Photo and article by Donna Iverson
Of late, the words “regenerative agriculture” keep popping up in gardening literature. Five years ago, the buzz word was “sustainable agriculture.” So what’s the difference? And what’s changed?
Basically, sustainable agriculture is about maintaining the health of the soil while regenerative agriculture is improving the soil health to return it to its original quality. Sustainable agriculture aims at not making things worse. Regenerative agriculture seeks to rehabilitate the soil.
As a gardener, I wonder what principles of regenerative agriculture could be applied to home gardens or community gardens. Digging a little deeper, I found that some of the principles are already practiced by gardeners like me, such as rotating crops. For example: not planting tomatoes in the same soil every year. Other principles routinely practiced are companion planting and avoiding the use of pesticides.
Like regenerative farmers, I plant a diversity of veggies, herbs and flowers in my raised bed. Regenerative agriculture asks farmers to move away from monoculture, like planting all corn or soybeans, and instead plant many plant varieties, including heritage and native plants.
One regenerative principle I don’t practice is not tilling the soil. Apparently tilling the soil has destroyed the health of many an acre of land in this country. Farmers have instead added chemical fertilizer to grow their crops. Now they are asked to forgo tilling and allow livestock to restore the soil with natural fertilizer during the off growing season.
As a community gardener, I usually double dig my bed each spring before planting. This year I didn’t. Instead I will avoid chemical fertilizer by doubling down on compost. My local community garden has compost bins into which we throw dried leaves, grass and kitchen scraps. Mulching with organic compost accomplishes what regenerative farmers are attempting on a larger scale.
But at our next gardening meeting, I may bring up the possibility of purchasing a goat to help regenerate the soil. On the other hand, I think I may be ahead of the curve, as I can already hear neighbors complaining. Guess some serious educating is in order.
Baa, baa, baa.