The Cambia Solution

Initial presentation prepared for the Food Funded Conference, San Francisco, USA  June 2017

Updated with progress as of September 2018  

by (Alejandra) Liora Adler, co-founder, Gaia University

The Cambia Solution is based on over two years of experimental research under a 45K grant to Gaia University from Lush Cosmetics in 2016/2017. Since then it has been bootstrapped by Gaia U and the early adopters involved in the first 2 plantings (se below).

The Cambia Solution proposes a new operating system for almond growing in CA that deals with the three major issues of this industry, an industry which produces 84% of the world’s’ almonds while currently using over 11 % of CA’s water resources, enough water to supply the city of Los Angeles for three years!

The Cambia Solution is a rare gem that helps fix climate change by increasing carbon drawdown by 5 times, reduces water use by up to 50%  and at the same time doubles farm income per acre.

The results of our research were so powerful and far-reaching that we knew we needed to create a plan for adoption of the Cambia Solution throughout the CA almond industry and later expand to other crops and Mediterranean parts of the world.

Cambia will co-create with local farmers a Cambia standard of almond orchard–beyond organic–creating drought-hardy and diversified orchards inside larger scale water-retention landscapes. Using water-wise rootstocks and a fungal-dominant soil-food-web approach together with a ridge to ridge rehydration system, we will help farmers to sequester significant levels of carbon dioxide from greenhouse gases and reduce water use while increasing net income — an exciting prospect of making a healthy profit while effecting climate stabilization.

Creating Living Soils

During our research one approach seemed exceptionally promising. Following on the work of Elaine Ingham,  Dr David C. Johnson of New Mexico State University, for the last ten years, has been researching the positive effects of sequestering carbon into the soil by a fungal-dominant compost-making technique using an inexpensive, farm-built, static pile bioreactor.

This compost, aged nine months, used to inoculate soil or as a seed coating, creates a biology capable of sequestering an estimated 20-40 tons of carbon per acre of farmland per year. Compare this with the annual loss of 1.7 tons of soil carbon from conventional agriculture and to only  2 to 4 tons of carbon drawdown of organics (at best). Dr Johnson estimates that if only 20% of the world’s soils were inoculated with fungal dominant compost, we would reduce greenhouse gas levels to 250 ppm, below the level we were at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution!  Additionally, yields were increased by 25-40%, an enormous incentive for farmers.

Added to this carbon drawdown approach are Andrew’s 35 years of permaculture design and practical experience and you have the makings of  “Cambia Grown” Orchards producing almonds that from seed to harvest to distribution engender the highest values, practices, quality and productive success of permaculture practice.

Entering the New Economy

Cambia is also designing a revenue sharing program with options for tax credits and a voluntary carbon trading scheme which will make adoption of the standard created by Cambia for almond orchards both an enticing prospect for making a healthy profit while at the same time lowering water use and effecting climate stabilization. A triple win!

Our early adopters are drawn from organic farmers planting new orchards. In 2016 over 900 acres of new organic almond orchards were planted in CA. From the 11 Billion dollar almond industry in CA (2016 figures) there is ample room to scale to both current organic acreage and replants of both organic and presently conventional agriculture.


2017: First Cambia Grown Orchard at Full Belly Farm

In the Fall of 2017, we planted our first Cambia Grown Orchard at Full Belly Farm in the Capay Valley in CA.  Full Belly, a leader in the field, growing organic fruits, vegetables and nuts on 350 acres for the last 30+ years, has set aside a 5 acre plot for this pilot project.  This is an integrated permaculture orchard, inoculating the soil with the fungal rich compost we have prepared, adding biochar and planting the 500 trees grown on drought-hardy rootstocks grafted over with disease resistant sweet varieties. These trees were grown from seed by Sierra Gold Nurseries using their biodegradable pot system that eliminates the root-shock that slows down the development of conventional bare-root transplants and are super-easy and quick to plant.

For control purposes these trees were planted alongside bare-root trees on cloned, hybrid rootstocks with high tolerance for application of water – these are ‘conventional’ trees and the irrigation system chosen (a micro-bore laser tubs system) installed that enables us to deliver tailored amounts of water, tree on tree.

As of today (September 2018) our first year Cambia Grown trees have caught up with 2 year old bare-root transplants – we eagerly await the final test – whether or not our Cambia Grown trees bear nuts as soon as, later than or ahead of the conventional trees.


2018: Second orchard about to go in

Our successful planting and establishment at Full Belly attracted the attention of the young farmers at Pasture 42, also in the Capay Valley. For them we started 320 trees last December (2017) and are preparing to plant these in early October. In this case they are going in at wide spacings to accommodate grazing by pasture-raised chickens (30 feet between rows). This is our first silvopasture orchard. The layout also conforms to a keyline design pattern in order to maximize the infiltration of winter rainfall.

2019: Prospective Kern County orchard

We are consulting with a grower with 350 acres of almond in Kern County who has long been seeking to convert out of industrial, chemically enhanced almond growing. Up until now there has been very little advice available to assist such persons. Indeed, the advice available in the area comes from the dominant industry, either from the chemical companies themselves or from extension agents wedded to their methods.

The grower is a retired cancer doctor and is motivated to make the bold change (to Cambia Grown trees) as they understand that much of their professional career, including the deep distresses for the doctors, patients and families involved, was spent attempting to heal the diseases caused, in part, by the type of pesticides the grower has been buying in order to produce an almond crop this last 15 years. If these externalized costs are bought into the equations used to test the viability of growing almonds then, we suspect, the industrial-chemical system would not test out positive.

The plan is to replace 5 acres of conventional trees in 2019, see how these do in the following years and then to replant the entire 350 acres to Cambia Grown trees in 3 coups over the next 10 years.

A pattern of adoption

So far this project has followed a path in which early adopters and Gaia U have maintained progress since the flush of the modest funding from Lush died out. We are deeply grateful for the support of these early adopters and thanks them for their visionary commitment. This they give even though we are only part way through the research and development and have yet to establish methods for several ket features of this new type of regenerative orchard.

These include (for example): –

  1. The aerial harvesting necessary for dealing with contamination issues when animals share an orchard with a crop
  2. Hulling the almonds in-field in order to reduce the volume of biomass ‘take’ and to reduce drying bulk and costs
  3. Direct marketing of almonds and value-added products in order to raise the margins to compensate for the lower crop yields arising from water economies
  4. Establishing multi-stakeholder contracts that enable growers to plant up orchards on leased land without risk of loosing investments when land is sold
  5. Finding sources of funds to enable the rehydration of the landscape at the rate of 20 acres of hill land to every one acre of valley bottom planted to orchards

There is much still to do …


Our Design and Consulting team is led by Andrew Langford, Chief Permaculture Officer, co-founder of the Permaculture Association of Britain and Diploma program as well as co-founder of Gaia U.  Andrew’s blend of strong practical experience and academic skills is informed by work in manufacturing, farming, professional permaculture design practice and graduate studies.

Liora writes: – I was an activist of the 1960’s, and entered the 70’s determined to be an actionist—to discover and enact solutions to our world’s most pressing problems rather than protest. I have been a serial entrepreneur, boot-strapping my businesses, from a women’s sewing cooperative in a small village in Mexico to Gaia University, now in its 12th year. Along the way I have co-founded two ecovillage projects—Huehuecoyotl in the mountains of Mexico and la Caravana – a mobile ecovillage roving through South America for 13 years supporting and activating alternative and indigenous movements.

I have also served on the Board of Directors of the Global Ecovillage Network and as their representative to the United Nations. I am currently on the Boards of the Global Village Institute and the Permaculture Institute of North America.


I am now grateful to be serving as CEO (aptly called at this moment Chief Everything Officer!) of Cambia, guiding its growth as a start-up ecosocial enterprise.

Cambia also draws on a global network of permaculture designers, business consultants and advisors, the current staff of Gaia U, as well as our own experiential, social and spiritual capital. We are known in our fields for boldness (older and bolder!), resilience and integrity— qualities we value highly, as well as the value we place on the financial capital we are raising through investment, grants and donations.

Reversing climate change is the critical challenge of our generation. The fertile soil from which I draw hope and inspiration must be tended by people all over the world– by people like you and me. Remembering the children whose future depends on our decisions today I deeply claim what our indigenous elders have taught us– with every action we must envision its effects on the 7 generations to come.

As one of our valued advisors Dr. Robert Randall wrote to me recently “with the climate heading in the direction it is, people will need to eat and almonds are both nutritious and renewable. You and Andrew have the skills and track record to get it done.”

Creating Regenerative Livelihoods: An Invitation to you

Cambia’s current goal is to develop this concept almond orchard design into a proven model that can lever almond production away from the current industrial approach to a low water use, organic, polycultural approach that actively regenerates ecosystem functions and services in the broad landscape and enables farmers to create regenerative livelihoods.

For us, Cambia is more than just a startup business. It is a regenerative enterprise that provides us with an opportunity to create our own livelihoods while at the same time providing solutions to the most dire problem we face as humans in the world today – tackling climate change. But there is never just one solution, we must all work together to bring about this change. We invite you to sign up for our free online course, Creating Regenerative Livelihoods, so that you can begin the journey of building a regenerative future for yourself and the generations to come.