Interview by Ronit Pinto and Jaime Lubin; additional reporting by Eden Gordon and Jackie Hajdenberg
John Roulac is internationally known as a preeminent authority on hemp and superfoods with over 20 years in the industry. A passionate environmentalist, author of four books concerning ecology and conservation, founder of five nonprofit organizations and the visionary behind Nutiva—one of the world’s leading organic superfood brands—Roulac continues to put himself on the front lines in the fight to save Planet Earth. His research led him to the regenerative agriculture movement and his newest venture, RE Botanicals, a pure organic hemp apothecary that produces high-quality eco-friendly hemp extract products.
It was Roulac who introduced Team Honeysuckle to Kiss the Ground, a documentary on regenerative agriculture by award-winning filmmakers Josh and Rebecca Tickell that he and other environmental advocates, including Leonardo DiCaprio, executive produced. (See more about the film and regenerative agriculture in our print edition ONE.) At the Southern Hemp Expo in Nashville, we caught up with Roulac again to talk about his journey retiring from Nutiva to start RE Botanicals and his views on the future of planetary wellness.
This week, RE Botanicals makes the official debut of its new Hemp CBD Relief Body Oil and Hemp CBD Organic Coconut Oil Capsules at Natural Products Expo West in Anaheim, California. As Roulac’s latest creations change the world for the better—and as we prepare to reunite with him later this month at the 6th annual NoCo Hemp Expo in Denver, Colorado—we treat you to this candid exclusive about ecology, regeneration, corporate greed, and our shared human imperative to take care of our suffering planet.
Editor’s Note: The following conversation has been reported verbatim and in good faith. Please note that the claims below, medical and otherwise, solely reflect the opinions of the interviewee. We encourage our readers to think critically and further research for themselves about the topics contained herein.
HONEYSUCKLE MAGAZINE: The conversation around regenerative agriculture has not only changed our perspectives on everything concerning the environment and how different ecosystems are interconnected, but it’s taken various industries by storm. How did you first become aware of the regenerative movement, or was it always something you practiced?
JOHN ROULAC: Regenerate the earth or we shall perish. That’s kind of the bottom line. I’ve been studying natural systems since the 1980s, from organic farming to permaculture to more sustainable forestry practices to composting and recycling and hemp agriculture. Regenerative became a movement in the last five years, and [Nutiva] was the first company in the natural food world to help educate people about the power of regenerative. We’re moving away from a degenerative system, which is destroying our soils on every side—using the biocides and the pesticides— towards sustainable, regenerative agriculture, which is meant to sustain even what might be a low quality of life in the soil and ecosystems—to move towards a regenerative agriculture, increase the organic matter, increase biodiversity and increase income for farmers, who are spending money on rebuilding the soil and retaining water instead of on agricultural chemicals.
How has the educational process been with the farmers you’ve been working with?
People have been brainwashed, so it takes a while to educate people. Google “soil health”—the search term has really grown in search rankings—and I’ve been working with businesses and investors and policy-makers to break the silence on this. One thing I’ve noticed in the last five years of working on this is that the higher you get up in the ecological power-structure, the less you find people who want to talk about soil health, carbon sequestration, and the fact that agriculture is the number one contributor to climate change. Part of that is because Monsanto, Bayer, DuPont, and Syngenta, the leading chemical companies in the world, are so powerful that essentially they control all economic, political, and educational systems, and bend them to their will…
Health begins in the soil. If we want to create a healthy world, if we want to create a healthy economy, we have to start there… Ironically, the modern American environmental movement has zero interest in soil health. It’s not focused on restoration. But restoring our grasslands and our forests is the only way forward—either we restore Planet Earth or we will perish.
The vast majority of all carbon release comes from tilling the soil—which falls into the ocean, which then becomes acidic, causing mass plankton death. By 2040, at our current rate, there won’t be a fish in the sea—[nor mammals like] whales or dolphins. Modern environmental groups like 350.org, Sierra Club and Greenpeace spread a message that implies that coal and oil drilling is evil and solar and electric cars are good, but that’s a failed message. If we follow 350.org’s goal of stopping drilling and that’s what we focus all our efforts on, we will be at 450 [parts per million—the safe concentration of carbon dioxide presence in the atmosphere]. The sad truth of the carbon cycle is that what we release in carbon and drill for oil over the next few years will have negligible impact. The only impact is drawdown. Paul Hawken’s book Drawdown outlines [the] 100 top solutions for healing our environmental crisis. Hawken, one of the most influential businesspeople and environmentalists in the world, asked the world’s top environmental groups and companies if they had a plan for climate change—and not one of them did. The United Nations does not have a plan for climate change. COP21 [the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference] was not a plan. Ironically, soil health was not allowed to be discussed at COP21—it was not on the agenda, though soils and oceans are the largest carbon sinks in the world.
Why were they not on the agenda?
Because of Monsanto and Bayer. Because politicians are beholden to the chemical companies, and Al Gore is part of the problem. Al Gore is training hundreds of thousands of people to say that oil and coal are bad, and solar and electric cars are good. If you use a carbon calculator, that leads to a dead ocean in 2040. Do we need to stop drilling for oil and coal? Yes. Do we need more solar and wind? Yes. But by itself, this would be a green techno-utopia that would allow us to continue to destroy the earth while maintaining our lifestyles and still destroying our soils. The environmental community today does not understand environmental systems and ecology…
We need to learn from people like Bucky Fuller, and Wendell Berry, and Bill Mollison, [the father of] permaculture. We live in a dichotomy. Part of this is caused by our university system, which teaches people to be experts in one field—so we have city planners who design cities but don’t know how water flows, though water flowing is pretty important in cities. When it rains in California, all that water runs into the ocean. We could be developing our cities to capture that water, so we wouldn’t need to pump that water in and create dams. We have medical doctors who graduate and know nothing about nutrition. We have university students in agriculture who don’t understand the basics of soil health. This system of specialization is the crux of some of our largest problems. It’s a Western view that dissects reality into compartments.
This is why the regenerative movement is so important—it teaches an holistic approach—and that’s the problem with compartmentalization; as you say, solar and wind are great but they’re not solutions. They’re just one thing that doesn’t really impact anything else. So where do we go from there?
For the last five years, I’ve been interfacing with people all over the world at various levels, in government, in business, in society and environmental groups. Sadly I’ve come to the conclusion that while there’s lots of good things going on—there’s some momentum—the power structure does not want to change the direct trajectory of our society, and so… we need to prepare for crash landing. The system is going to have to crash because rationally we’re not, as a society, hard-wired to recognize that we’ve been brainwashed for so long.
Unfortunately that’s not a feel-good message. But maybe in crisis we can rebound and have a change. The good news is that [with the passage of] the Farm Bill [we can provide] farmers with 50% funding for sustainable agriculture, and incentivize sustainable agriculture further; [that makes] a huge difference. Cover-crop—keeping soil covered in the winter
— composting; adding other crop rotations; biodiversity; hedge rows; planting trees; biochar; all of these different things, we could be doing, and farmers are starting. In Indiana, when you drive by fields in the winter you see covered crops…
We vote three times per day with our food choices. The number one thing you can do is stop buying industrial meat—milk, beef, chicken—and if you are going to eat meat, you need to consume 100% pasture, grass-fed. When you’re eating grass-fed beef you’re essentially consuming sunlight; it’s running on sunlight. Ironically, the food world and the media are enamored with this non-organic, GMO, fake, vegetarian foods like impossible burger, running on petrochemicals.
What’s more regenerative—eating beef from sunlight with growing grass, or taking wheat and growing a wheat crop, spraying Roundup on it, using chemical fertilizers, diluting the groundwater supply and using that combined with GMO’s to make a vegan burger? The non-organic vegan diet is killing animals… [and] ecosystems by spraying Roundup, killing moss, bees, and birds… The vegan movement doesn’t seem to understand that, but some are starting to wake up and realizing that if you want to be a vegan you need to follow regenerative practices. If you want protein, you can eat mung beans and almonds and peas and hemp. There’s lots of good [natural] vegetarian sources…
Nutiva is the world’s largest seller of organic chia seeds in the world. The vast majority of chia sold today as organic is actually non-organic; there’s a lot of food fraud. There are companies importing forty containers a month of fraudulent corn from Turkey and Kazakhstan, used to feed the cows said to produce organic milk. Many of us in the organic food industry have been raising this alarm, but Wall Street has taken over the natural food industry and there’s so much money, and it’s all about return and driving quarterly earnings and forgetting about the values. That’s not all the organic industry—there are good players in organic but it’s important to know your farmer and be more conscious.
Obviously, these are all very good things for people to know, and they should be making these choices, to eat pasture-fed meat instead of commercial vegan food. Sometimes, because of the way our corporate structure is, these are not affordable choices for a lot of people. What do they do in that case?
First off, the more you destroy the earth, the more you’re subsidizing America. The more you help the environment, the more you’re penalized. The corruption of our political system ignores the bad actors. If you [can] go to a farmer’s market… you can buy organic and food-grown in a much cleaner way for a pretty good price. If you buy in bulk you can save a lot of money. If you stop buying packaged food and don’t go to the movie theatre a couple times a month, you can afford to eat… It is a challenge, and that’s one of the disparities in our system today.
How do you determine the effect that chemicals have on the brain and body, whether they’re organic or not?
Part of the challenge is that the research institutions and universities and the EPA are influenced and funded by major corporations. The chemical companies submit their own studies, not true third-party toxicological studies. Chemicals that are very toxic are in many cases banned in other countries.
There’s a reason why, in the 1960s, virtually no one had autism; it was 1 in 10,000. No one had a peanut allergy or gluten issues or fertility issues. Today, 1 in 54 boys are autistic. It’s illegal to take peanuts to schools. Young adults in their 20s and 30s have all sorts of stomach issues; we didn’t have that 40 years ago. A lot of these issues have all accelerated since the 1980s and 90s, which was the introduction of Roundup and GMO crops and the acceleration of toxic chemicals. Also junk foods through multiple generations. There’s a real issue there; we’re laboratory rats. In a sense, they’re testing on us.
Do you think this is deliberate? Do they know what they’re doing?
The same companies that made the chemicals that killed the Jews in Auschwitz are in charge of our food system, and they’re spraying those same chemical compounds on our food. Their motive is profit. As a long-lost brother said, “Food is bigger than the Internet in business.”
Food lets you control people’s minds. It really determines your ability to live.
Companies sell pharmaceutical drugs to cure people after they get sick from the chemicals they spray on their foods. It’s a sickness industry. Regenerative agriculture and hemp are in the wellness industry, which is growing rapidly because people are realizing that they don’t want to be part of the sickness industry.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re in a Bush administration, an Obama or Clinton or Trump administration—Monsanto chooses the Secretary of Agriculture and the [Commissioner] of the FDA, and they follow their policies. The government works on behalf of corporations. Thomas Jefferson warned us that the end of democracy and freedom would be when the monied interests control our government. And that’s what we have—we no longer have a democracy, we no longer have freedom in America. It’s all controlled by corporations. I know—I started a successful corporation and I deal in the economic universe, and we need to change the system.
People are working on that. . . You don’t necessarily have to fight Monsanto yourself—I do that—but you can choose a more regenerative diet and eat better.
How do you deliberately fight?
Teaching people how to compost and teaching people about soil fertility in the 90s was a great way to raise awareness about things like earthworms and healthy soil. I’m involved in the GMO movement, and we’ve worked on campaigns to label GMOs. I started GMO Inside, a play off of insecticide, and we’ve done major corporate campaigns. We got 40,000 Facebook comments on Cheerios’ page, which led them to remove GMOs from their cereal. We got Chobani yogurt removed from Whole Foods and put a lot of pressure on them. Working behind the scenes, we got Campbell’s Soup to remove GMOs.
98% of all GMOs are tied to increasing levels of Roundup. Monsanto sells the seeds that GMOs need to grow.
What’s the most destructive force you’ve come across in terms of environmental destruction?
Roundup. Roundup is going to be the ruination of us all. It is so toxic. They falsified the safety studies. It chelates minerals, stripping away minerals people need for survival. We need to move away from Roundup. I take offense from the vegetation community saying they’re doing good for the environment when they’re promoting Roundup. Vegetarian foods are so over-processed.
Not all of them are; there’s so much common with the regenerative agriculture movement and the vegetarian movement; we need to work together instead of fighting each other. Silicon Valley and Monsanto are using the vegan movement to their advantage. I wrote an article in Medium on that; I’ve written a bunch of articles on soil and climate change on Eco-Watch on Medium, so you can check those out; for example I did an exposé on the University of Oxford’s connection to Monsanto.
When did Monsanto form?
In the 1900s. They brought us Agent Orange, and a lot of other toxic things.
There are so many people coming into this space who may be seen as charlatans and frauds; how do we recognize who’s genuine?
There are some good players in the hemp industry. You vote with your dollars, which is more important than voting in the ballot box, which is important too. If people voted against the industrial food system, we would shift it. It’s important to research the visions and backgrounds of the companies you’re buying from—asking questions like, “What are they contributing to?” “What’s their track record?” and “What were they doing five years ago?”
To switch avenues a bit, how do you see the emergence of RE Botanicals coming into all this?
I retired from Nutiva as a CEO a [little over a] year ago, and started up RE Botanicals just recently. It’s my new baby, and so it’s exciting—there’s a green gold rush in hemp today; the hemp extract space is taking off and we’re entering it. We’re a Pure Organic Hemp Apothecary, and we’re excited to use carrier oil and MCT oil, which is certified organic, coming from organic coconuts and virgin coconut oil. It makes for a much smoother flavor, according to feedback.
We think there’s opportunity for a high-level ethical brand. There are a lot of charlatans in this industry, and a lot of low-quality products, and a lot of companies that have good qualities but don’t know how to scale or how to get their products into supermarkets. With a company like Nutiva, we reached 100 million dollars in sales and we’re in stores around the world, I had that experience and I’m assembling my team of leading organic food people and people in operations in sales. It’s an exciting time for America’s original crop.
It sounds like trajectory will be pretty fast for RE Botanicals. When do you think we’ll be seeing this in retailers?
We’re in five stores today… We think we’ll be in many of the independent natural food stores and co-ops [this spring]. They’re giving us very good indication right now. [More major retailers will be selling hemp products in spring 2019 and things could change a lot after this next Expo West.] We’re building a lot of infrastructure to deal with the growth, and dealing with a lot of apps and technology.
On top of that, we’re very excited for the upcoming documentary, Kiss the Ground, to be coming out. When can we expect to see the finished product?
I’m the co-producer of Kiss the Ground. I met Josh and Rebecca [Tickell], the filmmakers, about five years ago and worked with them to create the film, and introduced them to a lot of the people who star in the film from Gabe Brown to [Ray] Archuleta. We’re looking forward to the release [this spring].
[My final advice for your readers?] Try to make good food choices, support organic regenerative hemp and other products.
To learn more about John Roulac and RE Botanicals, visit rebotanicals.com or follow on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Find their latest products at Natural Products Expo West in Anaheim, California March 5-8, 2019.
Also see Roulac and other hemp experts live at the 6th annual NoCo Hemp Expo in Denver, Colorado March 29-30, 2019. Get your tickets now and stay tuned for more updates about the hemp community from Team Honeysuckle!