Editor’s Note: Rose Marcario is the president and CEO of Patagonia. David Bronner is the CEO of Dr. Bronner’s. The opinions expressed in this commentary are their own.
The United Nations released a dire warning recently: Climate change is here and it’s a clear and present danger to our entire planet. Of course, we didn’t need another report to tell us that — we see it in extreme and unusual weather, disappearing wildlife and falling farm yields. But there is one major cause of this global catastrophe that doesn’t get the attention it deserves: industrial-scale chemical agriculture.
Reckless farming practices spurred by mega corporations, like clear-cutting forests and industrial-scale tilling — using machines to mix soil — release massive amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. They also eliminate one of the best ways the earth naturally captures and stores carbon — sequestering it in plants and soil. This signals disaster for our food supply and our planet.
Patagonia and Dr. Bronner’s are supporting an alternative that helps stop and even reverse some of this damage.
It turns out that the traditional and responsible farming practices humans used for centuries before the rise of chemical agriculture are some of the best methods we can use to protect ourselves and the planet. It’s what we now call regenerative organic farming and it’s back-to-basics: Instead of using excessive amounts of fertilizers in vast single-crop fields, farmers can diversify and rotate crops, compost, plant cover crops and reduce tillage. Ranchers should raise animals that are grass-fed and free of antibiotics, added hormones and pesticides in their feed, and live free of cruel confinement conditions and the daily suffering inherent in life on factory farms.
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Researchers at the Rodale Institute say that if all farms and ranches globally used regenerative organic agriculture techniques, 100% of the world’s carbon emissions could be recaptured into the soil within the first year. In other words, this could literally save the world. And over time, as chemically degraded soil starts to come back to life, crop yields from regenerative organic agriculture can outperform conventional methods, meaning we can feed a growing global population without destroying the planet.
We recently attended the Natural Products Expo West in Anaheim, California and were invigorated to see a broad coalition coming together to support regenerative organic agriculture in many different creative ways. This is a movement led by small farmers and ranchers like Dan O’Brien of the Wild Idea Buffalo Company in South Dakota, who grazes his animals on nutrient-rich prairie grasses in patterns that help regenerate the soil, increase biodiversity and sequester carbon. And on the other side of the country, in Bluffton, Georgia, White Oak Pastures, a 152-year old family farm, is focusing on regenerative land management using only sun, soil and rain to grow grass for cattle and rotating complimentary animal species through pastures. Their resulting carbon footprint is 111% lower than conventional beef ranches. To change the way the world farms, and to save our planet, everyone, everywhere needs to do their part.
That’s why our companies have teamed up with a wide range of partners to form the Regenerative Organic Alliance. We’ve created a holistic agriculture certification to incentivize and recognize farming that encompasses pasture-based animal welfare, fairness for farmers and workers, and robust requirements for soil health and land management. Just as the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification has led to nearly 80,000 green building projects since it began, we believe that our Regenerative Organic Certification will encourage more farmers, consumers and suppliers to prioritize the planet. The certification has three pillars:
First is soil health. Healthy topsoil is the foundation of a healthy food system and a healthy planet. We’re supporting farmers who promote biodiversity and remove pesticides and other chemicals from their lands so that we’ll be able to repair the soil we need to live and feed ourselves.
Second is animal welfare. 94% of Americans believe that animals raised for food deserve to live free from cruelty, yet 95% of the nearly 10 billion farm animals in the United States are raised in factory farms under heartbreaking conditions. In regenerative organic farms, all livestock have five freedoms: freedom from discomfort; from fear and distress; from hunger; from pain, injury or disease; and the freedom to express normal behavior.
The last is social fairness. By this, we mean that farm workers deserve living wages, good working conditions, the ability to unionize, transparency and accountability. We all depend on the workers that plant, manage and harvest the crops that feed us, and they should be treated with respect.
There are 21 participants in the Regenerative Organic Certified Pilot Program so far, which puts these practices into action on farms and ranches of various sizes and climates. We expect to have ROC-certified products on shelves by next year, and expect this pilot program will provide important information for consumers and encourage more farmers and ranchers to adopt regenerative organic practices.
We’re also going to do everything we can to pressure the government to stop subsidizing chemical agriculture through corporate giveaways and lax enforcement of environmental regulations. And we’re going to advocate for policies that support small farmers and ranchers who use regenerative organic practices.
Those who deny the climate crisis are using scare tactics and denying science. Let’s fight back together and protect our planet for future generations.