Climate Solution: Regenerative Agriculture

Chicago Market Owners are not sitting on the sidelines. They are active participants seeking solutions for climate change, sustainability, food system development, and more. We asked Meghann Beer, Owner #176, to tell us about her recent Terra.do course experience:

In 2005 I attended my first climate protest, planted my first veggie garden, and joined my first food co-op. I had recently returned from working with farmers in Kenya who were already being impacted by changing rain patterns. Unfortunately, since then we have seen the climate crisis continue to intensify with too little action.

This summer’s record breaking heat, wildfires, and floods across the globe were clear warnings that collectively we need to create a just transition off of fossil fuels and rapidly reduce the greenhouse gasses in our atmosphere. As my concerns about the climate have grown I have intentionally shifted my work as a nonprofit consultant to focus on supporting more organizations addressing the climate crisis and I have planted more food in our tiny urban garden with my daughter.

In September I decided to participate in Terra.do’s Climate Farm School, a four week hybrid course focused on regenerative agriculture as a climate solution. This was an exciting opportunity for me to combine my personal interests in growing veggies and supporting local food initiatives, like Chicago Market, my professional experience in nonprofit management, and my desire to learn more about how we can create a climate resilient future. 

So what is regenerative agriculture and how will it help us solve the climate crisis? 

There is no clear agreement on the definition of regenerative agriculture and many big food companies have used the term to greenwash harmful conventional farming practices. But for this course we used the REGEN1 definition of regenerative agriculture as farming that “builds healthy soils, reduces air and water pollution, maximizes efficiencies, and increases biodiversity while promoting equity and public health.” REGEN1 goes on to explain that “by simultaneously storing carbon, building resilience to extreme weather, and eliminating chemical inputs, regenerative agriculture also empowers farmers and ranchers to mitigate and adapt to climate change.” 

The course started with online classes digging into the history of the global food system and policy, the food-climate nexus, soil health, water resource management, the role of animals, models of transformation, and the future of food. It was packed with great resources and information, but the best part was the week we spent in-person visiting and working on farms in NY’s Hudson Valley. We visited four regenerative farms and learned from their farmers and staff about the challenges they face and the opportunities for transitioning towards regenerative farming practices as a climate solution. We got our hands dirty harvesting squash, milking cows, and taking down tomato trellises for the fall and our group had thoughtful discussions over delicious meals made from local food. 

We heard from the farmers how climate change is making it increasingly difficult to manage droughts and flooding and about land access issues and the financial challenges of running a farm. But despite the challenges, we also heard the farmers talk passionately about the successes they have had transitioning from conventional to regenerative farming and how they are using minimal tillage, compost, cover crops and crop rotation to promote soil health and increase the amount of carbon stored in the soil. During the week we also had a soil health workshop with Cornell Soil Health and toured a farm with Farmscape Ecologists to see how they are making efforts to increase biodiversity on farms. 

Here are a few of the inspiring examples of climate solutions from the farms we visited:

  Hawthorne Valley Farm is creating silvopastures by planting trees to provide shade and food for their cattle while also increasing the farm’s climate resilience, improving soil water retention, and sequestering carbon.   

  Stone House Farm transitioned from conventional to regenerative organic farming in 2013 and is intentionally focusing on strengthening the local food system by selling the majority of its organic grain to farmers and producers within a 100 mile radius.

  Sky High Farm is an inspiring model for a nonprofit, no-till, regenerative farm that integrates animals into its ecosystem and donates 100% of its produce and meat to local food pantries to increase access to local food and address food insecurity. 

  Stone Barns Center for Food & Agriculture is building collaboration between farmers and chefs to grow an ecological food system and they are experimenting with seed breeding and climate resilient crops like sorghum and dryland rice in collaboration with local university researchers. 

Throughout the week we saw innovative examples of how the farms, many of which are nonprofits, are diversifying their revenue streams with grants, restaurants, grocery stores, dairy products, bakeries, clothing, and schools to support their farmers and local communities.

We also visited the Rolling Grocer, a nonprofit, full-service grocery store that prioritizes sourcing local products from environmentally-conscious farmers and distributors and addresses food access issues by offering a 3-tiered fair pricing system to make quality food affordable to low-income families. This model is being studied by an NYU professor to see how it can be replicated throughout New York state, and hopefully beyond.

This course taught me a lot about the importance of regenerative farming practices as climate solutions, the value of supporting local food ecosystems, equitable ways to increase access to local food, and the power of creating connections between people and where their food is grown. I am excited for Chicago Market to be able to play a key role in helping us do just that in our own community. I am looking forward to using what I learned in this course to improve the soil health in my family’s veggie garden and in my nonprofit consulting work so that I can collaborate with more organizations and farms working on regenerative agriculture, local food systems, policy and education to accelerate the transformations we need to create a more just and sustainable future. 

Meghann Beer is an early Owner of Chicago Market, loves growing food with her family in their tiny garden, and is a nonprofit consultant who collaborates with climate and social justice organizations to develop strategies, mobilize resources, and create learning practices to increase impact. 

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