Regenerative Agriculture Reaches a Tipping Point

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Photo: Ann Marie Michaels

Author: Chris Kerston | Published: March 15, 2017 

On a beautiful sunny March day in Southern California, a great annual gathering takes place. Marked by the bustle of pedicabs in the streets, tote bags and yoga mats flung over shoulders, and ubiquitous white badges flopping from necklace lanyards over crisp suits and hemp garb all the same, the masses ascend upon the Anaheim Convention Center to convene on the growing movement that is sustainable living. With over 100,000 people, Expo West is the largest natural and organic consumer-packaged-goods trade-show event in the world.

This is my second year in attendance. Last year I was asked to speak on a panel with Andre Leu from IFOAM and Kyle Garner from Organic India Tulsi Tea. The panel focused on soil health and we each talked about how agriculture could and must be “regenerative,” i.e. it must go beyond a zero-sum game. We are already too far out of balance, we cannot simply sustain the current scenarios, we must build equity back into the land base which supports us all, while simultaneously invigorating communities and rebuilding local economies. Journalists and brand managers frantically scribbled notes about this new term, “regenerative,” and asked many questions about the concept of going beyond sustainability. There were probably a half a dozen other presentations last year that I saw where this new concept of a regenerative narrative was presented.

For those of us on the inside, we feel like we’ve been championing for a beyond sustainable mantra for over 10 years, but a tipping point was most certainly reached in the last 12 months. “Regenerative Agriculture” was THE trending topic of this year’s Expo West.

Strong Regenerative Advocates
This year I was asked to speak on behalf of the Savory Institute on a panel called, “Positive Animal Impact; Healing Soil, Regenerating Land, Reversing Climate Change.” I was alongside two great friends, Taylor Collins the CEO and co-founder of EPIC Provisions and Will Harris CEO of White Oak Pastures. The panel was moderated by John Foraker, CEO of Annie’s Homegrown.

I met Taylor about 3 years ago, when their brand was just getting started. They wanted a product that came from truly regenerative meat sources and they wanted the Savory Institute’s help in procuring that. We share very similar core values and an entrepreneurial style, and we quickly became friends. EPIC has grown to become one of the Savory Institute’s biggest supporters.

And I’ve been a fan of Will’s for about 10 years. Prior to my time at Savory, I managed a large diversified ranch and orchard operation in Northern California that I often joke, aspired to be like Will Harris. When I started working with Savory we began talking about him becoming a Savory Hub and his ranch, White Oak Pastures, became accredited last year.

The Savory Institute is all about facilitating the large-scale restoration of the world’s grasslands in ways that are socially and culturally sound as well as economically viable and create net-positive impacts on the land. This is all accomplished through the process of Holistic Management, which is a proactive triple-bottom-line planning process. Our primary tool to accomplish this is through the promotion of regenerative grazing, where domestic livestock are managed in a way the matches nature’s rhythms and cycles. We work with a number of other NGOs, consumer brands, and private landowners to do that, but our primary mechanism for scaling this up globally is through what we call our “Hub Strategy.” When people to come ask us to come into a region, we work with a local leader where we train and equip them to become a center of innovation – a place to churn out master grazers and build a vast cadre of regenerative livestock producers that matches the local context and culture.

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