The transition to regenerative agriculture in the US asks for nothing less than a complete rewiring of the current agriculture system. Here, Mary McCarthy, Forum’s Technical Lead, explores what we can learn from the collaboration and co-creation underway in the Growing our Future community about what’s needed to raise ambitions and drive deep transformation.

Transitioning to regenerative agriculture in the United States is a massive undertaking that requires shifts in behavior and investment from all actors connected to the agriculture system. Harnessing early momentum around regenerative agriculture into meaningful impact requires rapid translation and learning across diverse environments and markets, between small- and large-scale initiatives and regional contexts. And while each regenerative farm has a unique soil, climate and culture, there are shared barriers to transitioning, from perverse incentives to a lack of pathways to market for regeneratively-produced goods. 

Many efforts to transition to regenerative agriculture operate in the same silos as the status quo agriculture system - isolated by commodity or sector, not reflecting the diverse farm landscapes that will make up a regenerative future. Likewise, many existing initiatives address only one part of the problem - using either a soil health or social justice lens - rather than designing for multiple positive outcomes.

Rewiring the agriculture system through collaboration and co-creation 

To unlock this opportunity, Forum for the Future launched Growing our Future USA, a system-wide initiative gathering more than 135 organizations - including diverse agriculture system stakeholders, from marginalized farm communities to brands, retailers, investors and NGOs - aiming to rewire the agricultural system to accelerate the transition to a just and regenerative agriculture system in the US.

At the heart of the project and its success so far has been the unique role of collaboration and co-creation, bringing credibility and authenticity to the outputs, and providing a safe and courageous space to explore challenges and to unlock and test new ways of working. The active creation of a space where diverse and often marginalized voices are brought into the process of design and decision-making, has built bridges across the community and created novel approaches. This principle underpins the “just transition”: it cannot be a just transition if the transition itself is not designed to be just. Growing our Future does not claim to have all, or even enough of the answers, but we hope that it has gone some way toward addressing this key principle. 

 “Farmers are in crisis, so for us being comfortable is not an option, we need to coexist in this space together and wrestle with strategies, recognizing discomfort to move forward… and eventually come up with a policy structure compatible with boots on the ground.” – Eugene Pickett, Policy Workstream Contributor, National Latino Farmers And Ranchers Trade Association, Black Farmers And Ranchers New Mexico

Collaboration is vital - and can be hard

This type of collaborative process can also be hard - some discomfort comes along with a big tent, with disparate perspectives and conversations. Some participants represent communities on the front lines of the climate crisis and they want to know the urgent needs of their communities are heard and addressed. Others are deeply committed individuals trying to leverage their power within enormous organizations with deeply entrenched practices. They have an important role to play to ensure mainstream organizations that have benefited from the system as it exists today embrace fundamental shifts in the system. Some stakeholders, such as conventional farm communities, feel “locked in'' to the system of today. Leading mainstream stakeholders, from corporations to farmer networks, indicated that they see the opportunity to use their significant reach and influence to provide resources, incentives, financing, and advocacy power to get us closer to the goals of the regenerative system but need support on this journey. 

“The value of the exercise on shared policy priorities really comes from the different perspectives present, knowing and understanding the challenges that other groups are experiencing, and having critical conversations that allow us to come to a consensus. That is what will truly inform the path forward.” – Meg Villarreal, Corporate And Government Affairs, Nestlé

Growing our Future therefore has a role to play in both raising the ambition of mainstream players and pursuing deep transformation – carefully, thoughtfully, with continuous awareness of any potential trade-offs and whether one detracts from the other. As we move into the final stage of this initiative we will continue to ask: 

  • How might a diverse community work to collectively catalyze systemic change while holding different perspectives and areas of influence? 

  • How might we honor and acknowledge deep historic harms that have shaped the system today and work collectively toward a new future? 

  • How might we build relationships and systems of accountability to allow us to work urgently at scale and prioritize deep systemic transformation?

Collaborative communities can influence the way change-makers feel, think, act and partner. We regularly hear stories from Growing our Future participants about how they are thinking differently about a challenge at work, or exploring new partnerships because of something they heard through the community. New connections are starting to form and resources are flowing differently. Yet, this type of impact can feel less tangible. It is hard to measure and report on the impact of new relationships forming - the ripples of impact are long-term, often dispersed, and essential to a just and regenerative future for our agriculture system. 

Join us

We invite you to join us on this ongoing journey to accelerate the transition to a regenerative food and agriculture system that supports equitable economic prosperity while allowing people and the planet to flourish long term. 

Join our webinaron August 18th to learn more about Growing our Future and how new ways of thinking and working can enable the rewiring of the US food system toward a more restorative and resilient future. Register here.

Blog image credit to Meg Haywood Sullivan

Further resources 

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