Regrarians: Changing the ‘Climate of the Mind’

For over 20 years, Lisa Heenan, Darren J. Doherty and their three children, Isaebella, Pearl & Zane, have been traveling the world sharing their knowledge and infectious passion for regenerative agriculture and the regenerative economy. Together they have worked on thousands of projects with over  2,000 clients. In 2016 alone, they held 13 x 10 day Regrarians (REX) conventions in six countries, training 350 people.

A REX convention includes training in all aspects of regenerative farming, including design, business management and hands-on farming practices.

Darren is a fifth-generation farmer, developer, author and trainer who has worked on projects in about 50 countries. He has trained over 15,000 farmers in regenerative agriculture. Lisa Heenan is a multi-award-winning producer/co-director, actor and singer/songwriter. She recently produced “Polyfaces,” a film that has won multiple awards around our Global Village. Most recently she won the WWF Award for Best Awareness Documentary at FICMA, the oldest Environmental Film Festival in Barcelona.

Darren and Lisa, along with their daughter, Isaebella, are directors of the organization Regrarians Ltd., which provides design and training for farmers and other stakeholders who have an interest in  regenerating, restoring, rehabilitating, rekindling and rebooting communities, landscapes, farms and most importantly soils. As Darren explains it:

Our primary responsibility is to the regenerative enhancement of the biosphere’s ecosystem processes. Our secondary responsibility is to provide the potential for people to be informed about the regenerative economy, whether it involves their work in agriculture, land management, corporate life, domestic services, manufacturing or other activities that are within the reasonable domain of humans.

The term “Regrarians” also refers to a growing movement that has sprung up around the REX conventions.

Regeneration International (RI) talked with Darren and Lisa at last year’s fifth REX convention in Sierra Gorda, Mexico in May 2016. In this interview, Darren and Lisa walk us through the principles and methodologies behind the Regrarians platform, Regrarians as a tool for farmers to mitigate climate change, the climate of the mind and how keyline is a game changer.


Interview with Darren Doherty and Lisa Heenan

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This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Regeneration International (RI): How did you come up with name Regrarians?

Darren J Doherty (DJD): Regrarians was conceived in about 2012 as a word. It was something that we’d been working towards for a long time trying to actually give ourselves an identity that fit with our values and what our interests were. The word comes from regenerative agrarian. “Agrarian” is  a very old word.  So is “regenerative,” although we see this word being used a lot more these days. We’ve been involved with the regenerative agriculture field for a long time, so those two words combined sort of fit as a brand to identify the work we do.

RI: What are the defining principles of Regrarians?

DJD: That there’s a process to all of this, at least there has to be . . . that there is not so much a start and a finish but, at least when you’re looking at design and projects, there is a starting point. And for us that’s the climate, both in the literal sense, and in the more figurative sense—the climate of the mind. A lot of our work is based on keyline design which was developed by the late great P.A. Yeomans back in the 40s and 50s. Yeomans wrote a book in 1958 called the “The Challenge of Landscape: The Development and Practice of Keyline,” and in that book he talked about the ‘Keyline Scale of Permanence’. So we found that as a really good basis for what we then called the Regrarians Platform, which is based on the scale of permanence. But we also added economy and energy, and brought in the emphasis from holistic management and other social and economic methodologies.

Lisa Heenan (LH): As Darren says, the climate of the mind is the hardest thing to change. It can be especially so when you’re working with farmers. So the climate of the mind is a really important part of the work that we do. What do we love to do, what is our passion, how can we bring our skills, talents and pas

DJD: We also wanted to create something that was quite thorough and that people could see a process to, a methodology. Our approach is really that we’ve created a methodology of methodologies.

RI: How does Regrarians help farmers mitigate climate change?

DJD: To start with, Regrarians helps farmers identify the concerns in their immediate environment. We start with the climate. Climate has such an influence over what agricultural outputs and management strategies producers choose to undertake. But then there is also the climate of the mind. How are we going to mentally deal with the adversity of climate change?

For us in Australia, climate change is a real and current threat. It’s something we are very familiar with. Australia also has a reliably unreliable climate because of its geography since it’s surrounded by sea. Overall, climate change is getting worse and getting harder, especially as soil carbon levels decrease. The capacity of the soil and the landscape to remain humid and retain water becomes even more difficult with less carbon. So for us, it’s about adaptation and mitigation. Focusing on the soil, but also focusing on the economics. What is going to give us the biggest bang for the buck? How can we use the resources that we have – economic, social, landscape – so that we can work within the restrictions of climate change? What can we do to mitigate climate change?

RI: You’re giving farmers a toolkit to increase their resiliency.

DJD: Correct.

LH:  Many tools. Darren says you’ve got to have blue, which is water, before you have green, which is vegetation…

DJD: And money, cashflow. Before you’re green and black. So, black meaning profit and carbon. So you have to be blue before you’re green and black. That is a climate change adaptation strategy.

RI: One of the critical components of the Regrarians Platform is this notion of Keyline. Could you tell us about Keyline and why it is so important?

DD: When P.A. Yeomans released his first book, “The Keyline Plan,”  in 1954, it was an instant best seller which is unusual for an agricultural book. And it was the first book ever written on broad scale functional landscape design. That was pretty revolutionary.

Keyline is fundamentally a farm planning system whose primary objective is the control of water. The control of water within an agricultural landscape is the control of your destiny, as much as anything else. Obviously your management is very important, your attitude, the way that you manage your books, all of those things are important. But the management of water is absolutely critical, particularly in seasonal rainfall environments, which basically all of Australia is. And now that climate change is accelerating, more places are becoming like Australia. So  we are finding that Keyline is taking a place in a lot of other environments. Rainfall patterns were much more reliable than they are now.

That said, most farms are not well designed. In fact, they are not designed. They just happen. They are the result of incremental development of positioning of fencing, positioning of roads, ponds, or dams and all sorts of other infrastructure. Keyline creates a plan which is based on the climate and its relationship to the geography and the topography around where you place water, where you place roads, where you put trees, where you put buildings, where you put fencing. And then how do you quickly create living soil out of dead topsoil which Yeomans was another great exponent of through his keyline pattern cultivation techniques and also as an early adopter of Voisin’s rotational grazing and electric fencing and all of those sorts of things. That’s the fundamental basis of it.

RI: So you use the Keyline plow to create disturbance in the soil, that’s a part of this Keyline process?

DJD: It is one part, I wouldn’t say it’s the whole part. When people think of Keyline, they think of the Keyline Plow, and I think that’s reasonable. But for me, Keyline is a farm planning system. It’s not about the tool, it’s about the management and the practice of farm planning.

RI: What methodologies tie into Regrarians?

DJD: Regrarians believes that there is no one methodology that a producer or a person should have to follow. There have been some great minds and communities who have come up with some fantastic methodologies such as permaculture, biodynamics and holistic management. Most people tend to follow a single methodology, whereas Regrarians encourages people to use a combination.

LH: Think of Regrarians as a toolbox. You don’t usually have just one tool. The thing with the Keyline Plow that’s different from other ploughs is that it’s not turning the soil, it’s going in and aerating. It’s a totally different style of plough, it’s much gentler.

Watch the full interview

Learn more about Regrarians.

Stay tuned for part 2 of the interview series with Lisa Heenan and Darren J.Doherty.


Alexandra Groome is on the coordination team for Regeneration International, a project of the Organic Consumers Association.