The Power of Regenerative Agriculture

For many of us, the term ‘Regenerative Agriculture’ might be something new. Is it another phrase for Organic? Is it like Biodynamic farming? Maybe it’s a synonym for Sustainable Agriculture?

Actually, the answer would be ‘none of the above’. Regenerative Agriculture is a relatively new term that encompasses actual farming practices and much, much more. As industrial farming has grown in the last 75 years, soil health and biodiversity has declined, which has actually played a role in climate change and is not sustainable.

This is where Regenerative Agriculture comes into play. Regenerative Agriculture blends sustainable innovation with tradition. As the name suggests, it focuses on literal regeneration of the soil and of the planet’s ecosystems. Regenerative agriculture improves soil, delivers high productivity and high-quality food and helps fight climate change and restore lost biodiversity.

Many of the key practices of regenerative agriculture – intercropping, where multiple crops are planted together, agroforestry, and integrating livestock, for example – have their roots with indigenous farmers who work with the land – not against it.

Principles and Practices

There is no doubt that transformation of many current farming practices are desperately needed, and Regenerative Agriculture can play a huge role in making this transition through building up soil organic matter and nurturing its health. But it is not a one-size-fits-all solution – instead, each unique context requires a different set of farming approaches to maximize productivity while restoring soils and biodiversity. Different regenerative practices suit different regions or even individual farms depending on the conditions, although they are addressed through a common set of principles.

  • Principle: Minimizing soil disturbance benefits the soil and the climate
  • Practice: No-till or reduced-till techniques

When soil is plowed or tilled, its structure is damaged, leaving it vulnerable to wind and water erosion and microbial decomposition. Tilling lessens the soil’s ability to retain water, devastating crops during increasingly frequent droughts. Farmers practicing regenerative agriculture greatly reduce or stop tillage and instead plant seeds directly into the residue of the previous crop. With this, the soil contains more organic matter and is less prone to being blown away by wind or washed away by water.

  • Principle: Year-round plant coverage prevents soil erosion and increases carbon inputs
  • Practices: Growing cover crops, double cropping

Soil health improves when crops are kept in the ground year-round. Regenerative agriculture farmers plant a different crop immediately after harvest, often alternating cash crops and cover crops. This green cover shades the soil and the roots dig into it, increasing moisture.

  • Principle: Diversifying crops in space and time supports resilience, productivity, and diversity
  • Practices: Crop rotation, inter-seeding, relay planting and biodiversity strips or agroforestry

Planting the same crops on the same fields, year after year, strips soil of nutrients and allows pests and weeds to flourish. In Regenerative Agriculture, farmers rotate different types of crops over time. This helps limit pest infestations and nourishes beneficial microbes in the soil with a more diverse diet. Rotating between nitrogen-fixing crops like soybeans and nitrogen-hungry crops like corn can reduce the need for fertilizers.

Other regenerative agriculture diversification practices include:

  1. Inter-seeding: Planting cover crops between commercial crop rows
  2. Relay planting: inserting the seeds of the next crop even as the first one is still growing
  3. Biodiversity strips: Planted at the margins of fields or trees and shrubs around the boundaries of farmland (agroforestry) create habitats for pollinators and other beneficial wildlife.
  • Principle: Reducing biological and chemical inputs
  • Practice: Precision agriculture

Data-driven precision farming is a key part of Regenerative Agriculture. Farmers use digital tools, like soil-scanning sensors, to create detailed field maps and tailor applications of crop protection products and fertilizers. This leads to using only the optimal amount and the right type of product needed for a productive crop.

  • Principle: Livestock can help create a virtuous circle of soil health
  • Practice: Managed grazing

Livestock – cows, goats, sheep, chickens, and pigs – are walking bioreactors, transforming plant material into rich organic matter through manure production. Whenever it is practical to integrate livestock into crop production, there are a range of benefits including increased fertility and improved soil structure. Grazing cover crops or crop residue at the end of the season helps prepare the land for the next round of seeding, without tilling.

Supporting Regenerative Agriculture at Oliver’s Market

It is exciting to know that a diverse collection of food and beverage companies are committing to these practices in the production of their products. This week at Oliver’s, we have featured a group of these items from across the store, along with information about their specific commitments to Regenerative Agriculture.

Note: All prices in effect from April 19-25, 2023 at all four Sonoma County Oliver’s Market locations.

  • Stemple Creek Ranch Organic Grass Fed Ground Chuck, $6.99/lb.

“Our goal is to work in harmony with Mother Nature to promote optimal biodiversity that ensures the long term health and productivity of the ranch. We use regenerative, organic agricultural practices, which means we seek to enhance and rehabilitate our entire ecosystem by focusing on soil health and increasing carbon in our land.” – Loren Poncia, Stemple Creek Ranch

  • Pasture Bird Regenerative Raised Whole Chickens, $2.99/lb.

“Together with Ryan Perdue we’ve been able to expand our natural way of farming, replacing depletive practices and bring more people like you nutrient dense, great tasting chicken. Nature’s set the standards and now we’re set to scale, building a genuinely regenerative farming future for the next generation.” — Paul Greive, co-founder and CEO, Pasture Bird

  • Clover Sonoma Clover the Rainbow Organic Milk, 64 oz. Carton, REV, $3.99
  • Clover Sonoma Organic Sliced Cheese, 6 oz. Package, REV, $4.49

“In addition to … environmentally-friendly packaging updates, we also continued to dig deeper into regenerative agriculture. (In 2021,) We donated $25k to the nonprofit Zero Foodprint to support regenerative farming projects in California. Zero Foodprint selected Clover’s Perucchi Dairy farm as a recipient of a Restore California grant that helped fund range planting and 350 tons of compost application across 25 acres. Implementing these regenerative farming practices on farm jump starts soil biology, which is expected to transform 810 tons of atmospheric carbon into healthy soil carbon over the coming years; equivalent to not burning 90,000 gallons of gas!…” – Marcus Benedetti, Clover Sonoma

  • Applegate Farms Turkey Breast, $14.99/lb.

“Applegate Farms is a wonderful brand that stands for a lot of positive ideas and practices in the deli meat industry. The following are a couple of examples.

  • Sowing Seeds for the Future: Applegate Farms is investing in the future of regenerative by working with leaders in the field to help consumers understand the effects of holistic systems on animal welfare, food quality and the environment.
  • Reaping Benefits Today: Applegate is collaborating with farmers to capture and promote the diverse regenerative practices already being employed on farms in our network. These include buffer strips, pollinator and wildlife refuge plots, species diversification and cover cropping.” – James Schwedhelm, Oliver’s Deli Coordinator
  • • Lundberg Family Farms Organic Whole Grain Rice Cakes, 8.5 – 11 oz. Bag, $2.99

“We think there’s nothing more beautiful than looking at our rice fields. And nothing more inspiring than knowing our farming methods nourish, conserve and innovate for a healthier world, for generations of families to come. In addition to everyone in the Lundberg Family—employees, family, friends and community members—our network of 40 growers and countless retail partners shares our vision of leaving the land better than we found it. Together, we’ve pioneered ways that our farming and our food can forge a more sustainable path forward.”

  • Patagonia Provisions Canned Seafood (Mussels, Mackerel, Anchovies), 4.2 oz. Can, $4.49

“The future of restorative ocean farming is polyculture—not monoculture. There are thousands of species of edible shellfish and seaweeds in our oceans, but only a handful are farmed around the world. … As ocean farmers, this is the first opportunity in generations to build a food system from the bottom up. In 1979, Jacques Cousteau, the father of ocean conservation, predicted this opportunity: ‘We must plant the sea…using the ocean as farmers instead of hunters. That is what civilization is all about — farming replacing hunting.’  – Bren Smith, Patagonia Provisions

  • Organic India Tulsi Tea, 18 Count Box, REV, $3.99

“Organic India is unwaveringly committed to elevating environmental stewardship beyond ‘sustainable’ – incorporating bio-regenerative farming practices that improve the environment with every crop cycle. The mission of serving a community dedicated to healthy, conscious living has resulted in a Vehicle of Consciousness business model based on building beneficial economic, environmental and social ecosystems.”

  • Alter Eco Chocolate Bars, 2.65-2.82 oz. Bar, $2.49

“We believe in the power of regenerative agriculture. A way of farming that’s not only resilient to climate change, but actually has the potential to reverse it. A way of farming that respects our incredibly valuable soil and respects the human beings who grow our food. A way of farming that’s not new, but has been used for centuries by indigenous people living in harmony with nature.

Our mission (at the Alter Eco Foundation) is to help farmers transition their crops to regenerative agriculture, and to make this model available to the entire cocoa industry and beyond, expediting adoption within global supply chains through advocacy and education.”

  • Earthworker Farm Pea Shoots and Sunflower Sprouts, $5.99/ea.

“Earthworker Farm is a combination of intensive production mixed with controlled chaos and wildness, seed saving, and experimentation. They produce earth-grown greens and edible flowers year round. They compost, reduce tillage and use peas which are an amazing nitrogen fixing crop that many of our farmers use for cover crop.”

  • County Line Harvest Bunched Spinach, $2.49/ea.

“We are deeply passionate about being good stewards of the land while providing the freshest, most flavorful produce possible and are excited to have the opportunity to create more organic farmland in California.”

  • Gaia Turmeric Supreme, 60 Count Bottle, $18.99

“Gaia has partnered with a Nicaraguan organic farming cooperative that is focused on growing Turmeric and other herbs. Gaia has supported them in developing a program to train farmers in regenerative farming, and who then grow Turmeric used in this product.”

  • Bonterra Chardonnay – 2021, California, $11.99
  • Bonterra Zinfandel – 2019, California, $13.99
  • Bonterra Sauvignon Blanc – 2022, California, $11.99

“As pioneers of regenerative organic viticulture in California, we are devoted to sharing quality wines grounded in impactful practices. In 2021 we achieved Regenerative Organic Certification (ROC) for our Mendocino County, CA winery and vineyard holdings, demonstrating the highest levels of adherence to responsible business and farming practice. We are the world’s largest winery to obtain ROC certification.”

  • Ethic Cider, Selected Varieties, 16 oz. Can $4.59

“Our cidermaking is rooted in our relationship to the land. Caring and continually learning from the orchard is one of our biggest inspirations and joys. For us, farming is a form of land stewardship. Our role is to uplift the health of living systems and thus the vibrancy of flavors they express.  Our farm is a testbed for regenerative agriculture, exploring strategies that both heal the land and increase the quality of the yields. We source additional apples from other growers in our community that share this ethic.”

Better Food and Better Farming

Regenerative Agriculture is a powerful way to create better food, better soils, reduce global warming, and support a healthier planet and future for all. Companies large and small are making steps to strengthen their soils to be resistant to the effects of global warming, while reducing their carbon footprint. It’s an exciting movement that you can support through the products you choose to buy. We hope you will explore these items and more as this practice becomes more well known. We are also pleased to feature recipes for Greek Spanakopita and Lemon and Herb Roasted Chicken using our featured County Line Harvest spinach and Pasture Bird whole chicken!

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