When grocery shopping, you want good food at good prices. While organic foods are a good choice to benefit your health, foods that are grown using regenerative farming practices provide the best boost for the health of the planet and your family. Regeneratively grown foods avoid the use of synthetic fertilizers and tilling to create healthy soils that also sequester carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
Regenerative food products aren’t easy to find in stores. But their availability is growing, as I learned from implementing regenerative farming in cooking oil production at La Tourangelle, my family-owned artisan food company.
What Is Regenerative Farming and Why Is It Important?
Regenerative farming is a holistic land management practice. It employs techniques such as crop rotation, cover cropping, composting, animal pasturing in rotation with crops, and a complete absence of tilling. These techniques help combat climate change by capturing carbon in the soil while producing nutritionally dense crops.
While traditional agriculture plays a significant role in contributing to climate change, regenerative farming helps solve the problem. Regenerative farming prioritizes soil health and in turn, improves soil fertility and carbon cycles, reduces soil erosion and water pollution, improves water-holding capacity in the soil, and produces healthier crops, increased yields, and vibrant microbial communities.
The National Academy of Sciences estimates that — with proper land management — soil can draw down 250 million metric tons of carbon dioxide-equivalent greenhouse gases every year. “Soil is one of the earth’s greatest carbon sinks, thanks to photosynthesis and microbes,” according to the National Resources Defense Council.
La Tourangelle’s Regenerative Sunflower Oil
After learning about regenerative farming, I looked for suppliers eager to partner with our brand but came up empty. I could not find anyone in the US engaged in the farming and processing of regenerative oilseeds — despite the formidable number of companies that play in agriculture; 100 million acres of oilseeds are planted in America alone, according to the US Department of Agriculture.
After much research, our team partnered with Park Farming Organics, a pioneer in the organic and regenerative farming movement for two decades. We paid the family-owned farm a premium to grow 30 acres of sunflowers to create our first Regenerative Sunflower Oil. Sunflowers enrich soil health and add more diversity of roots and microbes to the soil, according to The Nature Conservancy, making the crop ideal for regenerative farming.
Following the success of our first regenerative crop and the introduction of La Tourangelle Regenerative Organic Sunflower Oil in early 2021, we planted 45 acres at Park Farming in summer 2021. We have now sold over 45,000 cans of organic regenerative sunflower oil. We plan to plant 66 acres over the summer of 2022, and I hope to grow 250 acres in 2023.
With innovations like this sunflower oil, existing distribution chain lines in Walmart, Costco, and Amazon, and products sold in over 30 countries, we believe this product and others like it are part of the solution to the environmental crisis.
The Potential Global Impact of Regenerative Farming
Cooking oils are just one food product that could make big change by using regenerative farming practices — if scaled and priced to sell to the masses. When farmed using conventional methods, oilseeds are a large-scale mono-crop. Overly relating on chemicals and artificial agriculture, they contribute to global warming and pollution. But if just 1% of all oilseeds grown in the US were grown using regenerative farming practices, it could make a huge climate impact.
It is not just our company that is embracing regenerative farming. PepsiCo has a 2030 goal to spread regenerative farming practices across 7 million acres. The company estimates that this will eliminate 3 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions by the end of the decade. Other companies investing in regenerative agriculture include General Mills, Nestle, Kellogg, and Danone. A white paper issued by Rodale Institute in September 2020 touts that regenerative agriculture could sequester 100% of annual carbon emissions.
What’s Next and What Can We (as Consumers) Do?
Farming is guided by consumer preferences and public policy. We need a farm bill that rewards regenerative farming and builds a support system to help farmers embrace new techniques. We also need brands to take a leading role in explaining to consumers why they support regenerative farming. Brands need to meet farmers and express support for their actions. If farmers can find a market for their regenerative crop, they will get on board. Consumers need to prioritize buying regenerative food products and ask their grocers to stock these items.
As consumers, we can keep a lookout for product certifications. Although at present there is no single way to determine if a product was farmed using regenerative practices, a recent wall street journal piece notes that “… a few certifications have materialized to help consumers sort fact from fiction.” They include the Land to Market label from the Savory Institute, which measures “actual environmental impacts of a farming operation, rather than stipulating certain practices” such as the prohibition of pesticides and fertilizers. There is also Regenerative Organic certification from the Regenerative Organic Alliance, considered the “gold standard for validating regenerative claims.”
Given regenerative farming’s potential to combat climate change, it is crucial to learn where and how our food is farmed. Ask grocers and brands to display information about the farming practices used to produce their products. When possible, buy from grocers and retailers who disclose where and how the food they sell is made. Such information can help us select food that aligns with our values.
Just as shoppers might look for an organic label, we hope one day to find food bearing a regenerative logo.
About the Author
Matthieu Kohlmeyer is a natural food entrepreneur based in Berkeley, California. After graduating from business school in France, he moved to California to start La Tourangelle in 2002. La Tourangelle is a maker of quality oils, dressings, and nut butters located in Woodland, California.