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Regenerative: Beyond Organic

In the 1967 movie The Graduate, Benjamin Braddock, played by Dustin Hoffman, is confused and worried about his future. Early on in the film, a corporate buddy of his dad takes the young man aside. Standing beside the swimming pool of a glitzy L.A. home, the exec looks Ben in the eye and says one word, "plastics."

In the opinion of a growing worldwide body of scientists, farmers, environmental groups, think tanks, organic food and clothing producers, et al, today the word -  the key to the future - would be very different. That word is "regenerative" as in Regenerative Agriculture.

Regenerative vs. Organic

"Regenerative Agriculture" is harder to wrap your head around than "organic" because it's so much bigger. While "organic" is definitely a subset of "Regenerative," the reverse would not be accurate. The two are not at odds with each other; rather, they are highly complementary.

There is no question that the "Organic" label has been successful in providing edibles superior to that of standard agribusinesses which flood our markets with cheap pesticide-laden, genetically-engineered foods, laced with drugs, toxic-sludge, hormone-distrupting chemicals, and the like. Organic farming has also been friendlier to the environment. But, with "Organic" sales in the U.S. at record highs - approaching $50 billion a year in the U.S. - the bonanza market has been attracting more and more large corporate producers who are using their lobbying power to weaken standards to the lowest common denominator - standards that were already minimal compared to age-old practices of sustainable farming. The ongoing debasement of rules, has allowed more suspect ingredients and practices that threaten fundamental principles. (The recent "Organic" designation of hydroponics, is a typical example.)

The Regeneration movement believes that a new paradigm is needed. While the "organic" label has focused mostly on the idea of "Do Less Harm, " regenerative is about "Evolve Capacity." It's about the long view - far more holistic, inclusive, and expansive than organic, including social justice and cultural equity. While "organic" is defined by a set of technical check-offs, mostly what "not to do" - i.e, do not use synthetic chemicals, irradiation, GMOs, etc. - "regenerative" agriculture works on a set of principles which strive to unleash the innate potential of any agricultural system to continually renew itself. Organic agriculture employs a pre-decided upon set of practices and standards. Regenerative agriculture is based on increasing and enhancing processes (natural, ecological, human, social, design, decision-making).

Why Regenerative?

The primary goal of Regenerative Agriculture is to improve food production for the future by using technologies that regenerate and revitalize the soil and the environment. According to Regeneration International:

The loss of the world's fertile soil and biodiversity, along with the loss of indigenous seeds and knowledge, pose a mortal threat to our future survival. According to soil scientists, at current rates of soil destruction (i.e. decarbonization, erosion, desertification, chemical pollution), within 50 years we will not only suffer serious damage to public health due to a qualitatively degraded food supply characterized by diminished nutrition and loss of important trace minerals, but we will literally no longer have enough arable topsoil to feed ourselves. Without protecting and regenerating the soil on our four billion acres of cultivated farmland, 14 billion acres of pasture and rangeland, and 10 billion acres of forest land, it will be impossible to feed the world, keep global warming below 2 degrees Celsius, or halt the loss of biodiversity.

Thus, the proposed Regenerative Organic Certified Label builds on standards set by the USDA organic label by putting a strong emphasis on ensuring healthy soil, biodiversity, health and safety of farm workers, high animal welfare standards, and stabilizing the climate. Regenerative farming emphasizes healing what has been lost because of decades of abuse. In essence, regenerating the earth means giving back more than we take so that future generations can survive and flourish.

The work of regeneration is more labor intensive than that of industrial farming, but the potential rewards are great: healthy soil rich in nutrients and microbiotic life, hearty crops resistant to disease, creating healthy people more resistant to disease, as well as self-sufficient farms that are economically-viable businesses that help support communities. The farm becomes, in effect, the circulation system of a high functioning organism capable of processing, adapting and growing in harmony with nature.

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Regenerative Agriculture is a big deal, but it's not a done deal. At this point in time, there's a lot of cross-fertilization of ideas going on. There are many questions: should the focus be on competing with "organic" or improving it? Would another label confuse consumers and possibly create more skepticism? What do you think? If you are concerned about the future of food and the planet, get involved: learn more, share ideas with friends, support groups that are working toward a Regenerative Label.  Be part of the discussion. The future is coming and it could be bright!

Sources

Video: Regenerative Impact Investing - Regenerative Enterprise Institute
Video: How Regenerative Agriculture Can Fight Climate Change - Restoring Paradise
Video: Regenerative agriculture: a solution to climate change  - TEDxTalks
Video: Carbon Underground - How soil can help us tackle climate change
Regeneration International
Rodale Institute
"The Sustainable Future Initiative" -  California State University
Carbon Underground
Organic Consumers Association 
Cornucopia Institute
Civil Eats
Companies currently signed on to support Regenerative Agriculture

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