Regenerative food business?

local food columnMy exploration of ‘what would a regenerative food business look like for Lancaster?’ has not stopped. In fact I am currently away exploring this very question by visiting regenerative projects in other parts of Europe – to better understand the processes that support businesses in shifting beyond sustainability.

So what does regenerative mean?

Well, food businesses may aim to reduce their impacts on the environment (sourcing local organic and seasonal produce, reducing waste…) and people (coop structure, paying a living wage, sourcing Fairtrade…) But is this enough?

In the broader context of climate change, loss of biodiversity and community life, it feels like we urgently need to move beyond reducing impacts and maintaining the status quo, and actively restore degraded land and increase the capacities of communities to become resilient. For example, a new farm could be set up on degraded land with the aim of restoring it; cultivating topsoil and increasing biodiversity in addition to producing healthy food that is eaten locally. But is this realistic when operating in our wider degenerative economic system?

Living systems can teach us about the process of healing, of regeneration, and have inspired a number of movements to develop design frameworks informed by nature. These include the International Permaculture Movement and Regenerative Agriculture. Observations from living systems can also be applied to business and economies.

For example, Ethan Roland and Gregory Landua’s ‘Regenerative Enterprise’ book presents ‘Eight Forms of Capital’ as an economic model that challenges our current financially driven one. They suggest that in addition to financial capital (profits), businesses should aim to cultivate other forms of capital, including: social capital, material capital, living capital, intellectual capital, experiential capital, spiritual capital and cultural capital. They go on to define a ‘regenerative enterprise’ as “a venture that proactively grows and cultivates the foundational pools of social, cultural, spiritual, and living capital by providing goods and services in a way that creates net positive gains for the system as a whole.” Complex growth is encouraged as opposed to solely financial growth.

They also suggest that it’s difficult for one business to cultivate all forms of capital alone. It therefore needs to collaborate with other businesses (creating Regenerative Enterprise Ecosystems) that collectively cultivate multiple forms of capital.

If applying this idea to a farm, it could work alongside other local food producers, community groups, cafes, research groups and public institutions to offer a wider range of produce; share skills and knowledge on regenerative food growing, on cooking from scratch, and offer a space where people can learn about ‘nature’ and our role as humans in our broader ecosystem… In many ways this is what Sustainable Food City Lancaster is working towards.

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