“One teaspoon of healthy soil has more living things than people on the planet,” stated Diana Martin, Communications Director at the Rodale Institute, commencement of our new monthly webinar series called “The Regenerative Shift” focused on regenerative agriculture practices and climate change solutions. Despite the degraded and, often, an undervalued resource of topsoil, panelists including Ben Falk, Founder of Whole Systems Design; Tom Morphew, Founder of Full Circle Farms Sussex; and Katharine Millonzi, Director of Millonzi Consulting, all offered an optimistic outlook for regenerative agricultural methodologies and how travelers can play a positive role in the process.
Making it “Less Bad” Isn’t Good Enough
According to the United Nations, the world is on track to deplete its total sum of topsoil in 60 years. What takes mother nature thousands of years to create, providing our food with nutrients and sequestering carbon, has been extracted without thought. One of the primary factors contributed to this mass mining has been the rise of industrial agriculture with its heavy use of pesticides, monocropping, and tillage. “The writing is on the wall. We have to move beyond sustainability just to sustain our current approach and our current trajectory. It doesn’t get us to a place anyone wants to be in. It’s not viable, it’s not good enough,” Falk argued. Rather, it is regenerative agriculture, Falk explains, when surplus is created, systems are improved, and one is ultimately putting more back into the land than what is mined, which will help mitigate the ecological destructive practices.
Putting regenerative farming into practice, Morphew illustrated how on Full Circle Farms the process is all about letting nature take over. “We mix animal waste with food waste and we cook it up in a system and put that combo straight back into the land and allow nature to do its thing…when people see how simple that system is, the produce you can get from it, and the taste of that produce, then all of a sudden it kind of clicks and it makes sense with people you don’t mess around with stuff, leave it to be as natural as possible.”
The Human Element in Regenerative Agriculture
A key component of regenerative agriculture, which all panelists agreed was crucial to propel regenerative farming and agritourism forward, was the human element of involvement. As food anthropologist, Millonzi describes in regards to industrial agricultural practices, humans are mostly removed from the process, but with “regenerative frameworks you can’t separate humans from the environments with which they live.” The experience of seeing firsthand how regenerative farming practices successfully aid in restoring and rebuilding the land is a powerful tool for engagement and understanding. “The quality of our understanding of these regenerative systems and solutions is really based on the quality of our personalized relationships to them.” Millonzi further explained, “in order to meet these challenges we need to be connected.” It is then, when the tangible agritourism experience is met, the “cadre of ambassadors” for change emerges.
Farm hospitality experiences and agritourism offerings can act as a powerful tool to create a regenerative mindset shift. “I had the opportunity to interview hundreds of stakeholders and farmers that were involved with agritourism in Hudson Valley, New York,” Millonzi shares. “What emerged out of that research was that there was a range of benefits to hosts and guests who are seeking experiences on regenerative farms. They were seeking really a sense of that connection. They knew they needed to turn to nature to find it and they knew that farms were a good place to start. This is not unusual, as humans, we’ve often turned to nature as a healing environment. What we’re witnessing now in travel is a trend back towards that type of conscious understanding of nature as a place of restoration. Conscious hospitality on farms is now offering a range of opportunities for people to have a participatory travel experience.”
A Hopeful Farming Future
Despite the general higher upfront costs and longer return timeframe, regenerative farming’s opportunity to create engagement with travelers as a lived experience, will perpetuate its demand. Millonzi believes, as a result, investment will follow and further enlarge the movement. Morphew illustrates destinations can start with what they already have at their disposal for regenerative farming practices. “It doesn’t have to be restricted to having lots of land. I’d like hotels and resorts to look at what they have around them, and then start to utilize those spaces to grow some of their own fruits and vegetables and put it back into resort. As the saying goes, if you build it they will come. People will want to come and be involved in that process, learn about that process.”
Even those in urban environments can find opportunities in the form of rooftop gardens to play a role in protecting people and the planet. As Falk mentioned, once travelers return “we have to take as much of that experience as possible and compound it and multiply it into our own daily lives at home,” further cultivating an agritourism future full of bounty.
Missed the webinar? Rewatch the webinar on ‘Creating living ecosystems with regenerative agritourism to combat climate change‘ here.