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The Regenerative Revolution: Farming Practices that Heal the Land

June 26, 2024

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The Regenerative Revolution: Farming Practices that Heal the Land

A Farmer’s Perspective on Restoring the Earth

As a farmer’s wife and a mother, I’ve had a front-row seat to the transformative power of regenerative agriculture. My husband’s family has been running a high-country merino sheep station near Wanaka, New Zealand for generations, and over the past few years, they’ve been transitioning the farm to adopt regenerative practices. Let me tell you, it’s been nothing short of a revolution.

You see, the Regenerative Agriculture movement is a global, farmer-led revolution that’s redefining the way we grow food and care for our planet. The core focus is on building soil health and biodiversity, and there are a number of practices that contribute to this goal – things like planting cover crops, using compost, and implementing managed grazing.

As I’ve documented on my photography project, Heal the Earth, these practices aren’t just good for the environment, they’re also crucial for producing nutrient-dense, honest-to-goodness food. After all, healthy soil equals healthy land, healthy animals, and healthy people. And that’s the kind of food I want my family to be eating, whether it’s meat, veggies, or anything in between.

Restoring the Balance

One of the most fascinating things I’ve learned about regenerative agriculture is how it’s rooted in ancient, Indigenous traditions. As researcher Liz Carlisle points out, these practices aren’t recent inventions – they’ve been around for thousands of years, passed down by communities who deeply understood the connection between land, food, and climate.

Take agroforestry, for example – the practice of integrating trees and shrubs into crop and livestock systems. This has been a staple in Black agrarian movements and the African diaspora for centuries. Or the incredible polyculture traditions of Mesoamerica, where farmers have been growing diverse crops together for millennia. These aren’t just isolated techniques; they’re part of a larger philosophy that guides holistic land management.

And you know what? That’s exactly the kind of approach we need if we’re going to truly heal our relationship with the earth. Because the reality is, our current industrial agriculture system is fundamentally extractive. It’s depleted our soils, degraded our habitats, and pumped greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. But regenerative agriculture offers a path to restoration – not just of the land, but of the web of relationships that sustain us all.

Barriers to Overcome

Of course, transitioning to a regenerative model isn’t always easy. As Liz Carlisle explains, farmers need access to capital, technical assistance, water, and markets. But one of the biggest barriers is land access and secure land tenure. After all, it’s hard to build a long-term, reciprocal relationship with the land if you don’t know if you’ll be able to stay on it.

And that’s where the social justice piece comes in. We know that 98% of agricultural land in the United States is white-owned – and that’s not an accident. It’s the legacy of genocide, slavery, and racist policies that have dispossessed Indigenous and Black communities of their land. So how can we expect these communities to lead the regenerative revolution when they’ve been systematically denied access to the very land they’ve been caretaking for generations?

Land justice and reparations are critical to realizing the full potential of regenerative agriculture as a climate solution. And that’s why I’m so inspired by initiatives like the Healthy Soils Program in California, which provides cost-share for farmers using climate-beneficial practices. Or Cory Booker’s Justice for Black Farmers Act, which aims to address historical inequities. These are the kinds of policy levers we need to unlock the power of regenerative agriculture.

Healing Our Relationship with the Land

At the end of the day, regenerative agriculture isn’t just about techniques and practices – it’s about restoring our relationship with the land. As Liz Carlisle so eloquently puts it, “What if we thought of regenerative farming as a practice through which we healed our human relationships and our relationship with land?”

Because the truth is, the scars of colonialism are etched into the very soil beneath our feet. For many people, that land represents a painful history of displacement and dispossession. So in order to truly regenerate our landscapes, we have to start by reckoning with that history and finding ways to repair the damage.

That’s why I’m so passionate about this work. It’s not just about growing food; it’s about healing the earth and healing ourselves. And I believe that if we can come together – farmers, eaters, policymakers, and everyone in between – we can spark a true Regenerative Revolution. One that transforms not just our agricultural systems, but the very fabric of our society.

After all, healthy soil is the foundation for a thriving, resilient community. And that’s the kind of future I want to build, not just for my family, but for generations to come.

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Thornapple CSA: A community-driven initiative championing sustainable agriculture. We connect members with fresh, organic produce, celebrating the bond between land and community.

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