Healthy Beginnings

What is Regenerative Agriculture?

There is a growing appreciation for farmers and ranchers who recognize that farms are in fact ecosystems (or part of the one ecosystem that connects us all). This leads to a desire to farm and ranch in nature’s image instead of with “energy-intensive mechanical and chemical inputs,” as stated in a peer-reviewed paper by Timothy Crews of the Land Institute, published in the journal Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment.

The Savory Institute supports and empowers pastoralists globally to use livestock as a land management tool to cover bare land with grasses. Large herds of herbivores mimic herds of the past who roamed over grasslands. All components of the ecosystem evolved together: the soil life, grasses, herbivores and pack-hunting predators. The herd animals allow the covered soil to stay put, instead of washing away. The soil provides homes for communities of microorganisms that continue to build the soil and increase the nutrient density in our food. Allan Savory developed a method of planning grazing to achieve these outcomes, called Holistic Planned Grazing (HPG).

Both the Land Institute and the Savory Institute promote mimicking natural systems in our production of food. They also deeply value the production of food from perennial plants. Most of our food comes from annual plants—these are plants that have a short root system and must be replanted each year (which can mean more plowing, tilling and loss of topsoil). The shallow roots do not hold soil in place.

Perennial systems pull carbon into the ground, giving rise to the term “carbon farming,” referring to a practice of farming that builds soil instead of depletes it.

What if we focused on eating food from perennial sources? From carbon farms?  Would it help shift agriculture to a practice that works with nature and builds soil through production? The Perennial is a new restaurant in San Francisco asking these questions.

“The Perennial is championing regenerative agriculture and trying to make those practices a culinary virtue. We’re directly engaging hundreds of people a week and introducing them to the idea of carbon farming and perennial grains, and generally that there’s an exciting possibility for their eating choices that can go beyond organic and support farmers and ranchers who are actually part of the climate change solution,” said Anthony Myint, co-founder of The Perennial.

Examples of perennial foods include grass fed/finished and pastured meats, nuts and fruits from heirloom trees, perennial grains and vegetables grown with cover cropping methods.

Not everyone is ready to create their own carbon farm, but there are ways that each of us can regenerate ourselves, beyond our food choices, so we can thrive:

  • Eliminate debt
  • Engage in meaningful work that applies your innate talents and passions
  • Be energized by the people and places around you
  • Connect with nature and community
  • Live in a non-toxic environment
  • Play
  • Eat real, nutrient-dense, local food from perennial sources when possible
  • Buy products that regenerate land and empower people through their production
  • Plant perennial lawns or replace lawns with planter boxes and garden plots, and grow your own food

A Surprise Valley, Calif., family threw off the shackles of modern middle class life and created a regenerative lifestyle for their young family in a rural community 200 miles north of Reno. Owen Segerstrom and Hannah Curcio relocated to Surprise Valley, built a custom, off-grid home, erected hoop houses, bought hogs and set about creating a self-reliant life.

“ We are off-grid with gravity-fed water and solar electric, and we recently completed a passive solar straw bale addition to [our] house,” Segerstrom said.

Regenerative living appeals to this family because the status quo seems not only unsustainable, but also absurd.

“Economics have been perverted to an insane degree. Our culture’s discourse revolves around indices like the Dow Jones, which at this point is nothing more than a sophisticated computer game. We are literally tracking the activities of an artificial intelligence and reporting on them a measurement of our economic well-being. Madness. Meanwhile, we are losing our topsoil at a terrifying rate. We need a coherent narrative about economies and how they serve people. If we can have this discussion, a land ethic will quickly emerge, because all real wealth comes from the land,” Segerstrom said.
Abbey Smith is the Savory Global Network coordinator for the Savory Institute and the co-leader of the Jefferson Center, the Savory Global Hub serving Northern California and Nevada. Learn more at savory.global/network and jeffersonhub.com.