initiatives align with practical realities and benefit from the wisdom of generational farmers. Noland's insights reflect a growing momentum towards inclusive dialogue, where farmers' voices take center stage in shaping the future of cotton farming and sustainable agriculture practices.

Advocacy Collaboration

Noland stresses the importance of collaboration, highlighting the Regenerative Agriculture Textile Summit for bringing together diverse stakeholders, including government officials, advisory committees, textile brands, and farmers. These collaborations offer a valuable opportunity to bridge gaps in the transition to regenerative cotton farming. Collaboration also provides advocacy for textile supply chains to establish transparent relationships and promote the traceability of products back to their farming origins. Through proactive engagement with brands at these forums, Noland builds authentic connections and fosters collaboration that supports regenerative practices.

Noland's vision extends beyond personal success, aiming to inspire more farmers, brands and consumers to embrace sustainable practices and create a movement towards regenerative agriculture.

Marketing Sustainable Farming

Noland handles marketing and sustainability for Long Lake Farms and discusses the vital role of marketing while her husband Mark deals with the day-to-day farming activities. "The reality is that Mark is very busy with growing cotton," she says. "There is not a lot of extra time for him to also be in contact with people about selling the cotton. It is a huge asset for him to have a partner who is making the connections, reaching out and, spreading the word."

Farmers need to engage directly with designers and brands, Noland asserts. By being proactive in answering questions and participating in discussions, farmers can shape the narrative around eco-friendly products and advocate for sustainable practices in the textile industry.

Noland also emphasizes the need to educate consumers consequentially increasing demand for sustainably produced textiles.

Incentivizing Farmers

Noland and Johnson also discuss the U.S. Farm Bill, which could include incentives for regenerative agriculture. These incentives are designed to encourage farmers to adopt practices that promote sustainability and environmental stewardship.

Programs like the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and The Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) from Natural Resources Conservation Services (NRC) also incentivize regenerative farming by providing additional funding to farmers incorporating these practices.


Land Stewardship vs. Ownership

Noland encourages farmers to rethink their relationship to the land to become stewards for future generations rather than owners.

"By recognizing that farmers are not just landowners but crucial custodians of the land for future generations, a shift in mindset occurs," She says. "I do think that farmers—almost all farmers—they love the land and that they want to do what's best for the land."

Her children’s legacy also motivates her.

"I really hope that the way that we are stewarding this land provides something that is a legacy for them. That they could continue on, not only just providing for their family but being an important part of the way that this whole nature is connected to people," she says.

Noland believes that viewing the farm as more than a source of income but as a vital component of a larger system emphasizes the long-term impact of farming practices.

Scalability and Future Outlook

I think one of the holdbacks of the organic cotton movement is that it's really very difficult to scale.

Noland provides advice for farmers looking to adopt regenerative agriculture, telling them to start small, which also increases demand for regenerative products because consumer attitudes drive change.

Planet Aid Communication Manager, Haley Chitty asks Noland about the scalability of regenerative practices.

"I think one of the holdbacks of the organic cotton movement is that it's really very difficult to scale,” she responds. “There's factors limiting how many people can do it in certain areas. Despite the challenges, I always have a very positive outlook. I think we're just on the precipice of regenerative cotton being the standard and that everyone has to have it."

Watch the full episode of Sustainable Solutions with Planet Aid featuring Cali Noland, and stay tuned for our monthly podcast with other sustainable leaders.

You can make your own community more sustainable, Planet Aid offers solutions including:

Finding your closest yellow donation bin

Joining Planet Aid’s School Program

Hosting your own yellow bin

Click on one of the links above to start your sustainability journey.