Reforming our Land Management, Economy and Agricultural Practices

Authors: Graham Unagnst-Rufenach and Aaron Guman| Published: February 2, 2017 

Regenerative agriculture allows us to produce food, shelter, medicines  and other products needed to sustain human life while simultaneously regenerating ecological health and the communities, economies and cultures associated with the land.

How does regenerative agriculture work?

Soils and aboveground biomass, such as trees and shrubs, represent one of the greatest opportunities for pulling carbon out of the atmosphere and putting it into long term, stable storage known as a carbon “sink.” Agroforestry, or agricultural systems which incorporate trees and shrubs, have the highest potential for sequestering carbon while providing other ecosystem benefits.

Storing carbon in the soil and maintaining perennial living soil cover (trees, pasture, grazing animals, etc.) brings a host of benefits, including: increased soil fertility and biological activity, improved wildlife and pollinator habitat, less vulnerability to disease, increased crop yield, increased drought and flood resilience, and increased water-holding and filtration capacity. A 1% increase in soil organic matter over an acre of land allows it to hold 20,000 additional gallons of water, which means less water, and any pollutants carried with it, running off downstream.

Regenerative agriculture is inherently political — it recognizes historical and contemporary injustices in relationship to land and wealth access and distribution, climate change, and human rights; and asserts the need for social, economic, and political — as well as agroecological —  equity and transformation.

Regenerative Agriculture in Vermont

Regenerative agriculture is site, region, and community specific, it meets people and landscapes where they are. This often means collaboratively assessing how we can: 1. mitigate existing problems, 2. adapt to climate change and, 3. implement regenerative practices to produce desired outcomes. Currently there is substantial policy and financial support for mitigation efforts on large farms. However, there is little focus on supporting and funding adaptation and transformation of these farms or our most actively growing agricultural sector in Vermont: small diversified farms.

A transition to regenerative practices

A family we work with wanted to transition the pasture-land they were moving onto into regenerative grazing management. It had long been overgrazed: cattle had been allowed access to the same parts of the land for weeks at a time, wet areas were deeply pock marked and spread out by hoof impact, the forage was stunted and eaten down nearly to the ground, and unfavorable species had begun to dominate parts of the pasture.