Groundswell: making the case for regenerative agriculture

By Louisa Dodd, SRA Senior Project Manager

Who needs Glastonbury when you’ve got a supergroup of some of the biggest and best-known names in hospitality wanting to head to a festival and stand in a field talking about the mud itself? 

We took a group of representatives of Food Made Good Rated businesses to Groundswell festival, to learn more about the principles, challenges, and solutions to regenerative agriculture.

Armed with the diagram below, we visited a series of sessions and stalls exploring how a more soil-centric way of farming holds the key to restoring vast swathes of degraded land, boosts biodiversity, sequesters carbon, fights climate change, builds resilience against soil erosion and provides greater productivity, and crucially, tastier, and more nutritional food. ‘Regenerative Agriculture’, the term which encompasses these principles has received well-deserved traction over recent years, so we were eager to hear more.

Here are some of the highlights:

There was interesting news from Honest Burger, which is working with a group of farmers behind Grassroots, to source beef from regenerative farms. From the farmers’ side, this provides a route to market for the product, and for Honest, there’s access to the whole animal, 70% of which it uses for its burgers, with the additional 30% heading to other restaurants. This new approach has seen Honest reduce the number of cows it uses from 400-500 to only 50 a week, which in the process has minimised their number of producer farms from around 120 to 20. 

Hodmedod’s described themselves as “a proud middleman”, after establishing themselves to provide a market for British grown pulses and grains grown by around 35 farmers, distributed to restaurants around the country. They continue to fuel the likes of Wahaca and the Duke of Cambridge’s menus with plant powered pulses. 

Further optimism came from Abby Rose, part of the team behind high welfare meat producers Pipers Farm, who are working with 44 Devonshire farms to produce meat to the same agreed levels of high welfare and farming principles. Many of the debates and discussion returned to the recurring theme around certification and agreed standards for regenerative agriculture. While the presence of skylarks on a farm might be a good indicator, it’s not something you’d stick on a supermarket label, as Abby joked.   

The keynote of the day came from Henry Dimbleby, off the back of the government’s dismissive response of his National Food Strategy. For hospitality, Dimbleby suggested restaurants continue following his salt and sugar reduction recommendations, even if the government hasn’t adopted them. Read our take on the government’s response (or lack of) here.  

The day ended with a stellar hospitality panel made up of Chantelle Nicholson and some of the suppliers to her newly opened Apricity: Shrub Provisions who source fruit and vegetables from regenerative producers across the UK, and Neals Yard Dairy alongside one of their cheese producers, Westcombe Cheddar. Much conversation revolved around the true value of food, with Shrub and Neals Yard respectively appreciating that their ingredients will cost more, based on the level of manual input and attention which goes into regenerative farming. The consensus was that we need more hospitality businesses, and more diners, to commit to spending more on good grub, recognizing the true value of food.

Over a ‘high welfare soft serve’ ice cream, in the shade of a 27-degree summer’s day, we grouped together with other hospitality folk to discuss the realities of bringing more regenerative producers into our supply chains. Those working for larger businesses talked much about the lack of connection and transparency they have with existing wholesalers, distributors and suppliers, particularly on issues like regenerative practices.   

We agreed that we all needed to brush up on our knowledge about what to look for, and how to communicate to colleagues across procurement and marketing. Whilst not agricultural experts, there was consensus on the sustainability benefits. However, even armed with all the knowledge on ‘regen ag’, it remains an issue knowing what to look for, when there is no definition or certification for this method of farming. Beyond this, cost and logistics, as ever, are seen as a barrier. As an example, one of our party shared that there are only two cheese producers in the world who could meet their procurement needs, and positively, the one they work with is starting to experiment with more regenerative principles on farm. 

Some practical steps large foodservice businesses can take to: 

  • engage in reading and podcasts, such as Farmerama, volunteer with one of your suppliers. 
  • identify the ingredients you buy most of, ask these suppliers if they are doing anything to build soil health. 
  • in lieu of a regenerative agriculture certification, progress from LEAF Marque towards organic certification 
  • it’s easier to find small scale regenerative producers, so trial or pilot the likes of Wildfarmed Grain who are growing wheat with soil health at its core, or Shrub Provisions who are sourcing and supplying fruit and veg from British farmers with a regenerative ethos. 
  • Keep asking wholesalers and suppliers to provide as close to farm level information on origin. Build this into renewed contracts and tenders. 
  • Global Farm Metric: the holistic assessment for on farm sustainability currently being trialed on farms by the Sustainable Food Trust.  
Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on email