What is "Regenerative" Agriculture?

"Are these vegetables organic?" As a farmers market vendor, this is a fairly common question that I get, and understandably so. People have a right to know how their food was grown, and under what conditions. The type of person who shops at a farmers market generally wants the highest quality, freshest, safest, most natural food options, free from toxic chemical pesticide and herbicide sprays. And that is exactly what I offer at my farm.

However, I am not "certified" organic by the USDA, even though I do follow organic practices. Since this is still just a new farm at a micro scale, it is difficult to get through the expense of certification, the red tape, the time consuming bureaucracy, inspections, etc. Don't get me wrong, I understand that this level of scrutiny exists for a reason, since so many "conventional" growers pump their products full of toxins and poisons. However, the issue comes when the certification process becomes a barrier to entry for new small farms who are just starting out on a shoestring budget. There is a lot of unnecessary gate keeping involved with the certification process which keeps the small players out, while medium scale and large scale farms can afford the money, time, and resources to navigate the kafkaesque hoops and hurdles in the process of official USDA organic certification.

This is why I generally do not use the term "organic" when it comes to my farm, or if I do then I specify that it is "organic, but not certified". generally, I prefer the term "regenerative" or "regeneratively grown" which is a more broadly encompassing definition that includes many of the same growing practices that "organic" does, and often exceeds the standards of even the USDA. In fact, it often seems as if plain organic agriculture generally takes a more reductionist approach to growing, reducing the complexity of nature as if it were a mere machine, whereas regenerative agriculture is a more holistic design approach, where the "whole" is more than the "sum of its parts", taking in all aspects of the farm's complex ecology and unique context when making decisions.

Some qualities of a regenerative farm include:

  • No chemical pesticides, herbicides, or fungicides which are considered "non-organic"
  • No synthetic chemical fertilizers, which damage the soil ecology
  • A strong understanding and respect for the soil life forms and ecology, including earthworms, beneficial bacteria and fungi
  • Not having a negative impact on the earth's wild ecosystems, and instead following practices that regenerate the soil and ecology rather than diminish them
  • Not growing a monoculture of only one single type of crop on an entire field, but instead having a mixed polyculture of many different crop species growing together

With all of that being said, this article is not meant to be a put-down of official USDA certified organic agriculture at all, it certainly has its place. This is just meant to explain why I am not certified, and why I consider myself a "regenerative grower" instead of a "certified organic grower"