Gabe Brown, Regenerative Agriculture
EcoJustice Radio

Farming for the Future: The Regenerative Way


EcoJustice RadioGabe Brown, Regenerative Farmer and Rancher out of North Dakota, and a Partner in Understanding Ag and the Soil Health Academy is a leading voice for regenerative farming that promotes soil health, restores the water cycle, increases biodiversity and the holistic health of the ecosystem. He joined ExoJustice Radio to discuss his groundbreaking work to bring regenerative farming and ranching to the masses. He also was featured in the recent film Common Ground.

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Gabe Brown

Regenerating the Future: Gabe Brown’s Soil Health Revolution

According to Dr Kristine Nichols, a soil microbiologist and regenerative agriculture expert, of the 900 million arable acres in the U.S., only about 1.5% is being farmed regeneratively. Yet, this continues to change, despite consolidation of farms, the majority of foods on this continent are still grown by small farmers. Regenerative is our future and also our past, as Indigenous peoples have long cared for this Earth, knowing it is our inheritance and responsibility. We owe a debt to how they have cared for the land through their culture, lifeways and connection to Mother Earth.

“My mission and duty as an agriculturist was not to kill things. It was about [how] to support life.”  — Gabe Brown

Our guest on this show, Gabe Brown, Regenerative Farmer and Rancher out of North Dakota, and a Partner in Understanding Ag and the Soil Health Academy is a leading voice reminding us to return to tend the land as stewards, relatives, and children born of the land. Regenerative farming promotes soil health, restores the water cycle, increases biodiversity and the holistic health of the ecosystem. Aligning with regenerative farms, and creating beyond sustainable local food systems, requires us to shift to a consciousness of caring for the Earth as Indigenous peoples have done since time immemorial. Understanding and undertaking this personally and collectively is key to the continuance of life.

It all begins with the soil, whether we are talking about food security and sovereignty, climate change or the need to heal ourselves and the soil, so that all life from microbes to insects to plants, animals, and humans can thrive together. It is not a hierarchy but a circle and cycle of care that we must urgently attend to for future generations. Gabe Brown joins us now to share his journey and how we can collectively contribute to an abundant future with regenerative farming.

STORY: From Degradation to Regeneration: John Roulac’s Eco Vision

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Featured Video: Understanding Ag:

Gabe Brown: Keys To Building a Healthy Soil

Excerpt: Gabe Brown is a Renowned Regenerative Ag Pioneer

Carry Kim: We are blessed to have your presence and your wisdom and your big voice on the show. You are a renowned regenerative ag pioneer, yet some may not know your whole backstory. So if you could start by sharing about your humble beginnings and what led you to regenerative farming in the first place.

Regenerative Agriculture

Gabe Brown: Sure. So I was born and raised in the city of Bismarck. I was not from a farm family, but I took an interest in agriculture when I took a vocational education course in the 9th grade. And that sent me on a path of learning about farming and ranching. And I started working on farms and ranches and I really had a passion for agriculture and I enjoyed being outdoors and, getting my hands in the soil and I actually, after graduating high school, I went to college thinking I’d become an agriculture education instructor. And I thought that could be how I could be involved in agriculture.

As luck would have it, after two years of, college, I married my high school sweetheart who was from a farm. She had two sisters, no brothers, and so her parents, I guess they defaulted back to me and they asked if we’d be interested in taking the farm over. Well, I eagerly said yes. My wife always says that she married a city kid to get off the farm, not take her back to it, and so graduated from college with a couple of degrees in agriculture. And then we moved back to her family farm.

And her parents ran the farm. What we would consider very conventionally use of tillage, use of herbicides, fertilizers, pesticides, etcetera. Not great amounts of those synthetic inputs, but enough. And they summer followed half the land, which means they left it idle each year and just tilled it and then put a crop on half of it. They had a small herd of beef cattle that ah, they set stock, grazed. In other words, they put them out, you know, in the spring of the year and they were on the same pastures until the fall of the year. And that’s how I learned to farm and ranch is from my father in law.

Regenerative agricultureBut I’ve always been a learner, a lifelong learner. And I had read about no till and the benefits, that it provided. And so in 1991 I’m aging myself here. We had the opportunity to buy a portion of the farm from them and we did that. And I then shortly thereafter, purchased a no till drill and started no till and it just seemed the right thing to do in order to save moisture and save time because we’re in a pretty limited moisture environment, about 17 inches total per year.

Well then what really drove me to regenerative agriculture is that 1995 came along and the day before we were going to start harvesting our 1,200 acres of spring wheat, we lost our entire crop in a hailstorm. Well that was pretty devastating for a young family starting out and weren’t able to pay the bank back all of our operating notes, so we kind of slid behind there. Then 1996 came along, we got hailed out again, lost 100% of our crop again. I started to diversify the crop rotation a little bit, trying to grow other crops in order to get income again. We fell further behind in our payments. When 1997 came along, we dried out. Nobody combined an acre. There was a severe drought that year so we were really falling behind. My wife and I had taken off farm jobs to try and pay the bills and we had a young family have to support them.

Finally, 1998 came along and to make a long story longer, one day in June, late June, we had another hailstorm, lost 80% of our crop tail. So four years, basically no crop income. The bank wasn’t going to loan me money anymore to buy these, purchases, inputs. I had to learn, okay, how am I going to make this ranch productive without those inputs?

Well, I really started to notice during those four years I noticed a change. All of a sudden we were having earthworm show up in the soil and that’s from a combination of no tillage plus the hailstorms had laid that forage that material, plant material down on the soil surface protecting it. I was starting to see what’s become known today as the six principles of soil health, you know, and I started integrating animals. I started growing cover crops. Back then I was only doing it to survive and to make a living, you know. Since then I’ve learned much more about it and learned that all of those are very important pieces in a regenerative system. But that’s kind of what propelled me down this path. Now, back then nobody called it regenerative agriculture, you know, that’s rather, there was some use in it but it’s become more widely known now. So that was my start. Now on the regenerative path.

Gabe Brown, Regenerative ASgricultureGabe Brown is one of the pioneers of the current soil health movement which focuses on the regeneration of our resources. Gabe and his wife and son operate Brown’s Ranch [], a diversified 5,000 acre farm and ranch near Bismarck, North Dakota. Gabe was named one of the twenty-five most influential agricultural leaders in the United States and is also the author of the book, “Dirt to Soil, One Family’s Journey Into Regenerative Agriculture.” He is a partner in Understanding Ag [] and an instructor for Soil Health Academy [], which focuses on teaching others the power and importance of healthy functioning ecosystems.

Carry Kim, Co-Host of EcoJustice Radio. An advocate for ecosystem restoration, Indigenous lifeways, and a new humanity born of connection and compassion, she is a long-time volunteer for SoCal350, member of Ecosystem Restoration Camps, and a co-founder of the Soil Sponge Collective, a grassroots community organization dedicated to big and small scale regeneration of Mother Earth.

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Common Ground documentary (2023) - Official Trailer

Gabe Brown appears in the documentary film Common Ground.

Executive Producer and Intro: Jack Eidt
Hosted by Carry Kim
Engineer and Original Music: Blake Quake Beats
Episode 209

Updated 9 April 2024

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