Cows and Caterpillars: What’s this got to do with Regenerative Agriculture?

I had the opportunity to continue my conversation with Paul Greive of Pasturebird for this week’s blog. And before I knew it, we got to talking about his favorite subject, Regenerative Agriculture.


Now I’ve talked to a lot of people in the food biz lately about regenerative agriculture (RA for short), and the perspectives have varied widely. The COO of one of the fastest growing sustainable meat companies told me RA was a bunch of hype. Diana Martin, of the organic research organization, Rodale Institute, calls it “the new buzzword.” Jacques Leslie of the LATimes, warns California isn’t doing enough to prioritize RA. And then General Mills, one of the largest factory-farming businesses on the planet, has a whole section of their website dedicated to the topic, and a commitment of one million regenerative agriculture acres by 2030.

A bit all over the map if you ask me. Then I looked up the definition online. Here’s a good one:

“Regenerative Agriculture is a system of farming principles and practices that increases biodiversity, enriches soils, improves watersheds, and enhances ecosystem services.”  -Terra Genesis International

Basically, RA is a bit of a retro eco-movement. It recognizes that modern agriculture is broken, what with all its pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, and long-distance shipping. And that if we just maximized the benefits of age-old agricultural practices like crop rotation, biodiversity, and free-range animal husbandry, we could reverse the negative impacts agriculture has on the planet, and literally “draw down” carbon dioxide back into the soil and foods we eat, cleaning up the atmosphere and making delicious, healthy edibles to boot?

Am I totally crazy? Can we make agriculture a positive for the environment? Can we eat good food, guilt free? It sounds almost too good to be true.

So, I had to ask Paul the whopper of a question.

“Is Regenerative Agriculture just a fad?” 

Paul had something smart to say right away.

“The notion that [regenerative farming] is a fad is kind of funny to me. I’ll tell you what’s a fad: degenerative farming. The way most factory farms work today is rather new in the grand history of farming. That’s the fad that’s got to go away.”

Paul is just as concerned about re-invigorating the soil, as he is about raising chickens. If he only worried about the size of his hens, he could easily pump them full of antibiotics and hormones. Instead, Paul worries about rotating the birds regularly to actually rebuild the organic material and microbial diversity of his pastures. This effort protects the land from erosion, and builds up biodiversity. One look at his green fields and plumped chickens, and it seems he’s on to something.

“So is Pasturebird the answer to all our problems?” I ask.

“We’re a stepping stone, he says rather quickly. “The initial phase of regenerative agriculture is just too labor intensive. You need to provide solutions at each level. We’re the next step. But there are a lot more.”

“Ok, but why not just grow plant-based meat like Impossible Food? Isn’t it only a matter of time before animal-based proteins are extinct?”

“I really don’t think so,” Paul interrupts.

You see, Paul really sees himself as one of the alternative protein producers already, especially considering 95% of his industry thinks he’s crazy for working so hard to raise truly pastured chicken.

“Lab-grown meat is a great thing for us because they’re proving that there is a demand out there for something other than the status quo.”

“There is a logical fallacy out there when people assume that the majority of meat is bad; and that therefore plants must be good,” he continues. “As long as we’re thinking about caterpillars and cows on an even playing field; we’re probably taking more lives with plant production vs. ranching.”

Interesting…said another way…

“Healthy soil has one nematode (sentient) per GRAM of soil. Do you know how many grams of soil are in an acre? About 907 MILLION.” He pauses for effect. “So when we apply a pesticide or fumigation to a small 100 acre farm of kale or beans, we are potentially killing nearly 1 trillion sentient animals. That’s almost 7 years of global animal production, and why I say more animals die on kale fields than in slaughterhouses.”

Chew on that for a little bit. Well don’t really…but you get the gist.

The most important point for Paul is that Pasturebird is one of many when it comes to the “huge grassroots movement” that sees regenerative agriculture as the future of food production in the US.

“There are tons of great producers out there. We’re not the only one. And I think we are quickly moving from .01% of the market, to 10%.”

 “What does it look like to get to 50%,” I ask. “How are we going to get to where half of our food actually improves the environment it’s grown in, rather than destroys it.”

 “The consumer has a responsibility,” says Paul. “They’re totally in control of it. If they want to see regenerative agriculture grow, they need to support it with their wallets.”

Looking at how successfully Pasturebird has been doing, it appears Paul might be on to something.

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