Regenerative Agriculture

Supporting healthy soil, improving productivity, and creating equitable food systems in Minnesota
What is Regenerative Agriculture?

 

 

At MN350, we define Regenerative Agriculture as a dynamic system of land stewardship, rooted in centuries-old indigenous wisdom, that provides healthy, plant-rich, nutrient-dense food for all people, while continuously restoring and nourishing the ecological, social, and cultural systems unique to every place.

 

 

 

 

(Pictured here is a Lester soil series, Minnesota’s state soil. Lester soil series are very deep, well-drained soils that formed in calcareous, loamy till. Based on aerial photographs dating back to the 1930s, this parcel of land in Victoria, MN was never cultivated and relatively undisturbed.)

Working Principles

Soil Disturbance

Minimizing soil disturbance allows for the rebuilding of soil aggregates, pore spaces, and soil organic matter. No-till and conservation tillage are two systems that limit soil disturbance. These practices reduce erosion. When erosion is reduced, fewer nutrients are lost.

Living Root

Constant plant cover improves water infiltration by creating open root channels, encouraging earthworm activity, and protecting soil surface structure. More infiltration means less water running off the surface, taking nutrients and sediment with it. Cover crop residues also encourage disease suppression.

Social Justice

Regenerative agriculture is not just about rebuilding the soil; it’s about rebuilding the communities that depend on it. At MN350, we support embodied social and environmental justice, food and economic justice, and food sovereignty, with an emphasis on reparation to historically disadvantaged and oppressed communities of color and Indigenous peoples.

Biodiversity

Historically, much of Minnesota was rich prairies, and this diversity nourished the soil biology. Crop rotations mimic this diversity, which improves infiltration and nutrient cycling, while also controlling disease and pests. Similarly, it's vital to fostering diverse soil biota below the surface to aerate the soil and make it more resilient to erosion, drought, and flood. These microbes feed off plant residue and other organic inputs and excrete nutrients in their inorganic form into the soil solution, which can then be taken up by crops.

Become a Volunteer:

Our Regenerative Agriculture group works to transition to a regenerative agricultural system that supports healthy soil and land, draws atmospheric carbon into the ground, reduces water use, and values the health of our communities as well as the health of our ecosystems. That means working in a coalition with organizations here in Minnesota to support emerging and existing regenerative farmers; putting pressure on lawmakers to create and enforce policies that support regenerative agriculture, and finding ways to connect both established and emerging farmers to the resources they need to “go regenerative.” Our team meets every two weeks online, and you can get the invite by contacting Mary Clare McAleer at mcaleer@MN350.org.

What We Do:

Our group monitors legislation and news on the local and national scales. Group discussions are facilitated on Consider.It. We also develop outreach plans and community engagement opportunities. For example, pictured on the right are some team members volunteering at Twin Cities Vegfest in Harriet Island Regional Park. We partnered with the Plant Rich Diets working group to foster conversion about how our food is produced and its impact on the environment. Some of our team members developed this brochure (Regen Ag VegFest Flyer Final) to hand out to fest-goers. Currently, the group is developing a communications plan to promote different sustainable agricultural practices to consumers. Is this something you are interested in? Help us advance the regenerative agriculture movement to ensure nutrient-rich foods and a healthy future!

Regenerative Agriculture Guide

Check out our sources and additional resources here.

What are the benefits of regenerative agriculture?

Good for You:

Regeneratively grown foods are especially nutritious and have high mineral content.

Good for the Planet:

This approach to growing food removes increased amounts of heat-trapping carbon dioxide from the air.  Regeneratively farmed land also holds extra amounts of water, reducing the loss of soil by erosion and the polluting runoff of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. Regenerative farming, which is also referred to as “carbon farming” or “soil building,” improves soil health as reflected in increased organic matter content.

Good for the Community:

Regenerative agriculture improves climate resiliency, helping farmers avoid the devastating economic losses brought by flooding, droughts, and other extreme weather events.  It also benefits society by fostering racial and economic justice and returns power by restoring political influence to farming communities.

How is regenerative farming different from conventional or organic farming?

Regenerative farming has the potential to reverse some of the ills brought by the monocrop configuration and synthetic inputs of conventional farming: the loss of topsoil, poisoning of soil organisms, and desertification of farmlands. Regenerative practices build onto the principles of organic food production, in which farmers avoid the use of synthetic, non-organic fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides with their negative impacts on soil microbes, pollinators, and water quality. Regenerative agriculture is a different mindset –agriculture is not just a chance to grow food but a chance to care for the land. The food is then the gift you get back for that care. The care includes building soil health through practices such as using cover crops, reducing tillage, diversifying crops, and using compost and other natural fertilizing agents. There is also an emphasis on equity in land access and other aspects of social justice.

Why is regenerative agriculture one of the most promising solutions for the Climate Crisis?

MN350 is a climate-activist organization that views regenerative agriculture as a leading strategy for the Climate Crisis as the agriculture sector accounted for 11% of 2020 greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. The soil health improvement brought by regenerative agriculture creates extra-vigorous photosynthesis in crops and grasses, removing increased amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Higher rates of carbon-bearing sugars are exuded from plant roots, locking up that carbon in the soil. Regenerative agriculture is ranked 11th in a listing of 100 climate solutions by Project Drawdown.

What kind of regeneratively produced foods can I obtain?

Regeneration International (“RI”) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to a global transition to regenerative food, farming, and land management. RI maintains an extensive database and farm map, identifying farms worldwide that are producing regeneratively and organically grown foods. This listing includes the varieties of foods offered and the standards under which they are produced by each farm. One hundred farms within Minnesota are listed, and they produce a variety of plant and animal products, including:

  • Chicken, beef, pork, lamb, goat, bison, turkey, duck, goose, and rabbit
  • Dairy, eggs, and cheese
  • Vegetables, fruits, grains, beans, and nuts
  • Maple syrup, honey, and more

Many of these products are grown in ways that are harmonious with nature and restorative to the land.

Where can I get them?

Regeneratively grown foods are available for purchase within the supply chain. You may find them at your local grocery store or co-op. Some restaurants may also be serving meals prepared from regeneratively produced ingredients. Your local community garden or CSA (community supported agriculture) supplier may have ample harvests for purchase. You also can purchase these products directly from some farmers. Check out Regeneration International’s farm map or the Land Stewardship Project’s CSA directory to find a regenerative farm near you. More information is available via individual farm websites. 

How can I support RA?

The most immediate way you can support regenerative agriculture is to purchase regeneratively produced foods for your own and/or your family’s use. The farmers who have made the decision to transition from traditional farming practices to regenerative ones have often done so in a “leap of faith” that the new practices will be productive, given the farm’s combination of soil condition, type of crop, and climate challenges. Furthermore, regenerative farms do not enjoy the same degree of government subsidy as do conventionally operated ones. In short, these courageous people need our patronage. We all pay the costs of conventional agriculture through Farm Bill subsidies, pollution of our waters and streams, and much more. Paying a premium for regenerative products means we pay a fair price from the beginning instead of leaving our neighbors and future generations to pay for the true price of conventional products.

Other ways in which you can contribute will be to ask your grocers and restaurant operators to provide regeneratively produced foods. You can tell your friends and family members about the benefits of regeneratively produced foods and the importance of sourcing their foods locally and sustainably. You can also let your legislators know that you support policies that will benefit small-farm operators.

How do I know that a product is truly regeneratively grown?

Looking at food labels is one place to start identifying the farming practices behind the product. Check out the labels below to learn a little bit about what you’re buying into. If you are planning to buy directly from a Minnesota farm, you may be able to confirm that the product is regeneratively produced by looking up the standards adhered to by that farm. If you’d like to go one step further, talk to the producers, farmers, and markets! If you live near the Twin Cities, there’s an annual Co-op Farm Tour that’s open to the public. Building relationships with food producers will help create more community-based food systems.

 

 

Learn More

Can Regenerative Agriculture Reverse Climate Change?