This is The ChangeUnderground
I’m your host, Jon Moore
Decarbonise the Air, Recarbonise the Soil!
Welcome to episode 3 of season 9:
This blog post explores how regenerative agriculture benefits consumers, from healthier and more nutritious food to a positive impact on the environment.
A New Food System
The regen ag movement is about building a new food system. One that relies upon the power of natural systems, the privileging of natural rebalancing feedback mechanisms to control pests and diseases and a dispersed food production methodology to ensure shorter, much shorter supply lines. The current system produces perverse outcomes like chickens raised in the US, slaughtered there, shipped to China for processing and shipped back to the US for consumption. Regen Ag aims at restoring not just the soil but the way food reaches the table.
Nutrient-Dense, Flavorful Food
One of the most significant advantages of regenerative agriculture for consumers is the production of nutrient-dense and flavorful food. Ask your grandparents, if they’re around, what strawberries used to taste like in their childhood. Healthy soils, rich in organic matter and teeming with beneficial microorganisms, lead to crops that are more nutritious and full of real flavour. When the soil is well-balanced and fertile, plants absorb essential minerals and nutrients more effectively. As a result, the food produced is packed with vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, enhancing nutritional value.
Not only is the food more nutritious but it also tends to taste better. Crops grown in healthy soil often have a more robust and flavorful profile, leading to more satisfying and enjoyable meals. To enhance this move to flavour we need to select different cultivars. The current system has chosen varieties that travel well but little selection has been done for taste. By re-selecting from older varieties in parallel with shorter supply lines, the excessive reliance on tasteless non rotting varieties can be replaced with more flavourful varieties consumed in less time.
Reduced Chemical Residues
Regenerative agriculture places a strong emphasis on reducing and ending the use of synthetic pesticides and herbicides. This is great news for consumers who are concerned about chemical residues in their food. It’s even better news for the farmers currently being forced to work in full “space” suits with respirators to avoid poisoning themselves. Traditional farming practices rely heavily on chemicals to control pests and weeds but regenerative practices employ biological methods, like crop rotation and beneficial insect habitat, multicropping and so on to manage these issues.
With fewer chemical residues on their food, individuals can have peace of mind knowing that they are consuming products that not only don’t pose health risks associated with pesticide exposure but are actually fortifying their own health.
Transparency and Trust
Regenerative agriculture promotes transparency in food production. Regenerative farmers are proud of their sustainable and environmentally sound practices. This is, after all, in business terms, their unique selling proposition. As a result they more often engage with consumers to share information about how their food is grown. The back story is as important as the food to some degree.
By buying from local farmers or seeking out products labelled as regenerative, consumers can take part in a more direct and shorter food supply chain. This leads to a stronger connection with the source of their food. If both parties know each other, the faceless profit at all costs approach of agribusiness with its huge food recalls. Shorter supply chains generally mean less consumers overall. You know the mince you bought directly from the farmer came from, at most, a dozen beasts. That same mince bought through a mega supermarket in the US can have the flesh of up to 1500 beasts, apparently. Maintaining food safety across that sort of mince production is inherently more difficult than the farm to consumer model.
Support for Local Economies
Regenerative agriculture practices are often applied by small-scale and local farmers. Supporting these farmers contributes to local economies and helps maintain rural communities. When consumers choose regenerative products, they support the livelihoods of these farmers, keep monies in the local economies. A vibrant local food system ensures populated rural and regional areas, food security and resilience in the food system. Healthy soils are better equipped to withstand extreme weather events, such as droughts and floods as discussed in the last episode.
Regenerative practices also focus on diverse crop rotations and the integration of livestock which can help ensure a stable food supply. By supporting regenerative agriculture, consumers promote food security and contribute to a more resilient food system which in turn promotes the health and well being of those consumers. A virtuous feedback loop!
Regenerative agriculture also has numerous positive effects on the environment. This indirectly benefits consumers by helping to mitigate climate change, conserve biodiversity and reduce water pollution and soil erosion. Regen farms have larger numbers of trees, hedgerows and hence greater biodiversity. This is not an unexpected consequence of regen but is part of the design. From permaculture methodologies to a more conventional approach, in the sense of pre WW1 farming techniques as conventional techniques, all regen systems build biodiversity into their plans. A healthier environment means a healthier planet.
Connection to Food Origins
In a world where much of our food travels long distances and is processed in ways that disconnect consumers from the sources of their food, regenerative agriculture offers a reconnection to food origins. Consumers can visit local farms, participate in community-supported agriculture (CSA) programs and engage with the people who produce their food. This not only fosters a deeper appreciation for the food but also supports the local economy.
Animal integration is a cornerstone of regen ag. Their use as mobile manure spreaders, as they evolved to be, automatically improves animal welfare standards on the regen farm. Not crammed into CAFOs (confined animal feeding operations) they are free to express their unique “cow-ness”, “sheep-ness” and so on. As an aside, if you see a series of letters, like CAFO, you can pretty much assume something unpleasant is being hidden behind the initials.
So for the many consumers making ethical and sustainable food choices, regen ag is great. For those not so bothered, regen ag is still great, especially for the animals.
To pull it all together, following a farm to table ethos and thinking through the consequences of going regen, the benefits quickly outweigh the negatives. The only negative of any consequence is the time it might take to change over to the regen way of thinking. There may well be costs in this as the soil shakes of the chemical burden it’s been labouring under but rest assured the soil will bounce back if you let it. It can then do its job to:
Decarbonise the air, recarbonise the soil.
The next episode, #4 in season 9 is all about restoring ecosystems.
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