HOW REGENERATIVE AGRICULTURE CONNECTS WITH SUSTAINABLE FASHION

As the importance of regenerative agriculture becomes more recognised, we explore what it means, how it works and how it contributes to ethical fashion

Regenerative agriculture is a practice that is pioneering a new way forward for both sustainability in farming, but also for the lives of farmers all over the globe. Believed to be the answer in terms of sustainable land-farming and eco food systems, it also contributes to the ethical fashion movement, too. 

According to the Climate Reality Project, ‘together with forestry and other land use, agriculture is responsible for just under 25 percent of all human-created GHG emissions.’ With the agriculture sector, then, being one of the biggest emitters of CO2, but also a huge part of the solution needed for safe and sustainable futures, it’s integral we find a way to create a sustainable soil ecosystem. 

It’s for this reason that the movement is picking up pace – it’s more than necessary for future-proofing our planet. As the Climate Reality Project points out, ‘in addition to a long list of incredible benefits for farmers and their crops, regenerative agriculture practices help us fight the climate crisis by pulling carbon from the atmosphere and sequestering it in the ground.’ 

But what is regenerative agriculture, exactly? According to Regeneration International, it’s ‘a holistic land management practice that leverages the power of photosynthesis in plants to close the carbon cycle, and build soil health, crop resilience and nutrient density. Regenerative agriculture improves soil health, primarily through the practices that increase soil organic matter. This not only aids in increasing soil biota diversity and health, but increases biodiversity both above and below the soil surface, while increasing both water holding capacity and sequestering carbon at greater depths, thus drawing down climate-damaging levels of atmospheric CO2, and improving soil structure to reverse civilization-threatening human-caused soil loss.’ 

It’s worth noting that the details are often incredibly complex (especially to anyone who doesn’t know a thing or two about rural practices and the farming industry) and are constantly evolving. It’s picking up momentum, which is brilliant, but it can be hard to pin down what, exactly, it means. The concept is simple though, so let’s start there. Essentially, regenerative agriculture is a farming principle that works to regenerate the soil, place nutrients back and replenish the earth, working with as opposed to working against nature. 

These principles and practices include something called over-cropping, whereby you plant to cover soil rather than harvest. Bare soil is bad soil, so regenerative agriculture uses cover crops to maintain living roots in the soil year-round and no gaps. Regenerative farming minimises the use of pesticides or chemical intervention, and seeks to reduce physical disturbance or intervention. It also works to increase diversity through the planting of lots of different plants and crops, so as to rich, varied and nutrient-dense soil. 

But how does sustainable farming link to ethical fashion? Agriculture is often only associated with food systems and animals, but it’s important to realise the link between this and fashion, too. Wool production, cotton creation, it’s all a part of the wider farming industry, and the fashion industry and its supply chains are intrinsically connected to soil degradation. 

Statistics on cotton are particularly damning, with the World Wildlife Organisation stating that although the global reach of cotton is one of the widest material reaches, ‘current cotton production methods are environmentally unsustainable—ultimately undermining the industry’s ability to maintain future production.’ The concerns we have around sustainable food systems, then, directly apply to the future of fashion as well. 

It’s about exploring how we can approach fashion regeneratively alongside the regenerative agriculture push, and thus, raise awareness of this also. Let’s start with Fibreshed. A fibreshed is a regional system, a specific geographical location, that defines and offers boundaries to a natural textile resource base. This allows textiles to be created responsibly, minimising waste and benefitting the environment. 

The not-for-profit Fibreshed, which started in 2010 in California, has supported over 30 official Fibreshed communities all over the world. The organisation implements climate beneficial agriculture, rebuilds regional manufacturing, and connects end-users to the source of fiber through direct educational offerings. This ethos looks at ethical fashion production as an entire system, and works towards a soil to soil concept whereby textiles are grown, created, designed, produced, worn and composted locally.

As it stands, sustainable fashion doesn’t often actively give back to the land, but in practices such as this, that could change. Reducing our consumption of fast fashion is great but it’s about making the eco-fashion movement regenerative, too. 

Carbon Cycle reports that ‘in 2011, Fibershed prototyped a “150-mile wardrobe” from regionally grown fibers, natural dyes and local labor that generated zero toxic fresh water effluent, reducing the CO2 footprint to one sixth that of conventional garments, and developing a network of over 200 urban designers and rural farmers willing to work together to build a new model for fiber systems.’ Patagonia, too, now works with regenerative organic cotton farms in India to produce clothing that actually does something good, as well as helping to mitigate a bigger problem. 

Want to know more about regenerative agricultural practices? You can actually now combine your love for travel, seeing the world and educating yourself with incredible trips and homestays that immerse you within regenerative agriculture. Agritourism is on the up, and as Evie Ramirez points out in a feature she wrote for us last year, ‘is a meaningful and effective way for the hospitality industry to educate and entertain tourists while supporting a wholesome, thriving economy. For visitors, it’s a unique, experiential learning opportunity to understand agriculture. For farmers, it’s a way to supplement income during off-seasons, gain recognition for their agricultural produce and protect their land’s natural resources and amenities.’ Look also for regenerative farming certification: find more info here.

You’ll also find that organisations such as Regenerative Travel have plenty of Farm to Table sustainable escapes on their books, too. Places such as Finca Luna Nueva in Costa Rica offer guests an insight into how regenerative farming can change the outlook of the ecosystem. As Regenerative Travel put it: ‘The essence of Finca Luna Nueva is a shining passion for a regenerative relationship with natural resources. Certified biodynamic, a farm approach of replenishing and feeding into the natural life cycle is key to a harmonious, sacred bond with the land and ecosystem.’ 

Want to do more, as well as knowing more? Let’s see how you could implement similar and simple practices in your own gardens and outdoor spaces.

Make your own compost
Collect all your food and kitchen scraps to create a nutrient rich meal for your soil.

Plant some cover crops 
Opt for planting something such as grazing rye, mustard (fast-growing and can be incorporated into the soil after a few months to boost organic production), winter field beans or peas (great for boosting nitrogen) or buckwheat.

Decrease soil exposure
This is a great one for small urban gardens as it’s relatively easy to do when you don’t have a big garden to tend to. For regenerative farming, it’s recommended to pull one crop up and replace it with another on the same day. This decreases soil exposure and increases overall yield potential.

Practice zero-tilling
Implement a permanent bed structure whereby you use the same soil season to season, instead of turning it over all the time and releasing carbon into the atmosphere. You can also use leaves or straw as mulch and use a broad fork as a minimally invasive way of loosening the soil.

Ignore the weeds
Think of them as playing a leading role in the diversity of your garden and see them as protectors of your precious plants. Only trim them when they get big enough to annoy you (once or twice a year).