Lines in the Soil
As we launch into this next season (summer in the North, winter in the South), one thing is very clear – we are on the cusp of massive transformation on many levels and in many sectors. Over this last month, we’ve connected with leaders from across the spectrum – from the passionate, outdoor activist mindset encountered at Outdoor Retailer Summer Market to major influential agriculture stakeholders of the US Farmers & Ranchers Alliance and the dynamic organizers from the Aspen Institute for the inaugural Harvest Forum. We have a seat at the table, and we are going to continue to encourage them to recognize and reward farmers for regenerative organic practices including the retention of water, preservation of biodiversity, improved soil health, and carbon drawdown. We are encouraged by the broad recognition of the benefits of regenerative practices, echoed by unique initiatives in big ag. We insist they must have real teeth to merit the use of regenerative language.
The undeniable common thread weaving us together is the collective understanding that Earth is in peril. Humans are causing it. And shifting agricultural practices holds tremendous power to sink carbon and change course. It is our charge to hold the high bar. Pioneering brands, innovative farmers, brave policymakers, leaders and dreamers are coming together to bring bold visions of change to fruition.
The long days of summer have arrived in Northern California and our harvest baskets are filled with delicious abundance. We honor the farmers, who are working from dawn to late evening to fill our collective belly. We hope this finds you enjoying the first fruits of summer and that it helps inspire you to continue to activate the Journey to Regenerative Organic.
May your bellies be full,
Executive Director, Regenerative Organic Alliance
Apples, Oranges and Lemons
Discernment between Regenerative and Regenerative Organic
The rapid adoption of regenerative concepts and practices is inspiring hope and promise while gaining broad traction. We welcome all on this journey. That said, within this new landscape of regenerative claims, we need a reality check and a critical eye. We support the incorporation of regenerative practices in every sector and truly applaud these fundamental shifts, but we are also wary of weakening the power of truly regenerative transformations. There is nothing regenerative about chemically-based fertilizers and pesticides linked with GMO monocropping systems. Period. We need to adopt an entirely new model, not inject convenient regenerative concepts into industrial farming – the same exact model that got us here in the first place.
As you already know, high-input, industrialized models of agriculture are decidedly not feeding the world, especially considering that over 76% of the corn goes to biofuelor feedlot animals and that the majority of our soy crops are exported for livestock feed abroad. This system is literally crushing our farmers and rural communities, and not feeding the world. Farm gate prices are at all-time lows, plummeting to levels not seen since the early 2000s, bankruptcies are up, and export markets are fading away. The greatest beneficiaries are giant multi-national agribusinesses and the lobbyists who advocate for them when it should be farmers and farm workers.
Pesticides have wrought havoc on the very ecosystems upon which all living creatures depend. How can we include these in a system called regenerative? Though we so very much appreciate the moves for big ag to move towards regenerative, without the organic foundation, the term “regenerative” risks greenwash. Allowing organic principles and their benefits to slip through the cracks – both environmentally and socially – threatens the regenerative movement as a whole. Please join us in taking a firm hand to ensure that our land, our animals, and our people are protected by the foundation of organic as we build the house of regenerative organic.
Farmers are innovative and adaptive when given the opportunity to explore new pathways. We are seeing very rapid adoption of regenerative practices like composting, cover cropping, diversifying crops, roller crimping and minimal tillage. Carbon draw-down is now a widely known phenomenon, seemingly on the tip of everyone’s tongue. Though all of this is wonderful and feels like progress, we know that when these practices are activated on the foundation of organic, our rewards are not only greater, but the security of healthy soil, animals and farm workers is strengthened.
Regenerative Organic Certified is wedded to organic principles. Our founders, allies, and farmers believe in the potential of agriculture to create solutions to the climate crisis and build a more sustainable, healthy, and secure food system. Organic is the foundation of this program.
See Patagonia’s sales mavens discuss their ROC cotton program here.
When we think of agriculture, we must remember it’s not only food that is born of the soil. It is also fiber, leather, and rubber that forms the basis of our clothing and outdoor gear. Outdoor Retailer Summer Market is a tradeshow. It’s where buyers, customers, and industry leaders gather to discuss the intersection of land, sea, and sky- all the places where we play, create and imagine. We are encouraged that the design teams who make the gear that we use to enjoy and challenge our relationship with Earth possess a great understanding of greening supply chains. Many kudos to standout companies such as Patagonia, Adidas, and Saltwater Brewery that are leading and collaborating in the effort.
Many themes at this show resonated with us, but what especially stood out was the very dynamic demographic that attends Outdoor Retailers. It is stacked with true disruptors. Real life, eco-warrior Doug Peacock (the basis for Ed Abbey’s legendary protagonist Hayduke from the Monkey Wrench Gang) set the tone with his keynote advocating the case for civil disobedience in times of need and especially, in the preservation of the wild. Peacock’s comment about what gives him a sense of hope is “the hearts and minds of some really good human beings…who care about their communities and care beyond their own species.” What is apparent is that the OR audience is more and more willing to radically look at business-as-usual and follow through with fundamental changes in practice.
One shining example of this is Outdoor Retailers’ stance on waste. No single-use plastic is allowed at the conference. This is a high bar for all eco-minded conferences, and frankly highlighting the irony of other such conferences where you can’t recycle anything, and where no thought is given to the amount of plastic trash generated some food and product samples. With this simple effort, Outdoor Retailers is defying the status quo of these industry events, and setting the new standard. We expect that others will soon follow suit.
Our Patagonia-hosted event on the second day of OR was a two-part panel, led by Lewis Perkins of the Apparel Impact Institute and Elizabeth Whitlow, the ROA’s executive director, to expand the conversation of the ROC with a panel on supply chains and regenerative organic agriculture. The role that the ROC plays in this is keen- as we continue to roll out, we will be able to openly share ROC certified supplies with those who can and will integrate them into their supply chains. The take-aways were enthusiastic and productive:
The ROC panel was such a unique conversation at Outdoor Retailer as brands from multiple sectors spanning apparel, food, and personal care products shared their perspectives on regenerative agriculture and how collaboration across brands and industries can drive this work forward rapidly and efficiently.
I’m incredibly excited about Timberland’s ongoing work to develop regenerative supply chains for leather, cotton, and rubber and look forward to exploring additional opportunities for us to collaborate with pioneering brands in this space. For example, could Timberland work with Dr. Bronner’s to support regenerative palm oil and eventually use it in our bio-based outsoles? This is a really exciting proposition that wasn’t on our radar prior to this session and I can’t wait to dig into it further.”
– Zachary Angelini, Manager – Environmental Stewardship, Timberland
There were endless romantic and pragmatic reflections generated from and at OR. Here are a few others to check out:
- Patagonia and Dr. Bronner’s hosted another panel in “Venture Out,” an area dedicated to B Corps, new start-ups, and all manner of ecologically minded companies. Organized by infinitely beautiful Range, we heard from David Bronner and Birgit Cameron on a panel called Impact Friendly Adventure.
- Patagonia celebrating all things ROC and promoting the upcoming ROC cotton collection
- Adidas’ partnership with Parley to transform plastic waste removed from oceans into shoes
- Saltwater Brewery’s video announcing the debut of edible beer can rings. In their words, “Beer is a good vessel…it gets people to listen.”
ROC Pilot Update
The function of the ROC Pilot is to put the entire standard into practice. This is a celebration of the hard work of multiple entities from the certifiers, the auditors, NSF, producer representatives. Moreso, this is a celebration of all the hard work of farmers across the globe – from family farmers to smallholders to grower groups, representing commodities that have the power to shift supply chains.
Of recent successful developments including onboarding more certification bodies, and scheduling summer audits, most notable is the formation of Social Task Force and Animal Welfare Task Force. Both had their first meetings this week. Each group is balanced, comprised of experts in their fields, all stakeholders working collaboratively under the guidance of an impartial Chair. The structure and process we have built will provide transparency and credibility to support the success and integrity of the ROC program.
These task forces will work in two phases. The first is to create a list of potential deviations needed from the framework because the specific criteria point may be a potentially insurmountable barrier. The second phase will be conducted after the pilots are completed so that recommendations can be made for the ROA board and a comprehensive update to the ROC framework can be made.
Pigs and Weathering the Storm
Bailey Garrot / images
“Well, just look at a pig’s face,” instructs Kylan Hoover, swine manager at White Oak Pastures. We’re standing next to the fence lining the border forest, watching the herd of pigs that had come running over at Kylan’s confident approach. He’s got one foot propped up on the fence, his hands gesturing toward the pigs crowding around.”See how there’s a flat disc up front, their nose? Think about their face as a shovel. The top of the disc is the cutting edge, the disc is the bottom side of the shovel.”
Kylan starts to mimic a shovel with his hands. “When pigs root, looking for food, they do a scooping movement.” He sighs and drops his arms. “Do you see it? A pig’s basic movement is tilling the soil.”
Kylan is part of the management team at White Oak Pastures, an operation known for practicing and advocating holistic, regenerative land management practices. “Regenerative agriculture” is no simple thing – keeping the life in the soil intact requires a lot of moving parts. In a regenerative pasture system, you’re trying to build a diverse ecosystem of different kinds of perennial polycultures. You’re wanting resilient, established root systems in the ground. You’re working to sequester carbon in the organic matter in the soil, keeping the nutrients and minerals you already have in the ground as well. All of this usually means… avoiding tillage.
“It’s tricky to use pigs instead of cows in your regenerative rotation, because pigs are a destructive event.” Kylan looks back at the pigs. “So we’re out here trying to regenerate the soil, keep the tilth, the bacteria, mycelium, etc intact – and if pigs were on the pasture, they would turn over the soil and bake it in the sun.”
White Oak Pastures is usually associated with cattle. Will Harris III had inherited a conventional commodity cattle operation. During Will’s return toward holistic, “radically traditional” agriculture over the last 20 years, cattle remained the backbone of the operation. But that growth toward regenerative practices also grew the number of species living on the farm. Today, over 10 species make up a verifiable ecosystem of different kinds of animal impact – including herds of pigs.
But while feral pigs roam all over south Georgia (and an individual hog can cause an enormous amount of destruction by itself), domestic pigs can cause an even bigger impact when concentrated in herds. So most people ask: where do you put a herd of pigs, to limit their damage?
For Kylan, and White Oak Pastures, it’s not always a question of limiting the destruction that pigs can do – it’s asking, “where can their intense damage be helpful?” Because pigs, in their role as system disruptors, may actually reveal the strong relationship between soil regeneration and ecological – and community – resiliency.
This is the 3rd installment of Bailey and Corinne’s investigative and narrative storytelling will continue,
a special feature we are proud to support. You can catch the ones you missed on their website, Shared Plates.
The truth will set you free… but when?
This carving is one of a few panels that struck a chord as I departed the OTA’s Organic Week this month. I contemplated these carvings on Union Station, the second of which declared “the truth shall set you free.” Regenerative practices are proving themselves out as a true solution to the greatest human-induced environmental problems of our time. I thought about how, as we make our way with our first audits, we are endeavoring a human thought through the ether that serves not a political country, but the healing of Earth. How we are also endeavoring a human thought that will in fact heal Earth.
Last week, the ROA joined forces with 180 other organic supporters in the nation’s capital for the OTA’s Organic Week, with a focus on advocacy for organic food. The goal was (and still is) to advocate on behalf of the organic consumers and farmers across the country. We applaud the OTA’s excellent job in comprehensively preparing advocates with well-researched and strategic talking points as well as in choreographing the eager advocacy teams all over Capitol Hill. We knocked on doors, shared the good word of the ROC, and met with policymakers. We also felt the ROC is being well received and supported by key members of the organic community. If you’d like to see where the USDA organic standard is today, The Rodale Institute has created a comprehensive assessment to support understanding and clarification.
Flying west across the country bore evidence of a Midwest deep underwater and fills the heart with despair. There seems to be no relief in sight for these farms. Added to this recent reports of sea water rising in coastal farming communities, combined with the ill effects of industrial farming, in the southeast and the subsequent salinization of their soil have devastated these regional farming economies. The climate crisis is not coming in 12 years. It is here, and NOW.
Proof of dire conditions is being met with proof of solutions as the regenerative movement is quickly taking hold across the globe. Regenerative organic farming practices can solve these problems now. Healthy regeneratively farmed soil sequesters up to 30% more carbon than conventional chemically farmed land. Regeneratively farmed soil has the capacity to retain 40% more water than conventional chemically farmed land. You can witness this in Biggest Little farm, a magnificent film that is premiering across the country right now, sharing the story of ROC Pilot Apricot Lane Farms, and how proprietors John and Mollie Chester transformed a virtually infertile former citrus farm in Southern California into a rich ecosystem engaging soil restoration, rewilding, and over 70 fruit varietals, to name a few.
Truth: We are focusing on solutions. Right now. And that includes the conclusion of our first ROC Pilot audits in Nicaragua. Read on for reflections on that experience. As tornadoes descend upon the heartland and floodwaters refuse to abate as seas continue to rise, so too will our efforts to mitigate and reverse these crises. And so may it be so, that the desert blossoms as the rose.
We are grateful to have you on the journey with us.
Elizabeth Whitlow & the ROC Team
Executive Director, ROA
ROC Pilot audits have begun.
We’ve just returned from our first audits for the ROC Pilot Program among the tropical fruit growing regions around Masaya in southeastern Nicaragua. The area is unique for beginning our regenerative organic audits as it boasts multiple soil varieties in the shadow of an active volcano. The region also has a long dry season and very little-to-no infrastructure for irrigation or household water delivery. That said, we found regenerative organic practices producing bountiful fertility despite the odds, along with insightful learnings that will improve the ROC Standard.
The nature of the ROC Pilot is that we collaborate with all the different entities that make a successful audit: from Certification Bodies to the smallholders and their related co-ops to the brands that are supplied. That said, we are hyper-focused onquality outcomes. This will always be tantamount to pushing or rushing the critical process of the ROC audit.
Our accreditation process is admittedly rigorous and we are aiming for comprehensive, thorough reviews of each submission. Not simply rubber stamping to get to a label on pack, the ROC looks towards the deeper conversation that sets forth further innovation in the field alongside key performance indicators. Another learning is the need to develop more field training around regenerative organic concepts which we are working on closely with Rodale and new prospective partners.
The Return of a Generation
Robyn O’Brien, in a recent episode of Regenerative Voices, a podcast created by At The Epicenter, shared the key point that we’ve lost a “generation of food education” when talking about how we have been distant with what is in our food and how it’s made.
Despite that loss, we are now seeing a great return to the land. We recently attended the Founders dinner for the Grassfed Exchange. What amazed us was how many ranching families traveled with their children, and how many young adults are coming back to the farm, with credit to new opportunities to farm and ranch regeneratively. This note is only one of many underscores that the diversity of farmers and ranchers is beginning to diversify. The next generation has arrived, and they are interested in and actively implementing regenerative and organic practices.
One example is our Pilot Participant Alexandre Family Farm who also attended the Grassfed Exchange, along with folks from Armonia, who are ardent supporters ofBreathe Deep Farm, another Pilot that we will be entering into audits in the coming weeks and months.
Listen to Robyn’s podcast here.
Blue and Green and White
Corinne Kocher / words
Bailey Garrot / images
When Will Harris inherited the family farm, he started with around 1,000 acres. In the years since, transitioning toward regenerative agriculture, he started buying up other farms in the area as land became available. Today, White Oak Pastures owns around 3,000 acres of pasture.
Much of the farmland that the Harris family acquires was previously commodity row crop land that had been used to grow peanuts, corn, and soybeans for years. If you’re starting with fertilizer-dependent, monoculture-designed, raw, cracked, low-organic-matter soil – and your business is based on perennial pasture – well, what do you do?
“You kickstart the cycles with animal impact.” Will’s talking about White Oak Pastures’ process of “hay bombing”.
Hay bombing is less dramatic than it sounds. A herd of 2,000 or so cows, calves, and bulls stay in a field for an extended period of time. They are fed 40 bales of hay a day, in addition to the pasture grazing. In the first field we looked at, the herd had been there from December through March.
Cattle are an especially powerful tool, because they are, in Will’s words, a “walking fermentation tank”. The cattle eat, defecate, and knead any leftover hay into the ground with their hooves. When they’re done, the field is stripped bare – it is brown, and ugly.
But this walking fermentation tank technique provides a powerful kickstart to the ecosystem. After the cattle move to new pasture, the field is planted with perennial grass. There is plenty of rich, natural fertilizer available for the seeds, and the topsoil is craving some ground cover.
Changes happen slowly. The first year, a number of annuals take advantage of the newly disturbed soil, but some perennial grasses take root as well. The next year, the process may be repeated – perennials are planted, annuals shoot up early looking to overtake them, and cattle are used to mow them down. The proportion of perennial grasses grows again.
Year after year, the process is repeated, refined, and changes start to happen. The fly population that initially exploded starts to decline, because as the perennial plants start to take over, ecosystems friendly to predator insects return too. The plant species mix shifts. Water percolation in the pasture starts to improve as the organic matter in the soil increases, which boosts perennials and their deep roots.
“You can see animal tracks, and feces start to appear too,” explains Will. As perennial pasture starts to take over, more wild animals start to move in tangent with the pastured ruminants. Watching the white cattle egrets mingling with one of Will’s herds, I ask Will what indicators of health he looked for in his land, the large vital signs that indicated the pasture was doing well.
He lists a long list of things that you can measure, from water percolation to grass species per square foot, and then finally just points to the cattle egrets. “It’s signs of life. This place is teeming with life.”
Read more here.
Over the next two newsletters, Bailey and Corinne’s investigative and narrative storytelling will continue, a special feature we are proud to support. You can catch the ones you missed on their website, Shared Plates.
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.
… 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.
ROC Book Club: The B Corp Handbook
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.
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.
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?
- 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?
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!
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.
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.
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!
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,
Executive Director, ROA
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™.
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.
Download Participant Handbook
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.
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.
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.