Revolutionizing Agriculture for Farmers, People, and the Planet
Revolutionizing Agriculture for Farmers, People, and the Planet

"Our bodies really are designed to move towards wholeness and towards health and well-being. The word health literally means wholeness and the word heal means to make whole. So, this is a really great way to think about regenerative agriculture because it really is a farming system whose goal is to heal the farm by bringing it back into wholeness." 

- Elizabeth Candelario

It’s an enlightening episode this week as Elizabeth welcomes Elizabeth Candelario, Director of Strategic Partnerships for Mad Agriculture, who is on a mission to revolutionize agriculture for the benefit of farmers, people, and the planet. They discuss the power of regenerative agriculture and its ability to transform our agriculture system and ultimately improve the health of our planet and ourselves. They also unveil the exciting news of Purely Elizabeth’s collaboration with Mad Ag in which they will be sponsoring the research and testing of the soil and land as well as sourcing regenerative oats from partner farmers to incorporate into Purely Elizabeth's supply chain. With a goal to convert 5 million acres of conventional farmland into regenerative organic farmland by 2030, Mad Ag is leading the way toward positive change, and Purely Elizabeth is so proud to be a partner and be a part of the way forward.



    Elizabeth Stein 00:00
    Hi, everyone. I'm Elizabeth Stein, Founder and CEO of Purely Elizabeth. And this is Live Purely with Elizabeth, featuring candid conversations about how to thrive on your wellness journey. This week's guest is Elizabeth Candelario, Director of Strategic Partnerships for Mad Agriculture, whose mission is nothing less than to revolutionize agriculture for the benefit of farmers, people, and planet. Elizabeth's role is to connect value allied food brands to regenerative farms to help companies meet their product and climate goals and to leverage the marketplace to drive adoption of regenerative agriculture. Prior to joining Mad Ag, Elizabeth was president of the Demeter USA, the nonprofit certifier of biodynamic farms and products. In this episode, I sit down with Elizabeth to give us the background on what regenerative agriculture is, why it's so important for our health and the health of our planet, and how we at Purely Elizabeth are working with Mad Ag to not only convert some of our oat supply to those grown regeneratively, but also conduct a three year research project to understand the positive effects of regenerative agriculture on our oats. We talk about how across both agriculture and diet we understand that diversity is crucial to resilience. A diverse set of plants and animals increases the resilience of the landscape. And a diverse diet improves the resilience of the body through our gut microbiome. Soil health and our health are inextricably connected. Food decisions literally affect everything and not only affects our physical and mental health on a daily basis, but also the environment we live in and the air we breathe. Food connects us to other people. It connects us to nature. Our food decisions, change landscapes change species and the planet and changes our atmosphere. As I've learned more about how regenerative agriculture has the power to transform our agriculture system. In order to transform the health of our planet and our people. I knew we as a brand have a responsibility to help affect positive change. I'm so inspired to embark on this journey. Much much more to come but for now enjoy the episode. Elizabeth, welcome to the podcast. I'm so excited for our conversation today, we have lots to talk about lots to talk about a big new initiative that we're starting on. But super excited just to dive into everything about your journey, regenerative ag, it's certainly something that at Purely Elizabeth is really what we believe is the future of our health of our food system of our climate communities. And you guys are leaning in such a big way. The experts so excited to have you on.

    Elizabeth Candelario 03:30
    I'm really excited to be here. Thank you for inviting me.

    Elizabeth Stein 03:33
    So let's start with your personal wellness journey that ultimately got you at Mad Agriculture

    Elizabeth Candelario 03:39
    Well let's see, I was actually in the wine industry for a long time. I know that you've had some folks on to talk about wine, I spent over two decades in the wine industry. But I always like to tell people being in the wine industry is a little bit like having dessert for dinner. It's really fun, but it's not very filling. And so what I would do is I jump out of the wine business and I do a lot of work and nonprofit. I was always very passionate about projects that had at their core social mission. So my career kind of has two tracks in that way. But about 16 years ago, I was working at a winery in Sonoma County in California about an hour north of San Francisco. And we were doing a Creek Restoration Project on the estate. And we felt like there was a little bit of a philosophical disconnect between doing that work and getting our organic certification. So we hired a consultant guy named Alan Yorke, who's actually very famous in the world of agriculture and viticulture to help us and he said, You all shouldn't stop at organic, you should be biodynamic. And we were like bio what we'd never even heard of, but really on the strength of his recommendation, we decided to go for it. And over the course of five years, we saw a tremendous change in the health and vitality of the estate. But in addition to that, we also witnessed a change in the people who work there. And it changed with our customers. And it was all based on the transition we made to biodynamic. And so I would say at that point, I felt emerging between my career in the wine business and my interest in social mission. For people who don't know, what is biodynamic? The simple way to think about it is it's a very extensive form of organic farming. In today's vernacular, one would definitely think of it as regenerative agriculture. And we can talk more about that. Okay, I went to work for the gentleman who owned the winery decided to retire. I went to work for Demeter, which is the oldest ecological certification organization in the world. And I worked for Demeter USA, and I retired as president of Demeter USA about two years ago. That's the journey where I went from kind of being in the wine business and being really interested in social mission, really focus then on agriculture and regenerative ag.

    Elizabeth Stein 06:24
    And then how did you find Mad Ag?

    Elizabeth Candelario 06:26
    You know, I was doing a number of consulting projects. And I've been a fan of Mad Ag since they start Mad Agriculture since it started five years ago. And when I heard that they were going to launch a markets program. I really felt like it was a natural extension of my recent career, and also my passion about leveraging the marketplace to drive adoption of regenerative agriculture. So I started to work at Mad Ag about a year and a half ago.

    Elizabeth Stein 06:58
    Okay, great. So before jumping into Mad Ag, I just want to jump back to your experience on the vineyard. And when you said, you know, there were all these changes that you saw, both from the people, the customers, the actual vineyard. Can you talk a little bit about what those changes look like, and if you, what the winery was, or is.

    Elizabeth Candelario 07:20
    It's Quivira vineyards, which is spelled Q-U-I-V-I-R-A, Quivira vineyards.

    Elizabeth Stein 07:26
    Oh, I've been there.

    Elizabeth Candelario 07:28
    So lovely.

    Elizabeth Stein 07:29

    Elizabeth Candelario 07:30
    So you're a wine drinker.

    Elizabeth Stein 07:32
    I am and I am a biodynamic wine drinker, as well.

    Elizabeth Candelario 07:35
    That we have so much in common already. You know, I'll give you an example. We had and it was a wine drinker, you'll know what I'm talking about. So we had a block of a vineyard that still had phylloxera in it. So what phylloxera was a major problem in California wine industry in the American wine industry, and over many, many, many years, wineries replanted vineyards so that it would have phylloxera resistant rootstock, because it almost wiped out the California wine industry in the 70s. We had one block of Sauvignon Blanc that had phylloxera that had not been replanted. And we were about to rip it all out. Like we had the rest of the vineyard. And we planted in Sauvignon Blanc that had was disease resistant. And we started working with biodynamics and we got super focused on building compost piles the first year. And we were like, oh, you know what, we'll get to that vineyard next year. And then the next year came in, it was like, you know, that vineyard doesn't seem to be doing any worse. Let's put it off another year. And we put it off another year. And what we found is over the course of five years, the phylloxera was still present in the vineyard, but the vitality of the vines had gotten so much stronger, that the vines themselves were able to mitigate against the impact of phylloxera. And at the end of the day, we never took the vin, we never pulled that vineyard out. Wow, that's incredible. There are very many metaphors between how we think of our own health and vitality, and how we think about healthy farming. So that's exactly what happens when you have the regenerative farm system. In this case biodynamic, the intrinsic health of the property gets so strong, that it's much easier to mitigate against problems, just like our own health. And like, I mean, if we're really super healthy, and we're in a room with somebody that has the flu, or god forbid, you know, the last three years we've learned with COVID You know, if you're a super healthy person, you're either going to not get it, or in most cases, or you're going to be able to fight it off, or the incidence of it won't be so terrible, like we've really witnessed with COVID So thisis the exact same thing.

    Elizabeth Stein 10:01
    Yeah. And I think probably a lot of that also is the same in the gut microbiome and the soil microbiome, as you're saying that being the root of the health.

    Elizabeth Candelario 10:13
    Absolutely. And I think we should talk about that.

    Elizabeth Stein 10:16
    Okay, great. Well, let's let's dive in first giving us the mission of Mad Ag and laying that foundation and then we'll get into regen. But what is really the mission and the key pillars? Who is Mad Ag, what are you guys do?

    Elizabeth Candelario 10:29
    So Mad Ag, thank you so much mad agriculture, named for the Mad farmer poems of Wendell Berry, which I'm sure a lot of your listeners will know Wendell Berry, he's really kind of our North Star was started about five years ago. It is a nonprofit started by a gentleman named Phil Taylor, who has a PhD in agro ecology and has worked most places in the world in agriculture. And he landed at the University of Colorado Boulder teaching in the master's program for environmental science and decided he wanted to get back on farms. So he started Mad agriculture really to help farmers transition from conventional to regenerative. And we do that now in really four different ways. You know, as a young farmer told us, it was so simply stated, but so impactful for me personally, he said, everything in the system conspires to keep us exactly where we are. So when you're talking about these farms that we work with, that are 200 to 20,000 acres, growing GMO crops largely for livestock, and you want them to help them transition to growing, regenerative, organic agriculture, growing mostly crops for people. And the leap for a farmer to do that is vast, and so mad agriculture, really, you can think of it as it's like a Swiss army knife for those farmers. We have our mad lands team that provide boots on the ground on farms to help realize that farmers intention with their land, they also conduct a lot of research on the farms that we're working with. We're going to talk about that a little bit later. I bet. Yeah. Then we have mad capital, which is really a farmer forward bank. Obviously, access to capital is a big stumbling block for these farmers. Our third leg of the stool is mad markets. That's what I and Alex Heilmann head up. Our work is connecting the farms to CPG companies like purely Elizabeth. And then finally mad revolution, which is really our cultural arm, our marketing effort, and we publish a journal, we have a fabulous website, that we put a lot of resources on, we have a lot of community events and those kinds of things.

    Elizabeth Stein 12:51
    That's fantastic. I, the work that you guys are doing is just incredible. And we'll get into but we're so excited to be partnering with you and what you guys are doing. So let's start with the history of regenerative ag because I think it's a word that, you know, we're starting to hear more and more about but yet, there's so much that we don't necessarily understand or know where it comes from. Let's start with that.

    Elizabeth Candelario 13:14
    Well, Elizabeth, I love that you asked that question, because I think when we think about kind of the history of the modern of modern agriculture, it's very informative to where we find ourselves today. So let me start by saying in the 1800s, early 1900s, our communities were agrarian people lived on their farms. They lived in tune with the seasons, they grew crops for their family and their community. They grew lots of different kinds of crops, they had different kinds of animals on the farm, they existed in this larger biological context of forest of Plains. And also, I would say parallel to that indigenous cultures lived very much in tune with the land. And with the advent of industrialization, you know, people move from their farms to the cities, factories were built that really focused on increased production based on the utilization of increased resources. So the idea was that you bring more coal, other natural resources into a factory, more stuff comes out the other side. So it's not surprising that our farms began to resemble factories. And after World War Two, especially chemical companies that had been used been chemical companies that had been making bombs with synthetic nitrogen, nerve gas, found new application for those materials on farm so nitrogen was shown to increase plant growth. The nerve gas was very effective with insects. And so after World War Two, you saw a lot of focus on selling farmers on this idea of if you bring more stuff onto your land, we can increase your production. The problem, then, as it is now is that the true costs of that type of farming, soil degradation, water and air pollution, all of these things were not factored in. And also, I should say, at the same time, antibiotics were discovered, and that allowed farmers to bring their animals indoors, keeping them inside under conditions of extremely restricted mobility. So we not only saw all of this degradation environmentally, but also animal welfare issues start. So if we fast forward to today, gee whiz what do we think about when we think about conventional farming? It's the same idea, I want to tell you something, I actually looked these up to make sure I was going to quote the right numbers for your show today. We spend in the United States $25 billion a year on fer on fertilizer, that's translates to 42 billion pounds of fertilizer that's added to agricultural lands, that then goes into watersheds, that then goes down the Mississippi River and other places and creates havoc in our oceans, we spend $9 billion a year on pesticides. That's 1 billion pounds of chemical that was used as nerve gas that we are spraying on our farms that our farm workers are exposed to that leech into the water supply that impact our communities. There's another $6.6 billion we spend a year on herbicides, 1 billion pounds of herbicides, and all of these to really work the sale of GMO crops, which are uniquely designed to withstand the impacts of these chemicals, and you can almost consider GMO crops is really, that's not really the focus of the companies that are producing them. The focus is the chemicals that they're using, that then can be used in greater and greater quantities with the GMO crops. So the impact of the of this, in our farm systems in our health and communities is profound.

    Elizabeth Stein 17:33
    Those numbers are absolutely staggering. And when you hear that it starts to certainly connect so many dots of where we are today with the health of our environment, like the health of our microbiome, all of it is so intertwined.Elizabeth Candelario 17:50
    It really is.

    Elizabeth Stein 17:51
    So we realized all these problems that have happened over the last several decades that's happened to our agriculture. Where does regenerative agriculture come in? And and how is that a solution?

    Elizabeth Candelario 18:06
    I want to go back to something we talked about earlier. There's a lot of metaphor between how we think about our own health and vitality and how we think about health and vitality on a farm. And I want to talk about how our bodies really are designed. And I know you spent a lot of time talking about this on the on your podcast, our bodies really are designed to move towards wholeness towards health and well being. And the word health literally means wholeness. The word heal means to make whole. So this is a really great way to think about regenerative agriculture because it really is a farming system whose goal is to heal the farm by bringing it back into wholeness. When we think about wholeness in terms of a farm, we ask, does it have healthy water? Is the soil healthy? Is there biodiversity, like lots of different kinds of crops? Lots of different kinds of beneficial insects is there are there animals on the farm, each of these components act individually, and they also act in concept and I should say they also act in concert with the other elements on the farm to create this idea of a whole farm organism. And truly, the word organic actually springs from this concept of the farm as organism. It was coined by a man named Lord Northbourne here in England many decades ago. But that is the origin of the term organic so people can think about farm health through the lens of their own health and vitality. And they can really think about regenerative ag as a method to heal the farm and bring it back into wholeness.

    Elizabeth Stein 20:41
    So let's dive a little deeper than into what are regenerative agriculture practices? And then how does that benefit our environment, our food systems our community?

    Elizabeth Candelario 20:53
    Okay, that's a great question. What I would say is and the term regenerative is a generic term, it will never have a legal definition. biodynamic has a legal definition. And you can claim it if you're certified organic has a legal definition you can claim it if you're certified. Regenerative does not. So first and foremost, I would say that a lot of different people define regenerative in a lot of different ways, which is why I really like to start with the core idea of what are we trying to accomplish here. And really, I think what we're trying to accomplish is to just start moving the farm into more of a closed system. You really want a farm that is more capable to produce its own fertility, its own disease and pest and weed control out of the living dynamics of the farm instead of importing solutions from the outside like we just were talking about. So that's really the fundamental idea behind regenerative agriculture. So how do we do that? Well, okay, one way we do that is we put cover crops in would cover crops do they add nitrogen into the soil, they help build soil, they they help with photosynthesis, pulling carbon out of the air, using it to feed themselves, but then they exude some through the root system that feeds the microbiome in the soil. So plants are very integral to building really healthy soil. Another thing that we want to look at is maybe the incorporation of animals, animals add fertility. Another thing we want to look at is biodiversity. Is there a riparian area? Does it have a lake a stream, we want to really protect those areas? Is there room for livestock? Or, I mean, is there room for animals like birds, like pollinators, like whatever happens to be in a particular ecosystem? Those are important not just because we want to respect the animals that we share this planet with. But because they add things birds can eat pesky insects, of course, we all know the role of pollinators on a farm. So the idea really, is to think about regenerative AG, as working with nature, and the tools that we work with our plants and animals on the farm.

    Elizabeth Stein 23:23
    So just as a clarifying question, when you said at the beginning of this, that, you know, organic certified, biodynamic certified, but there's no legal definition of regen, how does that work with the new recent ROC, regenerative certified organic certified?

    Elizabeth Candelario 23:45
    Great question and I should have covered that. So with ROC, the regenerative organic certification, that is managed through the regenerative organic Alliance, what somebody a farm needs to be baseline organic, and then they layer on additional requirements. So they're ensuring that a certain amount of that properties and biodiversity they're ensuring that their cover cropping, they're ensuring that they're building soil health, so regenerative organic certification, and there is a certification for that is organic added space, and then it adds additional requirements on top and then in a, a regenerative organic product needs to be made up of regenerative organic ingredients, and then the certified organic as well.

    Elizabeth Stein 24:34
    That's super helpful. So two of the big I guess I don't know if you want to call them buzzwords or benefits, I think that have have been talked about and certainly are real when it comes to regen are on soil health and climate. And I'd love to kind of dive into each of those buckets, starting with soil health because that to me is what is super interesting, exciting it's you know, the health of the soil is healthy soil healthy plants healthy people is how I kind of think about it. But let's kind of dive into I just heard this statistic that and you could validate if this is true or not, but that our soils 20 to 40% less nutrients in it than it had decades ago. And that you'd have to eat eight oranges for the one that our grandparents would have had to eat from a pure vitamin mineral nutrient capacity. And you kind of touched on this, but why is our soil health hat? Why is it changed? And then therefore, why is our food less nutritious today than it used to be?

    Elizabeth Candelario 25:47
    Great question. I'm going to get a little soil geeky right now. So forgive me.

    Elizabeth Stein 25:52
    Tell us everything.

    Elizabeth Candelario 25:54
    Yeah, so our soil health has changed, because the way we farm has changed. And we went through how the farming has changed. So fundamentally, what happens with and this is what ties soil health to climate. I touched on this a little bit earlier. So when a plant is photosynthesizing, it's pulling or trees or any, you know, living plant, it's pulling carbon out of there. So it's taking co2 out of the air, it's holding on to that carbon molecule, it's releasing the oxygen molecules back into the air, and it uses that carbon for food. But it doesn't use all of it. Generally, our plant usually about 60 to 70%. It exudes the rest of that carbon into the soil, the microbiome, the microbiota that live in the soil, need that carbon to live, but they can't get it themselves. So they're dependent on that plant for their carbon. But what they do in this beautiful symbiosis is they then exude nutrition that the plant absorbs When you use synthetic fertilizer, so it's kind of like hard wiring to the plant, and the plants getting its nutrient from that synthetic fertilizer, it doesn't need to conduct photosynthesis anymore for that carbon. And it certainly isn't returning stuff into the microbiome. So you're not you're not while you might be fertilizing the planet, you're not fertilizing the soil. And any great farmer will tell you that what their first priority is to farm soil, not to farm plants. And then there's many other things that farmers do to build soil like composting and cover cropping. So our food is only as good. But those plants that we're talking about the animals that eat those plants are only as healthy as what they're pulling out of the soil. And as our soil degrades, and as that microbiome dies off, because there's no carbon exchange, because they're exposed to all these synthetic inputs, because there's a lot of tillage, because there's only one crop being grown there over and over and over again, the soil just is dead. It's like sand. It's like rock that's been pulverized, there's no living dynamic in it, that has weight that has other knock on effects. So for example, if you increase the soil organic matter by just 1%, so that living part of the soil by just 1% in one acre, that acre has the capacity to hold 20,000 gallons more of water. Think about farming in the wine industry in California. And the horrible drought that California has been in for seven years and many other parts of our country have been in the number one thing a farmer can do in terms of water conservation is build organic matter in your soil. You don't have root systems, if you don't have healthy soils, and you get a big downpour of rain, all that soil, all that dirt just washes off and goes into waterways. There's huge knock on effects in our water system because of so this is the whole delicate balance between climate and agriculture, and why we're recognizing that agriculture. You know, potentially the third biggest contributor to carbon can actually be a powerful tool to address climate change, because ultimately it can be a carbon accruer in our soils.

    Elizabeth Stein 30:01
    So regen is great for all those three things, what are the other benefits from the community, etc.

    Elizabeth Candelario 30:09
    Let's let's go back to talking about its impact on human health. So we all know that our food is less nutritious today than it used to be. And we have direct evidence of that. We have sky rocketing rates of diet related illness, weakened immunity and mental health issues, metabolic diseases, hypertension, depression, anxiety, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, irritable, irritable bowel syndrome, celiac, I mean, these are all diet related illnesses and disease. And there's irrefutable science now, that is connecting agricultural practices and soil health, to human health, to these health outcomes. And to anybody listening. Of course, this assertion is completely logical, healthier soils, grow healthier crops and animals. And then humans eat this healthier food and are themselves healthier. Early on, you said something about connecting the microbiome in the soil, which we just talked about, to the microbiome in our own gut, which really has so much impact, we're just learning and bodily functions that are at the heart of chronic illness. So it's not surprising that again, another metaphor, the microbiome in the soil is very much similar to how our own microbiome works. So this notion of nutrient density in food is really starting to be talked about, finally, because I think in the end, we've done a lot of talking about, wow, you know, regenerative ag, organic ag, biodynamic ag all of it. It's really great for the farm, we really need to do this, because it's really important for climate change. And gee, you know, we don't want our farm workers exposed to these terrible chemicals, and all of these things that we talk about to to people, our customers, but fundamentally, the first thing they care about, does it taste good? Is it healthy for me and my family? And I think that we haven't done as great a job talking about that, you have Elizabeth. It's like one of the core tenants of what you're what you're doing through purely Elizabeth. And that is so admirable. So we all have to start talking about health. And I have a really fun story to tell you. And it doesn't have to do with nutrition, but it does have to do with taste. And actually, taste is nature's way of telling us good taste a really great tomato from a farmer's market versus a hydroponic tomato at Safeway, you know, we know intuitively wow, I want to have that. That tomato from my grandmother's backyard, basically. So a number of years ago, I think it's like five years ago. Now, there's a group called the Society of wine economists in the United States. And they do a lot of economic research in wine. It's probably just a bunch of economists that like to drink wine. But nonetheless, the research that they do is very helpful in the wine industry. They do some really interesting reporting. And they asked a really simple question, they asked are Eco certified wines better than conventional wines. And the way that they

    Elizabeth Stein 33:25
    Better from a taste perspective or better for..

    Elizabeth Candelario 33:28
    Yeah, better from a taste perspective. It's gonna be a long time before we're talking about the nutrient impact for wine. Anyway, it was around taste. And so they want to know, do eco certified wines tastes better than conventional wines. And the way they answer that question was so simple is actually rather brilliant. They looked at 72,000 wines, all from California, that all had been rated on three 100 point scales, so any of your wine drinkers that are listening, you know, Wine Spectator, Wine Enthusiast wine and s

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