Regenerative Organic Farming: The Future of Sustainable Agriculture
- What is Organic Regenerative Farming?
- What Makes Regenerative Farming Different from Regular Farming?
- What Regenerative Farming Looks Like
- Requirements for Regenerative Organic Certified™
- Is the Regenerative Organic Certification the Same as USDA Organic?
- Benefits of Regenerative Farming
- Is Regenerative Organic Farming Profitable?
- Where We’re Headed If We Don’t Change Our Farming Habits
- How to Find a Regenerative Farm Near You
- What the Future Holds for Regenerative Organic Farming
There are a variety of farming methods used to grow food and raise livestock in the US, many of which are detrimental to human health and the health of our environment.
Conventional farming practices are destroying the health of our soil and farmlands. The use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides and the reliance on GMO crops contribute to climate change, biodiversity loss, and increased pollution. Not to mention these methods negatively impact the profitability and resilience of farms.
This has led to a resurgence of interest in regenerative farming, a way of farming that promotes biodiversity in our foods and soil health.
Below you’ll discover everything you need to know about regenerative farming, including what it is, why it’s important, how it impacts your health and the health of the environment, and how to find a regenerative farm near you.
What is Organic Regenerative Farming?
According to the Rodale Institute, regenerative agriculture differs from other sustainable farming methods because it takes advantage of the propensity of ecosystems to regenerate when disturbed.
Fed up with the toll that conventional farming systems were taking on the earth, the Rodales urged farmers and gardeners to transition to a more responsible way of farming that worked with, rather than against, nature.
For example, rather than depleting the soil of nutrients and destroying ecosystems like conventional farming methods do, regenerative farming aims to build soil health while protecting the surrounding environment.
What Makes Regenerative Farming Different from Regular Farming?
Soil is at the heart of regenerative agriculture. The number one goal of regenerative farming is to build healthy soil. With organic regernative farming practices, healthy soil produces more nutrient-dence foods compared to conventional farming and is also free of pesticides.
Conventional farming use methods such as tilling and monocropping. These practices continuously grow the same crop on the same piece of land. Unfortunately, they also use synthetic fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides which are harmful to human health.
These practices disturb the delicate soil ecosystem, deplete the solid of nutrients, and contribute to climate change.
What Regenerative Farming Looks Like
Regenerative farming is sustainable and works with the environment without depleting soil quality and biodiversity. In addition to prioritizing soil health, regenerative farming extends to animal and human welfare.
Regenerative Farming Concepts
- Low-till or no-till to keep soil integrity
- No toxic chemcials or GMOs
- Rotating crops to enhance nutrients and improve soil health
- Cover crops to help replenish nutrients in the soil
- Companion planting and pest-resistant intercropping instead of pesticides
- Natural Composting with zero waste
- Rotational grazing for natural fertilzation
Regenerative farming can be used in the production of produce as well as livestock production. Livestock farmers who practice regenerative agriculture use practices like rotational grazing—where animals are moved to different areas to graze. This allows the land time to regenerate in between—and using animals to naturally fertilize the land.
Even though regenerative farms sometimes have lower yields compared to conventional farms, it’s been shown that regenerative farming is more profitable for farmers. Plus, regenerative farming promotes fairness for farmers and farm workers.
This means that not only is regenerative farming better for the land, it’s better for farmers.
Requirements for Regenerative Organic Certified™
Regenerative Organic Certified (ROC) is a certification that was established by the Regenerative Organic Alliance (ROA) in 2017. The ROA is a collective of farmers, organizations like Patagonia and the Rodale Institute, and experts in social fairness, animal welfare, and soil health.
Farms as well as products like textiles, food, and personal care products, can carry the ROC certification.
The Regenerative Organic certification builds on the USDA Organic certification. It does this by incorporating the three pillars of regenerative organic agriculture; soil health, animal welfare, and social fairness.
Three Pillars of the Regenerative Organic Certification:
- Soil health: Farmers must promote biodiversity and use regenerative farming practices, including cover crops, crop rotation, and minimum tillage.
- Animal welfare: Animals must have freedom from discomfort, fear & stress, pain, hunger, and freedom to express normal behavior. Animals must be grass-fed/pasture raised and have suitable shelter, and transport of the animals must be limited to reduce unnecessary stress.
- Social fairness: Farmers and farm workers must be paid fair wages and have good working conditions. Forced labor is not allowed.
The ROC has three levels: Bronze, Silver, and Gold. Bronze represents a beginner level of organic regenerative agriculture, while gold is the highest certification an operation can achieve. This allows farms to adapt their regenerative practices over time.
Every operation must undergo an annual recertification audit for every level.
The goal of ROC is to empower farmers and consumers to create a better world through regenerative organic farming.
Is the Regenerative Organic Certification the Same as USDA Organic?
The Regenerative Organic Certification (ROC) uses some of the principles of organic farming, but it has additional standards.
In order for a farm to become certified USDA Organic, the farm must adopt organic practices and undergo annual reviews and inspections. For example, Certified Organic farms must farm without synthetic herbicides, pesticides, or fertilizers and must be GMO-free.
However, the USDA certification does not have strict standards for animal welfare or soil health. Plus, it does not include requirements for the fair treatment of farmers and farm workers. Fair treatment includes living wages and safe working conditions for anyone that works on the farm.
By adding critical criteria regarding soil health, animal welfare, and social fairness, The ROC goes above and beyond the organic label. Regenerative Organic Farming also promotes more nutritious foods and a sustainable way of farming.
Benefits of Regenerative Farming
Regenerative farming offers a variety of benefits for the earth and its inhabitants.
Here’s some important ways in which regenerative agriculture helps support a healthier world.
Benefits for human health
Industrial agriculture, which involves the intensive production of produce and animals—threatens human health in a number of ways. This type of farming often involves the use of harmful synthetic fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides and destroys topsoil. Nitrates from synthetic fertilizers and animal waste pollute the earth and are a major source of water and air pollution.
They threaten the health of farm workers and the people who live near them. In fact, people who work on and live near CAFOs have higher rates of respiratory and gastrointestinal conditions as well as infections like methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).
When we switch to regenerative organic farming methods, we can improve our overall health significantly by reducing our exposure to these harmful chemicals.
Additionally, the industrialization of farming has fractured farming communities and continues to harm the physical and mental health of farmers. Currently, farmers have a higher rate of suicide compared to the general population. The higher suicide rate is thought to be in part due to work exposures to herbicides and insecticides, lack of social support, climate change, and depression.
How soil health benefits human health
Conventional farming methods severely deplete the soil of nutrients. Produce, like fruits, vegetables, and grains, grown in depleted, unhealthy soils is less nutritious than food grown in nutrient-rich soil. Unlike conventional farming, regenerative organic farming enhances nutrients in crops. Food higher in nutrients has a trickle-back effect by improving our overall health and immune system.
A 2022 study found that produce like carrots and spinach from farms using regenerative practices had higher levels of vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals compared to produce from farms using conventional methods.
The study also found regenerative farms had up to three times as much soil organic matter as conventional farms. The conclusion shows one of the major differences regenerative farming practices make in soil health.
Benefits for the environment
Regenerative agriculture has major benefits for the environment, too.
First, regenerative agriculture is better for livestock.
Animals raised on CAFOs live miserable lives and are constantly exposed to pain, suffering, and unnecessary stress. They’re also unable to participate in normal behaviors like rooting, foraging, and grazing.
Unfortunately, the industrialization of farming has caused farms to grow in size but fall in numbers. The number of US farms fell from around 6.8 million in 1935 to 2.1 million in 2002. With this, the average size of farms increased from 154.8 acres to 434 acres. Along with the increase in size, the number of animals kept on these farms skyrocketed.
Smaller family farms are being slowly phased out as CAFOs have become the new standard.
How ROC benefits livestock, and in turn, helps reverse our climate crisis
The regenerative farming movement fights against the industrialization of farming. It does this by prioritizing animal welfare by rotational grazing to protect the environment.
Animals raised on regenerative farms, especially regenerative organic certified farms, have a better quality of life compared to animals raised using conventional farming methods.
For example, cattle farms that use regenerative practices, including White Oak Pastures, Parker Pastures, and Alderspring Ranch, raise their cattle on pasture where they engage in natural behaviors like rooting and walking. Studies show that allowing cows access to pasture improves their quality of life by increasing comfort, reducing boredom, and promoting their natural behaviors.
In addition to animal welfare, these farms focus on wildlife conservation. They also are dedicated to regenerative land management.
Regenerative farms use practices that improve biodiversity and create healthy habitats for both livestock and wildlife like birds.
Some, like Alderspring Ranch, sequester more carbon than they emit. Carbon sequestration is the capturing and storing of atmospheric carbon dioxide, which helps reduce climate change.
According to the Rodale Institute, regenerative farming practices like the use of cover crops, crop rotation, and reduced tillage can sequester more carbon than is currently emitted, which can help reverse our climate crisis.
Is Regenerative Organic Farming Profitable?
Understandably, most conventional farming operations are most concerned with yields. In other words, the amount of product produced per unit of land.
While some studies show that conventional farms sometimes have higher yields than organic or regenerative farms, regenerative farming operations are still more profitable for farmers.
A 2018 shows that regenerative corn production systems would produce 29% less grain but showed 78% more profitable compared to traditional corn production systems.
The same study finds that pests were ten times more abundant in traditional corn production fields treated with insecticides compared to corn fields insecticide-free regenerative fields.
Interestingly, the study concludes that the farms’ profits relate to the health of the soil, not the yield.
Regenerative farms are also more resilient to environmental pressures from climate change. This means regenerative practices can help protect the livelihoods of farmers around the world.
This suggests that not only can regenerative farming practices benefit the environment and better the lives of humans, livestock, and wildlife, but it can also improve the lives of farmers and the profitability of farms.
Where We’re Headed If We Don’t Change Our Farming Habits
Crops currently take up roughly 11% of the world’s land surface, with about 30% more used for the grazing of animals. The demand for food continues to grow to meet the needs of the world’s rapidly growing population.
If we allow industrialized farming operations like CAFOs to continue to dominate the farming world, climate change will continue to proceed at an alarming rate.
Industrialized farming is a major contributor to climate change and environmental destruction. Industrialized farming operations are concerned with profit only and have no regard for the health of the earth or its inhabitants.
How Organic Regenerative Farming Can Help Protect Our Future
But, we have an opportunity to change the future of farming by moving towards more regenerative practices. Our number one priority should be protecting the environment that we have left.
Shifting towards regenerative organic agriculture can significantly mitigate climate change and reverse some of the environmental damage that we’ve done.
According to the Rodale Institute:“The solution is farming. Not just business-as-usual industrial farming, but farming like the Earth matters. Farming like water and soil and land matter. Farming like clean air matters. Farming like human health, animal health and ecosystem health matters. Farming in a way that restores and even improves our soil’s natural ability to hold carbon. This kind of farming is called regenerative organic agriculture and it is the short-term solution to climate change we need to implement today.”
How to Find a Regenerative Farm Near You
There are currently 93 farms around the world that are Regenerative Organic Certified.
You can use the Regenerative Organic Alliance directory to find a certified farm near you.
Keep in mind that many farms use regenerative practices but don’t necessarily carry a certification. Certifications like USDA Organic and ROC do come with a cost, which some smaller farms can’t afford.
Just because a farm isn’t USDA Certified Organic or ROC doesn’t mean that they don’t practice organic or regenerative farming.
Looking to support a farm in your area that uses regenerative practices? You can perform a Google search to narrow down your options.
One of the best ways to learn about farming practices and certifications is to visit local farms. Many farmers are more than happy to show you their operations and answer any questions you may have.
This will allow you to learn more about where your food comes from and ensure consumer trust.
What the Future Holds for Regenerative Organic Farming
Regenerative agriculture gives us hope for a healthier and more sustainable future.
Organizations like the Regenerative Organic Alliance continue to advocate for a more sustainable way of life. They offer regenerative farming certification programs like Regenerative Organic Certified (ROC).
Eventually, we expect ROC to be the new standard. It is a type of certification that goes beyond the USDA Organic Label to ensure that farms meet strict standards. ROC stands out by focusing on animal welfare, soil health, and farmworker fairness.
The more consumers demand these higher standards, the more change we expect to see from small to large-scale farmers. By supporting organic regenerative farmers, we can control the future of our food and health.