Q: Patagonia is a clothing brand so why are you so interested in farming and food?
The Gulf of Mexico ‘dead zone’, just offshore from my home state of Texas, is the largest ever measured. The drinking water of more than 210 million Americans is polluted with nitrate, a key fertilizer chemical that has been linked to developmental problems in children and poses cancer risks in adults. More than 50 percent of America’s topsoil has disappeared. “Conventional agriculture”, the root cause of these and many other environmental and human health problems, has left our planet in dire straits.
In 1994, Patagonia decided to switch to organic cotton throughout our line. This move provoked a fundamental change in our attitudes about agriculture. Taking hundreds of employees on tours of cotton fields, witnessing for ourselves the dangers of pesticide use and the benefits of organic farming, enlightened us to the many benefits of regenerative organic agriculture. We expanded from fiber into food with the launch of Patagonia Provisions, our in-house food startup, which has the goal of fixing our broken food system.
Q: What does it mean for agriculture to be regenerative?
Right now, many definitions are emerging about what it means for agriculture to be “regenerative.” Almost all of them focus on the land management practices, such as using cover crops, rotational crops, reduced tillage, and rotational grazing to increase soil health, but when we dug deeper, we found that each definition differs greatly, with some even allowing synthetic pesticides and fertilizers. We asked ourselves how a system can be regenerative when fields are sprayed with these harmful chemicals. Also, almost no existing definition addressed the welfare of the animals, farmers, or workers of the land. We felt strongly that before “regenerative” gets coopted like “sustainable” has, a high bar definition had to be set for the term, and a certification was the next natural extension of this.
Q: What motivated you to push for a standard for it and what will this mean for your company?
The Regenerative Organic Certification is the result of a cooperative effort among a coalition of change-makers, brands, farmers, ranchers, nonprofits and scientists, all with a clear goal: to pave the way to an agricultural future focused on enriching the soil, while valuing people and animals.
Our approach does not aim to supplant existing organic standards, but instead provides detailed guidance on how producers can establish and implement a regenerative organic framework that builds soil health. For Patagonia, Dr. Bronners, and the other brands committed to scaling regenerative organic practices within our supply chain, this means educating our partners on the certification and guiding them on the path to Regenerative Organic Certification. Because this is an aspirational standard, we realize this will be a journey for the farmers and ranchers with which we work, but with a certification in place, a roadmap has been set to move our food and fiber providers towards improved management of their land, soil, animals, and workers.
Q: What happens now?
Creating a certification is just the beginning. Regenerative organic farming is not a new concept, and farmers around the globe have been using practices outlined in the Regenerative Organic Certification for hundreds of years. We now need to educate brands and consumers on what it means to have the Regenerative Organic Certification label on a product. We want to provide consumers a label that ensures all the critical parts of an agriculture operation are addressed through this holistic certification, eliminating the confusion and greenwashing that occurs with the myriad of labels that exist on products.
To us, success will be defined by wide scale adoption and understanding of the Regenerative Organic Certification by farmers, brands, and consumers alike. In 2014, research by Rodale Institute estimated that if current crop acreage and pastureland shifted to regenerative organic practices, 100% of annual global CO2 emissions could be sequestered in the soil. One of the requirements of the certification is to measure soil health on a regular basis. Our hope is to demonstrate that by adopting regenerative organic practices, a farm is able to measurably improve the health of their soil and potentially sequester carbon, proving that agriculture can be a solution to climate change.