Healthy soil. It’s not just what we need for potted plants. It’s what we all need to survive. Nicole Masters, agro-ecologist and author of “For the Love of Soil,” explains on today’s podcast just why our health and the health of the soil are so inextricably intertwined.
She tells her personal story of how an herbicide jeopardized her health, though she did not know it at first. She goes over why monocrops are a problem (even organic monocrops), the correlation between chemical companies and pharmaceutical companies, and how personal testing meters are being developed to help us better assess the quality of our food and the health of the soil. In the end, she offers ideas to diversify and regenerate both the land, and our guts, for improved health.
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Within the below transcript the bolded text is Hilda
Do you ever give much thought to the Earth? We walk on it, raise animals on it, build our houses on it, and depend on it for sustenance but some of us might not give it a second thought. This is an episode where we talk about why we need to. The soil is in trouble and we need to look at how we can restore its health to regenerate it and cultivate it in a way that is good for the Earth itself and for each of us. This is Episode 256 and our guest is Nicole Masters.
Nicole is an independent agro-ecologist, educator, and author of For the Love of Soil. She is recognized as a knowledgeable and dynamic speaker on the topic of soil health. Let me set something straight right here at the outset. This is not a conversation for farmers. It is for each of us, regardless of where we live and what our livelihood is. Nicole helps us understand the part we each play in the health of the soil. She tells her own story and how her passion for soil health came about. She discusses the toxic load that the world is bearing and how that also plays out in our health as well. Finally, she discusses steps for turning things around for the Earth’s sake and our own.
Before we dig into the conversation, a quick shout out to our sponsors, Green Pasture. If you’re looking for a way to help fill nutritional gaps in your diet and give your immune system a boost, check out Green Pasture products. Their fermented cod liver oil and high vitamin butter oil are a great natural source of vitamins A and D as well as omega fatty acids. Boost your health today. Visit GreenPasture.org to place your order.
Ancestral Supplements make New Zealand source nose to tail, organ meats, bone marrow, and intestines in simple convenient gelatin capsules. Intestines, stomach tripe, and other gelatinous parts provide concentrated amounts of connective tissue undenatured collagen, probiotics, and other gut-specific proteins that are now absent from the modern diet. Visit AncestralSupplements.com to see what they can do for you. Ancestral supplements, putting back in with the modern world has left out. This is holistic Hilda and you’re reading Wise Traditions.
Find more resources on our website: WestonAPrice.org
Welcome to the show, Nicole.
Thanks for having me, Hilda. I’m excited to be here with you.
We’re going to start on a heavy note but this is an important thing for our audience to know. Talk to us about your encounter with paraquat and what its consequences were.
We’re finally seeing soil health start to raise its head above the pulpit. People are starting to realize how valuable a resource it is.
When I was fifteen years old, I was living in Hong Kong with my family. My father was a pilot. I used to love walking around barefoot because as you can hear, I’m a New Zealander. I had cuts on the bottom of my feet and I walked along the side of a ditch where they’re sprayed paraquat. Within about six hours, I ended up in hospital. They thought that I had meningitis. My neck froze up. I had a fever. I didn’t end up having meningitis but one of the things they do when they think you have that is they give you a lumbar puncture.
What that did is it then introduced the paraquat, which is a residual herbicide into my spinal fluid. It sat there for fifteen years. I was told that I had fused vertebras C1 and C2. I went and saw every single bodyworker you can imagine. I’ve got a depth of experience in like Bowen, craniosacral, ortho-bionomy, and acupuncture. You name it. I’ve been to see them. When I was 30 years old, so fifteen years later, I met a chemical detox specialist. He used radionics and ran through a series of questions about, is this environmental? Is this a virus? Until finally, he came down to, “It’s paraquat because I had no idea.”
If I’m hearing you correctly, for fifteen years, you didn’t know what was the cause of your problem.
No, so I had a foggy brain. I had memory problems. I was tired all the time. I had been a competitive long-distance runner and I was good. I had a whole lot of medals and stuff. I went from being athletic to nothing. I did not want to partake in sports. I went off the rails in my own life. I was no longer interested in partaking. Everyone thought, “That’s normal teenage behavior,” but it wasn’t.
Deep inside, with all that you were going through, you knew it was something else. Paraquat is an herbicide. I’m guessing it’s like a Roundup or something. Is that right?
No. It’s quite different than Roundup. It’s very quick-acting. It’s the leading cause of suicide in third-world countries because there’s no antidote for it. It’s a nasty way to die. You need to take enough to kill yourself. There were some cases in America of women poisoning their husbands and killing them using paraquat. It’s a very long-lasting residual herbicide in the environment with multiple consequences. In some places, it’s been banned. What’s interesting is while many places in the world is banning it, New Zealand’s lifted the ban on it.
Is this where your interest in the soil began years after this incident?
No. That was the interesting thing. My life has been dedicated to how we get chemicals out of the environment and out of the food chain. I had this poisoning that was in my body and I had no idea. It ties into my thinking around the value of intuition and how the subconscious knows a lot more than what our main conscious brain does. My body knew that I had been poisoned. I just didn’t know.
That’s fascinating. You’re right. There’s a deep wisdom inside of us if we stop to listen.
The doctor that I was working with did a hyperbaric chamber and intravenous vitamin C. We did a couple of those sessions, so they basically put vitamin C into your body under pressure. It pushes out chemicals and toxins. I was so sick afterward, like ten days of this gray stuff came up my nose and it stink. Within those ten days, I had full neck mobility. I had tight muscles and everyone told me it was structural. After doing that detox, all my muscles relaxed and I was like, “This isn’t a physical issue. It’s a toxin loading.”
Let’s pivot now and talk about the toxin loading of our soil. First of all, what’s going on and why should it matter to us?
What is exciting for me now is as we’re finally seeing soil health start to raise its head above the pulpit. People are starting to realize how valuable a resource it is. Some of my thinking is that our external environment it’s reflecting our internal environment. What we’re doing is we’ve disrupted the gut microbiome of the planet, which is soil. If you’re interested in greenhouse gases, water quality, food quality, or fishery beds, it doesn’t matter. All of this stuff comes back down to how we manage soil.
We’ve been in a chemical experiment for many years and that experiments, unintended consequences and now coming to the forefront. People are starting to realize, “We can’t keep food production like this. This is not how your father’s always done it. It’s not working.” The Green Revolution is finally starting to realize the consequences.
It’s like we’re all guinea pigs in this chemical experiment that is leading to all kinds of problems. People think, “I’m anxious because I’m online too much or I’m depressed because my child is sick.” Maybe but there’s something else at play that we’re also not hitting. You’re ringing the alarm bells to wake us up as part of this Green Revolution. How can we start to take action, Nicole? What would you recommend that we do first to reverse the trend?
There are things that you can do for your own health but the major driver is, as consumers using our consumer dollars to choose better. Weston Price is looking at not eating processed foods but not eating industrially grown foods. This whole argument around meat is not around cows per se. It’s not the cow, it’s the how. It’s how are those animals being grown, produced, and raised?
Getting off that industrial food treadmill and know your farmer. Buying local food markets is becoming interested and where do we get regenerative growing food from. Just because something has got an organic label on it doesn’t mean that it’s not industrially produced. It’s starting to shorten that distance between you and what’s happening out on the land and meet your farmer.
I am so glad that you said that just because it has that label doesn’t mean that it’s been produced on a small scale. Like in whole foods. I sometimes see these berries. I’m a big berry girl. I love berries. It says organic, so I think, “That’s great,” but I know their motto crops of berries. It’s done on this huge scale. Tell me, how does that damage the soil? What’s wrong with that if it’s organic?
One way I like to think about soil is the way that we think about the human gut microbiome. You imagine that you only eat one type of food for the rest of your life and what that does to your gut microbiome. It’s the same in the soil. If you’re growing monocultural crops and even if that’s alternating crops, you’re going to grow berries then you grow on the corn, which has a major impact on the diversity of the microbiome as it does with our own human health.
Our human microbiome probably has 50% of the diversity that it used to have and less specialized organisms that can help you deal with stress. As we start to lose that microbiome in the soil, we no longer have the enzyme-producing organisms, the hormone-producing organisms, or organisms that are creating those vitamins.
By breaking that gut microbiome, it has massive consequences for the quality of the food that we grow then producers are having to chase their tail by putting on herbicides, pesticides, or fungicides because that gut microbiome has broken down. Like in our own human health situation, 100% of auto-immune disorders are related to your gut microbiome. It’s the same in the soil. We break that down now we’re in a whole lot of trouble.
It’s not the cow. It’s the how.
Lack of diversity is making the soil sicker. Instead of healing it and changing up the soil, we spray stuff on it. It’s almost like the pill that a person pops when they want to feel healthier but they’re not doing anything to remedy, the deep-rooted, going for the solution.
No, if you look and think a lot of the big agri companies are also your big pharmaceutical companies. Bayer, for instance. They are peddling the same stuff.
The same people who are giving us the pills are giving us this quick “solution” for the soil that’s not doing us any favors.
It’s a great business model because now, you’re going to need this pill. You’re going to need that pill because that whole systems become compromised. It’s a great business model but not for us.
Do you think that people who have that business model are doing it intentionally?
I think this is one of the things that we saw come out of that Monsanto case was that they’re making up data. They know the impacts that this is having on either humans, soil, microbiology, or nutrients. They know full well what’s going on and more of these documents that are coming out. I’m not a big conspiracy theorist. I hate that stuff. Unfortunately, it’s big business at play. Why would you stop the gravy train? Unfortunately, it’s people not being connected to the integrity or wanting people in landscapes to flourish. It’s just a business model.
Coming up, Nicole speaks further about how this big business model impacts the soil and she tells her own story about something she picked up from the Earth that set her health back for years.
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Here I am, just one person. Let’s say, I know my farmer but I still want to do something on a bigger scale to turn things around because won’t our dollars and won’t our choices impact that business?
If all the consumers turned around tomorrow and said, “That’s it. I’m only buying regenerative foods.” Those big companies scrambled to make sure that was happening. We’re seeing that happen on a pretty big scale now. You see General Mills, Danone, Ben & Jerry’s, and all these kinds of Patagonia. These kinds of companies that provide food and fiber and now, engage with the regenerative story.
My concern is they’re going to greenwash it as they did with organics but how do we keep integrity in that system? Part of that is looking at what is the output because regenerating landscapes are about the output. Are we increasing the quality of the water that’s coming off the landscape? Are we increasing water-holding capacity? Are we increasing microbial diversity and the food quality that’s coming off the property?
Some of the operations I work with, they’re measuring things like the bio-digestability of grains. They’re measuring no residue of chemicals. They are measuring increases in Omega-3, trace elements, or vitamins in the food that they’re producing. That’s what I want to see. We start to get down to, what is this food quality? Can we improve the quality that we’re buying? There are a few spectrometers in different types of meters that are being released in 2021 and 2022 that are going to be ones that consumers can hold and measure for themselves what is the quality of this produce, which is exciting.
That is exciting. I’ve heard of the bricks meter that measures the amount of minerals and such in the soil itself. Explain how these new meters are going to work that consumers may be able to use.
Bricks measure the dissolved solids in the setup of a leafy plant. We’re using that as a tool to look at how much sugar and dissolve solids? How well is that plant photosynthesizing? It’s an indicator in the field. Whereas, these new meters are new infrared, spectroscopy, so they need to be correlated with those specific crops. At the moment, you can test maybe twenty different crops, apples, pears, and those obvious ones. There’s a lot of calibration that’s still required to test it but some of these new meters will tell you where in the world was this grown, which is cool. People can correlate that this has come from this property. It’s taken all of these things for a while but now it’s a hand meter.
I can picture us now walking around farmer’s markets with this little thing and being like, “You said this was grown in Virginia but I don’t think so.” Starting some pleasant little encounters. How do you know all this stuff? I didn’t even go into your background. Talk to us about how you have come to this place where you are now.
I’m an agro-ecologist. I have a background in ecology and soil science, which I finished in 1999. I went off to manage community gardens for a while, then my father bought a property. I would have been 25 and I was a single parent. It’s not easy finding work when you’re a single parent in rural areas. My father helped me buy a deceased whim farmer state.
What’s happening is happening now. We need to be focusing on the things that we can do now.
I got into commercial viniculture and got interested in the microbiology of what I was creating and how to create different types of blends of whim castings for an avocado producer compared to a strawberry producer compared to pasture. I didn’t even know I had a name like that agro-ecology was a thing. Maybe like ten years into my career and I was reading some research papers. I was like, “That’s me. I didn’t know I had a title.” It evolved into what I was passionate about. When I left school, I had no idea what I wanted to do. Certainly, I didn’t know it was going to involve soil but once I discovered soil, I never got a doubt. As you can see, you can relate that to the human aspect, animal health, or greenhouse gas emissions. It’s incredibly exciting.
When you mentioned greenhouse gas emissions, I couldn’t help but start thinking about climate change and people thinking they need to eat less meat or go vegan to heal the planet. What do you think of all that, Nicole?
That whole argument and I get that people are feeling overwhelmed. They want to feel like they’re making a difference but the problem is the industrialization of food. Going vegan, if you continue to eat industrial food, you’re just as big as a problem because you’re then eating soy products. You’re eating processed products that come from on no-Bali or something instead of looking at how do I eat local. A lot of beef is raised on land that would never be suitable for crops anyway. A lot of the statistics that you see about meat are all based on what happens in a CAFO. I don’t eat CAFO meat. I’m not interested in eating an animal that’s basically been sitting in a yard its whole life.
What would you advocate instead then? If I literally came up to you and said, “Nicole, I’m going to stop eating meat. I’m going to buy all my stuff from Whole Foods.” You were like, “No,” and you explained to me that’s not very helpful. What would you suggest I do instead?
It comes back to what people’s reasons are. Are you doing that for your own health? It becomes a whole lot of different arguments. You asked before about the greenhouse gas aspect and it hasn’t been discussed. Most of what we’re seeing in terms of this volatility with atmosphere and climate is due to land management. It’s not because of fossil fuels. Although, that would be great if that’s reduced those. It’s how are these landscapes now functioning. If you have animals that are confined, they’re not on green grass, that methane-type process is taken care of under green grazing systems, especially where we are. Sequestering carbon into the soil.
There are methanotrophic organisms that eat methane because things are food. It’s not going to go to waste. There are also what we call these hydroxyl radicals, which are formed of green growing grass with a bit of moisture. They react with the methane and turn that into carbon dioxide. The whole process with livestock is a distraction. There are no extra net losses or net gains. There could be a net gain in terms of livestock management. It’s how we manage landscapes.
What we’re seeing is landscapes are becoming water repellent. They are emitting much more greater amounts of greenhouse gases and have been since we began farming or ranching many of these landscapes. That’s altering the climate. Australia is a horrific example of what happens when that whole water cycle breaks down. Soil, water, and carbon are intimately related. As we start to break down those links, there are consequences above ground. We’re seeing that in regions all across the world. It comes down to how do we start to nurture and develop that gut microbiome in our landscapes to get that atmospheric response.
I want to go back to what you said a moment ago about how there are bacteria or little bugs that eat methane, which is food. I’m like, “Why is no one talking about that?” Is this too intellectually complicated for us? Do we have simple answers? Is that what it is? I can’t figure it out.
It’s so complex. This is a good thing coming from an ecology standpoint. It’s a whole system issue that we’re dealing with. When they go and do research, they go and look at, “Let’s look at a cow. How much methane is it emitting? Bad cow.” Instead of, “How does that work in nature? What is that system in nature?” After the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, they went in a year later to find out what was the fate of that oil.
What they found was all these methanotrophic organisms were gobbling away. They were like, “This is awesome.” That oil spill obviously had massive consequences at that time and impacts on everything but those organisms are going to come in. It’s food and carbon. Methane is a carbon source. It’s food for life so they’re not going to let it go to waste.
This is fascinating, even though it is complex. I like how you’re breaking it down for us. I want to ask, you wrote the book For the Love of Soil. Who was your target audience for that book?
When I wrote it, I wanted it to be for producers. How is it that we can start to triage and diagnose what’s happening in our landscapes and how can we rehabilitate? I tried to write it in a way that keeps it readable, using people’s stories, and conveying things. A lot of people that are reading it are living in cities and contacting me and going, “I didn’t know how my food was being grown. I didn’t know these things were happening,” and how that impacts them living in the city.
Unintentionally, it is appealing to an urban audience to understand these are the chemicals that are being used in agriculture, this is what is in your food chain, and here’s what people are doing on the ground. To get inspired and go, “There’s a massive revolution happening now.” It’s incredibly exciting to travel the world and see the uptake of regenerative agriculture.
Is that why your last chapter is called, The Future Is Now?
Yes. I used a quote there from Stephen Jenkinson who talks about hope. Hope is mortgaging the future. Hope is something that you hold out as some comparison. Something that you’re going to cling to and pray for as opposed to what’s happening is happening now. We need to be focusing on the things that we can do now. Hope is the other side of hopelessness. We go from being feeling overwhelmed to maybe the Knight in shining armor is going to roll up.
This has been the excitement of writing the story and interviewing so many producers. There are market gardeners in there, raches, and broadacre farmers talking about what they’re doing now and how many of them have been doing this for decades. They’ve got great data and experiences to back up what they’re doing to say, “We don’t need to be on the chemical treadmill and we don’t need to be doing all these things. It’s not working and we’ve already got the solutions now.”
That is a good word of encouragement because sometimes when we have these conversations we’re like, “Everything is falling apart. We’re killing ourselves.” I liked that you ended your book on a hopeful note and I’d like to end this show on a hopeful note. I want you to answer the question. If the audience could do one thing to improve their health or maybe even the soil health, what would you recommend that they do, Nicole?
For human health, the one thing that we can do immediately is to start taking care of our gut because obviously, our gut is affecting our thinking, our hormones, and everything else. I take fulvic acid every day. We use fulvic acid in agriculture. What it does is it feeds the soil gut microbiome. It’s a key lighter of heavy metals and toxins. When you take it for yourself, it relaxes the gut villa. It helps to restore the tight junctions in the gut.
If you think nearly all the disorders that we’re dealing with come down to the gut. It’s extracted from soft brown Coles, so it’s ancient decomposed organic matter that’s full of different types of bacteria and fungal proteins. We call these the quorum signals but they are the proteins that biology use to communicate with each other. Taking a little bit of fulvic acid can help restore their whole gut function.
If you have a functioning gut, then everything becomes possible. There’s so much more that we’re able to do because you’re not tired all the time and you’re not full of toxins. It’s part of my daily regimen if I’m thinking about human health. I don’t sell products. I’m not trying to push product but it’s something that we can use in our garden to do the same thing, so it will grab and hold toxins, heavy metals, and it will feed your beneficial microbes.
That leads me to one final question about the paraquat in your system. Do you think you’ve detoxed it completely? Is it out of your body?
Yes. My life was like before paraquat and after paraquat.
Thank you for joining us, Nicole. You’ve had some valuable insights and I’m grateful for your time.
Thanks, Hilda. It’s been fun.
Our guest in this episode was Nicole Masters. Visit her YouTube channel at IntegritySoils.co.nz for more resources. For a letter from a recent journal, “As a dancer, I always struggled to maintain my energy levels and my physical and mental health. My health hit an all-time low the summer before my senior year while I was living in Phoenix dancing with Ballet Arizona. I was attempting raw veganism and I grew very thin and had no energy for ballet. Let alone energy to put toward living a vibrant, joyful life. I searched for answers and finally, I discovered the Weston A. Price Foundation.”
“I spent recovering by applying the foundations teachings and my life has dramatically turned around. I have never experienced such vitality and happiness in my entire life. I am so grateful for WAPF. I have become so passionate about physical and mental health as well as farmer rights. I’m so eager to become involved in sharing knowledge about these things.” That’s Eden from Leesburg, Virginia.
Eden, thank you for your testimonial. I loved hearing your story. Each of you is welcome to write a Letter to the Editor that we might include in an upcoming journal. You can also rate and review the show on Apple Podcasts so that we might read a shout-out of yours as well. Thanks so much for reading. Stay well. Y hasta pronto.
About Nicole Masters
Nicole Masters (1975-) was born in Auckland, New Zealand, to Air Force parents. Instilling an early love of traveling.
Nicole is an independent agroecologist, systems thinker, author, and educator. She has a formal background in ecology, soil science and organizational learning from Otago and Auckland Universities.
She has been providing agricultural consulting and extension services in Regenerative Agriculture since 2003, and is the Director of Integrity Soils Limited.
Together with her team of soil coaches, they work alongside producers in the U.S., Canada and across Australasia. Supporting producers who work with millions of acres to take their operations to the next level in nutrient density, profitability and environmental outcomes.
She is one of a growing number of people who are facilitating a rapidly expanding world of quality food production and biological economies.
Nicole has a US work visa for “An Alien of Extraordinary Ability.”
“For the Love of Soil” is her first book.
- Nicole Masters
- Soils for Life – YouTube
- For the Love of Soil
- Green Pasture
- General Mills
- Ben & Jerry’s
- Apple Podcasts – Wise Traditions
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