We would like to share an excerpt from an article written by Leah Zerbe, MS, NASM-CPT, NASM-CES: April 22, 2021 for the Dr. Axe website.
This specific section of the article reviews the differences between "Regenerative Agriculture vs. Permaculture vs. Organic Farming/Gardening".
- - -
While there is some overlap between regenerative agriculture, permaculture, and organic farming and gardening, there are notable differences, too.
“Organic agriculture provides a base set of standards. It’s all about minimizing toxins and slightly maximizing nutritional value, although the studies are mixed,” Jordan Rubin, founder of Heal the Planet Farm explained. “The main gist is producing food not laden with chemicals.”
That’s certainly good news and a vast improvement from industrial farming. After all, scaling up chemically produced food means we now have a “dirty dozen” list of foods to avoid. I’m so thankful organic is getting carcinogens, neurotoxic substances and bee-killing chemicals out of the food chain.
It also can go much further to become a truly sustainable system that can feed the world. One problem? Many organic farms produce annual crops and raise meat and dairy animals on outside food sources.
“That’s not necessarily regenerative,” Rubin explained. “It could be creating a system that needs loads of inputs.”
While organic farms are much healthier for people and the environment because they don’t rely on harmful chemicals, many larger organic producers may not encourage biodiversity as much as regenerative farming models.
Organic farms often also plant annual row crops that are more disruptive to the soil. Trucking in off-farm inputs, even though they are more natural and approved for use in the organic program, are common.
Organic farming is often not a closed-loop system.
Permaculture is simple. The goal involves creating permanent systems of agriculture through perennial crops and animals.
As Rubin explains, the roots grow deeper each year, and leaves and nuts’ shells improve soil, resulting in more food, better soil and working less. Edible food forests are hallmark of permaculture, in addition to utilizing all of Earth’s resources (water, sun, wind) and relying as little as possible as modern equipment and off-farm inputs.
Permaculture focuses on planting perennial crops in a way that replicates and works with nature. It does not focus on planting annual crops like tomatoes, corn and other popular farm crops that need to be seeded each year.
Permaculture also focuses on not using inputs that come in from off the farm. The idea is that it’s a closed system that, with time, grows stronger and produces more food without trucking in compost and soil amendment mined or created in other places.
The basic idea? Improving the soil with every harvest, instead of robbing it.
Each year, regenerative farming improves plant, soil and animal health.
Regenerative agriculture does take permaculture into account, but annual crops are also part of many regenerative agriculture farms. Both permaculture and regenerative farming use organic methods but go beyond organic to create even more sustainable food systems.
Some of the better organic farms and gardens around the U.S. adopt permaculture and regenerative agriculture principles, although they are not currently required. In the U.S., organic farms are banned from using chemical pesticides, fertilizers and GMOs.
To help make organic even stronger, the Rodale Institute and a team of other farmers, ranchers, nonprofits, scientists and sustainable brands are creating a Regenerative Organic Certification program.
This program focuses on guidelines that will improve:
- Soil health
- Land management
- Animal welfare
- Farmer and worker fairness