Updated: Aug 16, 2020
Why we need more small-scale regenerative farms and less large-scale organic ones
There is a lot of talk about sustainable food production these days. What is usually meant by this is a system that allows us to feed ourselves without permanently damaging the environment we live in.
Perhaps tweaking modern agriculture might be enough to produce food without destroying our planet. But I am not personally interested in this. What is needed, in my view, is to entirely rethink the way we interact with the natural world, and design practices that not only sustain, but regenerate the ecosystems we are part of.
Is Organic enough?
Organic agriculture is often thought to be the best way to produce nutrient-rich, healthy food in a sustainable way. But although many of the aspects discussed in the above are mentioned in the Organic Standards, some are not, and others cannot effectively be checked and monitored. For instance, mainstream organic growers are allowed to use several types of pesticides, as well as organic fertilisers imported from soil- and atmosphere-depleting operations. Wildlife encouragement and conservation are not monitored nor measured by organic certifiers. Monoculture, tillage and the use of oil-powered machinery are ubiquitous in large-scale organic farming. Peat use in propagating compost is not restricted, and very little effort is made to monitor the quantity of plastic employed. For these and many other reasons, mainstream organic agriculture is, to all extents and purposes, a degenerative process. Although organic growers are asked to work within natural systems and cycles at all levels, there is no guarantee that they do so. In fact, when large-scale operations are considered, it is often hard to see how they could improve ecosystems; they can, at best, limit the damage we do while trying to feed ourselves. But this is not enough.
Is it possible to produce food while increasing the diversity of wild species in our fields, enriching the soils we walk upon, storing carbon in the soil rather than emitting it in the atmosphere, connecting people directly to the food they eat? Is a Regenerative Agriculture possible?
Living Soil Garden
I believe it is possible, and that’s why my partner Flavia and I set out on our journey as small-scale vegetable growers and started Living Soil Garden. Armed with a science and horticulture background, a good dose of naivety and lots of energy, this February we began cultivating a plot of 0.5 acres in Exeter, UK. We call ourselves a