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What is ‘regenerative agriculture’?

by Millicent Hofung |

The next sustainability-related keyword in fashion you’ll soon be hearing a lot of: regenerative agriculture. We’re not exaggerating about the benefits of this holistic approach to farming, there’s actually data to back up its promise of reversing climate change. Regenerative agriculture shifts the sustainable mindset of reducing the negative to maximizing the positive – and that’s something we’re proud to support and incorporate in our line of organic underwear.

 

Not sure what all this means? We outline below why regenerative farming is a significant concept in the sustainable fashion world.

 

What is regenerative agriculture?

When it comes to the conversation surrounding sustainability and the environment, the majority of focus rests on ways to maintain the current state of the planet. Think: zero waste, carbon neutral, or low impact. In contrast, regenerative agriculture assumes that the planet is already damaged and must be repaired before it can be sustained.

 

Regeneration International, a non-profit advocating for the global transition to regenerative food, farming and land management, defines regenerative agriculture as “farming and grazing practices that [...] reverse climate change by rebuilding soil organic matter and restoring degraded biodiversity.”

 

Think of what a typical farm looks like. You’re probably imagining hundreds of acres of neatly lined rows of a single crop. Although accepted as a norm, it’s not necessarily natural. Plus, most conventional farms use an abundance of toxic chemicals, deep tilling and other non-naturally occurring methods that deplete the ground of its quality. This has resulted in massive areas of stripped and barren land that is unable to effectively absorb carbon.

 

Regenerative farming goes beyond being organic – the focus being on soil health. When it comes to organic farming, it’s all about what you aren’t spraying – solely avoiding the addition of any chemicals like pesticides, herbicides, insecticides and other toxic chemicals. It’s possible to be organic without being regenerative (and vice versa).

 

Regenerative farming is a holistic approach. Farmers work with nature to cultivate a relationship rather than try to control it. This includes avoiding conventional agricultural practices such as synthetic fertilizers, toxic chemicals, tilling, neat rows of a single crop and weed-pulling.

 

Soil is a living thing, it’s filled with a community of living microorganisms (fungi, bacteria and protozoa) that help it to grow healthy plants, sequester carbon and absorb water properly. Conventional farming methods harm these microorganisms whereas regenerative farming helps to nourish them.

 

How does regenerative agriculture work?

Regenerative farms look a lot different than conventional farms, you’ll see acres of different crops planted strategically to help each other grow and flourish. It’s not just about avoiding toxic chemicals or using compost instead of synthetic fertilizers, but a number of methods employed in regenerative farming that includes:

  • Intercropping: Growing a mix of two or more different types of plants in the same field to allow for increased soil fertility, prevent soil depletion and improved efficiency of resources used.
  • Rotating crops: Growing different types of crops in the same plot during different seasons to optimize the nutrients in the soil.
  • Little to no-tilling: Planting seeds while minimizing the level of disturbances to the soil.
  • Cover crops: Planted to cover the soil to limit the threat of weeds and help manage soil erosion. Plus, instead of ripping them out and disturbing the ground, they can be mowed, left to decompose and food for the soil.
  • Windbreaks: To prevent soil erosion, rows of trees are planted at the edge of a field to shelter it from the wind.
  • Trap crops: Instead of using synthetic pesticides, trap crops divert pests away.
  • Pollinator strips: Crops that attract bees and butterflies.

 

For example, on a regenerative cotton farm you might see rows of snap peas planted as cover crops that provide shade to the soil, helping it to stay cool, absorb more water and as a result, grow more microorganisms (= healthier soil!).

 

Photosynthesis and carbon 101.

Businesses seem to be going “carbon neutral” left and right these days, but is that enough? Billions of tons of CO2e has been released into the atmosphere from tillage, overgrazing and earth-disruption to build cities and suburban buildings. It may be more effective to help the earth return back to its natural, abundant state.

 

The most effective process? Photosynthesis. Cover crops may not be planted for harvest, but they naturally capture (or sequester) carbon from the atmosphere and store it within their roots in the ground. The carbon is fed into the soil, helping it to retain water better and as a result plants can grow stronger and prevent likelihood of soil erosion.

 

Why is regenerative farming better for the environment?

Regenerative farming is all about mimicking the earth’s natural flow: there’s a reason for the diverse mingling of plants we see in nature, naturally. This holistic farming approach enhances biodiversity, enriches the soil, improves watersheds, yields better crops, creates better livelihoods for the farmers involved and encourages carbon sequestration. Cultivating healthy soil benefits everybody and everything: the earth, animals, insects, plants, microorganisms, and us.

 

What does regenerative farming have to do with fashion?

Our organic cotton clothes start off as plants that are grown in a field. It’s not enough to reduce consumption, limit production or decrease pollution, but with regenerative farming, it’s an opportunity to transform the fashion industry by reviving the earth in the process of producing clothing.

It’s a cycle: by growing higher quality fibers, we can:

  • Create clothing that feels better, lasts longer and is better for our health.
  • Naturally dispose of clothing after its useful life (rather than sit in a landfill for an eternity).
  • Leverage compostability of 100% organic cotton clothing to provide the soil with nutrients).
  • In turn, continue to grow better crops, create less waste and nourish our ecosystem.

 

We’re passionate about the potential of regenerative agriculture.

Did you know that the organic pima cotton we use in our cotton underwear comes from a regenerative farm in Peru? It’s all a part of our continued mission to help save the world, one brief at a time.

 

The soil is known as the earth’s skin. Regenerative agriculture gives our planet a chance to heal rather than be harmed – protecting our natural resources so we can keep nurturing and being nourished by our shared beautiful home.

 

Want to learn more about regenerative agriculture? We chatted with Julie Friend, founder and farmer at Windom Farms, on a recent IGTV video – “regenerative farming 101”.