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Regenerative farming vs organic farming

  • Sarah Compson
    Sarah Compson

    Sarah is Associate Director for Standards Innovation at the Soil Association and has been involved in the organic sector for over 17 years. She is an active member of the worldwide organic movement and sits on the IFOAM – Organics International World Board and is chair of IFOAM – Organics Europe’s Interest Group of Organic Processors and Traders.

    When she’s not at work she can be found on her allotment where, amongst other things, she grows herbs for her favourite tea – a blend of lemon balm, lemon verbena, mint and chamomile!

  • 8:06 reading time (ish)
  • Sustainability & Social Welfare

Regenerative agriculture is the new buzz-word in sustainability circles and beyond – including amongst herbalist and other health practitioners – but what’s it all about?

Regenerative farming vs organic farming

There’s a growing enthusiasm and interest in the concept of regenerative agriculture, but also a lot of confusion. Enthusiasm, because what’s not to love about a way of working with the land that claims to lock carbon in the soil, and work with people and planet in mind? Confusion because ‘regenerative’ is subject to wide-ranging interpretations. It’s a term that could equally mean tokenistic changes and business as usual, which leads to nothing more than ‘greenwashing’. Or it can mean a wholesale shift in farming practices that will result in restored ecosystems and sustainable livelihoods. 

For those of us within the organic movement, it’s equally a moment of celebration and trepidation.

Celebration, because the word regenerative is reaching new ears, and if taken seriously and executed properly, it could result in the very same principles and practices that underpin the organic movement, being brought to life. If regenerative helps move our food system in a positive direction for climate and nature, then that’s clearly an excellent result. To that point, there is also trepidation, because if regenerative fails to live up to its most ambitious and progressive claims, it risks distracting the world from the real solutions at a moment in history when we have no time to waste.

At the true heart of both the organic movement and the regenerative movement, we see a similar set of principles, striving for a food system which benefits the world around us. Those who are serious about ‘regenerative’ living up to its true promise tend to be aligned with the organic movement and are often some of organic’s greatest supporters.

The term ‘regenerative’ was first coined in the US by an organic pioneer – Robert Rodale. Regeneration International was set up by Andre Leu – the former president of IFOAM Organics International, which is the umbrella organisation for the worldwide organic movement. Some of the newly emerging academic studies of regenerative farming are being carried out on farms that are already certified organic and being farmed by organic farmers who have a passion for innovation and experimentation. If you read the definition of organic agriculture, it’s so closely aligned with the best of regenerative that they’re virtually synonymous:

“Organic Agriculture is a production system that sustains the health of soils, ecosystems, and people. It relies on ecological processes, biodiversity and cycles adapted to local conditions, rather than the use of inputs with adverse effects. Organic Agriculture combines tradition, innovation, and science to benefit the shared environment and promote fair relationships and good quality of life for all involved.”

Sarah Compson

Sarah is Associate Director for Standards Innovation at the Soil Association and has been involved in the organic sector for over 17 years. She is an active member of the... Read more

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