April 2019: Fairness, Floods, Fashion, and FAQ’s

Collaboration. It’s getting us solutions.

Why would Audubon, a bird conservation organization, be in collaboration with the Regenerative Organic Alliance, an agricultural certification? Because we access the importance of healthy soil, land, and biodiversity from different perspectives. And when we join up and cross-pollinate agricultural and environmental initiatives, we get greater returns for Earth.

With 60 ranches impacting over two million acres across this country, the Audubon Conservation Ranching program brings biodiversity, wildlife, and habitat front and center of their efforts, all while producing healthier grass-fed meat for bioregional markets. We got the lowdown from Marshall about implementing ROC on the range, along with valuable insights from five other ROC Pilot Participants around the globe at Expo West in Anaheim.

In March, we journeyed to Expo to offer a special ROC Pilot Update Panel, and now share with you the video from our panel, which includes the highs, lows, and why’s of what we do and why we do it. From over 200 species of birds counted on Alexandre Family Farm‘s riparian restoration areas in Northern California, to 122 million gallons of water captured during the dramatic 2019 winter rain events at Apricot Lane Farmsin Central California, we are seeing regenerative organic practices prove themselves to increase biodiversity, build soil health and grow healthier foods. We are also seeing soil regeneration on palm fields in Ghana at Serendipalm, a major palm oil supplier, as well as remarkable improvement in community resilience and worker welfare due to social certifications and the commitment of these shining star brands like Sol Simpleand Herb Pharm, notably these last three are all Certified B Corps.

Our sacred trinity of soil health, animal welfare, and social fairness are the pillars of the ROC- they are inseparable. As our relationships with wildlife organizations, pioneering farmers and forward-thinking brands continue to deepen, we expect to repeat the learning opportunities over and over as we begin our first audits next week.

As Matt Dybala of Herb Pharm asked, “How do we promote earth stewardship in a better and more equitable way?”  We are doing it with ROC. Regenerative organic practices not only produce beautiful crops from healthy soils, but also highlight the collaboration between us, the land, and the stewards who, together, will heal Earth. We wish you renewed energy on your path, and look forward to continuing with you on this Journey to Regenerative Organic Certified.

See the video here.

Too often as a wildlife conservation professional, I talk to wildlife conservation professionals at wildlife conservation conferences. And we don’t talk about food. I come to a lot of food conferences, and we don’t talk about biodiversity, wildlife or habitat enough.

And my charge to you today, if you remember anything…  It ALL matters. Whatever happens out on the land… it all matters.

-Marshall Johnson, ROC Pilot Updates @ Expo West, 2019


Support for Farms in the Heartland.

It happened just a few weeks ago, but it’s not over. This spring all eyes were on the Heartland as the devastating floods swept over the prairies with catastrophic consequences to the tune of over $1 billion dollars for Nebraska alone.

From CCOF:
… There’s no good time for this kind of natural disaster, but these floods are particularly poorly timed. Early spring a critical period for planting, and interruptions this time of year can delay harvest and ultimately reduce yields. The effects of this perfect storm are painfully palpable in farm country; the majority of farm households actually lost money farming last year.

The good news is that farmers who have been affected by flooding are not on their own—in addition to regular crop insurance programs, there are a number of national and state assistance programs in place to provide support during this challenging time… Read More

As climate change continues to rear its head, we stand with our farming communities, committed to practices that begin to reverse it. There are multiple ways individuals and businesses can support these farmers and ranchers. One is the FarmAid Disaster Relief Fund, and we encourage you share with us others that you have found.


About the fabric of our lives…

 

How does fashion connect with regenerative organic agriculture? Not only in the living crust of the earth as cellulose fibers like cotton, hemp, and linen, but also on the animals we steward who produce wool, cashmere, and leather. Just like food, textiles begin in soil.

The movement in fashion towards a more regenerative system is not new. Independent farmer/designers like Sally Fox have also been reversing course on conventionally grown cotton since 1989 and resisting further impacts through cultivating special fibers that carry color and structural integrity. We have a deep respect for pioneers like Sally, and how she’s grown her enterprise.

We are also so grateful that one of our own board members, LaRhea Pepper, has been taking regenerative logic from farm to industry since her own 5th-generation cotton farm was certified organic in 1991. “I’m changing agriculture one cotton ball at a time,” she says. Now managing director of the Textile Exchange, LaRhea is constantly balancing the cotton supply and demand cycle between producers, cotton mills, manufacturers and retailers. She has risen from organic cotton farmer to an incredibly effective changemaker and legacy in the world of fiber. You can view the incredible work of the Textile Exchange through their yearly organic cotton market reports.

It’s time to not only reverse course and move towards regeneratively grown foodcrops, but also other commodity crops, including fiber from plants and animals. Why?  We often forget that growing conventional cotton in the US ranks third in pesticide use of commodity crops, only third to corn and soybeans. Further, the way cotton is grown also impacts workers’ lives and the global labor market.  If you are curious about cotton’s impact, get the download here from the OTA.

Just this month, Whitney Bauck of Fashionista wrote a wonderful and comprehensive article: The Next Wave of Sustainable Fashion is All About Regenerative Farming. We encourage you to read it, and share it.


Over the next four newsletters, we will be featuring Bailey and Corinne’s investigative and narrative storytelling, a special feature we are proud to support.

I’m looking at two jars filled with dirt.

The first jar contains soil that looks like dried, cracked red clay. It reminds me of summertime corn and soybean fields in my hometown in Indiana, fields of straight-line crops laced with dry, exposed dirt. This soil sample in the jar had been taken from a field growing classic southern trifecta row crops: cotton, peanuts, and corn.

The other jar has deep, dark black, loamy soil, and as I lift off the cover I breathe in the smell of earth. Even though these two jars are housed inside an old, repurposed Baptist church, away from the elements, a few plant sprouts shooting out the top confirm the soil as a petri dish of fertility.

The two soil samples look worlds and ecosystems apart, but they actually came from two sides of the same fence in Bluffton, Georgia.

I stood by that fence later that day, a line straddling two startlingly different fields. On one side, green pasture, owned by Will Harris III of White Oak Pastures. On the other side, row crops, planted by a Harris family cousin and maintained with a steady diet of chemical inputs.

I’m looking at the two jars writ large, the soil samples played out on the scale of acres. The side-by-side view of the two fields, under completely different management, is disorienting. Green, lush grass layered on top of itself, sitting next to straight crop rows separated by bare, raw soil.

“It’s monoculture, in rotation” explains Will, pointing to the row crops. “That’s left the soil with half of 1% organic matter. Mine has 5%.”

Organic matter is the life in the soil, made up of fresh plant residue, small living microorganisms, and stable, decomposed organic materials. Organic matter acts as a nutrient reservoir and provides structure in the soil. It also acts as a sponge, allowing the soil to absorb and hold water – for every 1% of organic matter, the soil can hold about one inch of rain.

“So if it rains an inch on his soil, half of it runs off. If it rains five inches on my soil, all of that water is absorbed into my field,” Will adds. In a county where it rains nearly every week of the year, the ability to retain rainwater can be a boon for the land.

Taken separately, the two fields look like two completely different ecosystems. To see them side-by-side feels like a pointed case study in land management.

But as Will explains, the soils aren’t actually separated by much: “nothing but 20 yards, a fence, and 20 years of holistic management.” That last part is important – because a few decades ago, Will’s soil didn’t look much different than the dried, cracked soil sample that we saw in the church.

I stood by that fence later that day, a line straddling two startlingly different fields. On one side, green pasture, owned by Will Harris III (fourth-generation farmer at White Oak Pastures a Regenerative Organic Alliance board member). On the other side, row crops, planted by a Harris family cousin and maintained with a steady diet of chemical inputs.

I’m looking at the two jars writ large, the soil samples played out on the scale of acres. The side-by-side view of the two fields, under completely different management, is disorienting. Green, lush grass layered on top of itself, sitting next to straight crop rows separated by bare, raw soil.

But as Will explains, the soils aren’t actually separated by much: “nothing but 20 yards, a fence, and 20 years of holistic management.” That last part is important – because a few decades ago, Will’s soil didn’t look much different than the dried, cracked soil sample that we saw in the church. And a few decades ago, the surrounding town of Bluffton started to dry up with the soil.

“When we industrialized, centralized, commoditized agriculture – we made this town irrelevant” says Will Harris, rolling his truck through downtown Bluffton. As chemical inputs and mechanized processes started to take over agriculture, the community surrounding Bluffton grew smaller and smaller. What once was one farmer and ten farm hands became one farmer, 150 acres, a tractor, and ammonium nitrate fertilizer.

In the lifetimes of Will Harris and his father, the town had shrunk from a trade and social hub for an entire agricultural community to a quiet, sparse town of 100.

But today, White Oak Pastures’ shift toward regenerative agriculture has had some unintended consequences – the human effects of regenerative agriculture are revitalizing the town, too.

Read More


ROC Book Club: The B Corp Handbook

I hope that five years from now, ten years from now, we’ll look back and say #BCorporations were the start of the revolution.
                                                                           – Yvon Chouinard, founder of Patagonia

So many of the companies who are taking the lead are so brilliantly drawing these lines. How can YOU use business as a force for good? This authoritative handbook, completely revised and updated second edition of The B Corp Handbook has just been released.This volume, written by Ryan Honeyman and Dr. Tiffany Jana, with a foreword by ROC’s board chair Rose Marcario, CEO of Patagonia, covers the what, why and how of B Certification. You’ll learn how companies are using this guide to provide transparency into their business practices, show accountability to consumers and improve their overall social, environmental & DEI performance. If you aren’t familiar yet with B Corps, this volume is the one source you’ll need.

Get it here.


Your great questions have us moving up!

We are so grateful for your keen and curious questions about the ROC. Because we’ve received so many questions that have overlap and complementary themes, we’ve decided to make a new page on our site dedicated to them. You can access them through our Resources portal.

Click here to check out the new FAQ’s page.

 

March 2019: Expo West Review

The good, the bad, and all that’s in-between.

 

Regenerative Organic Certified was not launched as a greenwashing campaign or marketing scheme. It was launched as an effort to address some of the most complex problems of our times. That is why we call this the Journey to Regenerative Organic Certification, not the Arrival at Regenerative Organic Certification. The process is challenging, enriching, and completely inspiring.

On March 8th,  six pilot panelists joined us at Expo West from three hemispheres, and shared the stories of their Journey to Regenerative Organic Certified, pillar by pillar. As they shared a tiny glimpse into on-the-ground successes, they also offered up the gritty challenges they are facing. It was our request for them to share these side by side, and fully aligns with the transparency required to find the solutions that will move ROC forward.

What we know is that, as a global certification, it’s not all apples-to-apples across all three pillars of soil regeneration, animal welfare, and social fairness. For example:

  • What’s the best way to develop a relevant, accurate soil testing requirement that applies equally well across hundreds of smallholders in India or Ghana as it does in North America?
  • How do you reconcile animal welfare standards that prohibit the practice of branding livestock when this is legally required in many Western states in the US?
And for social fairness… We are creating solutions to reconcile the discrepancy of labor fairness at the farm level, as a standard can become complicated when we apply the logic across hemispheres.
  • How do we fight egregious practices such as child labor in the global south while honoring the legacy of family farms in the global north, where children take part in the life-cycle of labor on farms across America?
  • How do we reconcile farms that offer internships in an agricultural education program which includes stipends & housing in exchange for farm work but doesn’t meet the standard for a living wage?
All that said, there is also one of the most critical questions: In addition to keeping more records and undergoing more audits, will farmers have to bear the added costs of soil testing and certification?

These are some of the questions that require the sophisticated nuanced answers we are actively discovering with our Board of Directors, our partners at NSF, and you- the farmers, brands, and folks who will engage with the seal of Regenerative Organic Certified.

The most valuable tenet we have in the process of the ROC Pilot is this: We will continue to tend the standard as we tend the soil: as a living physical entity that responds to environmental forces. We will not cease our vision as we continue to work together towards solutions… and this includes your input.

So stay tuned, because we are not trying to move the needle, we are changing the record!


Elizabeth Whitlow
Executive Director, ROA

We are currently editing the Expo Panel video to share with all of you in the coming month, so please stay tuned! Get ready for regenerative organic agriculture’s positive influence on water capture through healthy soil, and exponential influence on biodiversity, including bird species (Garett Long boasted, Vanessa Alexandre exceeded, and Marshall Johnson from Audubon didn’t even need to say!). 

 

About that General Mills 1M acres by 2030
(and other claims).

 

We are often asked for our response to broad claims and goals of other initiatives in regenerative agriculture. Here’s how we see it… It is going to take all of us to turn this mothership around. We need a diversity of efforts from every angle of agriculture to build back our soil. Period.

You will begin to see the term “regenerative” used in food marketing more and more over the next year, and there are many large companies and initiatives that are promoting and supporting regenerative agriculture at multiple levels. General Mills is one of them. We encourage you to keep your eye on these efforts, speak up, insist on transparency, insist on third-party verifiable claims and let them know of your support but also what other improvements they can make in these urgent times.

One major difference between other regenerative initiatives and ROC is that ROC is rooted in organic farming in the living crust of the earth. Regenerative Organic Certified also holds the highest bar across the three pillars- soil, animal welfare, and social fairness. It is our greatest hope that the largest companies will join us in these efforts as part of their programs in the nearer than further future.

 

Your questions. Answered.

Part of our challenge in creating this encompassing new certification is identifying where there is need for more clarity. For the next few newsletters, we are taking heed to your valuable questions.  Keep shining your light through the cracks and in the corners.

Going International
Q: Will it be possible to certify from a non-US country like Chile?  Can we help in something to get certification available in Chile? (add their excitement – we are farmers)

I would like to ask if there are plans to expand to Europe the ROC Pilot Program?

A: Absolutely. ROC is a global certification and we are currently onboarding certification agencies, including those with global reach. We will continuously be updating the list of approved certifiers on our website.  If you do not see your certifier on our list, please ask your certifier to contact NSF to learn about the ROC accreditation requirements.

Money Matters & Paperwork:
Q: How will the process and cost of the ROC be different, and hopefully more accessible, to small farmers than all the hassle, paperwork, and expense of other certifications?

A: This is a big and often asked question. ROC is a high bar standard and is being tested out with the pioneering brands and farms in the ROC Pilot Program. We have a broad selection of brands and farmers in our pilot that produce over 20 types of commodities, grown on farms from 1 hectare to 10,000 hectares in nine countries. We will build on existing recognized certifications at the ROC add-on audits so that we eliminate duplication.

We recognize the leadership of smaller farms to educate their communities. They are the locus of where the good word of regenerative organic agriculture can begin. Brands who source from ROC farms have shown their willingness to put the resources forth to incentivize and reward these producers with price premiums, long term contracts and technical resources to help implement  regenerative practices.

Regarding paperwork: There is additional paperwork required for any compliance programs with third party verification. It is a hassle, and we understand that. We can’t eliminate that component though as detailed records demonstrating practices result in improved accountability and traceability. We are very cognizant of the pain points and strive to align with other certifications to avoid unnecessary documents.

Carbon trading and other avenues to bring benefits to farmers: 
Q: What opportunities are there for payments for ROC ecosystem services?

A: Brilliant question! There are a growing number of funds that reward growers for the valuable ecosystem services they provide to bio-regions and communities. We see opportunities in the developing carbon markets such as can be seen in California, Canada and  Australia for example. The regulatory framework and policies will vary by country so this is an evolving area to study. The carbon trading market has been mostly inaccessible for small farms with a high barrier to entry, but new technologies like blockchain may change this. We are also keen on connecting these dots. For this reason, we have worked diligently to ensure that the Key Performance Indicators we collect at audits are robust and credible so that ROC growers will be in position to tap these funds.

Submit another question

 

Teach the children well:
Free Community Screenings April 2, 3 & 4!

We are so thrilled for John and Molly of Apricot Lane Farms, whose incredible Journey to Regenerative has been fully documented into the feature-length film, Biggest Little Farm. Learn how we can truly transform and rewild our agricultural spaces to once again support all forms of life in this beautiful and mesmerizing documentary that will draw the sweetest tears of optimistic pragmatism. A true inspiration.

Advance screenings are already set to take place across 50 major markets from April 2nd-4th with additional dates throughout April available upon request.

A generous grant has made it possible for us to offer these in-theater screenings FREE to schools that sign up by end of March.  There are only a few days left to sign up- get on it and share this incredible true story with your community!

February 2019 ROC News

Transparency.

We believe in a way of farming that honors all living creatures-from the trillions of microbes teeming in the earth’s crust right beneath our feet to the hard working humans who toil in the soil and the beasts who carry our burden.

Codifying this requires patience and we thank you for yours. We are proud to present to you the Regenerative Organic Certified™  Participant Handbook, the step-by-step Journey to ROC™.
It is no small feat to capture the complexity of regenerative organic farming with one single written criteria, as we explore the many nuances inherent to farming complex systems in diverse regions across the globe. It can only be distilled into a living volume that is the consensus of scientists, farmers, farmworkers, and supply web specialists with holistic expertise. It is our hope that you will use the ROC™ Participant Handbook to begin or continue your Journey to Regenerative.

May you all find the strength to continue this journey,

Elizabeth Whitlow
Executive Director, ROA

Read the Participant Handbook

 

 

 

ROC Global Pilot Updates at Expo West 

On March 8th, we are bringing the global perspective to Expo West for our exhibitor-sponsored panel discussion, the ROC™ Global Pilot Program Updates. Representatives will speak to their successes, challenges, and next steps with Regenerative Organic Certified™.

The panel will be moderated by Jeff Moyer of Rodale Institute, Elizabeth Whitlow ofRegenerative Organic Alliance, and Nova Sayers of NSF International.

Our farmer rockstar panel includes Safianu Moro of Serendipalm, Garett Long fromApricot Lane Farms, Vanessa Alexandre from Alexandre Family Farm, Marshall Johnson from Audubon’s Conservation Ranching Program, Mark Dybala of Herb Pharm, and Gabriella Zapata from Sol Simple. You can learn more about the panel on our Evenbrite page, and on the schedule for Expo West.

The Global Certification Pilot Updates are happening March 8 from 11-12:30 am in Marriott Platinum Ballroom at Expo West. This Exhibitor Panel Session is sponosred by Dr. Bronner’s and Patagonia. 

RSVP for the Panel Now

Download Participant Handbook

January 2019 ROC News

Winter on the ranch is a busy time.

The new year has only just begun, but we’ve made tremendous progress in these first two weeks and are planning for the very busy months ahead. We are learning every day of the many opportunities to commune around regenerative organic practices. The ROC Participant Handbook and Certification Body Accreditation Handbook will be published on our website within weeks and will provide detailed guidance on the next steps to Regenerative Organic Certification.

The winter season brings ROC to panels at many conferences and trade shows. This week you’ll find us in Santa Fe at the winter conference for the Audubon’s Conservation Ranching program to learn more about how they are saving endangered grasslands through regenerative cattle ranching around the country. Next week, we’ll be at the Eco-Farm conference in Pacific Grove, a 40+ year beloved gathering for ecologically minded farmers in central California. Come visit our table in the exhibitors tent! In February,  we will be talking at the Yale Food Systems Symposium and at BioFach inNürnberg, Germany. Expo West promises to be extraordinary. Our colleagues from the Rodale Institute also have speaking engagements on the East Coast of the US and they will be representing and speaking about ROC as well. Many of these events are public, and we invite you to join us.

Have a beautiful January, and we look forward to seeing you on the Journey to Regenerative in 2019.

Elizabeth Whitlow
Executive Director, ROA

 


What is real?

Good question. What we do know is that climate change is real. And we do know that there are multiple organizations trying to reverse its course towards a more biodiverse and stable environment that is resilient, more equitable, and quite honestly, a better place to live. The process excites us, and we are up for the challenge.

The disastrous effects of climate change has been featured in the news prominently this year. At the same time, the potential to mitigate these effects with regenerative agriculture practices is truly gaining traction. There are many conversations happening in the organic and regenerative agriculture communities about the differences between certifications, certifying bodies, standards, and what they mean for who, from those who produce food to the consumer.

These projects do not defy each other but together support a cause to save this planet and create more access to nutritious food for more people. Max Goldberg of the Organic Insider has produced a wonderful synopsis of the difference between Real Organic Project (ROP) and Regenerative Organic Certification (ROC). We encourage you to get a premium membership and check it out.

Get Organic Insider

 


How to talk to your friends about it.

If you are getting this email, chances are, you know a lot about this movement. Many folks don’t, and they can get overwhelmed when they think they were doing “good” by buying organic, and now they have to learn something new altogether. Just this past week, a wonderful article has been published by Eater, and we think it’s a good one to share.

Read the Article