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  • Writer's pictureDarby Weaver

Behind the Buzzword: Regenerative Agriculture

Building Climate Resilience through Farming 



An Agricultural Buzzword 

With the advent of the internet, social media, and other forms of instant communication and advanced technology, buzzwords and market trends have globalized, influencing every industry and culture. In agriculture today, less common terms for specialized growing practices are finding their way into the lexicon of mainstream consumers. Terms like organic, biodynamic, permaculture, and regenerative agriculture are used both as a means of educating folks about growing systems and also as marketing tools to promote products. 

While using these terms is beneficial for expanding the conversation around growing practices, as these terms gain in popularity, they can sometimes become very loosely defined and even co-opted by individuals and businesses to misrepresent products in hopes of expanding brand reach.  


regenerative agriculture cattle cover crop
Cow in buckwheat, Photo by Anthony Villa

Regenerative agriculture is a popular term making the rounds today and we’d like to take a moment to highlight what this important set of values means to The Farmers Land Trust and how we see the inherent benefits as being essential for building a climate-resilient future. 

If you navigate to our definitions page, you will see regenerative agriculture listed as, “Describes farming and grazing practices that, among other benefits, reverse climate change by rebuilding soil organic matter and restoring degraded soil biodiversity – resulting in both carbon drawdown and improving the water cycle.”  


Farming, like all art forms, is a reflection of the artist.

While this definition appears pretty straightforward, how it is interpreted by each grower can vary widely. Farming, like all art forms, is a reflection of the artist. There may be no standardized list of practices held by all regenerative growers, but researchers are hoping to measure the success of regenerative operations based on their outcomes

 


Bugtussle Farm 

Farmer Eric Smith of Bugtussle Farm located in the rolling hills of southern Kentucky is a practitioner of regenerative agriculture, though he admits the term itself can be a little misleading. “The word regenerative is the newest popular description of our type of farming. I think of it as bringing life back to degraded landscapes—to spark the movement of latent life. But the word also makes me think of going back to what once was. And, I don’t think I align with that. Honestly, the word generation might be more applicable in a sense. The sun is generating energy and gracing us perpetually through plant photosynthesis. It’s brand-new energy that is arriving in a constant stream during the day.” 

cattle and sheep grazing regenerative agriculture
Cattle and Sheep Grazing, Photo by Eric Smith

Eric and his wife, Cher, along with their son and three daughters, operate a vibrant biodynamic farm 75 miles north of Nashville where they cultivate two to three acres of crops and medicinal herbs and raise livestock on pasture. Eric sees the livestock as key for ecological regeneration on his farm, “The most ecologically, life-stimulating practice on our farm is our daily movement of our livestock onto fresh pasture. We have a couple hundred sheep and a few dozen cattle that we keep together using [a] portable electric fence and portable water troughs that enable us to attempt an ongoing mini-migration, mimicking the herbivore-land relationship that restores fertility.” 

Eric’s perspective adds to the foundational work and mission of The Farmers Land Trust. The effort and care that the Smith family has put into healing the land, bringing it into sustainable productivity, and providing nourishment for the community imparts a value that is impossible to quantify in our current capitalist system. This presents a serious problem for regenerative growers as land prices and taxes rise and the consistently low price for farm products make it difficult to maintain a living wage.


Land is expensive, food is cheap. 

Eric notes, “Land is expensive, food is cheap. The farmer is squeezed at both ends. If the consumer could see through this thick veil and understand what good food is and what it is really worth, maybe they would invest more of their money in nourishment. Nourishing their health. Nourishing the community. Nourishing the farmer. Nourishing the land. At some point, it will be seen that a carrot is not always a carrot. One builds community. One builds corporations.” 

 


Uncertain Futures 

Eric and Cher’s life’s work is alive; the farm itself holds the beautiful and abundant benefits of years of stewardship. So long as they are able to walk and tend to their land and livestock, biodiversity builds in place, serving as a vibrant sanctuary of ecology whose positive externalities spread. But what becomes of the land when they are to retire? As Eric and Cher grow in years, the burden of this question becomes heavier. “Now, in our early 50s, we have started to ponder where the farm will head from here. Will any of our four children continue with it?” 


Winter Grazing, Photo by Eric Smith

This harsh reality is faced by every aging farmer today. The years’ worth of stewardship is not factored into the value of land sold in the commercial real estate market and many growers do not have children who wish to carry forward the farm’s mission. Additionally, young farmers who may be interested in continuing the regenerative practices on the land cannot afford to buy it. 


We believe that to build a climate-resilient society, the life’s work of one regenerative farmer must be preserved and then continued by new hands. 

That’s why farmers like Eric support the establishment of the Farmland Commons. “The Farmland Commons model is a complete paradigm shift for modern agriculture. Farmland values should be based on the economic realities of farming. On their productive capacity. Personally, I never felt the concept of owning land made any sense. I just wanted to have the right to live on this land. In today’s world, what that required was buying it. As painful as it was, it shouldn’t have to be so painful. If this painful equation can be lessened, so much more goodness can be accomplished. It can be a community effort with shared resources.” 

 


Regenerative Culture 

Here at The Farmers Land Trust, we see regenerative agriculture as more than a buzzword, metric, or tool of enforcement. Regenerative agriculture is a set of values held by real, skilled growers like Eric and Cher, that support the generative qualities of our living planet. It is a term that encompasses all of the work that ensures the deep nourishment and well-being of the land and the community that shares it. We see this work as being most successful when these efforts can extend beyond one generation. We believe that to build a climate-resilient society, the life’s work of one regenerative farmer must be preserved and then continued by new hands. 


Vetch at Bugtussle Farm, Photo by Eric Smith

The transition of one piece of land into the capable hands of another grower in our modern world is laden with barriers. It is our hope that through the establishment of the Farmland Commons and through inviting individuals to imagine new modalities for land tenure and ownership, we can retain the ecological gifts imparted by our talented elders and ease the transition of farms into the loving care of new generations of growers.  

Regenerative agriculture depends on a regenerative culture. From the view of the land, these farming practices increase and maintain soil fertility, cleanse waterways, protect biodiversity, and abundantly and sustainably produce food high in micronutrients. From the view of the community, regenerative culture is the essential passing forward of skills derived from years of kinship with a piece of land. It is the celebration of the artist and the art. It is a culture based on trust and rooted in the hopeful belief that every garden and farm is an essential piece of the living patchwork quilt that will help to restore homeostasis to our planet. 


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