Regenerative Agriculture

Repairing Ecological Cycles
A form of food production based on regenerating the capacity of soils to sequester carbon and foster biodiversity, with implications for labour, economy, and the temporality of spatial practice


Industrial agriculture, mono-cropping, and particularly their reliance on “ploughing, pesticides, weed killers and fertilisers” are an intense drain on the ecological capacities of soils and the wider environment.1George Monbiot. Regenesis: Feeding the World Without Devouring the Planet (London: Allen Lane, 2022). Ploughing destroys soil structure, eliminates earthworm and other vital activity, and leaves bare soil which is susceptible to erosion. Chemical fertilisers, spread irregularly and in excess in order to save on cost, run off fields into nearby streams and rivers and dramatically change aquatic ecosystems. All these processes rely on heavy machinery powered by fossil fuels, treating the soil as just another resource to be subjected to various modes of “efficiency” demanding rapid economic returns. This form of farming exemplifies the exploitative relation to land that is derived from applying mechanical principles to complex natural systems. 


A number of typically small- to medium-scale projects have in recent decades been building on the idea of “Regenerative Agriculture” (RA): a system focused on rebuilding the capacity of soils and having a positive impact on the wider environment (such as water and nitrogen cycles and carbon storage). RA typically involves minimal or no turning of the soil (tillage), eliminating bare soil through cover cropping, utilising diverse planing, and avoiding chemical treatments.2John Holland, ‘Regenerative agriculture – a new silver bullet for agriculture and the environment?’, Agricology, 8 January 2021 <> [accessed 13 February 2023]. Many of RA’s earth care principles are also found in broader socio-ecological approaches such as permaculture.3See for example ‘The Basics’, Permaculture Association <> [accessed 13 February 2023]. 

One example of RA is Mazi Farm in Styra, Greece, established by the Tsitos family in 2017 with the mission to restore a parcel of “degraded” land that had been denuded and desertified by poor management, leaving it unproductive and prone to wildfires.4Natasha Foote, ‘Letter From The Farm | Greece’s Mazi Farm’, ARC2020, 30 October 2018 <> [accessed 13 February 2023]. Mazi’s methods are based on the syntropic method of covering the earth with shredded organic matter, to return its nutrients, as well as diverse planting and the use of green manures—cover crops sown specifically to build soil ecology and structure. These are methods that are about slowing down and allowing carefully-selected organic processes to do the work of restoration, rather than overworking the land beyond its capacity. Another farm, Huxhams Cross near Totnes in Devon, was set up by the Biodynamic Land Trust specifically in order to investigate how regenerative agriculture can help mitigate and build resilience against climate change. Using similar methods, in five years farmers Marina and Mark O’Connel were able to nearly double the organic content of the formerly “miserable bit of land”, leading to a farm that is now carbon negative and sequesters “three times as much carbon as it is emitting”, all whilst producing a steady crop of good healthy food.5Joanna Partridge, ‘The regenerative farm working to improve soil without fertilisers’, The Guardian, 3 June 2022> 

But RA is not only limited to experimental and small-scale farming. In Brazil, Leontino Balbo Junior is fighting back against the destruction of habitats to grow sugar cane—for which the state of Sao Paulo is the country’s leading producer. Since the 1980s, Balbo Junior has been experimenting with large-scale forms of RA to return the soil in his family’s farms to the ecological standards of a forest.6David Baker, ‘Post-Organic: Leontino Balbo Junior’s Green Farming Future’, Wired, 14 August 2013 <> [accessed 13 February 2023]; ‘The Sugarman of Brazil’, The Food Programme, BBC Radio 4, 10 November 2013 <> [accessed 13 February 2023]. By modifying processes of cutting, and the equipment they were using, they returned the ecosystem to diversity closer to that of a protected national park than a commercial farm. The soil structure regenerated and was able to hold water better—crucial in an area of drought—as well as resist erosion, all whilst increasing their yield. 

Caring for soil requires working at a different pace, which is not solely centred around human demand and economic pressures.7Maria Puig de la Bellacasa, “Making Time for Soil: Technoscientific Futurity and the Pace of Care”, Social Studies of Science, 45.5 (2015), pp. 691-716 <> These projects share much in common with the Agroforestry‘s ways of working with complex systems, but they also have a particular focus on regenerating soils as part of an intergenerational project of land repair. They demonstrate a form of land management founded on stewardship and regeneration, rather than exploitation and depletion—to the benefit of both the soil and the worker, and towards food systems built on soil not oil.8Anna Krzywoszynska, ‘IPCC’s Land Report Shows the Problem with Farming Based Around Oil, not Soil’, Brave New Europe, 8 August 2019 <> [accessed 13 February 2023]. They might be less “efficient” according to standard economic norms, but introduce a more resilient set of ecological-economic relations. RA is a clear example of how—in the face of climate breakdown—systemic change is not only needed but can be achieved. It works through the interrelationship of labour, natural systems, and economics—together with different notions of time that are intergenerational, away from the linear and immediate, and responsive to the temporality of climate. 


External links

Biodynamic Land Trust an organisation who research and support the development of regenerative agriculture in the UK.