At The Chef’s Garden, we fully embrace regenerative farming practices and have done so for decades. Our goal, in fact, is to farm as well as our grandparents and great-grandparents did when they optimized and balanced the physical, biological, and chemical health of their soil.
But what specifically does regenerative farming involve and why is it so important?
First, this type of farming goes beyond sustainable agriculture, which places a focus on keeping the ecosystem stable. Because we practice regenerative farming, we aren’t satisfied with maintaining the status quo. Instead, we want to continue to improve the health of our soil to grow the most flavorful and nutritious fresh vegetables possible.
Healthy soil. Healthy crops. Healthy people. Healthy planet.
An article by the Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources at Washington State University lists several regenerative principles at the heart of how we farm. They include to:
Minimize or eliminate tillage
Protect the soil
The first principle is defined simply as using the “least amount of mechanical disturbance possible” and we follow that practice. For the next two steps, we grow crops on only one third of our fields each season to focus on rebuilding soil on the other two; strategically plant cover crops to build up our soil’s health; and use a diverse group of cover crops to maximize results.
In short, we farm in harmony with Mother Nature. We treat our soil as its own treasured crop.
Role of Cover Crops
Cover crops aren’t grown for people to enjoy. They aren’t grown for animals to eat. Instead, their sole purpose is to feed, protect, and enrich the soil. Soil has its own ecosystem and requires healthy microbes for its own health—and when soil is microbe-active in a positive way, plenty of the bad stuff can’t take hold. Crops planted in this healthy soil develop strong immune systems and are less susceptible to disease or damage by insects.
Examples of cover crops we use include alfalfa, buckwheat, oats, rye, and sorghum. We plant these cover crops and then tend them for a reasonably short amount of time. If using oats, for example, we will monitor them until the plants are six to eight inches above the soil. We then gently work those oats into the soil, which will both feed the soil and control weeds. This process is repeated as many times as necessary for optimal soil health.
Once we’re fully satisfied with that stage of our regenerative farming, we lay out beds for vegetables we plan to grow. We closely watch these beds because we want weeds to germinate but not emerge from the ground. Then, we shallowly work the ground to disturb the weed hairs. Being too assertive at this stage would be counterproductive because it would bring up more weed seeds. If we wait too long, then it’s more challenging to destroy the weeds.
By handling this stage just right—not too aggressively but not too passively; not too early but not too late—we get rid of the weeds’ white root hairs as they dry out in the wind. This step, like the first one, is repeated as often as necessary.
We care for our soil in this way because, as Bob Jones Jr. notes, “Soil is a living, breathing organism just like we are, and you have to treat it as such. It needs food, air, and water to be able to be productive. And, if you really want it to be productive, you’ve got to give it rest. The same things we need.”
He adds the following: ““This process allows us to have far less competition from weeds. And, even more important for chefs, this 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 for chefs without harming the land for future use.”
Isn’t That Lots of Work?
Short answer: Yes.
A bit longer answer: The use of cover crops and other regenerative farming techniques involves several steps and plenty of physical labor.
And, finally, a longer one: All life begins in the soil. Without building up healthy soil, nothing else we do in farming matters all that much—because we don’t want to just grow vegetables.
We want—and do—grow healthy crops that are nutrient dense and bursting with flavor.
We want to farm without harming the land for future use.
We want to do the right thing—simply because it’s the right thing to do.
Farm-Fresh Vegetables Available Today
Chefs, we encourage you to see what delicious farm-fresh produce we have available now by browsing our site and contacting your product specialist. As soon as we receive your order, we’ll head to the field, harvest your produce, and get it on its way.
Home cooks, you can have your boxes of fresh vegetables delivered directly to your front door. You’ll receive a selection of seasonal, nutrient-dense, flavor-rich food that will revolutionize your kitchen.