Regenerative Agriculture

Regenerative Agriculture

What regeneration means for the food industry—and for the plant-based foods industry, in particular

The promise of plant-based foods

The plant-based food movement proposes to feed the world in a more climate-friendly, nutritious and socially sustainable way. The Sustainable Sourcing Initiative (SSI), is the Plant Based Foods Institute’s plan to fulfill that promise. The goal of the SSI is to catalyze a regenerative movement that establishes a robust market for plant-based food that builds soil health and protects biodiversity, inclusively provides economic opportunity to food system stakeholders, and increases access to nutritious food, while supporting long-term growth and stability of the plant-based food industry.

What do we mean by “regenerative”?

For some, regenerative is primarily an approach to farming that emphasizes the importance of fostering “soil health,” reintegrating livestock and arable farming, minimizing tillage, and optimizing the carbon sink potential of agricultural soils. For others, including us, the goals of regenerative go beyond a set of agricultural practices and encompass a fundamentally different way of thinking about humanity’s relationship with the natural world, with farmers’ relationships to the land, and food producers’ relations with consumers.

Regenerative agriculture, while seemingly a new approach to farming, is not new at all. The practices that we consider regenerative have been part of indigenous agriculture for thousands of years: Intercropping and crop diversity, as practiced by the Iroquois in the Northeast, was founded on the “three sisters,” a combination of corn, beans, and squash. In this system, the corn stalks form a trellis for the beans to grow on, which in turn help the corn grow by fixing nitrogen in the soil. Squash vines act as a living mulch that maintains soil moisture and prevents weeds from growing, serving much the same purpose as a modern cover crop. It is important to acknowledge that regenerative practices in farming and community likely stem from cultural traditions from native and global majority communities. This and other foundational examples of natural collaboration and interdependence offer practical lessons about developing regenerative thinking in the business world. 

Regeneration as an approach to business and economic development seeks to create positive environmental, social, and economic impacts by actively restoring and regenerating natural systems and communities. It represents a shift away from traditional business models that focus solely on maximizing profits and often have negative environmental and social impacts. Instead, regenerative business aims to create holistic and sustainable value for all stakeholders, including the planet.

Regenerative is an idea that resonates with many, from small-scale farmers aligned with sustainable farming movements, to large corporations operating in markets across the world. As an idea that is relatively new and still evolving, it means different things to different people. To some stakeholders, regenerative is a set of farming techniques that can help them operate within the current market and meet their environmental obligations. For others, regenerative connotes a whole new way of thinking and being – about food systems and what (and for whom) they are for, the kinds of knowledge we value, and, ultimately, our place in the natural world.

Regenerative is about bringing farmers and consumers back into contact with one another, the resilience of agriculture-based economies, and redefining the roles of producers, processors and distributors as partners in a transparent, circular economy, not simply links in a chain. We seek to create alliances with other regenerative movements (in finance, development, planning, policy), to ensure that the regenerative plant-based food movement is integrated with these larger regenerative goals.