Have you heard the term “regenerative farming” and wondered what it meant to you and your family? With all the different terms swirling around food today, it can be difficult to keep track. But regenerative farming is one term that can make a big difference to our planet if more people embrace and support it.
Regenerative farming has been described as a philosophy, rather than a strict set of rules. It’s a way of working the land to support the health and renewal of the farm’s ecosystem. Regenerative farming also supports human health. There are many benefits to farming the way we do:
- No synthetic pesticides. Farmer Al switched to organic farming in 1988. That means we only use organically-approved plant protection products (pesticides, fungicides, and fertilizers). No one on our farm team is exposed to synthetic chemicals when they come to work. And our customers have peace of mind that the fruits they share with their families are free of synthetic pesticide residues.
- Undisturbed soil. While some farms till their orchards throughout the year to keep the weeds down, we only till when we are planting a new orchard. On average, this happens once every 20 to 30 years. Tilling opens the soil for planting, but it also shatters the texture and structure and destroys microbial communities. Tilled land is not as resilient because it can’t hold as much water. Tilling also contributes to runoff, which can lead to flooding. Rain simply slides away because the surface is so smooth.
- A vibrant soil environment. We intentionally plant cover crops and we let volunteer plants grow wild and free! The root structures of these grasses wriggle into the soil, opening it to air, beneficial insects and… WATER! Cover crops grow roots that create billions of pathways in the soil. Microbes use these pathways to cycle nutrients through our ecosystem. We wouldn’t dream of breaking these cycles with heavy farm equipment! When the grasses get too long, we simply mow them and let the cuttings sit on the surface, where they eventually turn to mulch that feeds the soil.
- Soil that lessens the impact of climate change. When our soil is covered with plant life, those plants draw carbon dioxide and water out of the atmosphere through tiny holes in their leaves, stems, and roots. The plants use the sun’s energy to synthesize that carbon and water into food the plants need to grow. Whatever the plant doesn’t need for growth is exuded through its roots and feeds the microorganisms that live in the soil. This is how soil captures and stores atmospheric carbon to lessen the effect of climate change. On average, our established orchards store 29 tons of carbon per acre. On a farm scale, that translates to 7,540 tons of carbon stored in our soil, or the equivalent of taking 1,678 passenger vehicles off the road for a year.
- Composting to build our soil and reduce food waste. We nurture compost windrows with wood chips from tree branches, fruit we can’t use, spent coffee grounds, horse bedding, and shredded cardboard. Compost feeds our trees with the carbon and nitrogen they need to produce delicious fruit. It also builds up the soil, improving its overall structure and tilth.
We received an amazing amount of rainfall in Brentwood this winter – 30 inches compared to the typical 9 inches from previous years. All that moisture was stored in our spongy soil, which meant we started irrigating about 1 month later this year. Our regenerative practices, combined with the heavy rainfall, have cut our water usage by 38 percent this year (measured through July).
So, as the world powers through the latest heat wave, we are marveling at the resilience of our soil and trees as we sink our teeth into a juicy peach. Our regenerative farming practices have made our farm more resilient in the face of climate change.
The long-term dedication to regenerative farming, and the care we take to work with Mother Nature – rather than against her – is visible and palatable. We all reap the rewards when we prioritize resilient soil and a healthy planet. And we can all lessen the impacts of climate change with the decisions we make in the marketplace.