Do you know where your food comes from? Most people don’t.
In these modern times there’s a vast divide between the farms that produce the food and those who consume it. Because of this, farming practices aren’t on the minds of your average consumer. But we think that needs to change. Now is the time to take a hard look at the way farming practices can (and should) improve, to better utilize resources and protect the earth for future generations. That’s where regenerative agriculture comes in: a better way to farm, that focuses not only on what they’re producing, but HOW.
One of our goals here at IMPASTIAMO (besides bringing you really, really good food) is to help educate others about sustainability and taking care of our planet. In fact, we are proud to include certain ingredients in our kits that are sourced from farms that use regenerative farming practices.
We’ve got a lot of information to share about regenerative agriculture, so let’s jump right in!
What is Regenerative Agriculture?
A holistic look at farming practices, taking into account what is planted, how it’s planted, how it’s grown and gathered, animal involvement, and every other question related to the process of growing and tending in between. In a word: cohesiveness, but with the goal of sustainability and health, both of the consumer and of the earth.
If you start to research for yourself, you will find variability in the specific tenants of regenerative agriculture, but we’ve grouped the most common ones into three overarching categories for you. You’ll notice as we go through these points their holistic nature; each one working toward or assisting the other goals.
- Minimizing soil disturbances, which includes eliminating or decreasing tillage.
Tilling is intended to get the top layer of soil ready for planting, pulling up weeds, blending in any remaining plants, and combining fertilizer, etc. as well as softening the soil. Although tilling is an extremely common practice to prepare the soil for planting, the negatives are hard to overlook.
To begin with, turning the soil over and over aerates it, increasing surface runoff and soil erosion. In addition, the aerated soil increases metabolic activity within it. This increased activity burns up the organic matter in the soil, thereby decreasing the viability of plants that can absorb carbon dioxide from the air, while at the same time releasing more carbon dioxide into the air.
Check out this article from the World Resources Institute for an in-depth look at ‘The Causes and Effects of Soil Erosion, and How to Prevent It.’
- Focusing on soil coverage; keeping the soil covered with crops or living roots as much and as long as possible.
According to the USDA, "Decreased soil loss and runoff translates to reduced transport of valuable nutrients, pesticides, herbicides, and harmful pathogens associated with manure from farmland that degrade the quality of streams, rivers and water bodies and pose a threat to human health.”
Having this coverage also helps to prevent soil erosion, which we touched on above. Alfalfa and clover are popular choices to plant in the time between crops. In addition to maintaining the soil, the live vegetation provides grazing material for livestock and helps offset carbon emissions.
(Note: we’re not talking about aliens here, but how fun if we were?)
- Increased biodiversity of animals and plants + integrate animals into the farm as much as possible.
The biggest point here is that nature is a delicate, extremely intricate ecosystem, with many parts working together. Too much of even a good thing can be a problem. Nature doesn’t segregate the animals in a field or the plants that grow in a rainforest. Each one there has a specific place in the greater scheme, not limited to eating the vegetation and weeds, and providing organic matter back into the soil.
- Utilize regenerative grazing management for livestock.
This peer reviewed study, published at the end of 2020, is an in-depth look at the carbon footprint from livestock and soil quality in relation to regenerative grazing. On the surface, regenerative grazing seems to be the answer to decreasing the large amount of gas emissions from livestock, especially cattle. They found that by rotating the grazing areas of multiple animal types, the greenhouse gas footprint was 66% lower. However, this grazing method requires 2.5 times the amount of land than traditional grazing uses. There is speculation that the sheer quantity of land needed for regenerative grazing (of cattle alone) could further contribute to deforestation.
- Reduce the use of artificial fertilizers and chemical inputs
The intention of regenerative farming methods is for this step to be accomplished by the grazing livestock. This means that there would be much less (or no) toxic chemicals in the soil runoff that will eventually make its way into nearby water sources. Avoiding the use of pesticides and other chemicals has the most direct link to us, the consumers.
That leads us to our next point…
Are “Organic” and “Regenerative Agriculture” the Same Thing?
Both of these terms clue you in to important details about how your food was grown or raised, but they are not one in the same. Regenerative agriculture is much less specific than organic; since there are general guidelines, but no cut and clear definition of what “reducing the use of fertilizers” means in practice.
Organically grown food is produced with methods that exclude the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, or other artificial agents. That’s where it ends however, without goals of sustainability or future ecological success. Kudos to the farm that is both organic AND regenerative!
To sum it up:
Regenerative CAN mean organic, but organic doesn’t necessarily mean regenerative.
Regenerative Agriculture Through the Years
While regenerative agriculture has gained interest in recent years, it‘s by no means a new idea. Long before “regenerative agriculture” and “sustainable” were buzz words, it was simply “farming” using methods that made the most sense. In fact, many of the principles were derived by practices of Indigenous Americans. They were successfully managing the land using ancient techniques, long before the settlers arrived.
One of these methods is known as the Three Sisters. It involves planting corn, squash, and beans together, also known as intercropping. These three plants provide what the others need, while still thriving themselves.
Here’s a more recent history refresher for you: during the 1930’s, in addition to the Great Depression, farmers in areas of Colorado, New Mexico, Kansas. Oklahoma, and Texas saw firsthand the effects that unsustainable farming practices can have on the land. The people in these areas were hit the hardest by deadly dust storms, the worst one occurring on April 14, 1935, which would later be known as Black Sunday.
Our Final Thoughts…
More is not always better, especially when it comes to the delicate ecosystem that we call our home. Sacrifices in efficiency and profit are often the cost of a more responsible farming method. But the cost of ignoring the need for more sustainable behavior will be much higher. Much like trying to consume less meat, recycling, and composting, regenerative agriculture respects what the earth provides, and attempts to give back to it, so that our future generations can reap the benefits long after we’re gone.
While we would love to delve deeply into all of the details and implications of this practice, our goal here is to start a discussion and plant the seeds of interest.
There is so much valuable information out there on each topic mentioned, here are just a few to get you started:
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