To the majority of people who work in the sector, farming is more than just a 9 to 5 job. It is a livelihood where you often find family businesses, financially supporting two or three generation or multiple siblings. When you speak to people who work in farming, they often refer to it as a community of people. I feel that says a lot about farming and what it means to those who work in this industry.
There is a deep socio-ecological aspect to Regenerative Agriculture. There is something spiritual about it. Something which is deeply rooted in community and being close to the land. Something more than just producing food, but having a connection with the physical environment and with people who share similar values to you. There seems to be a genuine physical and mental health aspect to farming in a way that integrates your system into ecosystems, rather than trying to tame or break them. These aspects of Regenerative Agriculture are obvious when you meet or read about people who have adopted this way of producing food.
I think this draws a number of parallels. There is a greater appreciation and understanding of how the natural environment works. One of the key aspects of being successful at Regenerative Agriculture is to work towards restoring and enhancing ecosystem functions. The improvement of soil health, for example, plays a central role. You will hear regen-ag farmers get excited about earthworms, fungi, soil biology, the interaction of water, air and soil, and the importance of biodiversity in their system. This aspiration to improve the natural environment for the benefit of producing food leads to a drive to find ways to reduce the use of synthetic inputs like fertilisers and pesticides. I have worked with commercial arable farmers who set themselves reduction targets, seeking to cut out 50% of their fertiliser use over the course of five-years. This is the kind of challenge which is exciting. How to be productive, while not damaging ecosystems and giving back what was taken away.
Further to this, there is a deep feeling of reward and satisfaction in Regenerative Agriculture. I have worked with farmers who have worked hard to bring back diversity into their pastures while also adopting mob-grazing type systems. They get to interact more with their livestock, which allows them to observe and monitor them more closely. They can pick up on the early signs of herd health issues which allows them to take early intervention measures before having to result to things like antibiotics. The use of diverse pastures means they are providing a healthy and diverse diet to their animals and this greatly cuts down on disease and other animal health and welfare issues. This reflects in the way in which they see animal husbandry and the interaction and connection of farming with the natural environment.
We know the benefits of nature on mental and physical health. Regenerative Agriculture can have the same effects on farmers. We need to ensure that we have strong rural cultures, built on the view that we are part of nature and not some higher being that is trying to tame or disrupt her. Culture does not just mean having traditions, or a pub, but also a way of life that is connected to our surroundings.
I genuinely feel this can reflect on rural communities more generally. Having satisfaction in how we farm means we can have satisfaction in talking to local people about. What better then giving children the opportunity to learn about agro-ecological farming through running on-farm days for families. People need to understand where their food comes from and how it was produced. We need to encourage people to have passion in the food they buy and to feel empowered to make the right consumer choices – which includes spending that little bit more, where possible, on food shopping.
As Dr Charles Massy explains in his book The Call of the Reed Warbler ‘the socio-ecological element is a key aspect. In addition to improved physical and mental health, what this aspect also entails is the promotion of vital, coherent rural cultures and the encouragement of values of stewardship, self-reliance, humility and holism, particularly within the context of family farming’.
I truly believe that Regenerative Agriculture is not just about producing food, sequestering carbon, or improving biodiversity – as important as they are – but also a foundation of rejuvenating rural communities and connecting people with what our ancestors knew and how we see ourselves and our relationship with the planet.