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Bay and Body-Friendly Agriculture: Regenerative Agriculture

The term “regenerative agriculture” has received a lot of attention in recent years, and for a good reason! Regenerative agriculture is a method of farming and grazing that uses practices that help improve soil quality, restore lost biodiversity, increase nutrients in food, and overall improve the health of our environment. In October’s episode of Chesapeake Farm & Bay to Table we visited Clagett Farm, Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s Regenerative Farm, to learn more about regenerative agriculture.

The History of Regenerative Agriculture

Regenerative agriculture is not a new practice. The term was first coined in the 1980s by the Rodale Institute, but the underlying concept has been around for much longer than even that. For example, Indigenous populations in the United States preserved biodiversity through their farming practices. The National Farmers Union writes about this saying “For hundreds of years, Indigenous Americans have planted more than one crop together in a practice known as intercropping. Intercropping is based on synergy in which the physical aspects of each plant complement one another and improve each other’s health and growth.” In addition to intercropping, water management, and permaculture techniques were used by indigenous populations as well.

Modern farming is said to have begun around the 18th century. During this time, several advancements were made to increase yield and efficiency. Although these practices were beneficial in some ways, like helping to feed a growing population, in many ways they were harmful. For example, the practice of monocropping, which arose in the 20th century, depletes the soil. Since the soil becomes depleted, growers rely on chemical fertilizers. These chemical fertilizers will often wash away with heavy rains, making their way into our waterways and harming our ecosystems. Monocropping is just one of the unsustainable practices used in modern agriculture today. To learn more about other practices, check out this article by Farm Management.

Regenerative Agriculture Practices

We’ve learned about some of the modern farming practices that harm our environment, but what about practices that can benefit our environment? Some common regenerative agriculture practices include cover cropping, conservation tillage, crop rotation, integrating livestock, agroforestry, and intercropping.

Cover cropping is a practice in which crops are grown in the soil in the off-season. Cover crops add organic matter back into the soil, reduce soil erosion, suppress weeds, provide a habitat for beneficial bugs to live, and more. The use of cover cropping improves soil health, increases biodiversity, and reduces erosion. Examples of cover crops include red clover, peas, beans, rye, wheat, barley, oats, forage grasses, and more!

Conservation tillage* is a farming practice that minimizes the negative effects of harvesting by leaving crop residues on the surface of the soil (typically covering 30% or more) after the harvest. Conservation tillage minimizes soil disturbance, reducing erosion and improving soil structure. *Tillage is the preparation of land for growing crops.

Diversifying crop rotations improves soil quality, improves land health, reduces pests, and increases resilience to climate change. This is because different crops have different soil nutrient requirements, root structures, disease associations, and pest problems. By switching up which crops are planted, the soil is able to stay balanced and healthy.

Integrating livestock into the agricultural system improves soil health and fertility, reduces the need for synthetic inputs, and increases biodiversity. This is because manure from livestock can add nutrients back into the soil.

Agroforestry is the process of integrating trees into crop and animal farming practices. The integration of trees through agroforestry improves soil health, increases biodiversity, and reduces the need for synthetic inputs.

Intercropping is the process of growing two or more crops together in the same area at the same time. This not only reduces the risks that are associated with growing only one crop, but it also improves soil health, increases biodiversity, and reduces pest pressure.

By reducing synthetic inputs, conserving soil and water resources, and promoting resilience to climate change, regenerative agriculture offers a path toward a more sustainable future for food production.

How Regenerative Agriculture Is Bay and Body Friendly

Regenerative agriculture is an incredibly important Bay and body-friendly practice! It’s a helpful style of agriculture to adopt everywhere, but particularly important in the Chesapeake Watershed region as our home is the largest estuary in the United States!

Remember how we talked about the fact that modern farming practices allow harmful chemicals to end up in our waterways? We have over 150 streams and rivers that drain into the Chesapeake Bay. That means that these chemicals drain into our waterways, affecting the health of the Bay from miles and miles away!

Still not sold on the shift to regenerative agriculture? We already talked about a lot of benefits, but here are a few more:

Conventional agriculture is a significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, mainly from the use of synthetic fertilizers and tillage practices. Regenerative agriculture reduces these emissions by increasing soil organic matter and reducing tillage, leading to a lower carbon footprint.

By using natural inputs like cover crops and compost, regenerative agriculture reduces the dependence on synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. That's a win for everyone involved! Not only does it lower the exposure of farmers and consumers to harmful chemicals, but it also promotes a healthier environment.

Regenerative agriculture is a true beacon of hope, showing us that we can farm in a way that benefits the earth and all of its inhabitants. By embracing natural inputs, we can create a brighter future for our health, our communities, and our planet.

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