Center for Regenerative Agriculture and Resilient Systems

Nikki Silvestri Speaks on Soil as Metaphor for Human Sustainability at Chico State

by Sheryl Karas MA, CRARS staff

Nikki Silvestri

When social impact consultant Nikki Silvestri signed on to present the opening keynote presentation at Chico State’s This Way to Sustainability conference(opens in new window) on March 26 and 27, 2020, nobody expected that a pandemic would force the entire conference to be done online. That made her speech about the importance of helping each other develop inner resilience in a rapidly changing world all the more compelling. Drawing from the lessons of regenerative agriculture, Silvestri’s premise was that to create systemic and institutional resilience we need to take the time to nurture our social soil enough to support thriving leadership and communities.

Nikki Silvestri is the founder and CEO of Soil and Shadow, a coaching and consulting firm created to help social and environmental entrepreneurs have more impact in their work and bring more joy into their lives. The multiple intersecting challenges of climate change, infrastructure collapse, economics, and social inequity pushes politicians and others to demand simple straight forward solutions that can be quickly and easily implemented. But Silvestri thinks complex problems require an ability to work more effectively with complexity. And there is no better place to begin, both literally and figuratively, than soil, the foundation under our feet. 

Healthy soil is inherently rich and complex in terms of the diverse biology found in it and how that interacts with the minerals in the soil, the plants that grow in it, and the atmosphere above. Silvestri pointed out that there are more micro-organisms in a teaspoon of soil than there are people on earth. Those soil microbes have an intimate and quite necessary relationship with the plants. It supports their health and nutrient quality as well as the land’s ability to sequester CO2 from the atmosphere and keep it safe underground. When we farm in ways that disrupt the soil biology, we degrade the quality of the soil and the quality of our food, pollute the environment, and add emissions that contribute to global warming. To regenerate the soil we need to prepare it for planting in the least disruptive ways possible and build fertility by patiently nurturing the soil biology over time and keeping the ground covered in order to protect those underground communities.

Our Human Soil

When it comes to our human communities, Silvestri emphasizes that it is necessary to do the same. We need to stop degrading our human connections and well-being. It is essential to nurture diversity and support the micro as well as macro collaborations that bring forward the creativity needed to solve complex problems. We need to protect the most vulnerable participants in order to sustain engagement and have the patience to take the time this level of complex interaction tends to take. 

Silvestri also talked about how to build social fertility, saying that to have a resilient fertile co-creative team, individual self-care and positive relationships between team members are the key. There needs to be space for individuals to create their “inner compost” by having the time and space to work with the emotions social change and institutional change tends to present. Of course, there is grief, anxiety and fear about the challenges we all face. There is also a need to acknowledge the deeply held dreams and desires individuals sometimes believe they have to give up by taking on this work, perhaps by finding healthy ways to integrate it back in.

In her consulting work, Nikki Silvestri works with businesses and nonprofits on important relationship dynamics within the organization that need healing so they can foster real interconnections that get things done. She also helps them develop relationship-centered economic and environmental strategies. Learn more at Soil & Shadow(opens in new window) and through her strategy coaching business(opens in new window).