What Is Regenerative Agriculture?

Last Update: June 13, 2023

If you can’t rattle off the differences between regenerative, organic, and Biodynamic agriculture, we’ve got you covered. It’s not easy to keep these practices straight—each benefits our health and the environment in similar ways, but there are a few key distinctions worth noting, especially when it comes to making more informed choices about the food you’re putting on the table.

What Are Regenerative Farming Practices?

Regenerative International defines regenerative agriculture as a farming practice that helps reverse climate change by “rebuilding soil organic matter and restoring degraded soil biodiversity—resulting in both carbon drawdown and improving the water cycle.” This system focuses on biologically diverse soil, mineral-rich food, and improving the health of soils and crops within the farm.

Regenerative agriculture features four core practices:

1. No-tillage/minimum tillage

Tilling is a popular method for preparing soil for crops and may include shoveling, hoeing, and raking. At large farms, the soil is often agitated mechanically, which has been known to decrease soil health since it fractures the soil, disrupts soil structure, and accelerates soil erosion. Having a no-till or minimum-tilling policy helps enhance soil aggregation (the soil’s ability to form a strong bond), water infiltration (the soil’s ability to retain water), and carbon sequestration (removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere).

2. Restoring soil and plant microbiome

To improve soil health, regenerative agriculture adopts several practices that include cover crops, crop rotations, and compost and animal manures—all to help support the soil’s microbiome.

3. Building ecosystem diversity

It probably comes as no surprise that a healthy and diverse ecosystem starts with the soil. Utilizing compost and creating pollinator habitats are just two examples of ways a regenerative farm can boost the overall ecosystem.

4. Well-managed grazing practices

A farm isn’t only about soil and plants—and regenerative practices support animal health, too. Factory farming has been shown to increase greenhouse gas emissions generated by livestock and increase our surplus of corn and other grains for animal feed. Plus, constricting animals in cramped feedlots enables the spread of disease and leads to a poorer quality of life. Pasturing animals and allowing them to graze naturally helps increase soil biodiversity, carbon sequestration, and insect diversity.

Regenerative Agriculture vs. Biodynamic Agriculture

Demeter—the global Biodynamic certification body—explains Biodynamic farming as “a regenerative approach to organic agriculture that emphasizes self-sustainability.” In other words, Biodynamic agriculture is a form of regenerative agriculture. By contrast, a farm can become Certified Organic by avoiding certain chemicals, but regenerative agriculture takes things further by focusing on soil health, crop diversity, and animal welfare.

Farming and Climate Change

Regenerative agriculture is one of the tools we have to help reverse the effects of climate change. As we mentioned, this type of farming brings together a range of methods—like water conservation, cover crops, reducing erosion, and crop rotation—that work in harmony to help sequester excess carbon and support the biodiversity of our ecosystems.

It’s never been a better time to seek out brands implementing regenerative practices. Scientists estimate that activities such as deforestation, harvesting peat (partially decomposed vegetable matter), and managing grasslands—among other land use—contribute to a third of human greenhouse gas emissions, including more than 40 percent of methane. In addition, a report from the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change suggests that in order to keep the planet from rising in temperature by 1.5 degrees Celsius, farmland needs to shrink and forests need to grow.

This call to action is an opportunity for the global community of farmers to make sweeping changes that will help protect the earth. Brands such as Dr. Bronner’s are leading the way, piloting programs that include empowering mint farmers in India to transition to regenerative practices such as using worm compost and establishing centralized compost operations for farmers to use throughout the year. EPIC practices grassland restoration, and Organic India educates its tea farmers about regenerative agriculture practices and covers their fees for organic certifications.

5 Products Sourced From Regenerative Farms

Thrive Market stocks a range of products created using regenerative farming practices. Check out our top picks, from spicy pork jerky to moisturizing body wash.

Thrive Market Regeneratively Grown Organic Coconut Oil

Ethically sourced from Sri Lanka, Thrive Market’s Organic Virgin Coconut Oil is grown using regenerative farming practices such as intercropping and mulching, which help promote biodiversity and enrich the soil. This jar is ideal for baking projects and high-heat cooking.

“We spoon it into a small jar that we keep by the stovetop to use while cooking. We like the sustainability side of it, and this coconut oil doesn’t cost much more than similar options.”
—Karen, California

Thrive Market Pork Jerky, Spicy

Made from ethically and pasture-raised pork, this paleo-approved snack is marinated in organic apple cider vinegar, honey, and spices before being smoked low and slow.

“My son eats jerky every morning to up his protein intake, and this is one of his favorites. Yummy texture and taste!”
—Constance, California

Weleda Calendula Shampoo & Body Wash

Here’s a two-in-one product that can simplify your routine. Calendula Shampoo & Body Wash cleanses hair and skin with mild, plant-based cleaners and ingredients produced in biodynamic gardens.

“This stuff smells amazing, and my kids love it!”
—Sarah, North Carolina

Biena Barbeque Chickpea Snacks

Biena’s sweet, spicy, and smoky snack is made using USA-sourced ingredients that are Non-GMO Project Verified and nut-free. Plus, each serving delivers 6g dietary fiber, calcium, and iron.

“These are delightful. They’re crunchy and flavorful and so easy to eat—a really great alternative to chips.”
—Colton, Oregon

Union Charcuterie Crisps, Peppered Genoa

For cheese platters, road trips, or afternoon nibbles, charcuterie crisps are the crunchy snack you’ve been looking for. UNION sources its ingredients from regenerative farms, and the brand takes part in Savory Institute’s Land to Market Program to help regenerate the land for future generations.

“So unbelievably awesome. These are a fun, tasty addition to cocktail hour. Will continue to purchase!”
—Christopher, Oregon

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Nicole Gulotta

Nicole Gulotta is a writer, author, and tea enthusiast.

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