To mark the release of ecologyst films' latest film, Farmer Sailor Chef, we’re taking a closer look at a topic that impacts every person on the planet: farming. Conventional methods of farming have relied on chemicals to do nature’s work, resulting in soil erosion, greenhouse gas emissions, water pollution and loss of fertile farmland. We’re excited to learn more about sustainable agriculture and what each of us can do to support food security in our communities. Let’s dig in!
Abundance is the reward for years of dedication in the life of a regenerative farmer. But those ripe tomatoes and juicy strawberries that you’ll find piled up at the farmer’s market are only part of the payoff.
Regenerative farming isn’t just about reducing harmful inputs like synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. It’s about creating positive outcomes like biodiversity, healthy ecosystems, enhanced soil, carbon sequestration, and climate resiliency.
Think of it this way: farming, for better or worse, doesn’t stop at the fence line. Everything is connected, from air to land to far-reaching watersheds that run out to sea.
Regenerative Farming Practices: The Basics
You probably know a thing or two about organic farming, and maybe you’ve heard the term ‘regenerative’ tossed around, but if you’re not exactly sure what it means, we’re here to tell you what you need to know.
Unlike organic farming, regenerative agriculture isn’t governed by strict rules and certifications. Instead, it’s based on widely held principles.
No or Low Till
Tilling is the process of breaking up and aerating the soil. While you may think fondly of those pastoral images of a tractor rolling through a dusty field, as it turns out, this can do more harm than good. Tilling disrupts the soil structure and breaks up fungal networks which can lead to soil erosion, nutrient loss, and water runoff.
Ready for a quick science lesson? Through photosynthesis, plants convert carbon dioxide from the air into carbon compounds that are stored in the soil. When the soil is tilled, the carbon is oxidized releasing CO2 back into the atmosphere. That makes no-till farming a promising tool in the fight against climate change.
Building Soil Fertility
Regenerative farmers build healthy soil by avoiding synthetic fertilizers in favour of natural techniques that feed and protect the land. This can include applying compost and manure, growing cover crops, adding mulch, and rotating crops. Over time, these practices can provide better yields, more resilient plants, and (bonus) tastier crops.
We know that one of the keys to a healthy ecosystem is diversity, yet conventional agriculture is dominated by monocrops. Regenerative farming seeks to promote biodiversity through intercropping (planting multiple types of crops in one field), crop rotation (growing different types of crops each season), applying composts rich in microbes and planting diverse cover crops between growing seasons.
Many regenerative farmers also take the land surrounding their fields into consideration. Trees, hedgerows, native grasses, and pollinator-friendly flowers in close proximity to crops can provide forage and habitat for a variety of birds, bees, and other beneficial insects. These amazing creatures aren’t just for show! Their presence in the ecosystem can actually help farmers create more productive fields through pollination and pest control.
When animals follow carefully managed grazing patterns, they can actually improve ecological health, instead of causing a slew of environmental problems associated with conventional farms. Regenerative grazing allows animals to move throughout pastures on a rotation, which prevents overgrazing, contributes to soil health by adding manure, and actually physically stimulates plant growth with stomping hooves.
Regenerative Farming At Home
If you’re fortunate enough to have a lawn or access to a community garden, you can put some of these techniques into play yourself.
For tips on how to use regenerative farming practices at home, we tapped Solara Goldwyn, co-owner of Hatchet & Seed, an edible landscaping business on Vancouver Island focussed on bringing regenerative, resilient food systems to farms, homes, and communities.
Solara is a big proponent of converting lawns into food gardens or wildflower meadows. Not only are lawns not doing a whole lot of good for biodiversity, they also tend to be a waste of water, as well as your precious time and energy to maintain.
How to Create Your Own Regenerative Garden
Convert your lawn into a meadow by “sheet mulching” (laying down cardboard or newspaper) and adding layers of compost before planting seeds. Plant native wildflower seeds to attract pollinators and create a beautiful, regenerative space that you don’t have to mow every week.
Keen to grow your own vegetables? You can use regenerative farming techniques even in a small garden. Solara recommends starting with sheet mulching and building up raised beds or mounding up the soil, which will set you up for success with a no-till garden. When you minimize digging, not only do you support a healthy soil structure, you also avoid bringing up weeds, which means less work throughout the season.
Every year, feed your soil by applying a layer of compost on the surface; no need to slog away tilling it in. Compost provides nutrients and allows you to irrigate less, thanks to all the microbes that hold water. Adding leaf mulch or straw on the surface of the soil is another great way to conserve water, keep weeds down and protect your soil.
Even if you don’t have land to work with, you can still reap the rewards of growing your own food by planting in containers on a patio, balcony, or even a window sill.
“It’s incredibly healthy for your body and mind to get your hands in the soil and interact with natural systems, Solara explains. “Just like going for a walk in the woods, having a garden and growing your own food changes your psychology. It’s so important to feel that connection with cultivation.”
Join the Movement
Regenerative farmers do more than their fair share for the health of the planet. Wondering how you can do yours?
We’ve just scratched the surface here, but if we’ve sparked your interest and you want to learn more, Regeneration International has a wealth of resources to get you started on your regenerative farming journey.
If you’re in the position to do so, one of the best ways to make an impact is to vote with your wallet by supporting farms in your community that use regenerative practices. Seek out opportunities to chat with farmers at the market or farm stand, and let them know you care about what they’re doing! Anyone who is doing the work is bound to love sharing how they’re growing better crops, promoting biodiversity, and leaving the land better than they found it.
Next up, check out our latest video, Farmer Sailor Chef to see how Stowel Lake Farm on Salt Spring Island is using regenerative farming to create a bounty on the land and on the plate. Ready for sunny days in the garden or fields? Grab yourself some durable Work Wear to see you through, paired with a protective sun hat and lightweight, thermo-regulating Tee.