It’s time to shift the economics of our food system instead of focusing simply on soil.
By Lauren Tucker
I see beauty and new possibilities everywhere. Even in the most degraded landscapes, oppressed communities, and desolate situations. I see the possibility of bringing into being a reality that we haven’t known before. An existence where all beings are valued and thrive, where whole communities experience abundance, deep connection, and love. I see the potential for a reality beyond colonialism, extractive capitalism, and climate chaos. A potential sourced from an understanding of living systems, not from my projection of what I want to see change in the world.
Do you believe that a reality beyond the one we currently experience is possible?
I’ve worked for sixteen years in an attempt to improve the health of our planet. I’ve been driven by a belief that simple solutions can solve complex problems and that by continuously improving reality we can get where we intend to go. I’ve spent a lot of time working with environmental activists on climate change and contributing to the growth of the regenerative agricultural movement, through roles at five different nonprofits and co-founding Kiss the Ground. I’ve run campaigns, gathered signatures, produced documentaries, figured out ways to measure progress, created social media narratives, released curriculums, created job-training programs, taught classes, spoken publicly, attended “important” meetings where I met with “important” people, and assisted in launching a food company with better sourcing. I’ve participated in “brainstorming” sessions at so many conferences that I can predict what ideas will pop up and what the short presentations at the end “share out” will cover. I’ve helped create movements, standards and best practices for regenerative agriculture. All of these efforts are not delivering the result we want, because they are rearranging what is already in existence.
What happens when we start with what is in existence? Land degradation, water pollution, inequity, economic disparity, malnutrition, and climate change. The grief and pain of these realities are so immense. So what do we do in response? We cope, shut down, ignore the truth, and try to get rid of the pain as fast as possible. We cling to simple, single-focused solutions that won’t actually shift our complex reality but feel manageable in the face of our immense pain.
We rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic as it sinks.
So, what does it take to bring new realities into existence?
Edison didn’t improve the candle, he invented a new way to illuminate darkness. Herbalists and doctors didn’t improve the treatment of arrested marijuana growers, they created a new story that marijuana is medicine which led to a rapid shift in the plant’s legality.
In the early 1800’s, infections after surgery were common. An insight about a way to prevent the spread of germs and infection came from communities of midwives — handwashing. This practice was implemented in hospital institutions and became commonplace within a few decades. This seemingly tiny shift in perception of the importance of hand washing revolutionized healthcare and raised the success rate of surgeries in hospitals and on battlefields. This set a new pattern for cleanliness in medicine that is the standard to this day.
When diverse microbes and fungi are added in small amounts to soils in the form of a compost inoculant or compost tea, they awaken the existing soil microbes’ and set them on a trajectory towards greater biological activity. An amount as small as a gallon per acre can shift the direction and whole health of a farm and create the conditions for the soil system to evolve to greater stages of health.
In your life, think of an experience that profoundly altered your direction or way of being. What was required of you to integrate the insight from this experience into your life and create a new pattern?
What if systemic, cultural change happens through shifts in thinking, or recontextualizing something in the same way we set new patterns in our own lives? By seeing and then implementing something new, a new pattern emerges that allows the entire system to reorganize at a higher level of effectiveness, making the problems we once saw obsolete. Whether it’s in our microbiome, or soils, or in our minds, a shift in context and introduction of an interruption, can make all the difference between setting a pattern enabling health or one enabling degeneration.
When we approach problems in our current reality and work to solve them, we use the same mindset that has mechanized the world. This mind, or worldview, separates nature and humans. This worldview has led our planet to alarming changes visible within a single generation. This mind has created scarcity, oppression, extinction, climate change, and extreme income disparity. It’s the same mind that is creating ESG goals and carbon accounting, and it is this mind that believes these are appropriate responses to the decline of life everywhere on the planet. Working from this programmed mindset is like jumping into a spaceship and hoping to fly to the moon with a map of Los Angeles freeways.
As humans, we have the most power in our own minds. By shifting to a living systems worldview, seeing the world as alive and whole, we can intentionally interfere with our automatic, mechanized ways of thinking. From a living systems perspective, we can have entirely new insights and create new opportunities instead of continuous variations of our current reality.
Regenerative agriculture, a movement I’ve been deeply involved in for almost a decade, is now predominantly spoken about as a place to arrive and something that can be measured. We have maps of regenerative farms, brands looking for regenerative supply, and many verification and certification programs emerging to measure if a farm is regenerating soils. However, I’ve come to understand regeneration as a process and not a destination. A developmental cycle that must continue over time. And, regeneration isn’t something you can project onto a system, advocate for, and force a system to do. By checking the “regenerative” box, we ironically cease to be regenerative. We must regenerate from within systems, and inside businesses in order to evolve them. And once these systems and businesses are operating at a different level, we must regenerate them again.
We don’t exist outside of our food systems. Like any ecosystem, we are part of them. Although it’s not common discourse, nothing can get more intimate than our relationship with food. We are one with the earth, we aren’t separate from her, and food reminds us daily of this relationship. What is the original role of humans? We are land stewards and the species that can enable health in ecosystems. We can move boulders and change the flow of rivers. We can breed seeds and graft trees, creating apples and tomatoes that barely resemble their earliest less tasty relatives. We can burn fires to prepare fire-dependent seeds to germinate. We can plant the Amazon Rainforest and fertilize it with our compost.
What do you believe? Do you believe that humans are an inherently degenerative force on the planet? What shifts in your perspective when you see humans playing an essential role of earth stewardship? How can this role be regenerated for our current times?
The more work I do with farmers and within our food system, the more motivated I am to work where it feels impossible at times to do things differently — how we do business. Our economic system was created by humans, just like the Everglades and Amazon Rainforest. In its current form, it was created to serve a few by manufacturing scarcity. It extracts, oppresses, and functions in opposition to life working. Soil health certifications, compostable food packaging initiatives, diversity goals, and food banks cannot address the root causes of the problems that our current economic system is creating. We need to regenerate the way our economic system works if we want a food system that nourishes us and our ecosystems.
I have a calling to intentionally and consistently work on my worldview in order to truly see new potential, and bring a new pattern for the way food businesses work into being. With the success I’ve experienced in my career, I could easily continue my consulting business working with brands and farmers to create supply that regenerates soils. But, I would be ignoring a strong calling. I want to live in a world where everyone thrives, where landscapes are teeming with life and humans are fulfilled in participating in the creation of our collective abundance. I’m tired of doing more “good” and working on continual improvement of what’s in existence. I’m ready to shift the conditions that create our current reality and set new patterns for how money flows in and through our food system in order to create conditions for whole community wealth and life thriving.
Please join us. We’re inviting leaders of North American-based food and agricultural businesses. Are you in the business of food — a farmer, a food processor, a food brand leader, a retailer, a restauranteur, a food entrepreneur, or a food investor, and ready to evolve the economics of food? We’ve created an intentionally designed space to work together called reNourish Studio, a program of Farmer’s Footprint. We’re committing to participate for three years, a length of time where we can truly go deep. In the studio, we’ll intentionally shift and choose our worldview, understand living systems, and shift the pattern and role of money in food businesses. We’re working at the intersection of food and money, regenerating the patterns that currently exist, and aiming to evolve our food system to one of nourishment instead of money accumulation and extraction.
This is a moonshot. We have an aim, a plan for how to break our habits of thinking by working together, an intentional container with a team well versed in working regeneratively and creating cultural systems change, and we don’t know how we will get there. This is how we flew to the moon, with an aim, a way of working, and a small dedicated group of people. It’s also not foreign to set new patterns for how businesses function — triple bottom line accounting, corporate social responsibility, the one-for-one donation/sale model, sustainability benchmarks, carbon accounting, and on and on. The only difference is, we’ll be focusing on setting a new pattern for food businesses from a disruption in how we think and capabilities built from a living systems perspective, instead of from a mindset of continuous improvement of our current realities.
What do you really care about that you are called to work on? What is the “glass ceiling” that you are constantly hitting in your work that stops you from bringing what you care about most and are called to work on into reality?
This article was originally published on April 15, 2022 and reNourish Studio launched on May 5th, 2022. The cohort is currently closed, but we will be opening another cohort in 2023. Interested to learn more? Stay in touch with us here. Or send us an email: email@example.com
Note: The evolution of my thinking has been a result of my own personal experiences and participation in the Carol Sanford Institute and Regenesis Institute communities. If you are interested to learn more about them I recommend reading Carol Sanford’s new book Indirect Work or joining one of her offerings, signing up for a Regenesis Institute Course, and reading Ethan Soloviev’s new publication.