Regenerative farming – good for the land, the animals and us

FORGET “Veganuary” – meet “Regenuary.”  Well no, you probably don’t like either of these made-up words, and the idea that any given month or week or day should be designated to make us change the way we eat or drink or think. But beneath the tiresome ad-speak there is a serious message here, and it’s not simply vegan-bashing: it’s about food that is great to eat and much better for farm animals and the environment.

The idea of “Regenuary” is to encourage consumers to lessen their impact on global warming and adopt more sustainable habits without giving up meat and dairy products.

It’s estimated that the world’s food system is responsible for about one quarter of the planet-warming greenhouse gases. The idea behind Regenuary is not about giving up favourite foods – it’s about choosing to buy sustainably farmed products that help to turn the tide on the degradation of soil health through regenerative farming practices.

Vegans, many climate activists and some scientists believe that a “plant-based’ diet is essential to reduce the speed and impact of climate change. But there are other experts who argue that a sustainable food system can and should still include plenty of animals as they can be produced in a way that is beneficial to the environment and this is often better for the climate than some meat and dairy substitutes.

Regenerative farming is a complicated phrase for a simple idea – farming in a way that works in harmony with the environment, to benefit the animals, wildlife, the soil, the natural world, and the farmers and consumers.

One company that is helping to spread the message is Devon-based Farm Wilder, which supplies meat boxes direct to your door from farms in Dartmoor, south Devon and east Cornwall that are committed to supporting and restoring wildlife to their farms. The aim is to “give people the choice to select delicious food that doesn’t cost the earth.”

Slow grown livestock reared with the highest welfare standards on a varied diet of herbs, legumes, grasses and tree browse, results in healthier meat with a rich and complex flavour.

Farm Wilder labels all its meat, allowing customers to understand where their meat has come from and the wildlife it is helping to save. The company has a partnership with MC Kelly which supplies meat to the hospitality trade throughout the West Country

Co-founder Tim Martin compares the choice of meat available to electricity – ‘bad’ meat “like electricity from a coal fired power station” or ‘good,’ the equivalent of renewable electricity.

“We’re talking about meat that can be reared without adding to climate change, meat that actually helps many of Britain’s rarest wild plants and animals to survive.  In the past it’s been hard to know which you’re buying, which is where Farm Wilder comes in.  We’re a Devon based social enterprise, and we source and label meat from farms across the South West that have exceptional wildlife and we work with them to farm more sustainably.”

The family-run Trewithen Dairy in Cornwall has a similar ethos. Its ‘Trew Farming’ standard involves a commitment to grazing, high levels of animal health and welfare, regular carbon emission monitors and sharing of best practices among the supply pool.

Trewithen Dairy works closely with two farms pioneering regenerative farming techniques to sequester carbon into the soil and increase biodiversity, a carbon neutral journey it calls its Earth Milk Project.

Managing director Francis Clarke says: “We have always chosen to work with farmers who are passionate about the milk they produce and the way they produce it.  The cows’ welfare has always been at the heart of that and now more than ever the interaction with the land and our environment is of equal importance.

“Regenerative farming practices, such as reduced ploughing, diverse herbal lays and rotational grazing can restore soil microbiome, sequester carbon and nurture biodiversity across the farm.

“It is the beginning of a journey for us and we must balance the mindset and the application of the farming techniques alongside a really rigorous measurement of how it all works and the results it can provide – so we can then talk to our customers with total transparency about what’s being done on the farm and what impact it ultimately has on carbon and biodiversity over a long time.”

Writer, journalist and former agricultural story editor of The Archers, Exmoor-based Graham Harvey has been a leading voice in the regenerative farming movement for more than 30 years. He says: “Choosing regeneratively farmed products wherever possible is the best resolution that we can make in 2022 and it is not just limited to animal products. It is the best way I know to bring nature back to the countryside and help to fix the climate, while at the same time getting the benefit of the most nutritious foods around.”