What is regenerative agriculture anyway?

A farm is a farm is a farm, right?

This comes up a lot in discussions about our project. As people become more urbanized, their only connection to agriculture is often a grandparent’s farm that they visited during their childhood summers.

“My grandfather used to say that once in your life you need a doctor, a lawyer, a policeman, and a preacher.  But every day, three times a day, you need a farmer.” – Brenda Schoepp, farmer

Nowadays, the word ‘farm’ conjures up images of perfect rows of corn, red barns, and green tractors. Those farms are still the majority, hence the moniker: conventional agriculture. But there’s a new kid on the farming block.  These new farms may have the red barn, and may even have a tractor, but the rows of corn are gone. In their place: life.

Hey, corn is alive, right? Sure, but a monoculture, such as a field planted in a single crop like corn, doesn’t provide habitat for many organisms. However, it’s paradise for an insect or disease that love that crop.  The chemicals sprayed to keep them off – pesticides, fungicides, herbicides – kill any bystanders along with those targeted species and create environmental problems for the rest of us. Add the annual tilling of the soil, which releases organic matter (carbon) into the atmosphere and turns the soil ecosystem literally upside down, plus the resulting erosion and degradation, and you’re left with land that will eventually not support life at all.

The regenerative difference

Regenerative agriculture is the opposite. Rather than degrading soil, it feeds it, restores it, regenerates it.  Instead of a monoculture, a regenerative farm grows a polyculture – a field of biodiversity: grasses, wildflowers, forbs, legumes, trees, shrubs, and likely includes grazing livestock which deposits fertilizer throughout.

This is the way nature works. Regenerative agriculture is farming in nature’s image, drawing from decades of scientific and on-the-ground research from the agroecology, agroforestry, indigenous, holistic management, and organic global communities. And this is the farming we must transition to for future generations to have a livable planet. At this rate, our soils have only sixty years of harvest left. We must transition to agriculture that returns more to the soil than it takes.

Essentially, all life depends upon the soil… There can be no life without soil and no soil without life; they have evolved together. – Dr. Charles Kellogg, soil scientist and then Chief of the USDA’s Bureau for Chemistry and Soils

What will it do for me?

Maybe now comes the question: I’m not a farmer, so why should I care about regenerative agriculture?

Farmers do more than just grow stuff; they’re stewards of the land and other natural resources like air, water, soil, and open spaces, which impact us all.

Regenerative methods, like cover crops, rotational grazing, or agroforestry, are the best practices for farmers to steward these resources. The quality of our natural resources are not only conserved, but restored, after years of degradation and overuse by conventional farming methods.  What’s more, these resources are available and in working order for the next generation. Regenerative farms are also often smaller-scale, family-run, more resilient in rough times, and more likely to produce food for the local community while building strong, local economies.

Bottom line is…

If your health, your children’s health, and the health of your environment and community matters to you, then what happens on your local farms matters.

If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.” ― J.R.R. Tolkien

You can support the growing regenerative movement to change the way our country (and the world) grows food, fuel, fiber, and fodder by exploring the links below or by getting involved in a regenerative project near you.

We’ll see you out there!

Why regenerative agriculture?

Why you need to know about regenerative agriculture

Regenerative agriculture is getting more mainstream. But how scalable is it?