When people talk about regenerative agriculture, they are often referring to practices of soil management and the environmental benefits that can be produced. This emphasis on environmental health is extremely important at a time when climate change and industrial agriculture are putting tremendous stress on both the land and the people who have to live off of it. By focusing on agriculture’s role in mitigating climate change, regenerative agriculture speaks to one of the most important issues of our time. Critically, these conversations are happening at the corporate as well as at the community level. Companies such as Patagonia have teamed up with field experts, as well as non-profit and philanthropic partners to launch efforts like Regenerative Organic Certified, to establish clear standards and practices to ensure that businesses stay true to the principles of regenerative agriculture, and to establish benchmarks as these practices move toward the mainstream.
Another key focus of regenerative agriculture is the production of the food that sustains communities – linking environmental security to a community’s continued ability to provide nourishment for its people. Places like the Rodale Institute, a leader in the research and promotion of alternative farming practices, describe the link as: “Healthy Soil = Healthy Food = Healthy People”.
But is this enough? As the experience of COVID-19 has shown, even communities that appear self-sufficient are influenced by events that happen beyond their borders. From supply chains to capital markets – communities around the world are connected, and even reliant, on each other in sometimes unexpected ways.
That’s why, when it comes to thinking about how regenerative principles can nourish a community, we need to think beyond the field. Instead, we need to take a systems approach to regeneration to enhance and grow communities that have the resources and foundations to adapt to whatever challenges may come.
Building a truly regenerative eco-system means considering and caring for all parts of the system – from the land, to the culture, to the economy, and the people, and recognizing the local and global contexts in which they live, exist, and interact.
So, how do we do this?
We start with something real. Merging long-established traditions of land maintenance with state-of-the-art practices to show that if you take care of the land, the land will take care of you. We then take the same approach to community support – believing that if you take care of the community, the community will take care of you.
For us, this means creating the space and providing the resources to empower the next generation of leaders in Kauai to help them thrive, create, and grow. It means understanding the shared experiences that have brought the community together, and supporting initiatives that not only honor this history but also support the next generation as they work to continue this story. And it means working with partners in the public and private sectors through initiatives like the Food Innovation Center, to not only create new opportunities for innovation and entrepreneurship, but to do so in a way that helps build relationships and networks that extend beyond boundaries, and help strengthen the community from both outside and within.
Finally, this means recognizing that there are communities around the world that we are linked to and that we can learn from. While the nature of global supply chains, global markets, and global challenges means problems elsewhere may impact Hawaii’s communities, these connections also present an opportunity for cross-community sharing and collaboration – to learn about each other while finding ways to improve all of our lives.
Over the next few months, we will be working to distill the lessons we have learned at home, while exploring what we can learn from the world around us. Our goal is to better understand how we can take care of each part of our eco-system and create a community that fosters the sense of common ground that is fundamental to our existence.