Regenerative Agriculture

A reflection by Erin, Agriculture & Education Coordinator

“Regenerative” is a word we hear a lot in agricultural contexts today. It’s a relatively new term and can mean quite different things to different people, but in my experience, there are two themes commonly associated with regenerative agriculture that I think are important: 

First, regenerative agriculture focuses on the soil. Soil is so much more than a simple rooting medium to hold plants up: it regulates water cycling, provides a wide array of nutrients, stores large amounts of carbon (in conjunction with plants), and is full of incredible organisms that can do anything from taking nitrogen from the atmosphere and putting it into the soil for plants to use (rhizobia bacteria and others) to literally breaking up rock to start the process of making new soil (fungi and others). Perhaps you can tell from this list that I’m a bit of a soil nerd, but suffice to say that without healthy, functioning soils, plant vitality is compromised, which affects animals, humans, the water cycle, the climate, and the overall resiliency of our systems. Regenerative agriculture focuses on practices that increase the carbon content in soil through adding organic matter (think old plant material, manure, compost…) and increasing the diversity of soil microorganisms, both of which kickstart processes and feedback loops that support all of the benefits mentioned above. 

Secondly, regenerative agriculture takes a more hopeful and active stance than at least the dictionary definition of sustainability. “Sustainability” literally means to maintain a static condition, and in agriculture, this mentality often looks like reducing inputs such as water, fertilizers, pesticides, and fossil fuels and generally trying to minimize harm. In other words, let’s reduce our impact to maintain what functionality we have in the system so that we don’t make things worse. While these strategies are important, regenerative goes a step further. To “regenerate” literally means to create something, and in this mindset, humans can play a key role in facilitating increased health and capability in our soils and ecosystems. In this narrative, humans aren’t the evil, extractive bad guys, rather humans are inherently a part of the ecosystem and can use their knowledge and skills to regenerate (create) soils that are more capable and resilient, creating cycles of mutual benefits throughout the ecosystem. 

Whether you’re a home gardener, a farmer, a hiking enthusiast, a rancher, or a lover of local foods, you can contribute to this creative process of regeneration. Thank you for being a part of the global effort to rebuild our soils and create healthier local food systems!

-Erin, Ag and Ed Coordinator