Power of Regenerative Farming: From the Planet to the Plate
You may have heard the term “pay it forward.” In general, it means that someone performs a kind act—and not because he or she expects to receive an act of kindness in return.
No. Instead, when you pay it forward, you simply do what’s right because it’s the right thing to do, and because it can make a positive difference in the world.
This concept has been popular enough that a book was written about it, with April 28th being designated each year as the International Pay it Forward Day.
At The Chef’s Garden, we love this philosophy—and we give a double thumbs up to this description of the concept: “To show each other that we care and that there is love, hope and magic all around us.”
And, through the act of regenerative farming, we are blessed to be able to pay it forward on April 28—in fact, on each and every day of the year. Through regenerative farming, we have the ability to give back more than we take from Mother Nature while growing vegetables slowly and gently in full accord with nature. This, in turn, empowers us to be able to provide you with the freshest, most delicious and nutritious vegetable possible.
Benefits of regenerative practices in farming are widespread, indeed, from ones of global consequence to those in your personal kitchen. In other words, from the planet to the plate.
The Need for Regenerative Agriculture
In March 2020, a whopper of a collaboration was announced, with the goal being to “accelerate regenerative agriculture in the United States.” Partners include the Conservation Finance Network, Yale's Center for Business and the Environment, The Conservation Fund, and Island Press.
So, what exactly is regenerative farming?
If we could go back more than 100 years in time, techniques used in regenerative farming would simply have been called “farming.” A century ago, though, there began a birth of “large-scale conventional agricultural production” that often included:
Production of a single crop
“heavy use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides”
Tilling that’s been described as “intense”
That, in turn, has led to multiple problems, such as:
“substantial greenhouse gas emissions”
“a decline in soil health, water quality, and biodiversity”
One of the more dire predictions is that, if soil continues to be degraded at today’s rate, then topsoil around the world could be “destroyed within 60 years.”
Benefits of Regenerative Farming
The report from March 2020 shares how regenerative practices and principles are, in sum, a holistic system that focuses on improving natural resources. As we say at The Chef’s Garden, we treat our soil as a treasured crop, and we focus on leaving it in better shape than we’d found it.
Healthy soil contains healthy microbes and we continually focus on culturing those microbes to find additional ways to improve the color, aroma, and flavor of the crops we grow. Because the soil at our farm is microbe-active in a positive way, the bad stuff—such as many types of e. coli bacterium—can’t take hold. And, when crops are grown in this healthy soil, they develop strong immune systems and are less susceptible to disease or damage by insects.
Returning to the March 2020 report: It praises the practices that we use at the farm, including the use of cover crops with minimal tillage, and notes how these practices can create healthy soils, healthy ecosystems, healthy communities, and healthy climates.
More specifically, they note how “Regenerative agriculture could play a key role in solving the climate crisis, offering a possible avenue to sequester carbon.”
More About Cover Crops and Carbon Sequestration
Nearly a year ago, at an event held at the Culinary Vegetable Institute, Bob Jones, Jr. noted how he thought more attention needed to be paid to the benefits of cover crops and carbon sequestration. More specifically, he said the following: “Carbon sequestration is a really big topic that’s ripe for more discussion.”
So, last year, we had a sit-down with him to understand the concept of carbon sequestration in more detail—and to understand how this scientific process plays such a crucial role in regenerative farming.
Here’s an overview, one with sub-headings. If you’re new to this topic, it can make sense to read everything. If you’re more familiar with the subject, you can read the sections that are of interest to you.
What Are Cover Crops?
“Farmers have used cover crops for centuries because they observed that their land was more productive if they grew some sort of plant after they harvested their main crop. They didn’t understand the complex interactions between the sun and the atmosphere and the plants and the soil microbes that we understand now; they just knew it make them more successful.” (The Soil Will Save Us: How Scientists, Farmers, and Foodies Are Healing the Soil to Save the Planet by Kristin Ohlson)
“We want to be as good as farmers were 100 years ago.” (Farmer Lee Jones)
A cover crop is one that isn’t grown for human or animal consumption. Instead, it’s specifically grown to enrich the soil. At The Chef’s Garden, we use a diverse selection of cover crops, including alfalfa, buckwheat, oats, rye, and sorghum to feed and protect the soil. In fact, at any one time, two thirds of our fields have cover crops planted, rather than produce.
The goal of cover crops is to make soil as healthy, vibrant, and alive as possible—in other words, to create an ideal ecosystem for the crops we’ll grow. We plant the cover crops and then tend them until they’re about six to eight inches tall. We then gently work the crops into the soil, which has a dual purpose:
Feed the soil
Naturally control weeds
This process is repeated as many times as necessary. Next, we lay out vegetable beds for the planned crops. We monitor the area for weeds and, before they emerge above the soil, we till the ground—shallowly, though, just enough to disturb weed hairs without bringing up more weed seeds.
By addressing the weeds before they have time to emerge, we can get rid of the roots’ hairs. At this point, they’ll easily desiccate. This process is also repeated as many times as necessary.
Bob, Jr. agrees that these are a lot of steps to go through, ones that involve plenty of physical labor. But it’s the right thing to do.
Why? “This process allows us to have far less competition from weeds and is what allows us to eliminate the need for chemicals. Sure, we could do one quick till and then pour chemicals onto the land, but we’re never about minimum standards. We want to produce healthy, nutrient-dense products without harming the land for future use.”
What is Carbon Sequestration?
Encyclopedia Britannica defines this process as the “long-term storage of carbon in plants, soils, geologic formations, and the ocean . . . In response to growing concerns about climate change resulting from increased carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere, considerable interest has been drawn to the possibility of increasing the rate of carbon sequestration through changes in land use and forestry and also through geoengineering techniques such as carbon capture and storage.”
There are plenty of scientists and researchers who are examining ways to geoengineer carbon capture and storage. At The Chef’s Garden, we focus on optimizing carbon sequestration through regenerative farming techniques, by farming in harmony with Mother Nature—the way farmers did more than 100 years ago.
The Forest Service of the United States Department of Agriculture provides more insights into the process, sharing how the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is “taken up by trees, grasses, and other plants through photosynthesis and stored as carbon in biomass (trunks, branches, foliage, and roots) and soils.”
Putting the Pieces Together
So, now that we’ve got the definition of cover crops—and that of carbon sequestration—we can return to our original concept, found in the title of this post: the power of regenerative farming. In sum:
Cover crops are a key element of regenerative farming.
Cover crops play a crucial role in sequestering carbon in the soil.
Sequestering carbon can help to mitigate climate change.
More specifically, according to Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education: “cover crops have the potential to sequester approximately 60 million metric tons of CO2-equivalent per year when planted across 20 million acres (8.1 hectares), offsetting the emissions from 12.8 million passenger vehicles.”
All of this information clearly shows how regenerative techniques in farming helps our planet. But, what about at your house?
Bringing It Close to Home: Your Meals
“While fruit, vegetables, and whole grains are commonly thought to be high in essential nutrients, the majority of today’s produce and grains are grown in depleted soil, doused with pesticides, and stored for long periods of time (all the while being sprayed with more insecticides and fungicides) before being sold . . . some modern nutritionists believe that, in the midst of all this plenty, many people in the West are starving—for the basic nutrients that were once in our everyday food.” (What’s in This Stuff?)
“Healthy soil = healthy plants = healthy people” (Farmer Lee Jones)
Our use of cover crops and other regenerative practices allows us to maximize the health of our soil so we can provide you with farm-fresh vegetables that are overflowing with flavor and nutrition.
Unfortunately, that’s not the case everywhere. Nutritional deficiencies, in fact, continue to become more alarming, as research that compares 1940 data with that collected in 1991 shows. Here are just some of the findings.
Boiled broccoli has 75 percent less calcium.
Carrots have 75 percent less magnesium, 48 percent less calcium, 46 percent less iron, and 75 percent less copper.
Potatoes have 30 percent less magnesium, 35 percent less calcium, 45 percent less iron, and 47 percent less copper.
Scallions have 74 percent less calcium.
Boiled spinach has 60 percent less iron and 96 percent less copper.
Watercress has 93 percent less copper.
Here’s something else to consider. The 1991 data is now nearly 30 years old, which means that nutritional deficiencies may be much more significant now.
“Isn’t it time to stop this madness and have people return to what nature intended?” (This is what we say when we see data like this.)
Future-Forward Agricultural Research
In 2019, we debuted our new agricultural research facility, one that allows us to efficiently gather information about our soil health, and about nutritional and flavor-influencing factors for the crops we grow. In just a little more than a year, we’ve learned plenty—and we’re still on the ground floor of what we believe is possible.
We’re now focusing even more strongly on soil biology, doing granular research to find incremental places where we can continue to improve, so we can continue to provide you with farm-fresh produce with the maximum of flavor and nutrition.
Yes, we believe that our vegetables are the best-tasting ones available today. And yet, that isn’t going to stop us from sourcing new types of plants to find ones that have better flavor. Ones that have different flavors. Our research team has tested more than 500 plants so far and, out of them, we’ve identified about ten game-changing plants.
Yes, it’s a slow process. Yes, it’s worth every moment.
Home Delivery of Regeneratively Farmed Fresh Vegetables
People are staying closer to home nowadays, which makes the idea of home delivery even more attractive. That’s why we’re offering a range of home delivery boxes, each of them containing farm-fresh vegetables that have been grown and harvested with love. Current availability is as follows:
Best of the Season Box
Summer Vegetable Box
Fresh Tomato Box
Summer Squash Box
Looking for a provision box that contains what you need for a delicious and nutritious meal? Consider these:
Just Add Barilla
Ground Lamb Provision Box
Lamb Loin Chop Provision Box
Kebab Lamb Provision Box
Exquisite Caviar and Vegetable Experience
Also choose from these add-ons.
We Invite You to Pay it Forward
We hope that you order our delicious, farm-fresh vegetables for your family—and we’d also like to encourage you to pay it forward by ordering one or more of these boxes as a surprise for someone else.
If you’re not sure what to buy someone as a gift, consider a gift card.