The challenge:

Current approaches to agriculture have succeeded in growing productivity and driving short term profits but have led to ecosystem degradation, growing inequality, fragile supply chains, vulnerable farm communities, while reducing access to healthy food.

In contrast, regenerative agriculture systems rehabilitate and enhance ecosystems by prioritizing soil health and water management, while centering and empowering farm communities. 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.

Transitioning to a regenerative agriculture system requires shifts in behavior and investment. Harnessing early momentum into meaningful impact requires rapid translation and learning across diverse environments, markets and regional contexts. 

Many of the current efforts to accelerate this transition operate in the same silos as the status quo agriculture system; they are isolated by commodity or sector, and do not reflect diverse farm landscapes. Many initiatives address only one part of the problem - using either a soil health or social justice lens - rather than designing for multiple positive outcomes.

Our approach:

In 2020, with funding from the Walmart Foundation, Forum for the Future launched Growing our Future USA, a multi-stakeholder collaboration to accelerate the transition to regenerative agriculture. This program aims to mobilize participants to use their influence, expertise and resources to contribute to systemic change by working together to : 

1. Complete an assessment of the regenerative agriculture landscape that

  • reframes the goals of the agricultural system and encourages a shift away from extractive practices toward regenerative ones;
  • identifies leverage points for creating the change needed; and, 
  • provides clear calls to action for key stakeholders to deliver these new goals;

2. Design and develop a range of new interventions that support an equitable transition to regenerative agriculture for farm communities. These include:

  • Financing the transition through a pilot with cotton producers
  • Policy change  
  • Unlocking pathways to market 
  • Embedding social outcomes in impact assessment frameworks and standards

3. Foster new relationships and partnerships amongst agriculture system stakeholders. The combined efforts of the four work streams within Growing our Future US aim to transform the system itself, as well as the incentives of stakeholders within it, embedding racial justice and social equity as core outcomes of regenerative agriculture alongside environmental outcomes.This starts with including and elevating under-represented stakeholders, especially Black and Indigenous farm workers and other people of color (BIPOC), throughout the process. 

More than 225 people from over 140 organizations - including more than 40 farm community representatives, 75 value chain actors (agribusiness, manufacturers, brands and retailers, food service), 25 finance or philanthropy representatives, and over 45 civil society and public sector actors - participate in Growing our Future USA.

“The VF Foundation is proud to support Growing our Future’s work, collaborating with a diverse set of stakeholders to help scale regenerative agriculture practices, with a specific focus working with BIPOC farmers and communities. We believe the project’s holistic approach – looking at policy, financing, and innovative pathways to market – will drive positive, systemic change for people and the planet.”  – GLORIA SCHOCH, DIRECTOR, GLOBAL IMPACT, VF CORPORATION; EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, THE VF FOUNDATION

Impact so far:

Growing our Future USA continues to gain momentum, with plans to continue through 2023. We have reached a range of milestones to date. 

1. Financing farmers’ transition to regenerative agriculture

In partnership with the Ecosystem Services Market Consortium (ESMC), US Cotton Trust Protocol, Manulife Investment Management,we developed a pilot with cotton farmers to adopt conservation practices such as nutrient management, reduced tillage and cover crops on over 2,300 acres to generate ecosystem service credits. These verified credits, can then be purchased by corporate buyers to meet their supply chain sustainability targets. Through this pilot we are seeking to understand how ecosystem service markets, in combination with other financial tools can help incentivize the transition to regenerative agriculture an reward farmers for the full value they provide to society.

As part of this pilot, and involving other Growing our Future community members, we will also diagnose and begin to design solutions to overcome barriers that BIPOC farm communities and smaller farmers face in participating in ecosystem service markets. 

2. Policy change 

Members of the Policy Change workstream identified gaps in corporate participants’ understandings of regenerative agriculture policies with the potential to center equity and justice. The group chose to focus on policy where equity components need to be elevated and amplified.

The workstream serves as a bridge between mainstream and agribusiness representatives, acknowledging the harm their current system perpetuates, and farm communities, amplifying the mounting crises they face. Together, these stakeholders have identified shared policy priorities that center the needs of farm communities to ensure a ‘just transition’: one that delivers environmental impact while working to challenge deep-rooted inequalities.

What’s next: we will be developing communications tools for companies to engage across departments - sustainability, procurement, public affairs, etc. - to build support for policies that prioritize sourcing from farm community partners.

3. Unlocking pathways to market 

The current marketplace works well for large farms and large buyers that engage in low-cost bulk trade in a few subsidized commodities. However, this does not deliver the environmental or livelihood outcomes needed and farmers farming regeneratively have limited market access. 

The workstream participants are exploring how to build a decentralized but scalable market system for regeneratively produced goods by identifying and sharing insights from emerging or existing solutions that enable producers to access, connect and benefit from bigger marketplaces. 

What next:  Our ambition is to replicate and scale regenerative value networks, ensuring collective understanding of – and commitment to – the factors behind their success. We will continue to study and map examples of regenerative value networks currently operating within the US, and assess and share information about mechanisms that are fostering resilience while driving multiple positive outcomes for communities and businesses. Finally, we aim to identify gaps that could be addressed through prototyping new solutions with partners.

4. Embedding Social Outcomes 

Current standards, certification and evaluation frameworks for regenerative agriculture provide clear measurement criteria for environmental outcomes. However, while farmer-centered practices are often named,  it is rare for social criteria to be explicitly included. In a benchmark of 16 food and regenerative agriculture programs carried out by Forum for the Future, only four included social criteria in their evaluation framework. 

What next: Working with BIPOC farm community partners  existing standards and certifications, we will develop criteria against which to measure positive social outcomes in regenerative agriculture. Our goal is to advise businesses further along the supply chain, enabling them to support the social dimensions of regenerative agriculture.

Find out more about  Growing our Future USA

If you would like to learn more about Growing our Future US and how you can get involved, please contact Michelle Stearn.

With thanks to our partners

Corporate logotype -