Regenerative agriculture represents not only an alternative food production strategy but a fundamental shift in our culture’s relationship to nature. As Ronnie Cummins, director of the Organic Consumers Association and a founding member of Regeneration International, wrote, regenerative agriculture offers a “world-changing paradigm” that can help solve many of today’s environmental and public health problems. Climate disruption, diminishing supplies of clean water, polluted air and soil, rising obesity, malnutrition and chronic disease, food insecurity, and food waste can all be traced back to modern food production, Cummins noted, and regenerative agriculture is designed to address these problems from the ground up.
The array of techniques that comprise regenerative agriculture rebuilds soils and sequesters carbon. Regenerative farming, Cummins wrote, could potentially draw a critical mass of 200–250 billion tons of carbon from the earth’s atmosphere over the next 25 years, mitigating or even reversing key aspects of global warming. Regenerative agricultural techniques allow carbon to be stored in soils and living plants, where it can increase food production and quality while reducing soil erosion and the damaging runoff of pesticides and fertilizers.
In 2012, nearly two dozen governments around the world (including the United States) spent an estimated $486 billion to subsidize 50 million industrial farmers who, Cummins wrote, “routinely over-till, over-graze (or under-graze), monocrop, and pollute the soil and the environment with chemicals and GMOs to produce cheap commodities… Meanwhile, 700 million small family farms and herders, comprising the 3 billion people who produce 70 percent of the world’s food on just 25 percent of the world’s acreage, struggle to make ends meet.” Similarly, Cummins reported, “corrupt, out-of-control governments continue to subsidize fossil fuels to the tune of $5.3 trillion a year, while spending more than $3 trillion annually on weapons, mainly to prop up our global fossil fuel system and overseas empires.”
Industrial farming systems effectively “mine” soils, decarbonizing them and, in the process, destroying forests and releasing 44–57 percent of all climate-destabilizing greenhouse gases (including carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide).
“The basic menu for a Regeneration Revolution,” Cummins wrote, “is to unite the world’s 3 billion rural farmers, ranchers and herders with several billion health, environmental and justice-minded consumers to overturn ‘business as usual’ and embark on a global campaign of cooperation, solidarity and regeneration.” According to food activist Vandana Shiva, who is quoted in Cummins’s report, “Regenerative agriculture provides answers to the soil crisis, the food crisis, the health crisis, the climate crisis, and the crisis of democracy.”
Regenerative agriculture has received limited attention in the establishment press, highlighted by only two recent, substantive reports in the New York Times Magazine and Salon.
Ronnie Cummins, “Regeneration: The Next Stage of Organic Food and Farming—and Civilization,” Organic Consumers Association, May 28, 2017, www.organicconsumers.org/essays/regeneration-next-stage-organic-food-and-farming%E2%80%94and-civilization.
Student Researcher: Amber Yang (San Francisco State University)
Faculty Evaluator: Kenn Burrows (San Francisco State University)