WRITTEN BY: ZOE DUMAS
It’s no secret that Earth’s climate is in a state of crisis. As climate change becomes increasingly evident in our daily lives, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by it all. Though the situation may often feel hopeless, there are viable solutions. Regenerative agriculture is one such possibility.
WHAT IS REGENERATIVE AGRICULTURE?
Building on the work of J.I. Rodale, the founder of the organic movement in America, scientists at both the Regenerative Agriculture Initiative at CSU Chico and The Carbon Underground define regenerative agriculture as such:
“Regenerative Agriculture” describes farming and grazing practices that, among other benefits, reverse climate change by rebuilding soil organic matter and restoring degraded soil biodiversity—resulting in both carbon draw down and improving the water cycle.
Specifically, “Regenerative Agriculture” is a holistic land management practice that leverages the power of photosynthesis in plants to close the carbon cycle, and build soil health, crop resilience and nutrient density.
Put more plainly, regenerative agriculture is an umbrella term that describes the practice of farming with the intention of restoring health to our soil, our food, our bodies, and our planet.
While the innovations of the past revolutionized the way we lived, they have also done unspeakable damage to the planet. In our desire to increase productivity in agriculture, we failed to properly care for the soil that makes such productivity possible. Scientists across the globe argue that regenerative agriculture can be effective in reversing the negative effects of industrialization. By utilizing practices that care for the soil, rather than deplete it, we may have a way to “draw down carbon and mitigate the climate crisis” (Carbon Underground).
BENEFITS OF REGENERATIVE AGRICULTURE
When our soil is healthy, our air is healthy, too. The amount of carbon dioxide in the air has steadily risen for decades, and Earth’s natural processes cannot remove that carbon dioxide at an equal rate. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, natural carbon “sinks” absorb approximately half of the carbon dioxide we emit annually. Scientists with the Carbon Underground argue that restoring soil and shifting to regenerative agriculture will produce more of these sinks, thus being the most effective and immediate way to draw carbon from the atmosphere and back into the ground.
Regenerative agriculture has the potential to change Earth’s future. Though far from the only solution necessary, tending to the health of our soil is vital in the fight against climate change. There are several practices that fall under the umbrella of regenerative agriculture, including limited tillage, increased soil fertility, enhanced biodiversity, and controlled grazing. Each of these plays a significant part in regenerating our valuable soil.
TRENDS IN THE GLOBAL MARKET FOR COFFEE
In its attempt to exponentially increase yield, and therefore, profit, the coffee industry has become a driving force behind our climate crisis, and it’s projected to become even worse. According to Conservation International, producers will need to triple their production by 2050 to meet the estimated demand for coffee; without suitable land to do so, they will convert forests to farmland as they have been doing for decades.
Deforestation is, perhaps, the greatest threat the coffee industry poses to Earth’s climate. Manufacturers continue to destroy forests in their natural habitat to make room for an ever-growing coffee farm. The negative effects of this are two-fold: in removing the trees and underbrush, there is no longer a natural apparatus that mitigates carbon that’s released into the atmosphere. Furthermore, the trees release carbon stored within them back into the atmosphere in one fell swoop, causing further damage
What’s worse: these coffee farms utilize a system called monoculture farming, or monocropping. As the name suggests, this means that farms only grow a single type of crop year after year. Over time, the soil degrades because it is no longer getting the nutrients it needs from the natural flora and fauna, and the lack of biodiversity increases the incidence of pests. To combat these problems while maintaining high and consistent yields, farmers use synthetic fertilizers and pesticides that only contribute further to the problem.
REGENERATIVE AGRICULTURE AND COFFEE FARMS
Agroforestry and other regenerative agricultural practices are essential to reducing, and hopefully reversing, industrial agriculture’s continued harm to the environment. While far from the only thing you can look for when searching for regeneratively-grown coffees, one indicator of quality is the phrase “shade grown.” As the name suggests, these coffees grow in partial or complete shade. The trees providing this shade offer even more to the coffee plant than cooler temperatures: the leaves that fall from these trees mulch the area, acting as a moisture barrier, weed repellent, and insulator. As they decompose, the leaves and other droppings fertilize the soil, making happier, healthier coffee plants (Smithsonian).
At Lanna, we’re proud to say we partner with farms that regenerate, rather than deplete, the planet. Our coffee is shade grown under the forest canopy in Northern Thailand, growing alongside the flora and fauna natural to the area. Furthermore, our farmers only use rainwater for their crops, and they never use pesticides. Thanks to the power of the Earth and the infrastructure supported by your purchase, the Hill Tribes of Northern Thailand can grow incredible coffee that contributes to the health of the planet.
In the short term, implementing these processes is more expensive than continuing with the harmful ones we’ve been using for decades. In the long term, however, regenerative farming may be a vital player in the fight against climate change. If we don’t address climate change now, the cost to counter its negative effects will far outweigh spending meant to reduce or reverse the root problem. While consumers don’t have a say in the actions of any given company, we do have the power to choose businesses that actively promote and engage in the good we want to see in the world. Choosing coffee roasteries that purposefully buy from sustainable, regenerative farms may mean a higher price tag on your favorite bag of beans, but you get to drink your morning joe with the knowledge that its growth didn’t actively harm the planet. Plus, it usually tastes better, too.