Agroecology

Regenerative Agriculture Practices

At Azuluna Foods, we believe better food and stronger communities are realized through regenerative agriculture.

By Ryleigh Mullens

At Azuluna Foods, we believe better food and stronger communities are realized through regenerative agriculture. In a world where industrial farming jeopardizes the preservation of our land and its capacity to grow food for future generations, many producers are turning to regenerative agriculture to preserve and restore our land. As a curious consumer, you might be asking yourself, “What does regenerative really mean?”.

Regenerative agriculture is not explicitly defined- it is a science, a practice, and a movement that is changing production efficiency and transforming our food systems. It is a collection of loosely defined techniques that allow producers to adapt their farming systems to complement the bioregion they steward. A regenerative ranch in California will look far different than one located in New England. Similarly, a regenerative garden in the Midwest will employ different techniques than those utilized in Hawaii.  While the day-to-day operations of regenerative farms may look different, there are five major tenets of regenerative agriculture, all of which optimize biodiversity, preserve local ecology, and enhance soil fertility. 

Adaptive Grazing

A practice near and dear to our hearts at Azuluna Foods, adaptive grazing is a livestock production method that allows for humane animal rearing and preservation of pastures. Through the use of adaptive grazing, carbon can be sequestered from the atmosphere and absorbed into the ground, generating topsoil, and, in the right conditions, reversing desertification. Livestock farmers can do so by optimally timing grazing periods. When vegetation begins growing, it starts at a slow rate, then accelerates mid-maturity, and slows down as it reaches peak maturity. Vegetation accrues the most biomass at the most efficient rate at mid-maturity when growth is accelerating. By grazing animals on pasture until the plants reach mid-maturity, then rotating paddocks to rest the pasture, forages will never be overgrazed and vegetation can regrow rapidly before being grazed again. This practice prevents soil erosion, drought, and desertification. Additionally, not all the vegetation is consumed, some is trampled as herds move through paddocks, returning organic matter back into the soil and creating the perfect conditions for regrowth.

    No/Low-Till Farming

    Under the surface of our landscape is a diverse ecosystem of organisms- fungi, bacteria, worms, arthropods, etc. These microbes serve many functions such as converting soil nitrogen into a form usable by plants or loosening and aerating the soil to allow for water absorption by roots. Our landscape relies on the biodiversity and health of this soil and the organisms within it. When large machinery is used to turnover (or till) the land, it disturbs these delicate networks, unearthing the organisms, exposing them to sunlight and oxygen at levels to which they are not accustomed, killing organic soil matter. This process diminishes soil nutrients, forcing farmers to rely on fertilizer, which, unless applied with extreme discretion, can leach into water systems, polluting the aquatic environment with excess nutrients.

    Cover Cropping

    So what’s the solution? Farmers still need to loosen soil for the next planting season, right? How do producers grow or raise food with minimal tilling? That is where cover crops come in. Planting cover crops (such as alfalfa, rye, barley, buckwheat, or clover) after the traditional livestock grazing season allows plant roots to penetrate the soil, loosening the ground, creating channels for nutrient distribution, and improving the structural integrity of the soil. The benefits are endless and range from protecting topsoil from sun exposure above ground to feeding the microorganisms beneath the surface. Overall, cover crops reduce soil erosion and compaction, enhance the biodiversity of the fields on which they grow, and potentially serve as an additional revenue stream for farmers.

     

    Composting

    Farming is a naturally extractive process- plants absorb nutrients, organic material, and water from the soil to produce the food we harvest from fields and then eat. To return organic material and nutrients back to the soil, many producers practice composting. There is a myriad of ways to compost (a topic will get into in later posts- get excited, nerds!!), but they all share the same objective. Composting utilizes organic waste (such as food scraps, lawn trimmings, leaves, cardboard, etc.) to feed soil microorganisms that break down the materials into nutrients so they are readily available to plants and other soil organisms. Compost also improves the water retention of the soil and adds to soil moisture content. Overtime, compost deteriorates and replenishes the soil with the nutrients and organic matter we use to grow food.

    Perennial Plant Growth

    Perennial plants are those that die at the end of their growing season, only to return the next year without the need to repurchase and plant new seeds. Perennial plants are hardy, persisting in conditions that other crops may not tolerate like wet, dry, or cold environments, depending on the species. Not only does this protect farmers’ wallets, but it does a wonderful job of safeguarding the soil. Because their root or bulb systems stay intact year to year, they provide the soil with a consistent structure that aerates the terrain and allows for water infiltration, ultimately preventing soil erosion. One amazing way in which producers are promoting perennial plant growth is through agroforestry, a practice in which food-bearing forests are planted to mirror the natural environment, recreating the relationship between plants, animals, fungi, landscape, soil, and water in a way that is ecologically self-regulating and resilient.

    The Way Forward

    Ultimately, regenerative agriculture seeks to create reciprocal relationships between the diverse processes and organisms that comprise our ecosystem. At Azuluna Foods, we acknowledge our role within that ecosystem and work to cultivate reciprocal relationships with the land we steward through our regenerative agricultural practices. When you choose to eat with Azuluna, you are voting, with your fork, in favor of regenerative agriculture, better food, and stronger communities.