What's better than organic? Regenerative Ag
The annual Home Grown Food Summit kicked off on Monday, May 4th with five video presentations. I was most interested in watching "Grass Roots Rising – How Regenerative Ag can save the world," since this feels like a force starting to inform our food choices. "Compost: The Movie - extreme composting," and "Road Kill: Judging the edibility of found meat" were tempting, but narrower in appeal.
Regenerative agriculture sits on the opposite end of the spectrum of food production systems from our current, prevalent model of industrial agriculture. Regenerative agriculture is built on the premise that all you need to grow good food is located in one locale. It is one continuous, sustainable food system connecting trees, soil, crops, animals, farmer, and customers that feeds itself without the need for synthetic fertilizers. Such a system naturally takes care of itself if you set it up right, without antibiotics or hormones.
Ronnie Cummins, a long-time food activist, makes the case for regenerative agriculture by walking you through the evolution of a food hub his team started in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico called Via Organica. Ronnie and his wife started with a restaurant featuring organic food sourced from local farmers (there are 248 now). Over the course of 10 years they added a store and a micro-brewery, started growing their own produce to expand choice, and opened a Saturday farmer's market in front of the store. As word of Via Organica spread, interest in organic food grew to the point that Ronnie started a teaching farm and training center to extend grass roots efforts to all parts of Mexico. An important part of the mission of Via Organica is to help recapture and preserve the traditional ways of growing food which are built on the principles of regenerative agriculture.
A salient point Ronnie makes is that people with more limited income on average than us American consumers are willing to pay a bit more for organic food, but still a fair price that also rewards the small farmer who practices sustainable agriculture. The typical Mexican consumer, he says, has only recently become aware of the connection between health problems and recently adopted high fat, high sugar food products in their diet. The quick spread of organic food hubs and farmer's markets into every state in Mexico shows that Mexican consumers of even more modest means are choosing to eat food that's closer to the source. We in the U.S. have the wealth in land and buying power to make this choice too. We have the means to embrace regenerative agriculture in a big way.
You don't have to go back to our agrarian economy before the industrial revolution to get a sense for how decentralized food production can be. 20,000,000 "victory" gardens produced half of America's produce in 1943, according to Loretta Craig, another presenter at the Home Grown Food Summit. As part of the war effort, Americans were encouraged to grow gardens, wherever, and however small or large. This was not a federal program. Twenty million gardens were planted, tended, and harvested with the guidance and resources of local champions in every corner of this country. Talk about a grass roots effort!