REGENERATIVE AGRICULTURE – GROUPS & CHAINS QUARTERLY ROUNDTABLE EVENT
This time the Roundtable Event set out to explore the fundamentals of Regenerative Agriculture or Regen Ag, a term that is widely used though not well understood. More specifically, we sought to help the local F&B sector better understand the scale of the problems that regenerative agriculture seeks to address – and identify what food businesses should be prioritising when sourcing from their farmers/suppliers.
The event was introduced by Heidi-Yu Spurrell, CEO of Food Made Good HK, and ably hosted by fellow team member Angelica Klein who has a background in soil science and a passion for the brown stuff.
We began with a Speed Dating session that briefly paired members up so they could share what they know about regenerative agriculture.
A great turnout and discussion from our speakers and Groups & Chains Members!
SO WHAT PRECISELY IS REGENERATIVE AGRICULTURE?
Angelica then briefly introduced regenerative agriculture and tried to clarify what this buzz phrase actually means and dispel some of the confusion. At its simplest, this is an umbrella term that incorporates a plethora of sustainable farming terms.
Angelica then drew a distinction between two types of agriculture. On one hand, there’s industrial monoculture farming that excels at calorie production and helps feed the world’s growing population. This is heavily dependent on synthetic fertilizers, chemical pesticides and tilling the soil. On the other, there’s agroecological farming which focuses on how we value, use and manage our land, water and natural resources – as well as everyone working on the farms.
Regenerative agriculture shifts the emphasis away from yield to a more productive and sustainable ecosystem. It typically embraces the following five goals: improve soil health, increase biodiversity, advance carbon sequestration, encourage livestock integration, and increase community wellbeing.
Angelica then briefly addressed the complex subject of soil and its extraordinary ability to sequester carbon – which varies enormously depending on numerous factors.
Regenerative agriculture addresses many of the problems plaguing our food systems. It can do this through less soil disturbance, applying cover crops to crop rows, intercropping species next to each other to create beneficial relationships, and introducing grazing animals to reduce weeds and fertilize crops. Currently, regenerative agriculture practices have not been widely adopted and government intervention and commercial incentives are required to ensure greater uptake. At the same time, creating a clear and widely understood definition of regenerative agriculture is urgently needed if it is to gain traction with policymakers, food producers and consumers.
Regenerative agriculture aims to improve the health of soil and thereby enhance water and vegetation quality, and
HOW BRANDS AND RESTAURANTS CAN ENGAGE
Angelica then shared several case studies where the private sector is getting behind regenerative agriculture. These included Guinness and a three-year barley growing pilot that benefits farmers and the plant; Harmless Harvest, a coconut water brand that’s promoting regenerative farming among their coconut suppliers in Thailand; and Miscusi, a pasta chain in Italy that is encouraging proper soil management and crop diversity at the farm where it grows its own ingredients.
So what can we as diners, chefs or food business owners do to encourage this wave of interest? Demanding that ecologically-destructive supplier chains are no longer acceptable and insisting that food comes from farms practising regenerative agriculture will help build momentum. Angelica shared eight questions we can all ask our farmers and suppliers to encourage better soil management.
For example: does your farm have any organic certifications; and, tell me about your land and why you love it?
During a brief Q&A, Angelica stressed that foods grown in a regenerative way taste better and have a higher nutritional value – so they benefit both natural systems and we humans. She noted, “As they’re grown without synthetic pesticides or fertilizers they’re also healthier.”
Miscusi is an Italian pasta chain whose dishes all feature seasonal ingredients, grown with regen ag farming techniques on their own farm
SUB 51 AND INTRODUCING TRACEABILITY
SILVOFARMING ON FARM WILDER
Sebastian then handed over to Andy, a self-described “soil obsessive” who spoke about the regenerative practices he uses on “Farm Wilder”, his livestock farm in Devon. These include silvofarming – or planting trees across livestock land that would traditionally be left unwooded. In his experience, this reduces flooding, improves animal health and weight, sequesters carbon, and boosts biodiversity. Moreover, the meat tastes better because of the additional nutrients that the trees add to the soil – and this is an eco-friendly story that consumers eagerly embrace. According to Andy, “good soil management means that the soil feeds the plants and the plants feed the animals, and you end up with better food.” He noted that many of the world’s former great civilisations failed when top soils got washed away. Then concluded by saying, “Regenerative farming is predominantly about looking after your soils and when you do that, everything else comes good.”
He handed the screen back to Sebastian who argued that to encourage “these regenerative farming practices, we need to incentivise them by building a natural capital marketplace which will allow business and customers to invest in their supply chains.” The Sub 51 Farm Management Platform lets farmers accurately map their agricultural land, field by field, across a wide range of sustainability metrics and ultimately maximise their carbon sequestration.
The roundtable ended with a spirited Q&A that brought many of these issues back to the local restaurant scene including a discussion about the trend toward less but better meat.
Cover crops can reduce the need for fertilizer, improve soil moisture and fertility, and limit water pollution, while improving biodiversity
A big thanks to our special guest speakers Sebastian Newall & Andy Gray and to our very own Angelica for organising a well-structured roundtable. We look forward to seeing everyone at the next one!
This content was created prior to our rebranding to Future Green, as of 28/11/22, when we were known as Food Made Good HK.
Interested in more?
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