Why Patagonia Promotes Regenerative Organic Agriculture

  • Patagonia CEO Rose Marcario is a strong believer in regenerative organic farming.
  • It is an experimental farming method that prioritizes soil health to absorb carbon.
  • Although its long-term effects are unknown, it has enough proven principles to qualify as a beneficial practice worth pursuing.
  • Patagonia is pushing for more adoption, customer education, and federal grants that help farmers transition to this method.
  • This article is part of Business Insider’s ongoing series on The Better Capitalism.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Patagonia CEO Rose Marcario wants to change the way the world farms, and she’s ready to take on any entrenched powers that would oppose it.

Marcario is one of Business Insider’s “100 People Transforming Businesses,” and in an interview for the story, she kept talking about one of her passions for the past two years: regenerative organic agriculture. The experimental farming method is a system that his company’s founder, Yvon Chouinard, has called nothing less than “the number one thing humans can do to fight global warming.” Patagonia has been experimenting with it for two years through its food division, Patagonia Provisions.

As Marcario told us, “chemical agriculture has to go the way of the dinosaur, otherwise we will go the way of the dinosaur”.

Beginning in 2017, Patagonia partnered with the Rodale Institute, a highly respected research institution that helped popularize the organic food movement in the United States. Marcario joined other climate-conscious corporate leaders such as Dr. Bronner’s soaps and Paul Dolan of the Wild Farm Alliance to form the Regenerative Organic Alliance under Rodale’s leadership. Through a pilot program that included their own and other brands (such as Horizon Dairy Products and Nature’s Path Foods), graduate students from 34 universities, and oversight from the National Science Foundation, the council developed the Regenerative Organic certification. .

“We’re really excited about this because we need a compensatory voice for big chemical farming and to keep the bar low on industrial farming methods that I think have really hurt our country,” we said. Marcario said. And as she said in a keynote she gave last year at the Natural Products Expo West, such behavior is “reckless and suicidal.” “Topsoil is our nation’s wealth and we waste it,” she said.

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Patagonia worked with researchers at the Rodale Institute to determine which farming practices are best for soil health.


So what is it?

To break down the basics of regenerative organic agriculture, we drew inspiration from Rodale’s papers, work by Andrew McGuire of Washington State University’s Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources, and an interview with Nicole Tautges of the Russell Ranch at the University of California Davis Sustainable Agriculture Institute.

Here’s how the technique differs from typical large-scale farming practices in the United States:

It limits tillage.

Tillage is the preparation of soil for crops – think of the tractor pulling a large plow across a field. Regular tillage is proven to contribute to long-term soil erosion, and so there has been a growing movement to limit tillage as much as possible, as it is necessary for most vegetable crops.

It has various crop rotations.

There is ample evidence that a diversity of crops in an area promotes soil biodiversity, which in turn reduces the need for pesticides and reduces nutrient loss.

He uses cover crops.

Farmers grow cover crops after their cash crops (the ones they sell) to protect the soil during the off-season cash crop. They can be grasses or legumes, and their roots maintain the integrity of the soil below the surface, while protecting the topsoil from wind erosion. There are several regenerative farming methods, but Rodale does not use multi-species cover crops, which has been controversial. As Tautges said, there just isn’t enough evidence that using a variety of cover crops is better than using just one variety. A single cover crop is also much cheaper, she said, and the goal should be to make best practices more affordable. There is some evidence that cover crops are beneficial, but there is still plenty of room to explore the practice in detail.

He integrates breeding.

There is consensus that the use of manure is beneficial to soil health.

It has no synthetic inputs.

The Rodale Institute fully follows USDA organic guidelines.

It does not use GMOs or gene editing.

Tautges said there is no evidence that genetically modified foods harm humans, but there is evidence that the widespread use of GMOs since the 1990s has resulted in herbicide-resistant weeds, since GMOs limit the need for diverse crop rotations.

It does not use above-ground systems.

Tautges said there is plenty of evidence that soilless systems, like hydroponics, are highly efficient and have the benefit of allowing more crops to be grown in cities, which can reduce transportation emissions. That said, these practices also require chemicals, which is why the Rodale Institute will not use them.

Read more: Patagonia CEO says ‘capitalism must evolve’ if we want to save the planet


Kernza, shown here in a scene from Patagonia’s “Unbroken Ground,” is a grain developed to have very long roots, which pull carbon from the air to the ground.


What does Patagonia do?

Marcario is one of the practice’s leading evangelists. Its mission is to engage more businesses in implementing regenerative organic agriculture, educate consumers about it, and lobby the federal government to enact policies that will lead to subsidies. that will make the transition possible.

“Solar power has grown much faster than people thought,” she told us. “I truly believe that there is an incredible coalition across this country of CEOs who understand that the climate crisis is real and that we need to act and act quickly – act collaboratively.”

She sees the greatest opportunity to be in agriculture.

The Rodale Institute claims that if the world switched to regenerative organic agriculture, 100% of the carbon in the atmosphere that contributes to global warming could be reabsorbed into the soil – healthy soil does indeed sequester carbon, and although this hypothetical sounds like a cure for climate change, it’s just a hypothesis.

But that doesn’t mean it’s not worth pursuing. And Patagonia is going to be at the forefront of the movement.

“You’ll see a lot more work from us to tackle chemical agriculture and take a much bigger part in the conversation about regenerating the planet instead of bashing and degrading the planet,” Marcario said.

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