The regenerative agriculture movement advocates for new ways to raise crops and livestock but what about the supply chain? In this episode of Sustainable Dish, we chat with Sam Garwin, a regenerative food business consultant whose role in the food system reaches far beyond consulting.
Once a vegetarian, Garwin’s personal journey back to meat-eating began with a trip to South America and butchering a turkey. From there, her quest to make better meat a reality led her to work as a whole animal butcher in Connecticut. She eventually became CEO of the company, Fleisher’s Craft Butchery, which gave her the opportunity to obtain a new perspective on the conventional meat industry. The business skillsets she developed like managing inventory and tackling tough logistics for perishable items along with her continued passion for connecting consumers with better meat inspired the next step in her career: helping regenerative businesses make the most of their missions.
As Garwin explains during the show, passionate entrepreneurs who launch regenerative food businesses may lack the business acumen to get the venture off the ground. Branding can also be a struggle as the term regenerative remains largely undefined and subject to interpretation by a variety of brands. Just like the labeling term natural, regenerative is free territory for food companies.
And, although many farmers may be keen to adopt regenerative practices like good grazing management, existing markets may not provide enough payment or recognition. The cost of adopting a managed grazing system – which includes fencing, water systems, and more – may not be covered by the price the farmer receives through conventional channels like the local sale barn or a broker.
Some efforts are already being made to carve out new markets and ways to pay farmers for using these practices. In Montana, for example, the Western Sustainability Exchange is helping farmers who implement managed grazing get paid through a carbon credit marketplace. The group is using the Verified Carbon Standard to measure the amount of carbon that is sequestered as a result of using good grazing management.
Today, a growing number of food companies are expressing interest in the regenerative ag movement. Chipotle is aiming to create a new supply chain for meat raised according to high-welfare standards, for example. It recently announced a new program that offers three-year contracts to farmers to reduce the risk of adopting new practices on the farm. It hopes to source over 500,000 pounds of pork for its slow-braised carnitas through the program over the next four years. As an added perk, the program targets young farmers, who tend to be disadvantaged when it comes to having working capital, the ability to secure financing, and access to land.
Last year, Danone, Kellogg, Nestle, and a dozen other companies announced the One Planet Business for Biodiversity coalition to advance regenerative agriculture, rebuild biodiversity, and eliminate deforestation.
As Garwin and I discuss during the show, however, whether these efforts are merely marketing to attract consumers’’ attention or good faith efforts to create a new food system remains to be seen.
Take a listen to learn more about Garwin’s personal journey as a meat eater and butcher, working with big food companies, and a little daydreaming about what our ideal regenerative food system would look like.