With the theme for Earth Day this year being “Restore our Earth”, we at Salt Spring Coffee wanted to talk about a topic that we are particularly passionate about and believe has the potential to significantly help restore the environment: regenerative organic agriculture.
We will be talking more about this topic in the months to come and how we are working to integrate regenerative organic agricultural principles into our supply chain, but first we wanted to share with you more information about what regenerative organic agriculture is.
Regenerative organic agriculture is a set of agricultural practices that allow us to produce the food that we need in a way that has a minimal impact on the environment and even helps return it back to a healthy state (hence the “regenerative” in its name).
For too long, industrial agriculture has focused on dominating the environment. The soil is tilled to prepare it for seeding, single crops are planted to make harvesting easier, pesticides are sprayed to kill off bugs and artificial fertilizers are used to add back the nutrients that the other actions stripped away. Regenerative organic agriculture on the other hand works with the natural cycles and species of the entire ecosystem – to grow the crops that we need.
“Regenerative organic agriculture has the potential to transform not just the coffee industry, but the entire planet for the better.” – Mickey McLeod, Founder of Salt Spring Coffee
While there are many practices that make up regenerative organic agriculture, some of the most common ones include:
No-till farming. Farmers usually till their fields to break up the hard ground and prepare it for seeding. However, this practice kills soil-based organisms that are beneficial to plants (like worms and fungi), releases carbon dioxide stored in the soil back into the atmosphere and reduces the soil’s ability to retain water, increasing water runoff and soil erosion. No-till farming, as the name suggests, foregoes tilling and uses cover crops and organic mulch instead. The roots from the cover crops break up the soil. Soil-based organisms, having not been killed, continue to help aerate the soil and distribute nutrients. Organic mulch spread over the soil provides additional nutrients.
Regenerative grazing. While cattle raising is known for its impact on the environment, adjusting grazing practices can actually improve soil health and lead to significant amounts of carbon being sequestered in the ground. For that to happen though, the grass that cattle graze on needs to be left to grow long enough so that it can sequester a sufficient amount of carbon before being eaten. Regenerative grazing rotates animals between different pastures, allowing the grass in each pasture to grow sufficiently before allowing animals to graze there.
Agroforestry. This practice varies substantially depending on the ecosystem, but generally involves recreating local forest conditions in a way that optimizes them for food production. These food forests consist of seven layers: root, ground cover, herb, shrub, low tree, high tree and vine, which all produce food or are beneficial to the broader ecosystem. Perennial and native plant species are used in these forests to the fullest extent possible.
Industrial farming practices have caused severe environmental degradation, impacting soil health and contributing to greenhouse gas emissions and climate change. However, by adopting regenerative organic agricultural practices, we can help reverse this damage, restore soil health and remove more CO2 from our atmosphere.
Humanity is facing a monumental challenge in the form of climate change. While it’s not always obvious how a medium-sized company like Salt Spring Coffee can make a difference, we do believe that there are areas where we can have an impact – and promoting regenerative organic agriculture is one of them. For this reason, we are looking at how we can support our coffee farmers in adopting regenerative organic agricultural practices.
We are still early on in this process, but we look forward to doing our part to help bring about this much-needed change for our industry and our planet. As we continue on this journey, we will keep you updated about our progress and provide more information about how regenerative organic agriculture can revolutionize the way we farm.