Because of these qualities, regenerative agriculture is gaining traction as one of the simplest, most affordable, and scalable solutions to climate change. In fact, according to estimates from the Rodale Institute and the Global Carbon Project, if we convert just 34.6% of existing agricultural land worldwide to regenerative practices (something that could be done relatively quickly) we could zero out global climate emissions. The nonprofit Regeneration International claims it could take even less - just 10-20% of agricultural land converted to the best regenerative practices.
You may be familiar with some of the terms and practices used to create an overall regenerative operation like:
These practices together can also be called “holistic management.” Often, operations that practice regenerative agriculture and/or holistic management tend to be Certified Organic, Humane Certified, Certified Non-GMO, and do not use preventative antibiotics, pesticides, or chemicals. They also tend to produce pasture-raised livestock, which play a key part in rotational grazing and the carbon lifecycle.
Regenerative agriculture’s roots are based in looking at our food and how we grow it holistically, as a collaboration between multiple systems that operate with many, many parts. This is in opposition to the industrial equation of “soil + seed + water and light + time = product” or “animal + feed + time = product.” It focuses on building relationships and connections between the earth, its systems, its products, and the stakeholders who shepherd it. Regenerative Agriculture focuses on reciprocity, on the give and take of humans and the land that makes our entire existence possible.
When plants photosynthesize, they take carbon out of the air and use sunshine, water, and soil nutrients to transform it into a type of carbon the plant can then use to grow. Any excess carbon from the air that is taken in during this process is then stored in the soil as “organic carbon.” Then the organic carbon is fed upon by other microbes and fungi in the soil, who then turn it into even more food for the plant.
Organic carbon gives soil more structure - it makes it airier and loamier, and as a result it holds water and produces more and better crops. According to the USDA NRCS, if you were to take an acre of cropland and apply regenerative practices, for each 1% more organic matter the soil holds it would also be able to absorb 27,000 more gallons of water in that acre alone.
The carbon cycle is a cycle as old as life itself. In fact, it is the very basis of life itself. But through industrial agriculture models, humans have managed to practically kill the natural carbon cycle on our agricultural lands - which is what 37% of all the land on Earth is used for agriculture. In the United States specifically, as of 2018 over 55% of land is used for agriculture, and between pasture land and land used to grow corn for feed 41% of all our land is used exclusively to support livestock production.
In the industrial agriculture model, the carbon cycle is interrupted through practices like:
With tilling, carbon stored in the soil is released back to the air, the structural integrity of it is harmed so it no longer absorbs water and is more likely to run off into streams. With monocropping and uncovered land, the soil loses its microbial life and diversity. Through pesticide and chemical use, the soil’s microbial life as well as life in the surrounding ecosystem is killed.
All of these practices lead to degraded, unhealthy, and unusable soil. If we don’t stop the degradation and change from these practices, in 60 years our topsoil will be gone and we will no longer be able to grow… anything, really.
As the need for regenerative agriculture becomes more and more pressing, our food system dependent on industrial agriculture development moves us further away from being able to correct our course. Since Bytable and the Marketplace is primarily focused on meat production, we’ll start there.
This means the cold and calculated efficiency of larger operations is brutally driving down retail prices for animal products and making competition impossible for smaller, less efficient operations. On top of that, there is little political support for small, diversified farming operations - Trump appointee to U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue said recently to dairy farmers in Wisconsin, a state where 2 dairy farms go out of business every day, “In America the big get bigger and the small go out.”
Our food system is no longer built to support the growth of small farming operations, or even a regional model for medium-size operations. 83% of consumers do all of their shopping at supermarkets, which are rarely able to forge lasting and consistent relationships with small farming operations. A supermarket operating 7 days a week, 12+ hours a day and a small farming operation who harvests potatoes once a week or processes chickens once a month do not mesh without tremendous effort from both parties. Combined with the distance and hassle of actually getting products from rural farms to metropolitan hubs, selling to retail stores is rarely a feasible option for small farms.
The third and final blow - in order to sell meat products at the retail level out of state, federal USDA inspection is required. But it’s borderline impossible for small meat producers to get their animals slaughtered and processed in a USDA-inspected facility. There simply aren’t enough USDA-inspected processing facilities to handle the demand for farm-to-table meat. And despite the fact that state-inspected facilities are required to meet or exceed the same standards and are far more common (and there has never been a documented case of food-bourne illness from one of these facilities), state-inspected products are not allowed to be sold across state lines.
The Marketplace portion of Bytable serves as a stand-in food system infrastructure for regenerative producers. We provide services that regenerative operations miss out on because of how they operate - from product transportation to connecting producers with slaughter and processing services, to providing a viable market to sell their products directly to consumers at a livable price for producers. We believe ensuring producers have these avenues to succeed is what will enable regenerative agriculture operations to succeed.
Regenerative means they’re sequestering more carbon than they create. It means their soil is holding water instead of running off with it into our watersheds. It means when their cows poop in their fields, beetles will eat it by the next day (seriously). It means having responsible irrigation and water usage levels. It means reducing transportation emissions by having on-farm or nearby slaughter and processing. It means they rotate however many species they have on however much land they have in a way that makes sense for them.
But beyond regenerative, to us regenerative agriculture also means taking a holistic approach. It means our farmers put their animals inside when it’s cold. It means fair wages for employees who spend their time working with animals. It means treating animals with the respect and consideration they deserve and honoring the sacrifice they make so we can eat. It means they’re using all of their animals and wasting as little as possible.
It means stopping and reversing climate change so we can continue to exist on this planet. It means fulfilling jobs for our kids and the further existence of our rural communities. It means delicious and nutritious food for our families.