Rotational grazing. Nitrogen fixing. Cover crops. No-or-minimal-till farming methods. Improved soil fertility, plant and insect biodiversity, and increased soil microbial activity. Mention any of these principles to a farmer (or in-the-know Walden member!), and the term “regenerative agriculture” will immediately be on the mind. What is regenerative agriculture? Regenerative agriculture goes beyond sustainability by encompassing practices that help reverse climate change and rebuild one of our most important resources: our planet’s soil.
What is often excluded from this conversation is where these practices originated. Many believe these practices were created as a response to the negative externalities of conventional farming, in reality, African, Indigenous American, and other cultures across the globe have been using regenerative methods for millennia to farm in harmony with the surrounding environment and protect our ecosystem for future generations.
Oftentimes, these communities are left out of the current conversation. This exclusion fails to show respect to the diverse mosaic of people and cultures that started, innovated on, and adhered to regenerative practices. This stems from many sources, including a dominant-culture centered approach to history telling or deliberate work to silence the voices of these communities. At Walden wanted to take time to recognize these cultures and people that have gifted the field of agriculture an incredible tool: methods to farm in harmony with our planet. Walden’s mission includes supporting the farmers working to ethically raise animals in open pastures as well as act as a steward of our soil. Long before we entered the picture, Indigenous and African communities have been working hard to protect, conserve, and regenerate our land for the next generation.
In our neck of the woods, the Iroquois built diverse crop systems by planting corn, beans, and squash together – a combination known as the “Three Sisters” – that benefits both the plants and the soil. The corn stalks act as a structure for the beans to grow on, while the beans add nitrogen to the soil, and squash acts as shade and helps with evaporation. The large amount of crop residue after harvest is composted back into the soil, helping to build organic matter.
Crop rotation, allowing fields to lie fallow are all practices African cultures used to revitalize planting areas. In the time a field could lie fallow, mature forests would grow that could pull up minerals deep in the soil through deep tree roots. The Ovambo people in Namibia built mounds to control water flow to increase soil fertility.
George Washington Carver, often associated with the peanut, was as equally focused on the benefits of the high protein crop as he was concerned about crop rotation. He was an advocate of methods to regenerate the soil of over-produced cotton fields, using both peanuts to restore nitrogen. Booker T Whatley, an agriculturalist from Alabama, was a regenerative farming advocate, focusing both on regenerating soil and increasing biodiversity. He is also credited with developing the very concept of the CSA (community supported agriculture) upon which Walden’s share model is based.
We have hardly just scratched the surface of information available on this topic as well as how and why Euro-centric viewpoints have historically dominated much of the conversation, leaving little room for the voices of those who are Black, Indigenous, or part of another community of color. The lack of recognition for where these practices come from not only characterize one of many social injustices, but ignores a rich pool of knowledge that will help push regenerative farming forward.
At Walden, we have pledged to do better. Recognizing the injustice – of the communities not given credit in these conversations, and of the systemic inequities that lead to that type of exclusionary conversation – is just a start. Going forward, we hope to engage more with communities and organizations of color. As an initial step, we are increasing donations to nonprofits run by people of color, working to diversify our hiring pool, and working with BIPOC suppliers. We recognize the change starts with ourselves and being open to the conversation in the first place. If you have specific feedback for us, please don’t hesitate to reach out via firstname.lastname@example.org.