For Andrew Baskin, it all comes down to interconnectivity.
The true believer was first driven by social consciousness to investigate the connection between agriculture, regenerative business, and global health. After a volunteer position with Soil Born Farms in Sacramento and renowned Love Apple Farms in Santa Cruz, he traveled across Western Europe studying community food systems and, ultimately, wound up at a vermicomposting farm in Sonoma.
Even while still earning his degree in Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems at U.C. Davis, he served on the board of the Agricultural Sustainability Institute and pioneered research at a McNair Scholar with departmental honors. Afterward, he landed at LIFT Economy, a company that promotes a self-reliant, win-win social economy by supporting businesses—often led by marginalized demographics—that share those values. He specifically is interested in the connection between soil health, sustainable food systems and the health of our communities—big and small.
Here, Baskin explains why it’s not only positive—but essential—to both innovate and make the world a better place:
Live The Process: What sparked your passion for agriculture, farming and food systems?
Andrew Baskin: I’ve always loved being outdoors. What made farming and food systems attractive to me was a function of my values around social justice, healing, self-reliance and self-determination. I realized that many issues affecting our individual and societal health—seemingly separate and distinct—are actually deeply interconnected and that they all link back to food and soil health. Many have been scarred by the machinations of agriculture and business alike, as they have been among the most destructive, extractive and exploitative forces on the planet. But, if those tools can be leveraged by people operating from a regenerative paradigm, all that power will be put behind that loving intention and yield dramatically different outcomes. I want to take an integrated approach, so my work is at the intersection of regenerative agriculture, regenerative enterprise and regenerative livelihoods—particularly linking marginalized communities with economic opportunity.
LTP: Why are healthy soil, farming and agriculture so important to the health of a society or community?
AB: Explore with me a chain of dependent relationships and I believe the answer becomes self-evident: Does a healthy society or community generally require healthy people? Do healthy people generally require healthy food? Does the production of healthy food generally require healthy soil? Does the soil in which we produce our food generally require management it in a way that preserves or enhances its healthful quality over time in order to remain healthy and fertile? The answer to all of these question is “yes” because there is a chain of dependent relationships between interacting systems. From our traditional reductionist worldview, it becomes very difficult to zoom out and see that, if we manage our soils in such a way that degrades their healthful and fertile quality at a large scale, it results in the degradation of the health of our families, communities and society—and those with the least access to capital will be the first to experience those negative health outcomes. Our own health, as well as the health of the soil, is often mishandled because we erroneously see things as separate when they are in fact intimately interconnected. So, we apply false solutions and wind up with a slew of unintended consequences.
LTP: What do you do at LIFT Economy—and what can laypeople do—to help innovate in terms of positive business practices, regenerative economics and innovative food systems?
AB: It is so important that we align our money with our values in every possible way. If you or your bank have an investment portfolio that doesn’t align with your values, find investments or banks that do. Move your money, so it can be used in ways that don’t cause harm and instead do good in the world—and encourage your family and friends to do the same!
Supporting a regenerative economy and food system is a huge priority for us at LIFT Economy. One thing we specifically do to innovate is our Force For Good Accelerator & Fund. The thesis is to support businesses owned by people of demographics that traditionally lack access to capital, particularly those who are addressing climate change (or other systems-level change) through their core operations.
We invest in women- and person of color-owned enterprises and many of our possible investees are engaged in regenerative agriculture or regenerating healthy food systems. Many of these regenerative agriculture solutions are climate change solutions, as well, because they localize food systems or sequester greenhouse gases and transform them into productive assets.
The co-founder of LIFT, Kevin Bayuk, is also the senior financial analyst for Project Drawdown, which maps, measures, models and describes the 100 most substantive solutions to global warming. I recently had dinner with one of their board members, Peter Byck, who has produced several films exhibiting regenerative ag-based climate solutions via rotational grazing systems pioneered by farmers across the United States and Canada. I hadn’t yet seen systems that can build healthy soil across a landscape as fast as those shown in his film, and Peter is now leading a whole team of researchers to forward that momentum. Our friends at Pie Ranch, TomKat Ranch and Terra Genesis International are doing loads to forward the movement, linking regenerative ag (or agriculture) with regenerative business.
At LIFT Economy, I produce our Next Economy Now podcast interview series, where we highlight many of these solutions. We’re focused not just on the arena of regenerative agriculture, but also on leaders and models in business, investment, philanthropy etc. who are ushering in a new economy that works for the benefit of all life. You can subscribe on iTunes, Stitcher or wherever you get your podcasts.
LTP: You know more than the average person about what makes food truly healthy and fresh. Do you have certain products or rituals that you swear by?
AB: I usually shop at my local food co-op or other local vendors, so that my money stays within the local economy. I try to buy organic (which doesn’t necessarily mean certified organic). If I buy animal products, I aim for those as grass-fed, free-range and ethically treated as possible. I generally eat a mostly plant-based diet, so I rarely buy meat when I go grocery shopping, but I will give thanks and enjoy it when out with friends or family.
If you can afford it, a Vitamix blender is an essential kitchen appliance and they sell refurbished ones with a warranty on their website. It just opens up so many creative possibilities. I try to soak or sprout anything that’s a seed (including all grains, legumes etc.) to remove phytic acid, bring the food to life and lessen the time it takes to cook. Bone broths are great. I’d recommend buying Healing with Whole Foods by Paul Pitchford and, when you experience an unwanted issue in your body or if you want to know the health value of a certain food, just thumb through the index and you’ll quickly figure out which foods you need and which to avoid.
I encourage everyone to buy from Certified B Corporations because it means that you know for sure that they are actually using business as a force for good. If you don’t know about Certified B Corporations, you should check out The B Corp Handbook by Ryan Honeyman. Outside of that, I think receiving bodywork like massage therapy is super important as is self-care through self-massage or yoga. And having a legit social support network as well as a compassionate, reflective practice and relationship with yourself is critical to health and well-being.
LTP: What does happiness look like to you?
AB: Happiness looks like living a purpose-driven life, where we have access to feeling gratitude. I recently discovered Vipassana meditation over a 10-day retreat. It’s a powerful method for being in touch with ourselves and engaging more mindfully in the world. I tend to think that happiness is an emergent property of our overall health and well-being. I’m much more likely to be unhappy if I’m physically, emotionally, mentally or spiritually unhealthy. If I’m unhealthy in one of those areas, but very healthy in other areas, I’m still net positive and more likely to feel happiness because I have the means to experience joy by interacting with myself and the world around me. And if that’s too philosophical, happiness for me looks like waking up in the morning, eager to start the day, making the most of the day, and ending the day in the company of loved ones with healthy delicious food and music and laughter for everyone to share in together. Happiness is lots of those types of days and then, eventually one day, lying on my deathbed feeling peaceful and fulfilled and ready to face the unknown.
LTP: What does it mean to you to “Live The Process” and how can we all do that more each day?
AB: To me, “living the process” means putting the process over the outcome. Focus on getting the process right and the outcome will take care of itself. We can’t “do” outcomes. We can only “do” steps in a process that lead to an eventual outcome. We sometimes experience such misery in life in the most challenging times. From these experiences, our character is forged and we realize upon reflection that these experiences were a valuable part of the process in shaping us into the people we’ve become. We had to live that process to get where we are now.
“Focus on getting the process right and the outcome will take care of itself”
Another way to “Live The Process” is to think about evolving ourselves to reach ever greater potential. Emerson said, “The creation of a thousand forests is in one acorn.” Imagine a banyan or baobab or redwood or sequoia that lives for thousands upon thousands of years, that provides value to millions of other life forms throughout the course of its life. It’s hard for us to believe or even imagine that all of that potential lies within a tiny little seed. If we could see the growth of one of these seeds sped up to the span of five minutes, we would be astounded at witnessing the realization of that potential. But we can only imagine.
Imagine now how such a tree can be an extension of your process. If it dies as a mere seedling, how much of its un-manifested potential is wasted? We can think of living the process in terms of the mundane—from washing dishes to grocery shopping—but we can also expand our view of that process to see it within a much grander context.
Think again of that tree that lasts through generations and about cultivating an ethic of ancestral responsibility in ourselves, then we can see how processes which we can steward or birth into this world can be carried forth and live on for generations to come. Think of the processes set forth by your own ancestors, which have supported you. In that frame, “living the process” takes on a whole new meaning. Either way, it means being rooted and engaged in the experience of life and the love and connection which undergirds it all.