Working together to accelerate the transition to a just and regenerative agriculture system in the United States

Now live: new report ‘What's next for regenerative agriculture in the US? From incremental change to deep transformation to create a just and regenerative future’ takes stock of the dynamic regenerative agriculture system in the US, sets out how the Growing our Future partners are working to ensure a deep and collaborative transition that centers social equity as well as environmental resilience, and shares initial results from its collaborative pilots focused on finance for farmers' transitions, agricultural policy, and pathways to market for regeneratively-produced products.

It calls on agriculture system stakeholders to work across silos and prioritize social equity alongside climate action in order to create a just and regenerative US agriculture system that supports equitable economic prosperity, allowing people and planet to flourish long term.

Download the report

Catch up with our recent webinar

Agriculture has been sitting at the heart of some of the world’s most pressing challenges for years: food security and nutrition, water and soil quality, biodiversity, and sustainable livelihoods. Most recently, COVID-19 has continued to expose the inequalities and weaknesses within existing global supply chains, the vulnerabilities of farmers, and the growing numbers of people unable to afford or access healthy food.

What’s more, agriculture is responsible for 8-10% of US greenhouse gas emissions, driving climate change that is set to reduce the yield and protein value of staple crops.

If we’re to create a more sustainable future, business as usual is no longer an option for farm communities, business or governments.

The United States urgently needs a socially-just and environmentally-sound agriculture system. This means transforming the current agriculture system - which delivers yield and profit maximization and drives enormous negative social and environmental impacts - into a regenerative agriculture system which:

  • restores ecosystems services at the landscape level (soil health, water quality, biodiversity
  • localizes and diversifies production systems
  • maximizes nutrition and public health
  • builds connection between consumers and production
  • enables the equitable distribution of value
  • fosters racial justice and social equity.

Explore our Case Study: How Growing our Future is accelerating the transition to a just and regenerative agriculture system in the US

The Challenge

The regenerative agriculture movement in the United States has never had more momentum, but a number of key challenges remain:

  • Efforts to transition to regenerative agriculture often 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.
  • Many existing initiatives address only one part of the problem - focusing on using either a soil health or social justice lens - rather than designing for multiple positive outcomes.

To work towards a future just and regenerative agriculture system in the United States we need to break down these silos and create new connections among uncommon partners, and rewire the flow of resources and power.

That’s why, in 2020 and with funding from the Walmart Foundation, Forum initiated Growing our Future, bringing together over 135 representatives from across the agriculture system, to address the key challenges to accelerating the transition to regenerative agriculture.

What we're doing: Growing our Future USA

The first phase of Growing our Future, in 2020, involved a collaborative landscape assessment that identified key 'leverage points' for scaling regenerative agriculture.

Since then, we have brought together the Growing our Future community to seek ways to align and combine forces, access new energy, resources, or expertise, and to collectively design ways to drive tangible action to accelerate the scaling of regenerative agriculture in the US.

Together, the group identified four areas of work that have high potential for impact and require collective action. Over 2021-2023, three intervention areas are now piloting new ways of collaboration, with a focus on finance for farmers' transitions, agricultural policy, and pathways to market for regeneratively-produced products.

Find out more

Watch the webinar recording from August 18th

Financing the transition

Financing the transition to regenerative agriculture is essential. Farmers need new forms of finance to enable new types of investment because time horizons, risks and outputs are different, compared to conventional agriculture. Ecosystem Service Markets (ESM) - in which producers can get paid for the quantified and verified benefits provided to society - are rapidly emerging as one potential solution. The Financing the Transition workstream is supporting an ESM pilot in cotton growing systems, with both conventional and marginalized farmers and other partners.  

Insights from the pilot design illustrate trade-offs and key design issues for potential corporate buyers of credits, facilitators of the trade, and farmers. These issues go well beyond the much-discussed question of how to measure soil health to verify credits. There are fundamental questions about whether and how much farmers themselves gain, whether the emerging markets can be inclusive, and whether they are a useful way for corporations to help farmers in their supply channels to transition.

Policy change

Currently, $14.2 billion of federal farm subsidies per annum prioritize commodity yield maximization and increased efficiency at the expense of soil health and farmer livelihoods. Corporates have influence over policy, but often exert this without understanding the needs of farmers for the regenerative agriculture transition, particularly historically marginalized farmers. Policy measures are underway to support regenerative agriculture but they will exacerbate injustice if not implemented inclusively. 

The Policy Change workstream brings actors together to collaborate on policy influence. It has identified policies that will support the transition to regenerative agriculture, and outlined how advocates can also ensure access to policy programs for marginalized farm communities. Next it will provide tools for companies to harness their positions of power to advocate for these policy priorities.

Pathways to market

The current agricultural marketplace works well for large farms and large buyers focusing on 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 Pathways to Market workstream works on two market challenges

  1. Pathways to market that enable environmental resilience, improved incomes and nutritious food are emerging but still niche and struggle to scale. The workstream explores how to build a decentralized but scalable market system, by identifying and sharing insights from emerging solutions that enable producers to access, connect and benefit from bigger marketplaces. 

  2. New benchmarks have developed (e.g. Soil Regen Regenerative Verified and Regenerative Organic Certification) to help large buyers assess environmental outcomes and shift their procurement to regenerative agriculture. But many largely neglect social outcomes. This workstream explores how to elevate social outcomes, alongside environmental ones. 

Four emerging areas of action

From our work to date, four key areas of action for agriculture system stakeholders are emerging:

  • Advocate for agriculture policy that supports both positive environmental and social outcomes; both are deeply connected and complementary;
  • Develop and design ecosystem services markets in ways that enable farmers to capture new value and reduce the risky transition to regenerative agriculture;
  • Embed goals and outcomes around social equity in your regenerative agriculture standards, benchmarks and commitments; and
  • Build farmers' access to markets for their regenerative agricultural products, by replicating and linking up new value networks and reforming procurement processes and systems.

Learn what’s next

Join us in accelerating the transition to regenerative agriculture in the US

We are now inviting stakeholders from across the US agriculture system to join us in one or more of the above workstreams. Opportunities to get involved range from workstream contributor or implementation partner, to joining the accountability team or supporting the program as an amplifier and connector.

You will join participants representing farm communities, agribusiness, food service, retailers, manufacturers, apparel, investors, philanthropies, academia and policy. Growing our Future is co-created with diverse actors including major incumbent actors through to diverse and less-heard voices. It seeks to elevate the voices of historically under-represented communities, including Black, Indigenous farm communities and farm communities of color. It engages a broad range of organizations across the food and agriculture system, from financial institutions, to policy makers, to leading businesses and those just beginning their journey towards regenerative agriculture.

For more information on becoming a financial supporter or to discuss how you can get involved in Growing our Future, contact Michelle Stearn, [email protected].

Who’s involved 

Funding provided by: 

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“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

“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

Further resources 

If you would like to know more please check out: