At Whole Foods Market, regenerative agriculture describes holistic farming and grazing management practices that improve soil, enhance biodiversity and increase carbon capture. A growing movement, the term is popping up everywhere, including in our 2020 food trends. Learn more about our support for regenerative agriculture and how we’re working with farmers, ranchers, scientists and experts across the food industry.
What Is Regenerative Agriculture?
While the term “regenerative agriculture” can have many definitions, in general it describes farming and grazing practices that improve soil, enhance biodiversity and increase carbon capture. Also known as carbon sequestration, this process involves capturing and storing carbon dioxide in soil to help prevent it from entering our atmosphere. Ultimately, these efforts can create long-lasting environmental benefits such as positively impacting climate change.
“Regenerative agriculture is the best investment we can make for ourselves and future generations.”
—Tim LaSalle, Cofounder, Center for Regenerative Agriculture & Resilient Systems
LaSalle adds, “The FAO at the United Nations has stated that we have 60 harvests left on this planet. That’s because we continue to degrade and lose soil. When we think in terms of how our food system would look if it was regenerative, how our planet would look when we’re regenerating our soils, our cropping systems would be much more diverse.” Farmers, producers, academics, government agencies, retailers and more are now taking a closer look at how to use land and animal management practices to improve soil health and sequester or capture carbon.
Soil Health: At the Root of Everything
Regenerative agriculture and soil health are closely related. Whether it’s increasing soil fertility to maximize harvest, minimize erosion, prevent nutrient runoff, enhance biodiversity or attract native pollinators, nourishing our soil comes with plenty of benefits. For regenerative agriculture, well-nourished soil can be more effective at capturing carbon from the earth’s atmosphere.
Soil Health Principles
Regenerative agriculture practices fall within five basic principles. These principles, along with tools to measure improvement, represent the foundation of farming and ranching practices that improve soil health.
Diversity & Biodiversity: Increase the variety of life forms in and around the soil, including microbial, flora and fauna.
Minimize Soil Disturbance: Decrease the amount of physical (tillage) and chemical (inputs) disturbance to the soil ecology.
Living Roots: Maintain a living root system year-round to promote an ongoing soil ecosystem.
Keep Soil Covered: Maximize soil cover to protect against erosion and improve water retention.
Livestock Integration: Integrate strategic rotational grazing and other animal-management practices to improve soil fertility through increased microbial density and organic matter (i.e., manure).
Our Commitment to Regenerative Agriculture
Working with suppliers, scientists, experts and other committed organizations, we’re learning how regenerative agriculture can help evolve the growing, harvesting and producing of crops for food and other products. We are committed to supporting and elevating regenerative agriculture and the farmers and ranchers who focus on soil health. We’re also taking action to help maintain the integrity of the term “regenerative” in the industry and for consumers.
“I think if we all get up and do the work, we can change the way the agricultural system runs in our country.”
—Ann Marie Hourigan, Quality Standards Principal Advisor for Agricultural Programs at Whole Foods Market
How We’re Supporting Regenerative Agriculture
At Whole Foods Market, we’re focusing in areas where our expertise and resources can best serve our shoppers, our suppliers and the growing regenerative agriculture industry as a whole.
For our shoppers, we’re reviewing labels and requiring either third-party certification or substantive information about soil health. This helps us to know if the products we sell with regenerative language on their packaging actually support regenerative agriculture in their practices.
Supporting Third-Party Certifications
Third-party certifications are an important aspect of any agricultural movement to provide a level playing field for producers and a strong, trustworthy understanding for consumers. Certifications for regenerative agriculture are rare and vary greatly in their approach, but we engage with the few existing certifiers frequently and value their pioneering contributions. At the same time, we are actively supporting several independent organizations in their efforts to develop more certifications that will help grow the regenerative agriculture landscape and provide more options for suppliers.
Encouraging Our Suppliers
We’re helping suppliers by providing information about regenerative agriculture and encouraging more of them to move in that direction. We’re also listening and learning from them as they share their efforts and successes in improving soil health. We support our suppliers that incorporate regenerative practices, such as MegaFood supplements, Cowgirl Creamery cheese and Bonterra wines.