When whipping up a batch of carrot currant masala muffins, regenerative agriculture may not be the first thing on your mind. Still, if you want to fill your plate (and tummy) with foods that are good for your health and the environment, you’ll love regenerative agriculture. It goes beyond organic standards, builds the health of the soil and produces food that’s rich in nutrients.
We choose to source ‘Okina’s ingredients from farmers using regenerative practices precisely because they’re so much better for people and the planet.
What does regenerative agriculture entail?
Regenerative agriculture is all about healthy soil. Because, think about it -- all of those plants we eat come straight from the soil.
“Healthy Soil = Healthy Food = Healthy People.” - Rodale Institute
You want that soil to be chock-full of good stuff -- nutrients, worms, good bacteria, fungi -- the works. Sadly most farming strips all these from the soil. Relying on monocropping, tilling, use of pesticides and the like undermines soil biodiversity, ultimately depleting the land of its ability to produce food.
To create a richer ecosystem, regenerative farming may include:
- Cover cropping -- Cover crops keep the soil protected from erosion and nutrient loss. When land is left bare, with nothing growing on it, it’s vulnerable. Wind and rain deplete the soil. When cover crops are used, the rich microbial life of the soil stays intact. And cover crops help promote biodiversity and control weeds and pests. Common cover crops include rye, buckwheat, sorghum and clover.
- No/minimal tilling -- Tilling is a common farming practice to level the land and eradicate weeds. But when you till the land, you essentially kill the microbial life -- breaking up the fungi and releasing bacteria and nutrients (including carbon). This undermines the health of the soil and its water holding capacity. Regenerative systems reject this approach in order to protect the soil’s organic matter and maintain resiliency.
- Biodiversity -- Incorporating a mix of crops, animals and other plants fosters a balanced ecosystem. Regenerative farms also favor crop rotation, which promotes diversity within the soil. This is a major contrast to conventional monocropping, which puts the ecosystem in a state of imbalance, thus requiring heavy use of chemicals and pesticides.
- Managed grazing -- Regenerative systems model movement of animals (cows, bison, goats and the like) after the behavior of herds in nature. When managed intentionally, their presence actually improves the health of the land. They disturb the land (just enough) with their hooves, eat (just enough) to stimulate new grass and root growth and leave behind manure that fertilizes and reseeds.
- Composting -- Using compost boosts the amount of beneficial microbes in the soil and increases crop yields and moisture retention. Compost may be produced on site as part of a closed loop system or may be supplemented from outside sources.
- Integration of trees -- Conventional systems of agriculture remove trees from the land, inviting erosion of the soil by wind and water. By contrast, regenerative systems incorporate trees and shrubs among crops or pasture. This protects the soil, adding to the biodiversity and soil fertility.
This way of farming is often more challenging. But it also comes with clear payoffs...
What are the benefits of regenerative agriculture?
Regenerative farming creates a rich natural ecosystem that improves:
- soil health
- crop yields
- water resilience
- nutrient density
The soil teems with a variety of microorganisms that cycle nutrients and create a favorable environment for crops to grow. The organic matter in the soil allows the land to store water, making it more resilient in the face of drought. And the richness of the soil ultimately produces healthier crops in a way that does not require a host of external inputs.
These practices also help sequester carbon. And because of this, experts are now citing regenerative agriculture as a major way of reversing climate change.
You heard that right -- the way the foods you eat are grown may help with one of the biggest environmental challenges of our time. All those ingredients in that carrot currant masala muffin are starting to take on new meaning, aren’t they?!
Is this the same thing as organic?
No, they’re not synonymous. Organic farming is great indeed, however, many organic operations still employ practices like monocropping and tilling. Over time, this takes a toll on the land and undermines the biodiversity of the soil.
In an ideal world, we’d love to see all farming be organic and regenerative. On top of all of the benefits of organic, the regenerative part ensures that soil health is improved not diminished over time (which, as we mentioned above, may help counter climate change as well).
Why doesn’t everyone farm this way?
Oh boy. That’s a complex question. For starters, you’re looking at the holistic system in a new way, which requires a dramatic shift in worldview. Nurturing the soil in a regenerative fashion is a process, not a flip of the switch.
It’s a foreign framework in many farming communities, which creates social hurdles. And because this type of agriculture isn’t incentivized by the government, most farmers face financial barriers too.
With the recent introduction of the Regenerative Organic Certification and investment by large food companies however, we’re seeing increasing momentum.
How does this tie into ‘Okina?
We’re conscious eaters like you -- astonished as we learned about these upsides to regenerative farming. We choose to use as many regeneratively grown ingredients as possible in our products because we want to support this system of agriculture.
It’s harder to source these ingredients. It’s not easy to track down farms growing in this way. These raw ingredients cost far more. But, the benefits for our community and planet are worth it. So here we are -- making baking mixes with the best organic and regeneratively grown ingredients we can get our hands on. And, if we do say so ourselves, these make some tasty baked goods :)
Note: We’re not agricultural experts, nor soil scientists. Just conscious eaters, learning more each day, looking to share knowledge with you :) To learn more from the experts, check out Rodale Institute, Savory Institute and Soil Carbon Initiative as a starting point!