Is it Organic or Regenerative?

November 26, 2019

I have a lot of friends (myself included for some things) that buy all organic from a big box grocery store and think that they are getting the best that they can for their family, and doing the best for our earth.  

Now, organic is better than conventional - yes. Some organic is better than none - sometimes we can't afford all organic food. Some food from your local farms is better than none. We are all trying the best that we can. I am writing this to educate you on what that "best" really is. 

I hate to tell you, but if you saw how your organic, cage-free storebought eggs were raised, you'd be placing that carton back on the shelf. 

The honest truth is that "organic" as in the label is not much more that - it was created to classify certain practices and present a clear label on using the term "organic" for consumers. Many ahead of their time farmers who had been practicing organically saw the decline of organic agriculture when the label came out. The farms and companies simply wanting the label to be able to sell their products for a higher price let their practices fall. 

Organic eggs and poultry have limited organic qualifications. They are fed organic, but most never actually make it onto that small piece of pasture they have access to. Most stay in a pole barn their entire lives. For those with access, they are not moved to fresh grass daily, so that fresh grass turns into old mud. Poultry was not meant to stay on a small yard or even pasture and be fed solely, or even mostly, grains. Poultry should mostly scratch for bugs, seeds, and greens. Today, to meet our egg and poultry meat demands, farmers must supplement grain, but that should not be the crux. 

Grassfed beef in the store is not much different. And, now it does not have to label its country of origin. 100% grassfed and finished beef may not have consumed grain, but the grass they may mostly be consuming is dried hay. Their pasture may be what many call "carpet," without enough fresh grass to munch on each day. 

Folks, that's not regenerative. It's causing just as much harm as their non-organic counterparts, and it isn't how the animals ideally would live. The feed may be right (organic), but the life isn't. And the soil, well it's still being compacted, blown away, and causing flooding and erosion. 

Livestock and poultry must be moved to fresh grass often (daily or so) so that they have fresh grass and bugs to eat, and so that their feet and excrement don't entirely trample the ground. Deep roots soak up rain, but short grass is constantly using energy to grow again, limiting root growth. Bare soil blows away, and with it, our topsoil. 

What does regenerative farming even mean? Regenerative simply means that the practices regenerate topsoil - the healthy, living soil that grows all of our plant (and in turn, animal) food. 

The cycle of regeneration includes cover crop - perennial (annuals take nutrients from the soil) plants covering the ground with deep roots and animals - we need them to stir up the soil and we need their manure to . Most importantly, we need a soil teeming with life - fungus, bacteria (from animal saliva and manure), worms, and microorganisms to process all the nutrients in the soil so that our plants can utilize them. Herbicides, pesticides, and fungicides all kill that life, but so does tilling. Many organic farms still use tilling practices that destroy organism's homes and leave soil bare for erosion and nutrient depletion. It may mean less pesticides on your plate, but it does not mean more topsoil for your children to eat. 

Every farmer is on a journey to co-creating the healthiest products available, and not every farmer can implement no-till and regenerative processes immediately without harming their bottom line. But, as a consumer, you can support regenerative farms and encourage your local farmers to practice regeneratively. 

Danielle Olson Jones

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