"Regeneration is all about life making more life; it means cultivating conditions, with great intentionality, to achieve net positive results on our working landscapes without compromising on quantity or quality of production."
Written by Savory Director of Market Engagement and Public Outreach, Chris Kerston
Every March in Anaheim, not far from the sound of crashing waves, under the rejuvenating rays of California sunshine and blessed by the sounds of squealing amusement park children and the nightly glow of a famous mouse, the largest natural food trade show in the world takes place.
This year, the 38th annual Natural Products Expo West had over 85,000 attendees - the largest gathering to date. Over 3,500 different companies were represented in the trade show and we had a Savory Institute booth for the first time this year as well. The conference also features a robust education and networking program with a jam-packed schedule of lectures and panels taking place all 5 days. If you have never been to an Expo, check out this quick hyperlapse video, to get a sense of what it is like.
Regenerative Agriculture has become a cinderella-story at Expo West, originally being something that those furthest on the fringe met to discuss hoping to one day have a larger voice, to now present day where it is openly acknowledged as one of the top trends in the natural foods industry (Read our blog post from last year for more history).
The point being, that for many of us on the early fringe, fighting for regeneration, it was all starting to feel like an eternal purgatory, where we were banished to poorly attended back-alley venues that for some reason always smelled of sandalwood and patchouli. Still, though our early tribe kept beating our drums, clamoring to anyone that would listen, that for civilization to survive - we MUST focus on going beyond sustainability - our planet is already far too damaged. Just one example of this, is that we lose 75 billion tons of soil every year around the globe to erosion. That’s approximately 10 tons for every human alive and it happens EVERY YEAR. It is far too late to be championing strategies heralded for doing the least amount of harm. For our survival, we have to go beyond that and invest in rebuilding the spaceship on which we all depend.
Allan Savory was one of the earliest pioneers talking about these concepts. Now 82, he’s been proclaiming regenerative principles for over 50 years. If you haven’t seen it, watch his TED Talk which is all about regenerative grazing and the imperative to heal our planet. It has grown to become one of the 75 most watched TED talks of all time. Regeneration is all about life making more life; it means cultivating conditions, with great intentionality, to achieve net positive results on our working landscapes without compromising on quantity or quality of production.
Watch Regenerative Grazing 101 Video
The Holistic Management movement that Allan Savory burgeoned has been training people in all reaches of the globe for decades. We have literally trained tens of thousands of producers. Over time we learned that there was great benefit in opening regional field offices, or Holistic Management Hubs, that could play a perennial role in providing training and implementation support, doing ongoing research with academic partners, actively involving themselves in domestic policy discussions, and participating in supply chain development. In the last five years, we have opened over 30 Hubs on all 6 habitable continents, working daily with throngs of producers in their regions. Simultaneously, we had a number of producers coming to us asking how they could differentiate themselves in the market. Many, if not most, of these regenerative livestock producers are selling into commodity markets, without the tools or market triggers to differentiate from conventionally produced products. At the same time we had brands coming to us asking how they could source from ranchers who were managing holistically. Being that Holistic Management is context specific rather than a set of practices, we initially did not have a way to certify producers as being “holistic.”
Since the 1970s we have been training ranchers in how to do what we call, “biological monitoring.” It was a way to measure the health of one’s land looking at leading indicators or KPIs (key performance indicators). However, the results of that monitoring stayed on the ranch, never being used to showcase the amazing results that many of these ranchers were having in turning degraded landscapes into slices of paradise.
We at the Savory Institute have been working for the last 4 years to change that. Partnering with scientists in our global network along with collaborating with a number of universities to enhance that original biological monitoring protocol. We took the old methodology down to its nuts and bolts and rebuilt it piece by piece in a way that generates information that the scientific community recognizes as both empirical and robust data. Much of this has been led by Dr. Jason Rowntree, leader of the Savory Hub at Michigan State University and rangeland ecologist Dr. Pablo Borelli from OVIS XXI, the Savory Hub in Argentina.
We have kept many of the core tenets of our original biological monitoring methodology but we call this new tool, Ecological Outcome Verification (EOV). It looks at over two dozen different data points, across a wide spectrum of leading and lagging indicators, that demonstrate land health and performance. Variables that get measured include soil health, water infiltration rates, biodiversity, and ecosystem function. Looking at such a comprehensive aggregate of land-health-indicators yields deeply resilient results. We have been simultaneously building a network of trained verifiers through our Hubs to scale up this land assessment protocol. Currently, 14 Hubs are equipped to participate in implementing EOV. New Hubs are being onboarded every month.
The beauty of this program is that it does not rely on any modeling. Rather it utilizes only true outcomes that happen on each individual farm and ranch in order to evaluate land health. Every property gets a score, or what we call an Ecological Health Index, which is an amalgamation of all the different data points that get collected as part of EOV. Each ecological health index gets compared against a regional reference area, the best property in that eco-region, which allows us to compare progress against the best example of a theoretical limit and also to normalize against weather events, such as drought, floods, hail, etc., which would be outside of the rancher’s control. We then trend those results from the land over time to measure the delta, or in other words, measure the impact that human ingenuity and management is having on land health.
Most certifications in the marketplace, provide producers a set of fixed givens - here are things they are allowed to do, and things they are not allowed to do. And then everyone assumes good things happen after that. We at the Savory Institute strongly believe that the time has come to measure and quantify those good things. That again, we as a society, must go beyond sustainability and we must create net positive impacts in all of our endeavors, particularly in agriculture. The days of thinking that doing the least amount of bad must fall behind us. We also want to unleash the inherent innovation in ranchers and farmers, to allow them to implement new strategies that are specific to their individual context. We know producers can only truly thrive when they are able to hone their strategies through access to short and concise feedback loops that tell them as quickly as possible if their innovation is taking them in the right direction. The only way to accomplish all of this is to shift the focus to outcomes rather than practices.
We have intentionally designed this program to NOT be all things to all people. There are 30+ years of good work in this alternative-agriculture space, done by really incredible organizations, that address key important issues such as: keeping synthetic chemicals out of our food, making sure that ruminants eat only a diet of grass - as nature intended, looking at fair treatment and pay of workers, making sure that processing facilities are designed to maximize the well-being of onfarm animals, keeping GMOs out of our food system, ensuring that businesses are acting as a force for good. There are dozens and dozens of great certifications in the marketplace. Our goal is not to compete with them but to enhance those efforts. The tools and technology are now readily available to allow humanity to measure the outcomes of better management, to quantify that data, and to trend those impacts over time. Producers can benefit from that information and consumers deserve access to a world that goes beyond assumptions and provides them with transparency to know how the products that they purchase were produced and what impact that production had on the environment.
At the end of the day, our entire program is built around results. If producers can achieve regeneration on their own accord - we absolutely applaud them for that. But for those that struggle to find net positive results - we have spent 50 years cultivating a network of accredited trainers, and more recently Hubs, to provide support to producers. Allan Savory was talking about triple bottom line thinking earlier than anyone else that I’ve ever seen. Our Holistic Management movement has been defined by its long tenure of helping producers implement the appropriate best-management-practices that fit their individual social, environmental, economic and cultural context. At the very core of it’s DNA, every piece of this new program has been designed around mobilizing assistance to those that are ready for it and where it is needed most.
So we have given the land a voice. We then made this voice louder and got the flywheel spinning through actively onboarding new producers into this verification. As supply grows, we are now moving into a prototype phase of finalizing the go-to-market strategy for the products coming from these verified regenerative working landscapes. We have begun partnering with some of the most conscientious, forward-leaning brands in the regenerative agriculture arena, to help us co-author the final stages of getting products to consumers. We call these brands, Frontier Founders. We coordinate with these companies, both large and small, at the regional level through our Hubs, and at the national and international level through the Institute.
(Click to see documentary episodes).
EPIC Provisions has been our closest partner to date and is our original Frontier Founder (See press release and additional reading). They have been partnering with us behind the scenes to support the development of this verification for 5 years. We have more recently brought on Applegate Natural and Organic Meats, Zuke’s Natural Dog Treats and Supplements, and Union Snacks as additional Frontier Founders. We will be announcing additional fashion partners soon.One of the many exciting things that we are seeing emerge out of this pioneer group of business partners is a whole animal utilization component. Ranchers that sell into the commodity system are used to selling whole animals. They do not have the infrastructure to hold individual cuts of meat, organs, bones, tallow, and hides and set up the necessary channels to direct market those specialized items. To facilitate producers making the transition out of the commodity market, there is tremendous benefit in having diversified partners that can commit to taking all of these various products from producers.
Each brand gets preferential access to strike deals with the producers on our roster of verified suppliers, they additionally get access to the impact measurements from the land, and they get to cultivate storytelling assets in conjunction with the Savory Institute to highlight these amazing producers that are nothing short of heroes. Consumers can expect to see the first verified regenerative items, from these brands, on shelves towards the end of this year.
And consumers is what this is all about. The era of greenwashing and shopper doubt is coming to a close. For the first time in history, we can let consumers know a product's impact on the environment, with empirical data to back it up, then highlight those products that are having a net-positive impact on the land, and thus empower individuals to vote with their food dollar like never before. For far too long the consumer’s point of view has been the last to be considered - we want to play our part in flipping the script on that paradigm. Because, we at the Savory Institute believe, that it is only together that we will prevail. As Allan Savory always says, “we must come together as team humanity.” We invite you to join us on the journey!
To recap, the differences of Land to Market are:
We know how to do this. This is the culmination of a decades-long iterative movement that we’ve been leading across cultures, continents, contexts and operating conditions. We already have a scaled movement of producers operating regeneratively through the Hub network. It has long been a core tenet of Holistic Management to converse with the land and observe outcomes. This is the polishing of a stone we’ve been honing all along. We’re ready to take that stone and use it to usher in a new reality of abundance for all. This is Land to Market.
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