We are so used to this type of math:
100 - 30 = 70
But how about this instead?
100 - 30 = 110
The first equation is how conventional agriculture works. We grow and harvest crops, which deplete the soil of nutrients and minerals, the soil erodes (it literally flies away at alarming rates because the soil lies bare from fall to spring and the wind takes it away), we desperately throw chemical fertilizer and pesticides at it, the ecosystem degrades, insect and bird populations shrink, carbon goes up, we eek out another harvest until the input needs to be increased yet again.
Although there are wide differences in organic practices, the organic label or certification more or less only specifies a clean version of conventional agriculture in that the chemical fertilizers and pesticides are substituted with natural inputs (and no GMOs permitted). Still, mostly purchased inputs, but not toxic, process is similar. Soil and mineral content are certainly richer than compared to conventional agriculture, and organic practices maintain the soil, but they don’t by definition regenerate it. Sheldon Frith explains that the main difference between organic and regenerative agriculture is that organic is mainly chemically based, while regenerative is ecologically and biologically based.
Regenerative agriculture is based on the premise that through a complete understanding of, and cooperation in sync with, the local ecosystem, we end up with something better than where we started. Wow! Sounds unreal? Regenerative agriculture works without outside inputs and actually rebuilds the soil and ecosystem on an ongoing basis, and even though the crops extract minerals and nutrients from the soil, as time goes by the ecosystem becomes stronger and more complex, and the soil healthier. Regenerative agricultural systems are unique and local with no one-size-fits-all prescriptions. Biodynamic agriculture and permaculture are such regenerative agricultural models and I have written about them previously.
Key features of regenerative agriculture are the rebuilding and retention of our depleted topsoil through no-till practices and growing perennial crops (I have previously written about these too), the reestablishment of grasslands, and carbon sequestration, among others. Healthier soil means more mineral and nutrient rich food for us, a healthier ecosystem all around, and packing some of that surplus carbon away into the soil.
Don’t ditch your Prius yet, but this practice counters climate change! Win-win!