Can your supermarket shop help fight climate change?
We’ve all heard of Veganuary, but have you ever heard of Regenuary — eating only foods produced using regenerative farming practices for the month of January? Coined by online meat retailer The Ethical Butcher in a Facebook post last year, Regenuary seeks to raise awareness of farming practices, known collectively as ‘regenerative agriculture’, that restore rather than deplete the environment.
From cattle farmers to artisanal cracker brands, more producers are recognising the importance of regenerative agriculture and are being rewarded by environmentally-conscious consumers. According to the Nature Friendly Farming Network’s (NFFN) Nature Means Business report, 80% of consumers in the UK want to buy food that protects and restores nature and is not damaging to the environment.
Doing so is easier than you think — and you won’t even need to go vegan.
Why is regenerative agriculture important?
Regenerative agriculture may seem like a new trend but it’s simply the term that’s new: it stems from centuries-old agricultural practices and knowledge of indigenous peoples.
These practices can work against climate change and to improve the health and quality of the farming environment. By restoring soil health, carbon can be naturally drawn from the atmosphere into the ground, where it plays an essential role in maintaining soil quality. Food grown in this soil is not only more nutritious but tastier, too.
“Crops grown decades ago were much richer in vitamins and minerals than the varieties most people buy today,” says UK NFFN Chair Martin Lines. “When you buy from regenerative and nature-friendly farms, not only is it better for nature but is also the most productive and sustainable way to get healthy and nutritious food from the land.”
Modern agricultural practices are largely centred around maximising yield. This not only leads to food waste — 1.6 million tonnes of food is wasted each year before it even arrives on the shelves — but also strips the nutrients out of the soil.
Sam Parsons, a farmer at Balcaskie Estate, is part of a team working on the Estate’s 50-year plan to be farming in a manner “as closely resembling nature as possible”. This means moving away from the sole focus on yield as a measure of success and re-focusing on the land and habitat itself: its biodiversity, natural indicators of its health, and making more use of solar energy.
“All farmers like to believe that they are in tune with the soil, and it was only when we began looking at the soil with our eyes, noses, and a spade, that we realised we had become removed from our most valuable resource,” he says. “We are beginning to replace machinery size and cost with thoughtful people and more animals.”
Meat can be farmed sustainably, too
Regenerative farming also offers an answer to the impact that animal farming has on the environment: it’s possible to farm meat sustainably, that also tastes better.
Balcaskie Estate began their conversion into organic farming in 2016. They no longer feed cereals to their cattle or sheep, instead leaving them to freely graze on the grass outside. Most recently, cattle have been ‘mob grazing’, which sees them graze in large groups that are moved daily. This mimics the wild herds of bison moving across the plains, and allows grass to rest for long periods in between.
“The effects are significant,” Parsons says. “Long rest periods for grass mean bigger roots, better solar gain for plants, increased soil organic matter, better moisture retention in summer and drainage in winter.”
This also leads to better quality produce, says Sophie Cumber, a butcher at Bowhouse, a market space on Balcaskie Estate: “From a butcher’s perspective, these farming practices produce fantastic quality meat: the taste of a grass-fed, organic animal is incomparable to that of one which is not.”
Your weekly shop can make a difference
There is still a way to go in making regenerative farming the norm, but increased interest from supermarkets for this produce is certainly helping, says Parsons: “Over time, as the practice becomes more mainstream, so too will the availability of this produce on shelves. In the meantime, customers who really value their food and how it is produced are showing increased interest and are challenging farmers to really think about how they farm.”
Our shopping habits play a huge role in the way that food is farmed in the UK. Even taking the time to check the food label before you buy can make a difference, says Lines: “Shop local, check your food labels, and use up your leftovers. Buy fresh, seasonal, and sustainable produce from your local online farm shop or market. If you’re in a supermarket, check the label to see if the food is from the UK or abroad. Buy only what you need and use up leftovers.”
The Nature Friendly Farming Network is led by farmers across the UK with a passion for sustainable farming and nature. If you would like to support their mission in building a sustainable, productive future for farming, you can sign up for free to receive updates on their campaigns, research, and best practice activities
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