Act: Inspiration

Jason Bradford: “A Hybrid Path to the Future of Farming”

June 22, 2022

Episode 24
June 22, 2022

(Conversation Recorded on May 24 2022)

On this episode, Jason Bradford, who is an author, activist, farmer, and teacher, talks about the energy intensity of our modern industrial agriculture system.

How do we feed billions of people with depleting energy systems? How do we also protect existing biodiversity and ecosystem health? We also discuss what makes for healthy soil, why we’re losing it, and how small farms can help get it back – while creating higher yields of healthier foods for fewer inputs.

About Jason Bradford

Jason Bradford has been affiliated with Post Carbon Institute since 2004, first as a Fellow and then as Board President. He grew up in the Bay Area of California and graduated from U.C. Davis with a B.S. in biology before earning his doctorate from Washington University in St. Louis, where he also taught ecology for a few years. After graduate school he worked for the Center for Conservation and Sustainable Development at the Missouri Botanical Garden, was a Visiting Scholar at U.C. Davis, and during that period co-founded the Andes Biodiversity and Ecosystem Research Group (ABERG). He decided to shift from academia to learn more about and practice sustainable agriculture, and in the process, completed six months of training with Ecology Action (aka GrowBiointensive) in Willits, California, and then founded Brookside School Farm.

Show Notes

00:35 – Jason’s info + book, Post Carbon Institute, Farmland LP, CSAs

02:57 – What is a CSA

04:39Biodiversity and geography of the Amazon rainforest and the Andes

05:14How will the Amazon and Andes change with climate change

06:17 The Future is Rural

06:56Net energy positive

07:18 Optimal foraging theory

08:46 Chewing the cud and ruminant digestion

09:32Fiber, cellulose and human digestion

10:16NPK (Nitrogen, Phosphorus, Potassium/Potash)

11:01Haber Bosch process

14:30 The Law of Return

15:11 What is soil? Is it different from dirt?


17:10What makes healthy soil? (structure, microbiome, nutrients)

17:24Malabon soil

19:49How many farms are managing for healthy soils

20:10At the current rate our topsoil will be gone in 60 years

20:54What percentage of the US labor force are farmers? (~1%)

21:22 How has the labor force shifted from pre-industrial times? (70-90%)

22:35Modern agriculture is an energy sink

23:17Past food systems were energy positive (10:1-5:1)

23:35 The Oil Drum essay (EROI on Nate’s potatoes)

25:04It takes 10-14 calories to produce, process, and transport every 1 calorie of food we eat

26:50Over the last hundred years we have had more energy available every year

27:03 Trophic pyramids


31:01 Supply chain disruptions

31:55 – Fossil fuel depletion

33:48 Conventional crops no longer have the genes to be grown in organic agriculture

37:16 Heavy mechanization has led to heavy specialization and regionalization

39:27 Smaller farms have higher energy returns and higher yields

44:27 ½ a hectare is needed to feed one person (variation from 2/10th to a whole hectare)

47:46 Dennis Meadows TGS Episode

51:33Potato Famine in Ireland

53:03Problems with modern industrial animal agriculture (CAFOs)

54:31 Diets were tailored to fit the land they’re based in

56:13 – In Minnesota there are more pigs than people

56:20 Population numbers of our livestock

1:00:05 Energy blindness

1:00:23Norman Borlaug and Paul Ehrlich


1:07:34 – The world’s amazing and diverse life

1:09:03 – Chuck Watson TGS Episode 1 and 2 on Nuclear Risk

1:10:20Nature is remarkably resilient

1:10:37Building back healthy soil


Teaser photo credit: Brookside School Farm Facebook page.

Nate Hagens

Nate Hagens

Nate Hagens is the Director of The Institute for the Study of Energy & Our Future (ISEOF) an organization focused on educating and preparing society for the coming cultural transition. Allied with leading ecologists, energy experts, politicians and systems thinkers ISEOF assembles road-maps and off-ramps for how human societies can adapt to lower throughput lifestyles. Nate holds a Masters Degree in Finance with Honors from the University of Chicago and a Ph.D. in Natural Resources from the University of Vermont. He teaches an Honors course, Reality 101, at the University of Minnesota.

Tags: Building resilient food and farming systems, healthy soil