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Who decides what’s regenerative?

Things would be so much easier if there was a single agreed-upon standard for “regenerative”—a set of clear instructions that everyone had consensus about and that applied to every crop and every ecosystem. Fortunately for us, we’re on a beautiful planet with diverse species, communities, and ecosystems — but that means there can’t be a universal method to regenerate all of them and ensure their ongoing health.

There is no one regenerative “label” that is ubiquitously recognizable like the USDA Organic label or the Kosher symbol. Brands express their commitment to regenerative in myriad ways, each vying for potential buyers to trust that their ingredients really are the good ones.

Up until recently, certifications have been the standard pathway to creating and communicating this assurance. In agricultural production, certifications aim to verify that farmers use a list of set practices and avoid others. As a result certifications, by nature, prescribe what practices farmers must use or avoid. This often limits a farmer’s need and right to identify and use the practices that are most appropriate for their context. Indeed, one major drawback of certifications is that they are often unable to adapt to the vastly unique production contexts of ecologies and human communities across the globe. Farmers in Thailand, for example, faced challenges when the EU organic standard prohibited the use of wood vinegar, which is a safe natural pesticide and fertilizer long used among Thai organic farmers. This is a case where imposing a certification structure that originated in a completely different geographic context ended up creating needless complication for farmers — and undermining their unique position to ultimately know and judge what is best for the health of their land and crops.

Even holistic approaches to certification tend to lack the flexibility to consider unique practices that correlate to positive outcomes in wildly varying social and ecological contexts. Practices that might be appropriate for row crop farmers in the northern hemisphere may not be as appropriate for the ecological and social contexts of the humid tropics. In many cases, certifications have proven burdensome, inefficient, and cost-prohibitive for farmers.

A universal regenerative certification, then, isn’t appropriate. The thing that such a standard would need to describe is the effect that the cycle of growing ingredients has on the place it grows. And given that species, ecosystems, and communities are all unique — that effect can’t be measured using a single objective metric.

So who gets to decide what’s regenerative?

The people who grow the crops and live in the ecosystems where the regenerative process is taking place.

Only they can intimately know what the thriving of life looks like in their place, and are the ones closest enough to bear witness and confirm that it is happening.

By that logic, identifying whether or not a supply relationship is regenerative requires highly specific knowledge. Regeneration follows principles, not outside criteria. It asks for every life it touches to indicate that it is benefitting...

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