Years ago, my great-grandfather, Samuel Metts operated a large farm in southern Greenwood County. When my grandfather passed away, my father, Bill Metts, maintained the land and used it for hunting, but all farming operations ceased.
In 2010, while I was in school at Lander University, I was assigned a semester-long project to develop a business plan. I happened to select farming, having some familiarity and interest in the industry. At the same time, my father was diagnosed with stage 4 prostate cancer. All signs pointed to the cancer having been caused by agricultural chemicals from his youth and his diet of processed foods.
It was all due to post-WWII agricultural chemicals that gave way to an agricultural boom and drastically increased yield. But the chemicals also killed the way nature intended land to be farmed and poisoned many people like my father.
My father’s diagnosis shook our world, and I knew I had to do something about it. I started Metts Organix, a farm on the family land, with an initial goal of certified organic food production. I was determined to get back to farming the way nature intended. With help from my dad and a handy business blueprint from my college days, the first step was to obtain organic certification. I learned as I went along – gathering insights from other organic farmers, from Clemson agriculture research, and resources from the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program funded by the United States Department of Agriculture.
I had an empty piece of land, no buildings and the wrong tools – it was quite the hodgepodge. I started with conventional organic production, which involves heavy soil tillage. Later I switched over to the regenerative farming techniques I now use.
The primary difference between traditional farming and regenerative farming comes down to soil. In traditional farming, the soil is heavily tilled each year and sprayed with various agricultural chemicals. Once harvested, the soil sits unnourished and barren until the tilling again begins the next season. The heavy tilling releases extremely high levels of greenhouse gases from the soil and the chemicals prevent soil-enriching plants from growing in the off-season, which ordinarily would regenerate soil nutrients. After a few decades soil erosion sets in and renders the once nutrient-rich soil into useless dirt. This isn’t a new phenomenon – in fact, ancient civilizations now located in arid lands of dust and sand demonstrate this cycle throughout human history.
Regenerative farming is very different. There is no heavy soil tillage. Because only slight indentations are made in the soil for sowing seeds, greenhouses gases remain trapped beneath the soil’s surface. Plants take in carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and use it to grow – ejecting around 40% of it through the plant’s root system where it remains trapped in the soil. This process is a form of carbon drawdown, reducing the level of greenhouse gases currently causing a global climate crisis by trapping them in the soil.
If replicated on a wider scale, regenerative farming will improve our planet for generations to come. The technique has been gaining steam in the U.S. and around the globe. The Chinese, for example, have taken their oldest-known human settlement, which had been barren due to over-farming, and turned it into a lush farming community through regenerative farming – now providing income for thousands who previously had no way out of poverty.
I’m on a mission to expand my operation and give other young farmers the knowledge, tools, and support necessary to join me in regenerative farming. It will not only give them healthy revenue streams long-term and put healthy food on the table, but it may well be the key to reversing the global warming trend that concerns so many of us today.