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The First-Ever Regenerative Earth Summit: A Shared Goal......But Major Philosophical Differences Remain

This week in Organic Insider, we are giving you exclusive coverage of the Regenerative Earth Summit: Food+Climate+Culture, which took place on November 6-7 in Boulder, Colorado. As of today, no other publication has reported on this event, and we are offering our readers unique insight into what was discussed over these two days.

Regenerative Earth Summit: Food+Climate+Culture was created to discuss one of the most pressing and important topics we are facing today — how agriculture can be used to help save the planet.

The focus of this event was regenerative agriculture, a farming method that aims to improve soil health, which, in turn, helps to capture carbon from the environment and mitigate climate change.

Here are a few of key takeaways and highlights from the Summit:

* There is a real philosophical division among key players within the organic industry about the true nature, or definition, of regenerative agriculture.

Some people believe that if farmers are using any amount of synthetic chemicals, such as glyphosate, that it cannot be called regenerative agriculture.

Others believe that if conventional farmers are employing some regenerative techniques, such as no-till farming or crop rotation, and are decreasing their chemical use and improving their soil quality, that it should be called regenerative agriculture.

The argument is that 99% of the farmers in the U.S. are conventional farmers and that if we really want to move the needle on climate change, we must have a system that encourages these conventional farmers to embrace regenerative agriculture, even if the changes are small in the beginning.

As it relates to this philosophical divide at the conference, there was some tension or disagreement as to whether the impending Regenerative Organic Certification (ROC) – which arrives in the marketplace next year and is being promoted by Rodale Institute, Dr. Bronner’s, Patagonia and others – will have a negative impact on conventional farmers.

Some conventional farmers have such a strong opinion or bias against organic that if they see a certification where the words “regenerative” and “organic” are next to each other, it will discourage them from pursuing regenerative farming. As such, the Regenerative Organic Certification label could inadvertently push conventional farmers away from regenerative agricultural practices. That was a concern raised by some of the attendees.

Becoming united, however, must be our objective.

“A (regenerative) house divided against itself cannot stand. To build a mass movement, we need to understand each other’s work and determine how the different pieces fit together,” said Phil Graves, Managing Director of Patagonia’s Tin Shed Ventures.

* Whether people are for or against the Regenerative Organic Certification (I am in favor of it), it is my belief that this Summit will serve as a very important event to help grow ROC label.

Given the problems that we are having with the Trump administration enforcing organic rules, both the ROC and Biodynamic certifications are going to grow in importance and prominence.

Many organic brands, farmers and other industry players are interested in this new ROC label, and they will need a place to meet, exchange information and discuss partnerships. The Summit will help facilitate that.

* Aside from the philosophical differences that exist, another big problem in the regenerative agricultural movement, which was evident at the Summit, centers around messaging.

Regenerative agriculture is a term that is widely used in the organic industry. Yet, I do not believe that many people understand what this term means.

Finian Makepeace, Co-Founder of Kiss the Ground, articulated it best at the Summit when he discussed the shortcomings of “sustainable”, a word that nearly everyone uses.

He made the case that “sustainable” is about sustaining and keeping it the same. On the other hand, “regenerative” is about making the soil better, which means it can capture more carbon.

While this may be obvious to many people deeply involved in the regenerative movement, this notion of making the soil “better” does not get conveyed nearly enough and would decrease the confusion.

* I was incredibly impressed by the turnout, approximately 280 people attended from around the country. It was a mix of farmers, organic food executives, non-profit groups, certifiers and other industry participants. Sponsors included many of the industry’s biggest names, such as Whole Foods.

Furthermore, many young people were at the Summit, which was very encouraging.

* What became clear during the Summit was the need to provide information and tools to people who want to farm more regeneratively.

Organizations who had a leadership role at the Summit, such as Kiss the Ground, Demeter USA, The Savory Institute, and the Bionutrient Food Association, are all providing this information now. Yet, more strategic planning among groups is required.

“We need to develop a more cohesive framework that makes clear what our organizations have to offer and organizes that information in a way that is much more accessible to farmers. We are all doing important and necessary work, but we need to work together and provide a unified front, so that someone who is seeking help knows where to go to look for it,” acknowledged Elizabeth Candelario, Managing Director of Demeter USA.

* An impressive aspect of the Summit was the infusion of mindfulness.

Michael Fitzpatrick, a cellist who played for the Dalai Lama, gave a performance, and Greg Berdulis, a monk who spent 7 years in Burma, did a mindfulness practice each day.

* While this Summit was expected to be a one-time-only event, the success and enthusiasm of this year’s conference have made it likely that it will happen again in 2018.

Next year, the scope will broaden to include textiles, and the conference is being tentatively called Regenerative Earth Summit: Food+Fiber+Climate.

* The Summit created a critical forum for people to come together and have very rich and honest conversations, the likes of which are difficult to have at Expo West or Expo East. And a sense of urgency seemed to permeate the event.

“A lot of people came away with how important this issue is and how quickly we have to act. This is not a small undertaking,” said Seleyn DeYarus, Producer of the Summit and Executive Director/Co-Founder of At the Epicenter.


(A panel discussion about building a regenerative agriculture movement. From l. to r., Walt Freese, CEO, Teton Waters Ranch; Moderator Larry Kopald, Co-Founder/President, The Carbon Underground; Seleyn DeYarus, Producer of the Summit and Executive Director/Co-Founder of At the Epicenter; Finian Makepeace, Co-Founder, Kiss the Ground; Eric Pierce, Director of Business Insights, NEXT Data & Insights, New Hope Network; Sara Harper, Founder/Executive Director, Noble Growth Network; Kate Dillon Levin, VP of Marketing for North America, Ecosphere+)


(A panel discussion about how we pay for farms transitioning to regenerative agriculture. From l. to r., Tracy Miedema, VP of Innovation & Brand Development, Presence Marketing; Vince Siciliano, President/CEO, New Resource Bank; Tina Owens, Senior Manager Sustainability & Procurement, Kashi; David Haynes, Managing Director, Greenmont Capital Partners; Woody Tasch, Founder/Chairman, Slow Money Institute; Moderator Robyn O’Brien, Founder, AllergyKids; Steve Hughes, Founder, Sunrise Strategic Partners)


(A screenshot during a breakout session with Ecosphere+ and organic chocolate company Loving Earth)


(Buffet lunch)


In closing, big kudos to Seleyn DeYarus for putting this fantastic event together. It was very needed, and the strong participation from a wide variety of industry players showed just how serious this issue is.


Have a great day!

Max Goldberg, Founder

This Week's News Items

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This Week's Quick Hits

Quick Hits

* As the New York Times reported, the chemical industry and its lobbyists are quickly infiltrating the USDA.

* If you read this profile of Vice President Mike Pence in The New Yorker and how he has been funded by the Koch brothers for many years, none of this should come as a surprise.

* Former Co-CEO of Whole Foods, Walter Robb, has invested in and taken a board seat at two start-ups: FoodMaven and HeatGenie.

* Meet the marketing genius who is helping to propel LA-based pressed organic juice company Juice Served Here.

* Meanwhile, CNBC wrote about Salma Hayek’s love for juicing and how she got behind NYC’s Juice Generation.

* Compass Natural Marketing’s Steven Hoffman wrote a tribute to natural products industry pioneer Terry Dalton, who recently passed away from head injuries suffered in a bicycle accident.

* Because of Thanksgiving, next week’s email will come on Tuesday, instead of Wednesday.

* I was at Summit LA17 recently and discovered an AMAZING organic taco stand in downtown Los Angeles called Chicas Tacos. If you’re ever in the area, definitely stop by this place. You will not be disappointed.


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