While organic farming seeks to do no harm to the earth or the species that live here, regenerative organic takes it one step further, by intentionally replenishing the resources that we use.
The regenerative ethos has been central to The Ecology Center since the beginning. Around the same time that we launched the Farm back in 2013, we learned of a new organization launching with the help of some of our favorite partners (the Rodale Institute, Patagonia, Dr. Bronner’s, and others.). Regenerative Organic Certified™ exists to support, advise, and offer accountability to the highest production standards for food, textiles, and personal care products.
So when ROC opened their doors last year to farms applying for Regenerative Organic certification, we were the first in line. And we mean that literally—The Ecology Center was the very first farm to apply for ROC certification.
Along with providing accountability and support for our work in agroecology, this certification also sends a powerful signal to our community and region. Regenerative Organic certification identifies The Ecology Center as a leader that is moving beyond the organic label to promote social equity, ecology sustainability, and economic vitality within our system of agricultural production.
Why “Organic” Isn’t Enough
You probably already know the basics of organic agriculture. It’s the label for a set of practices and methodology that stringently opposes the use of fossil fuel-derived synthetic chemicals in conventional farming. These chemicals, typically used to fertilize crops and fight weeds and pests, have been shown to have serious impact on human health, as well as the health and integrity of the soil, water, air, and ecosystem we share.
The organic movement (also known as the Green Revolution) began in the late 1960s, as small-scale farmers and producers took a stand for the intertwined health of humans and the environment. Over the following decades, the organic movement expanded into the country’s first major ecological movement. Eventually, “organic” also became a synonym for food that is free of the toxins created by conventional agriculture.
In recent years, “organic” has also become the word for an aspirational lifestyle. As a result, the certified organic label has gone from symbolizing a grassroots movement to a lucrative branding tool. Today, most supermarkets stock an organic alternative for every conventional product, from apples and carrots to cookies and soda.
Organic is big business these days. Last year, sales of organic food in the U.S. reached over $50 billion, and the market is growing even faster than the market for conventional food products. While it may at first seem like a positive development, an organic model driven by business opportunity has little advantage over the conventional agricultural model. Certified organic standards are no longer as rigorous as they once were—a 2016 review by the USDA showed that over 20 percent of organic crop samples contained pesticide residue. In addition, certified organic crops are not required to be grown in a way that maintains ecological integrity.
Though we certainly support farming practices that seek to do as little harm as possible, we want to do better. Toxin-free farming is a baseline. After all, a healthy future is impossible if we keep contributing poison to the ecosystem and to our own bodies. But our mission reaches farther than that. We are committed to reclaiming a value system around food that looks toward the healthy future of our planet.
So What Makes “Regenerative Organic” Different?
The purpose of regenerative organic farming is to not only sustain the status quo of our planet’s health, but to improve it. This mission rests on three main drivers:
The integrity of our soil is essential to regenerative organic farming. Rather than deplete our soil of nutrients, we strive to create production systems that add organic matter to the soil in order to build greater health and fertility with each season.
A healthy, abundant future includes all species. Since traditional farming practices rely heavily on the use of animals and animal byproducts (manure, vermiculture, bees and other pollinators, etc.), integrity demands that we provide well for the animals on our farm. This includes ensuring our animals’ safety, nutrition and comfort, providing suitable shelter, and giving them space to roam and express normal behavior.
Our regard for human health goes beyond keeping toxins out of children’s mouths. It extends past our own families to our communities, and includes the people who grow our food. Supporting human health through agriculture includes elements such as paying a living wage to agricultural workers, providing a safe and supportive working environment, offering long-term commitments to employees, and promoting a democratic atmosphere (instead of a hierarchy) through our management style.
Celebrating An Abundant Future
At the end of the day, regenerative organic is just another way of expressing our guiding concept of “agroecology”: stewarding the earth through farming practices that give more than they take. With our new Regenerative Organic certification officially in place, we are more motivated than ever to expand this movement throughout our region and beyond. From how we farm to how we eat to how we live in community, we believe the greatest celebration of abundance is to give more than we take.