The climate is changing, and our industrial food and farming system plays a big role in that. Over the past few years, the movement for a food system that sustains people and planet has been growing. As conversations around topics like carbon sequestration that were previously just for academics and practitioners move into the mainstream, we cannot forget the people at the heart of it all: small-scale farmers and the movements that they have built.
WHAT IS REGENERATIVE AGRICULTURE?
Regenerative agriculture is often characterized as a holistic approach to agriculture that emphasizes the restoration of soil health. It builds upon the experiences and traditions of the organic practices and movements that preceded it. Those practices include conversation tillage, mulching, composting, cover cropping, crop rotation and restorative livestock integration - techniques drawn from the experiences and traditional knowledge of small-scale farmers.
The benefits of regenerative agricultural practices are multifold, including carbon sequestration, increased resiliency in the face of drought and extreme climate events, and improved production. While approaches and experiences will vary depending on a given agricultural scenario (row crops, agroforestry, livestock, etc.), regenerative practices in general are low-tech, often inexpensive and relatively easy to implement.
Regenerative agriculture prioritizes the utilization of on-farm fertility and resources. The traditional techniques that regenerative farmers utilize greatly reduce the need to purchase off-farm fertilizers, pesticides and fuels. These practices not only reduce costs for farmers, but build up soil and support farm resiliency. One simple way to understand regenerative agriculture at the farm level is to think of the farm and soil as a bank account. Industrial agriculture depletes the account by extracting nutrients, water and human dignity, leaving the farm worse off each year. Regenerative agriculture, on the other hand, add to the account by gradually improving soil, increasing the farm's capacity to produce safe and healthy food, and generating real value for farmers over the long term.