Regenerative Organic Alliance: farming like our world depends on it

 

Allow us to introduce you to the future of farming.

All eyes are on regenerative agriculture as a major solution to climate change. But if we’re going to radically improve the way we grow food, fiber, personal care products, and more, then we need a clear vision and a path to get us there. The goal is this: a future where our agriculture systems give more to the planet than they take while producing healthy, abundant food; a future where animals are treated as essential partners in healing earth and allowed to live naturally for the full duration of their lives; and one in which farmers and farmworkers are respected and paid a fair wage to do the significant work of feeding the rest of us.

It’s a deserving vision, and the Regenerative Organic Alliance—now officially qualified as a recipient of 1% For the Planet—is forging a path to make it real. The ROA, founded by the great minds at Patagonia, Dr. Bronner’s and Rodale Institute, is supported by a group of leaders and visionaries in soil health, animal welfare, and the fair trade movement. The Alliance oversees Regenerative Organic Certified, a revolutionary, holistic certification that builds on the USDA Organic standard. ROC goes a step further, including certain benchmarks for soil health and land management, pasture-based animal welfare, and fairness for farmers and workers. A standard like ROC puts humanity’s big goals within reach.

So, what does farming have to do with climate change?

Let’s start at the beginning. What does farming have to do with global warming, and how can it reverse climate change?

 It all begins in the soil. Healthy soil is a dense, interconnected web of organic matter teeming with billions of microorganisms. Organic matter is decaying and decomposed stuff made out of carbon—plants, animals, and their wastes. Gross, maybe, but also the most vital stuff of life, since soil is the source of our food, clothing, building material, medicine, and so much more.

It takes nature, on average, about 1,000 years to generate one inch of topsoil, and it takes humans no time at all to destroy it. Industrial farming practices destroy life in the soil en masse. Since the rise of industrial agriculture systems in the mid 1900s, soil health has declined all over the world. Without organic matter and microbes, soil dries up, runs off, and needs to be continuously treated with chemicals to keep it productive. In 2014, soil scientists estimated that a third of the world’s topsoil had already been lost and that it could be completely gone by 2075. Deforestation and farming practices that deplete the soil also account for a quarter of global emissions. And we now know that the chemicals used to coax life from damaged soil also pollute the air, water, and our bodies.

Regenerative farming practices promise a change. Regenerative agriculture focuses on restoring and building soil. As more organic matter and microbes accumulate in the soil, they form a unique exchange with plants. In short, through photosynthesis, the plants turn atmospheric carbon into sugar; microbes in the soil eat the sugar and poop out more soil, trapping the carbon digested. More life in the soil means more carbon sequestered underground. If the land isn’t tilled (a practice that disturbs the soil), that carbon can remain trapped for decades, even centuries. Only regenerative organic practices promise to build life in the soil.

What if we ate foods grown in vibrantly healthy soil instead?

Healthy animal agriculture can speed the process along. When animals live and graze on pasture, they contribute their own organic matter through manure. They also disturb plants through grazing and trampling, encouraging the plants to send out deeper roots. Those deepening roots aerate the soil and spur plants to re-grow, drawing down more carbon. Especially on marginal land otherwise unsuitable for growing crops, animals can be productive partners in the fight against an unsteady climate.

Improving the way we farm can improve our health, too. Our gut microbiomes, increasingly the subject of scientific interest, are a lot like the microbiome of the soil. Industrial agriculture depletes the soil, processed foods further remove vital nutrients, and we’re left chronically sick. What if we ate foods grown in vibrantly healthy soil instead?

This is farming like the world depends on it.

The Regenerative Organic Certification lays out specific practices for farmers to maximize the health and wellbeing of their soil, natural resources, animals, and workers. The certification is a tangible solution to the problems of factory farming, climate change, and economic injustice domestically and across the globe, and it could have far-reaching consequences for healthcare, too. The certification is a unique part of the full-circle vision of Yvon Chouinard, founder of Patagonia and 1% for the Planet and a founding member of the Regenerative Organic Alliance. It’s visionaries like him that propel the culture forward, and it’s thrilling to see so many others joining in with their support for regenerative agriculture.

Over the past year, members of the Regenerative Organic Alliance have traveled around the world to visit farms and assess the viability of the Regenerative Organic Certified standards on different operations. In over nine countries, they’ve tested the standard across a spectrum of commodities including cereal grains, coconut oil, dairy, tree fruits, animal proteins, rice, palm oil, diverse vegetable operations, wine grapes and even Patagonia’s regenerative organic cotton. Each pilot participant—from family-owned farms to large collectives of smallholder growers—is now working to incorporate ROC’s high-bar practices to improve their soil health while respecting the well-being of their animals and farmworkers alike.

If all goes to plan, farms will be able to apply for certification beginning in spring 2020. Consumers can expect to start seeing the ROC label on products by early next year. Visit regenorganic.org to find out more about what’s included in the standards. And if you’re passionate about any of 1% for the Planet’s issues—climate, food, land, pollution, water, or wildlife—know that Regenerative Organic Certified is making a direct impact on them all. This is farming like the world depends on it.