Our foods must come from rich, nourishing soils which connect growers to their communities and reverses the damage done by high chemical industrial practices
Why is this important?
Our current food system generates thirty-five percent of total global emissions and yet one third of the food we produce is wasted and doesn’t even make it into our mouths.
The combination of pesticides, herbicides, fertilisers and antibiotics used to produce our food has not only destroyed the life and nutrition of our soils, but has taken a toll on farmers, on their families, on their waterways and their livestock. Rates of cancer, Parkinson’s disease, and suicides amongst US farmers are amongst the highest of any profession in the world.
The regeneration of our food system is already underway in many parts of the world and would have a transformative effect. But there is work to be done. Existing debts, subsidy and policy structures, plus entrenched corporate food giants, are all areas that need urgent addressing.
How are others approaching this?
There are many ways that people around the world are attempting to create regenerative and secure food future. Below is a small sample. If you have any further examples that you think should be on this list, please get in touch.
Across the world, it is estimated that more than 15 million smallholder farmers and tens of thousands of farmers and ranchers are now employing agricultural methods that reverse the loss of soil health, heal landscapes, hold water and bring agriculture and food back to life.
Regenerative food systems include agroforestry, agroecology, silvopasture, pasture cropping, advanced rotational grazing and crop diversification. Although the term is new, most of these methods have been used by Indigenous cultures for many thousands of years.
Recent research shows that if Regenerative Agriculture practices were phased in and implemented on a quarter of the world’s farms and grasslands, we could absorb and retain 55 billion tons of greenhouse gases in next 30 years.
Measuring soil carbon and nutrition in the food
With the increased awareness of the links between soil health, nutritional density in food and human health, technologies that would allow consumers to measure the nutrition of their food at point of sale could be revolutionary.
Not only could this lead to healthier populations but it would also send a signal to farmers about the quality of food that consumers would like grown: this would lead to an increase in regenerative agriculture. Although not yet available, the technologies are rapidly being developed and gaining in accuracy.
Vacant lots, car parks, rooftops, parks, median strips, warehouses - all are capable of growing nutritious food gardens for urban communities. These gardens also spring to life with birds, butterflies, bees and other pollinators connecting people and children to nature in urban settings.
While all cities have different available space, a recent study in Cleveland, Ohio showed that if 80% of its vacant lots were converted to vegetable plots, and chickens and bees were added, the city would be supplied with half its fresh produce, 25% of its poultry and eggs and all of its honey. If rooftops were added, all of its fresh produce needs could be met.
In Detroit, 30% of the city has become vacant following the collapse of the automobile industry. A community led group called the Detroit Black Farmer Land Fund is fighting for this land to be converted to help counter food deserts in the city. Running since 2020, they have already developed 18 acres of land in the city, providing food and jobs for local community members.
One of the world’s most nutrient-dense foods may be one you’ve never tasted. It’s the leaf of the moringa tree, native to the foothills of the Himalayas. The leaf is 30 percent protein and contains all nine essential amino acids.
Researchers have recently discovered 600 ‘edible trees’, some with leaves that have twice the nutritional density as store-bought vegetables. The trees are perennial so not only do they sequester carbon, but the soil remains intact along with the microbes, fungi and mineral aggregates that reside within.
The ancient idea of food forests - plots of land covered with edible perennial plants designed to mimic the edge of a forest - is gaining traction once again. The trees can be a mixture of nuts, fruits, and leaves.
They are ideal for regeneration because they are diverse, high yielding, multi-seasonal and relatively low maintenance.
Agroforestry is an agricultural practice used for centuries by many cultures and involves a dynamic and varied combination of trees, woody perennials, annuals, and animals.
This practice can scale from less than an acre, to thousands of acres supporting entire communities. Many hilltops of Tanzania, for example, have avocados, bananas, coffee beans, pumpkins, chickens and goats all existing together in small areas of land, providing abundant nutrient rich food for their residents.
In a world of climate fluctuations and soil erosion, the combination of food, shade, moisture, healthy soil and thriving biodiversity provides economic and ecological resilience, and presents what many scientists and practitioners have touted - an ideal solution.