Written by local contributor Katherine Paul, Regeneration International Board Member
It was 1937 when then-President Franklin D. Roosevelt wrote, in a letter to state governors, “The Nation that destroys its soil, destroys itself.” Roosevelt was ahead of his time. It would be a full 78 years before the United Nations declared 2015 the International Year of the Soil. To this day, for millions of people, the idea that healthy soil is central to human, environmental, societal, and economic health is not yet on their radar, much less influencing how they shop for their food.
But thanks to a growing chorus of scientists, farmers, and health experts, whose voices are being amplified by responsible journalists, soil is fast earning the respect it deserves for the multitude of benefits it can provide to society—assuming we humans nurture its health.
What is regenerative agriculture? At its most basic, regenerative agriculture refers to an approach to farming and food production that is based on ecological principles and living systems. It differs from today’s dominant industrial farming model which relies heavily on monocultures, factory farms and chemical inputs, such as synthetic fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides. Unlike industrial farming, regenerative farmers leave the land healthier than it was before they began farming it. They achieve this by employing practices that build organic soil matter, which helps draw down and sequester carbon and improve the soil’s water-retention capacity making their farms more climate-resilient.
Early in June 2015, about 60 people—farmers, scientists, activists, media, business leaders—representing 21 countries convened in Costa Rica to launch Regeneration International (RI), a new nonprofit with a global mission to promote and facilitate the global transition to regenerative agriculture and land-use practices and systems that provide abundant, nutritious food; revitalize local economies; regenerate soil fertility and water-retention capacity; nurture biodiversity; promote social justice and fair trade; and restore climate stability.
Three short years later, we are encouraged by the growth of the regeneration movement, including all of the work happening at Wolfe’s Neck Center. Our team has helped build regeneration alliances in Belize, Mexico, Canada, Guatemala and in South Africa, where we will co-host a conference in October of this year. Here in the U.S., there is now a Regeneration Vermont, Regeneration Massachusetts, RegeNErate Nebraska and Regeneration Iowa, to name a few. Our most exciting project is Regeneration Midwest, officially launching on October 16, 2018—World Food Day.
The work of RI focuses on bringing together environmentalists, health experts, scientists, farmers, business leaders, political leaders and others to collaborate on how strong local and regional food systems can regenerate polluted waters, public health and local economies. But everyone can participate in this movement. Whether you raise regenerative foods yourself, reclaim a vacant lot in your city to start a community garden or food forest, or help to develop a rural-to-urban food pipeline in your community, you can be part of the solution.
Wendell Berry, farmer, novelist, poet, environmental activist, and cultural critic tells us that “eating is an agricultural act.” That morsel of wisdom was more obvious to people generations ago, who grew up eating food produced by their neighbors, or in their own backyards. But as we come to better understand what soil is—a complex living system of its own—and how critical its health is to our own, and to our environment and our society, those words of wisdom serve as an urgent reminder that we all have a responsibility to nurture the soil that feeds us.
Meet Katherine Paul and hear more about her work with Regeneration International in our Dig Deeper Series. Paul will host a talk at Wolfe’s Neck Center on July 10th. Register here.