Regenerative Agriculture?

July 18, 2023

Regenerative Agriculture?

Conventional, locally grown, CSA, organic…and now regenerative agriculture. Is it just another buzzy term for us to navigate as we try to shop and vote with our dollar for the health of ourselves, our families, our communities and the planet?

No, it’s not. It’s an important (but not new) trend that’s getting a lot of well-deserved attention.

As we think about agriculture, regenerative ag asks us to think about how all aspects of farming are connected, a sort of web of entities that grow, enhance, exchange, distribute and consume products and services. Rather than thinking “farm to table,” an overly simplistic way to consider food, this way of thinking considers farming and ranching in a style that nourishes people and the planet. Varying from farm to farm, region to region, the playbook is as varied as the food produced.

These holistic principles are meant to restore the health of the soil and surrounding ecosystem; address inequity and leave our land, water and climate in better shape for future generations.

Not a new idea, (not all who farm this way use the ‘label),’ this is more of an indigenous approach to agriculture that can help restore ecologies, fight climate change, build solid relationships, increase economic growth and make the people who produce food happy. What a nice idea: making the people who produce our food happy.

This philosophy of farming and ranching is meant to create harmony with nature. Farmers engaged in this style of food production have a broader view of their place in the world, as they should, since soil health and nutrient-density in the food play a vital role in human wellness.

Just to give some context here, industrial agriculture, like the practices that dominate Western food supply chains, result in soil erosion 10 to 100 times more than soil formation, resulting in more pollution from runoff and less nutrient-density in food.

Yikes, right?

When many of us think of farms, we picture bucolic, rolling landscapes with happy families and animals running around. Farmers engaged in regenerative practices think that should be a farm’s reality. Rather than focus on subsidies and yield, they prefer to focus on work satisfaction, making a decent living, the number of families they help to feed and watching how the land regenerates and flourishes without the toxins from chemical inputs on the land.

Many regenerative farms begin (or continue) their practice with the goal of growing healthy food for their own families and local communities. A key to their success is treating workers fairly and paying a decent wage. They also keep in front of mind, that our agricultural industry of today was built on the back of minority communities working as slaves. They hope to address past injustice by helping communities of color gain access to their own land and to the support services they need to succeed.

Regenerative agriculture also keeps in mind that industrial agriculture plays a significant role in the effects of our changing climate. This practice of farming addresses these issues with soil that sequesters more carbon in the soil, making farmland (and their surrounding communities) more resilient. The way they farm (and ranch) can make a significant impact on climate change through their regenerative practices.

Despite all of these benefits to humans and the planet, only a small number of farms practice regenerative agriculture because US farm policy doesn’t give it priority. But, state by state we are seeing incentives for farmers paying off. California, for instance, incentivizes farmers with various initiatives as does Iowa. More and more states seem to be getting the memo as well.

So how can we, the consumer, help? I’m glad you asked.

We can speak out about this most important topic to people we know, creating awareness. We can speak to our representatives about making this practice in farming a priority and we can support organizations working to build better soil.

And as always, connect with farmers at a local farm market where you can meet the person who grew your food and understand their practices; join a CSA (community sustained agriculture), buying a share in a local farm, supporting its health and prosperity as they grow food. Choose your food wisely when shopping and try to discover where food is sourced, supporting those farms and producers who practice regenerative farming.

If you can, grow some of your own food: Follow regenerative agriculture techniques no matter what size your land might be. Your little (or big) garden is a step in the right direction and there’s not much that is more satisfying than eating food that you grew.

And finally, compost if you can or use a service who will pick up your food scraps and create compost for local farms. It’s inexpensive and reduces your waste.

In the end, the health of our people, communities and farms is in our hands. Together, we can create delicious, natural, nutrient-dense food that gives back to the land that grew it, creating a cycle of life that benefits us all.