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What is regenerative agriculture and why is it so exciting?

Do you want to know the most exciting thing about regenerative agriculture? It’s the word “regenerative.” It means we actually have the ability to bring seemingly dead, practically infertile soil back to life!”

Sheryl Karas, Center for Regenerative Agriculture Systems at CSU Chico

Excitement around regenerative agriculture, sometimes called regenerative farming, is booming. Perhaps it’s a term you’ve occasionally encountered in conversations about sustainability. You’re increasingly likely to. But why is everybody so enthusiastic about it?

What is regenerative farming anyway?

Fair enough, that seems like a good place to start. Regenerative agriculture is a system of farming practices and ideas that repair the whole ecosystem surrounding a farm by focusing on soil health and water management. Around the world, many farms are located on the edges of woodlands and micro-forests.

Regenerative agriculture aims to improve the land that is used for farming, rather than destroying or depleting it. It’s meant to take away the competition between a farm and the ecosystem that surrounds it. What’s good for a farm should be good for the whole ecosystem.

Wait, so does this mean that there’s usually a competition between farming and protecting the environment?

In many instances, yes, even though people and their natural environments were designed to thrive in sync. This really became an issue over the past century, as certain places were encouraged towards the overproduction of a single crop, as ancient and Biblical farming principles like allowing the land to rest were ignored, and as extreme poverty created a desperation towards growing more food. This leads to exploitative agriculture.

Field Burning damages soil and increases carbon emissions

Field Burning damages soil and increases carbon emissions

What does that look like? What is exploitative agriculture?

These are agriculture practices that exploit and exhaust the land.

Field-burning, clearing land, a lack of crop diversity, and the use of chemical fertilizers are examples of this fractured relationship. Many people call these practices “traditional” farming, however they are often more recent introductions within the past two generations. Regenerative farming, meanwhile, is rooted in ancient agriculture principles that don’t force people to choose between a healthy environment and economic security.

Okay, so you said that regenerative agriculture was more of a collection of practices rather than a single technique, right? What are regenerative farming practices?

There are plenty, and really any technique that considers the health of the soil and the broader ecosystem could be included. But, to paint a clearer picture, here are a few of the big ones:

  • Conservation tillage: Plowing can drastically erode soil and release atmospheric carbon. Regenerative agriculture emphasizes low or no-tillage, so farmers disturb the soil less.
  • Crop rotation: If you plant the same things in the same places over and over, nutrients will be imbalanced. Thus, it’s ideal to mix things up.
  • Organic matter: Chemical fertilizers are common in many African, Asian, or Latin American rural farms. Compost as well as organic mulch are healthier alternatives.
  • Diversity: Different plants contribute different nutrients to the soil. Having a diverse mix of them increases genetic diversity and resilience.
  • Cover crops: Don’t just plant one crop in an area. Strategic cover crops can infuse the soil with more diverse nutrients.

The thing that really concerns me is climate change. Does this help?

Help fight climate change? Yes! In two ways.

First, it helps those who are most vulnerable to the effects of climate change be resilient. Remember how rural farmers in environmentally exploited countries are the first to suffer from climate change? This helps them adapt to what’s happening around them so they can still grow food and feed their families.

But of course, that’s not all. Regenerative agriculture additionally puts a “do not disturb” sign on the soil. (Not literally, of course.) If a farmer is practicing minimal soil disturbance, that soil builds organic matter, allowing it to better retain water. That soil can also absorb carbon, helping keep the Earth cooler.

Plant With Purpose widely promotes regenerative agriculture

Plant With Purpose widely promotes regenerative agriculture

Is it just me, or does regenerative agriculture seem like a no-brainer? Does it cost anything?

That’s probably one of the most exciting things about it. The Rodale Institute published an especially enthusiastic paper saying “we don’t have to wait for technological wizardry: regenerative organic agriculture can substantially mitigate climate change now!”

Compared to the field of different climate solutions out there, regenerative agriculture is fairly accessible. It gives the grassroots farmer a significant role to play in the effort to fight climate change. To her, it certainly means protecting the planet and feeding her family go hand-in-hand. It’s a win-win situation.

I like regenerative agriculture! How can I promote it?

Regenerative agriculture really helps us see how knowledge is power when it comes to sustainability. In short, regenerative agriculture isn't a technological innovation. It’s not a shocking discovery. It simply takes getting the knowledge and skills out there to rural village after rural village.

You can help spread the knowledge about why it’s so important by talking about it. By joining the numerous voices excited about this solution, you help increase people’s willingness to invest in it financially.

And you can invest in it financially yourself. Plant With Purpose’s model is based on giving rural communities the skills and knowledge they need to heal their land and feed their families. To make a donation or a recurring partnership, just follow this link!

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