What the Heck is Regenerative and What Does it Have to Do with Farming?

June 29, 2020

We hear the word “regenerative” thrown around more and more these days. Similar to its previous iteration “sustainable”, this term has come to reflect an ambiguous concept touted by farmers and eco-enthusiasts alike.

So what is regenerative anyway? In biology, regeneration is defined as “the process of renewal, restoration, and growth that makes genomes, cells, organisms, and ecosystems resilient to natural fluctuations or events that cause disturbance or damage” (courtesy of Wikipedia). In other words, the capacity to weather a storm and come back anew is regenerative. But wait a minute. Doesn’t that make everything alive regenerative? Well, sort of.

First, what does being alive actually mean? So far we know it includes:

Organization

Metabolism

Homeostasis

Growth

Reproduction

Response

Evolution 

But beyond a checklist of features, what is the actual dynamic process behind being alive? Well, to put it simply, it is to be in relationship. To exist in a perpetual state of interplay between one’s own multi-layered complexity and the multi-layered complexity of one’s environment. Hmm. So we are ‘alive’ until we are no longer engaged in this relationship. Until we can no longer act or respond to what is around us of our own volition. But even when we die--from some disturbance or damage--our bodies don’t just vanish into thin air. Nothing made of matter does. Rather, our remains become of service to the multi-layered complexity so that other forms of life can continue, or new forms of life can be created. Note: we are not making a claim as to who or what orchestrates this process.

We can break it down further to say, anyone or anything that is alive is designed and organized to regenerate. And when they can no longer regenerate themselves, their remaining form is used to regenerate other forms of life. We are alive to give new life within and beyond ourselves. That is what makes us regenerative. Make sense? 

Now what the heck does this have to do with farming? Well for starters, farming is the process by which our aliveness interacts with other forms of aliveness in the cultivation of food. This food is comprised of a myriad of life forms--plant, animal, fungi, bacteria, even viruses!--which when eaten and digested (aka damage and disturbance) allow our own life forms to continue their active process of regeneration. So in effect, eating food is a way we consciously experience regeneration on a regular basis. 

So if farming is the cultivation of food that regenerates us, can cultivation itself be regenerative? Absolutely. What this means is that the process of seeding, nurturing, inoculating, and ultimately growing that which then grows us, must embed itself in the naturally-occurring cycles of disturbance and renewal. 

Here on the farm, the animals we raise create the necessary disturbance to the environment to stimulate improved plant growth, increase carbon deposits in the soil versus our atmosphere, encourage soil fertility (think microbe-city), which in turn raises water percolation and retention for clean run-off into our streams. This happens just from our animals doing what they 'doo'--eating and excreting--while being frequently moved around the pasture. Each disturbance and subsequent rest enriches the soil to hold more diverse species of insects and plants, invites more wildlife which increases the abundance of life forms in the multi-layered complexity i.e the health of the farm, and your health as the consumer of this whole process. Your food is rich with absorbable nutrients from the diverse life forms who continue to give of themselves beyond being alive. So that your life can eventually do the same thing. And there you have it, the wonders of regeneration. 

But what about diversity of life forms creating healthier…? Stay tuned, we’ll get to that next time.

Read more posts like this