Growing Above and Beyond: How Regenerative Farming Can Heal Our Planet
What is Regenerative Agriculture?
In recent years, Regenerative Agriculture has slowly gained mainstream interest. It is now hard to go a day without stumbling across new articles, podcasts, and documentaries about celebrities, corporations, entrepreneurs, farmers, foundations, and even fashion designers turning their focus towards the promising sector.
To any steward of the earth, it is exciting to witness a widespread inquiry cropping up about the connection between agriculture, soil health, and the wellbeing of our society. Amidst all the passionate conversation, it is important to take a step back to unpack the roots of Regenerative Agriculture and reaffirm why this movement impacts every living organism.
Disclaimer, Regenerative Agriculture has no universal definition...which is not such a bad thing. Instead of agonizing over the perfect description, it is more important to understand agriculture as a spectrum.
On one end of the continuum are degenerative processes and practices that decrease the health of a living system. On the other end of the continuum are regenerative processes that increase the complexity of an agroecosystem. When there is a continual increase in biodiversity and abundance in a farm, new growth opportunities emerge that have never existed before.
In an effort to protect the popular term from becoming diluted, much like the word natural has become, I will use the phrase to outline a system of farming principles and practices that work in partnership with nature to enhance biodiversity, enrich topsoil, improve ecosystem services, and increase economic resilience in farming communities.
What are Regenerative Agriculture principles?
Regenerative Agriculture is built upon 4 guiding principles:
- Produce natural, nutrient-rich foods.
- Restore plant and animal diversity to our lands.
- Regenerate soil and remove carbon from the atmosphere.
- Make farming an attractive and profitable enterprise.
From these 4 principles emerge a broad set of techniques that improve the health of entire agroecosystems. Regenerative Agriculture practices include but are not limited to:
Why does Regenerative Agriculture matter?
America has grown accustomed to an extractive and degenerative relationship with animals, water, soil, and food systems. Widespread adoption of practices including mono-crop production, use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, and tillage - has contributed to catastrophic greenhouse gas emissions.
As a result, many consumers are unaware or desensitized to the ways in which their purchases deplete agroecosystems to satisfy their preferences. Researchers have uncovered that:
- 50% of the topsoil on the planet has been lost in the last 150 years.
- If current rates of soil degradation persist, 100% of the world’s topsoil could disappear within 60 years.
- The health of the ecosystems on which all living species depend is deteriorating faster than ever before.
However, our future does not have to be so bleak. Regenerative Agriculture can offer us a triple win: climate change reversal, increased profit for struggling farmers, and more nutrient-rich food for consumers. In 2013, Agricultural Systems published a study that, compared to conventional farms, regenerative farms housed more cattle per acre, had lower calf mortality, purchased less grain-based feed, and used fewer synthetic inputs. The researchers also discovered that the soil was deeper, more aerated, and covered with plants. By working in harmony with natural systems, there is an opportunity for food producers to heal damaged land while increasing profitability and producing the optimal amount of resources.
How can I get involved in the movement?
1. Educate Yourself
The Regenerative Agriculture movement will only grow and evolve as consumers become increasingly aware of its principles and practices. Luckily, there are established organizations like Regeneration International that have compiled resources to ensure that anyone can get up to speed on why Regenerative Agriculture is our best bet at reversing the detrimental impacts of climate change.
If peer-reviewed papers, books, and podcasts aren’t your jam, check out this ongoing map detailing 250+ documentaries on regenerative projects across the globe.
Looking to make your voice heard? Start by signing the petition to ban glyphosate, a potent chemical found in Monsanto’s signature herbicide, Roundup weed killer. Exposure to the harmful compound accelerates soil degradation and increases the risk of cancer, infertility, and respiratory illness in humans.
3. Stay Up to Date
We now have access to environmentally conscious companies that are thinking beyond profit maximization, investing in sustainable practices, and using their large platforms to catalyze a national conversation about agricultural issues.
Looking for an easy way to stay in the loop about the movement? Consider subscribing to The Regeneration Weekly. We scour the web to harvest a fresh serving of regenerative food and agriculture news, insights, and resources. Delivered to your inbox every Friday.
- Soloviev, E. (2020, April 12). Regenerative Agriculture Continuum. Re-Source. http://www.ethansoloviev.com/regenerative-agriculture-continuum/
- Kiss the Ground. (n.d.) Beyond Sustainable: Think Regeneratively. Kiss the Ground. https://kisstheground.com/thinkregeneratively
- Renton, C., Lafave, C., & Sierks, K.. (2020, March 24). The State of Regenerative Agriculture: Growing With Room to Grow More. Conservation Finance Network. https://conservationfinancenetwork.org/2020/03/24/the-state-of-regenerative-agriculture-growing-with-room-to-grow-more
- Ferguson, Bruce & Diemont, Stewart & Alfaro-Arguello, Rigoberto & Martin, Jay & Toral, José & Álvarez-Solís, José & Pinto-Ruiz, R.. (2013). Sustainability of holistic and conventional cattle ranching in the seasonally dry tropics of Chiapas, Mexico. Agricultural Systems. 120. 38–48. 10.1016/j.agsy.2013.05.005.