June 8, 2021

Food for Thought - Director's Perspective

Regenerative Agriculture - What Does It Mean?

Recently, I found myself with more time available than anticipated. An injury sidelined me from enjoying the beautiful transition from spring to summer in Minnesota. However, the unexpected silver lining was the opportunity to read some amazing articles on the food system and Regenerative agriculture needs a reckoning caught my eye.

Tree Regenerating from Stump

This article explores how, even though ‘regenerative’ is being used widely in the food system, there is little agreement on what it means. As the article states “No one really agrees on what “regenerative agriculture” means, or what it should accomplish, let alone how those benefits should be quantified. Significant disagreements remain—not only about practices like cover crops, or the feasibility of widespread carbon capture, but about market power and racial equity and land ownership. Even as “regenerative” gets increasingly hyped as a transformative solution, the fundamentals are still being negotiated.

Within the article, definitions for regenerative agriculture included ideas ranging from improving soil health, or sequestering carbon, and improving human health to federal crop insurance programs, market dominance of multinational processors, and land access for Native communities. In other words, across the research that was presented there was lack of consensus and, often, priorities that contradicted other priorities.

The article also touched on the broader concepts, the systems concepts that are core to the IFSL program. The conversation that will define the meaning for regenerative agriculture “touches on our changing relationship to science and technology, on access and antitrust reform, on workers’ rights and racial injustice, on conceptions of the natural world and our place in it. It’s a conversation that forces you to draw a bigger circle, only to realize that circle isn’t big enough.

Regenerative agriculture offers a path forward to a more sustainable and just food future, but navigating the process to agreement on principles amongst all the stakeholders will be difficult and will take time. It will need food system leaders, like those grown in the IFSL program, to help drive the discussion and decision-making process to align definitions and principles, decide how the benefits are quantified, and propose policy and practices throughout the food system to achieve those benefits.

If you only have time to read one article this week, it should be this one. It is thought-provoking across the frontiers of agricultural production systems, climate policy, knowledge and availability of labor, and social equity for indigenous and BIPOC communities.

The University of Minnesota Integrated Food Systems Leadership (IFSL) Program is designed for professionals interested in accelerating their careers. The IFSL program is a unique, online, graduate certificate program that fosters leadership, collaboration, and innovation across the food system. IFSL is a Post-Baccalaureate Regents Certificate program aimed at bridging the gap between traditional food system education and a professional leadership program.

Applications are being accepted through July 15, 2021 for the September cohort. Download a program brochure or schedule a consultation call for more information.