Investing in Regenerative Agriculture and Food

271 Ethan Soloviev - What is regenerative agriculture and why it is the wrong question to ask

December 19, 2023 Koen van Seijen Episode 271
Investing in Regenerative Agriculture and Food
271 Ethan Soloviev - What is regenerative agriculture and why it is the wrong question to ask
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

We welcome back on the show Ethan Soloviev, founder of Terra Genesis, now Chief Innovation Officer at HowGood and an advocate for regenerative agriculture. We take a deep dive into the four paradigms of agriculture and how regenerative agriculture is a journey, not a destination. It is not romantic nor naive, it is not anti science nor anti technology. 

Welcome to a very special episode. This is part of our online education course to accelerate Your Path Forward in Regenerative Food and Agriculture.

The course wants to help you accelerate your understanding of the complexities of the current food and an agriculture system and why a broad and deep regeneration is so relevant and interesting. We focussing on what your role can be in this transition, what companies need to be build? What investments need to be made, if you are in the position, and what other roles you can play if you work in big food and big ag that are needed to transition?

As part of the lesson about what is regenerative agriculture and food, we have Ethan Soloivev joining us for a conversation and we tackle that elephant immediately. We talk about why that is the wrong question to ask, what are the four paradigms of agriculture and, of course, about a lot more.

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Speaker 1:

Welcome to a very, very special episode. This is part of our online education course to accelerate your path forward in regenerative food and agriculture, to help you accelerate your understanding of the complexities of the current food and agriculture system and what broad and deep regeneration can do and what makes it so relevant and interesting, focusing on what your role can be in this transition, what companies need to be built, what investments need to be made if you're in the position, and what other roles you can play if you happen to work in big food and big ag that are in desperate need of transition. Find out more on investing in regenerativeagriculturecom slash course or in the links in the description Part of this lecture. What is regenerative agriculture and food? We have a friend of the show joining Ethan Soloviev for a conversation. We tackle that elephant immediately, talk about why that is the wrong question to ask and what are the four paradigms of agriculture. And, of course, if you know Ethan and myself, we talk about it a lot more, so enjoy.

Speaker 1:

Welcome to a very special episode. We have a friend of the show, probably the one who has been here the most with the newsrooms we've recorded many years ago with a number of iterations, and now back, ethan Soloviev Welcome. So glad to be here, great to see you, and we're going to go a bit back to the basics. I think many people might remember and if you're new to this topic, you might have stumbled upon it or you've seen it in the video course, where this part is definitely part of which is the continuum. I keep using it and sending it to people.

Speaker 1:

But I'm going to take a step back and actually introduce you properly, as many people maybe think Ethan Soloviev who is Ethan Soloviev and what brings you to the space? I know you're a farmer, you work with Howgood, with a lot of large companies, and you were one of the founders of Terra Genesis, which I think has been in the space for the longest. So where would you like to start with an introduction? When you normally introduce yourself and somebody sits next to you at the dinner party, what do you say?

Speaker 2:

I usually ask them about them. I don't talk about myself at all, avoid it, or I'll ask about their family or their kids. I'm a dad now. That's a big new part of my life since we initially started talking. I have a six-year-old and a one-year-old and, wow, talk about regeneration and growth and the evolution of capacity in a system. Just engage with the children. It's amazing. It's amazing. So that's a big part of who I am. I also love getting to watch them on the farm. My six-year-old she's like caught a lamb coming out of her mom in the cold winter mornings as the lambs are being born. My one-year-old was just like. Her first word was blueberry. She's always trying to get up into the apple trees.

Speaker 2:

She basically calls pretty much anything that's round and about hand size an apple. So that's the eggs coming from the chickens, she calls that an apple. Well, we've just got our hardy kiwis starting to fruit, she calls that an apple. So, being on the farm to raise kids, we have a small commercial operation of St New York, mostly selling locally 16 acres of apples, chitake, mushrooms, grass-fed sheep and lamb. And then there's a number of other farmers who live and work and have their livelihoods on our farm, growing vegetables and flowers and bees and chickens and ducks. So it's a multi-enterprise, small-scale, aiming for regeneration farm in the Hudson River Valley of New York.

Speaker 2:

All of that helps me to source directly from living systems, directly from a place, in order to do the incredible work that HowGood does. Howgood's the world's largest product and ingredient sustainability database. We have a software platform that enables people at the largest companies in the world and the smallest food companies in the world to understand the impacts of their products. What's the carbon footprint, what's the biodiversity impact, what's the labor risk, what's the water, what's the soil health? And how do you take all that and then innovate and improve and decrease your carbon footprint or get to net positive, and so our software platform helps to automate that, using artificial intelligence and human intelligence probably more importantly human intelligence.

Speaker 2:

But we work with six of the biggest food companies in the world and many retailers and ingredient suppliers. So that's where I'm really focusing my energy now, because it seems like we can't just have regenerative agriculture. If we're going to move the world, we need regenerative food systems, and this is like a perfect place with the data the best data in the world to help people make decisions to move in that direction.

Speaker 1:

Yeah. So, dear listeners, I mean, if you're part of the course, we probably send you out right now to either garden or walk or go for a run or do something not in front of the screen. I hope also, if you're listening to this as the podcast version, you're doing that and not being somewhere inside. But I think it's safe to say well, you would understand now why we ask Ethan to do a big part of this introduction piece as he bridges the land and the, let's say, office building or at the headquarter of large food companies. And so when you walk into maybe one of those headquarters or when somebody asks you the very obvious but very difficult question to answer I think for many people listening as well, they've had this question and then sort of struggled or maybe at those dinner parties, what do you say when somebody asks what is regenerative agriculture? I've heard it somewhere but I don't really understand what it is. And how do you make sure you don't go into a two hour monologue asking for a friend.

Speaker 2:

So it's very similar to the first question you asked me about how do I introduce myself. I don't actually launch in with what regenerative agriculture is. I say, oh interesting, where did you hear that? And what do you do again at the company and what are you looking after and have you been on any of the farms that you're sourcing from? So I'll learn a little bit about who I'm speaking to, because the response I give needs to be just like agriculture, just like regeneration needs to be keyed into the context. It needs to be designed to land in the right place, not where someone's at. I never recommend meeting people where they're at. I always try to meet people like three to five steps ahead of where they're at, so that they can get a sense of motion and pull and movement and intrigue. So that's all really important before diving in on what is regenerative agriculture.

Speaker 1:

So where do you add? So how would you do that? How do you, when you say four, five, six, seven steps, is that literally, figuratively? How do you nudge people to the edge?

Speaker 2:

I listen for the word that they use to describe what they think about agriculture and I use the four paradigms of agriculture that have laid out in a paper I'm sure you can link as a resource to kind of hear what they're thinking about? Are they saying well, it's really all about efficiency and reducing the inputs and harm? If I hear that sort of language, I think, okay, they're coming from this conservative, this do less harm paradigm.

Speaker 1:

How do I just bring the first paradigm, basically A second, after extractive?

Speaker 2:

If what they're saying is well, look, we just really got to make more money out of our farmers, and I've heard regenerative agriculture can get them to produce more.

Speaker 1:

So like can you tell me how to do that. Just squeeze even more Right.

Speaker 2:

I try to figure out where they're at and then I try to bring a perspective. Not that I'm right Again, I never think that any of these are right or even better but I try to bring a perspective that will be disruptive, that will be like a next step beyond what they're currently seeing, in order to open a space where something new could sprout.

Speaker 1:

And so that's a good bridge, it's a great bridge to, I think, where many people come from in the agriculture and food space.

Speaker 1:

Let's just not, let's just I'm doing just definitely between aquas, because none of this is easy, none of this is is a walk in a park.

Speaker 1:

But let's do less harm, let's reduce the damage, because we can all, I think, safely see the immense machine we have created in the world food and agriculture system, which is extremely good at what we gave it to do, which is produce of many calories, not looking at any externalities, positive or negative. And then many people come to the conclusion OK, we need to reduce that, because the externalities, the negative ones, are just getting completely out of control either of health, environmental, social, peak year one probably is being damaged severely by our food and agriculture system, but it's feeding most of the significant part of the world. So when, when people are on that level of, or a dead paradigm of, agriculture and want to reduce, how do you trigger them to? To not open your mind? But you said, like, how do you trigger them to to see something or to think of something they might not have thought about before when they, when they approached you?

Speaker 2:

So this might be a place that I would bring the continuum, this impact spectrum we sometimes call it, and I would start with. You know what they see and understand as they look. Imagine a line and on one end of the line there is the extractive, the damaging, the degenerative agriculture that you know about right, Because you've seen the harm it can do to people, to indigenous people, to all people, to anyone working in the fields. You've seen the damage it does to biodiversity and the deforestation and the eutrophication of the waterways, and you know a lot of agriculture has been that at least you know since World War II, but even a good ways before that there's a lot of damage being done. That's one end of the spectrum that's degenerative, and then you can move sort of up the spectrum and this is some of what you're talking about right now. How do we do less harm? How do we use less fertilizers? You know per per kilo or per metric ton of yield. How do we put a more efficient you know water and irrigation system, drip irrigation, so you're not flood area, you're not using as much water. How do we improve our efficiency of our crops? Through different choices or different breeds, and agriculture has done a lot in this in the last 20 years especially.

Speaker 2:

We've been moving towards sustainable agriculture. We've been moving towards this middle point, this midpoint, this sort of like if we could keep reducing harm, just like you're saying and aiming to do in your systems, then we could get to like do no harm. We could get to the middle of the spectrum, get to zero, get to net zero, and that would be a great thing and we should stop it, we should stop deforestation. But is that, is that enough? Like if you I don't know if somebody asked you like how's your relationship with your spouse, your significant other, how's that relationship right now? And you said it's sustainable? It's about net zero, right? Is that really what we're going?

Speaker 1:

for that would be a good opening at a dinner party, but then you're being a very different conversation, yeah.

Speaker 2:

Exactly. Well, there's a whole bunch of parallels we can draw between human relationships between each other and really human relationships with Earth, and so if you want to be in a sustainable net zero relationship.

Speaker 1:

John keep saying regeneration starts with restoring relationships between us. Plants, trees, animals.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, but even restoring, even restoring check it out.

Speaker 1:

What's the difference? You tell me Good point. What's the difference between restore to what?

Speaker 2:

Restore to some past state. To zero.

Speaker 1:

We go still to zero, which is not so relevant.

Speaker 2:

Which is not enough. So restoring takes a point of view that in the past we had something better and so we just have to restore it to the you know, before colonization happened here, or before the Ice Age or whatever it was. You're restoring it to some hypothetical you know past. So what makes?

Speaker 1:

regeneration different asking from a non-native speaker.

Speaker 2:

It's in the etymology of the word Generation generate. It has to do with birth, it has to do with born anew, create anew. And what we need to regenerate is to actually create something that has not been before. That's why we can't go back to any former way of farming or agriculture, or beyond farming or agriculture to a semi-nomadic gatherer, hunter, like. We're not going back. We need to regenerate what is new for this time, for these people, for this company, for what you have to do. That's your generation.

Speaker 2:

And so then you start to step over the midline right. Then you start to add value, go into that net positive territory on the spectrum where you're not just stopping before a station, you're increasing besides the Amazon rainforest, not just stopping it being cut down. You're not just like using less water, you're having any dirty, you know polluted water that comes into your farm actually get cleaned as it goes through your process and leave as beautiful, clean drinking water. You're not just getting people to a minimum wage, a sort of net zero yeah, they can barely make it. You're actually lifting them up and supporting their agency, their self-determination, their sovereignty with regards to food and culture and spirituality, and like giving them a not, you can't give it to them, but supporting them to have a very full being life.

Speaker 2:

So this is we're stepping over into the realm, we're heading beyond sustainable at the midpoint and towards regeneration. And you can apply this to any part of agriculture. You can look at soils, we can look at trees, we can look at you know water. We can look at inputs and say what does it look like on this spectrum as you move away from degeneration and towards regeneration. And you can apply it outside of food and agriculture as well.

Speaker 1:

And so, just for people to have this visually and of course we'll link to the continuum below. Also, we'll talk about why you're using it less and less, but why still, I think visually it's such a powerful. It's basically a big arrow with two points on both sides, and one side is a really extractive, degenerative side, where some places of a system might be, some other pieces might be not so much, and on the other side it gets, in this case, greener and more. On the regenerative side, somewhere in the middle is that weird sustainable zero point where we would never be or stay as well, because why, would you say there? But it's a movement, it's a continuum and regeneration is a verb and not a thing or a destination. And I think there are many people that. Are you regenerative? Are you a regenerative farmer or are you? That's the wrong question.

Speaker 2:

Right, yes or no, anytime you get into that binary.

Speaker 1:

Is this regenerative peanut butter?

Speaker 1:

No, I don't know what do you mean by? What is your concept of regenerative? It really triggers a lot of questions, but it also is an impossible one to answer because it is a continuum and it's never done. First of all, we don't even know what lies beyond there, like we're really not in the dark, but like this is, this is a much longer thing, much more a marathon than a sprint, and definitely not an easy destination to to reach. I just want to put it out there. I know we're going to overload people with a lot of things, but so we're moving beyond that zero point.

Speaker 1:

Even if we could let sustainable peace and go into a lot of these things you mentioned of the cleaning, the water and the social piece and the spiritual piece, how do you make sure it doesn't sound too good to be true, first of all, and like sort of in this naive La La Land that sometimes we get sucked into, which is great, but if you're having to make a case in a big company or investment case or something, then you don't want to be put in that corner of the naive we already talked about. We're not going back to anything. This is going forward, but still you want to make sure it's sort of grounded in that people can grasp it or connect to it or somehow, not like push it away is a nice faraway dream, but we, just we will never get there. Let's not even talk about it, let's just get to reduce the chemical fertilizer, reduce the harm. Like how do you make sure we get out of that naive a corner?

Speaker 2:

I think part of what the continuum does is it helps people zoom out from where they are currently stuck and see a more whole picture. It helps them see what could be beyond what their current target or goal is, and that's really useful, because then it's not necessary, like sometimes, I don't fully describe the spectrum. I just give the basics and I say what would it look like for your company, for your part of the business, to go beyond sustainable, like what exists over on that end? So people start to actually build their own bigger mental model and map. And then if you say, okay, and would that? How would that be useful?

Speaker 2:

How would that be valuable for your company if you had incredibly more resilient farmers, economically, in terms of the soil, to the climate change disruptions that are already happening and are going to get worse and worse, what would that do for you as a company? They go, oh, wow, that might you know. That would actually significantly reduce the, the volatility and variability in what we're going to be paying and having supply disruption and shortages. That does sound good. I can see a way that I would move towards it. So part of it is that I don't paint a picture and evangelize and tell people that they should go there.

Speaker 2:

I help them ground them, just like when you get someone out on a farm, which is a really good idea for any individual or PCD or organization that you want to work with just to like, get their CEO or CPO or COO or CFO or, you know, their executive director or whoever it is who's influential in the company, and get them a living ecosystem. Get them on a farm that's moving towards regeneration. That in itself will do a huge amount of movement, because then they can image with their own eyes, they can smell what they're known as, they can taste the food and that becomes something to step towards and go towards. That's more effective than naively selling some dream future, because then it's your dream future and it won't connect with them. They have to understand what it means for them, how it could benefit them, in order to have the continuing will to move towards it.

Speaker 1:

And so how important has it been that you're operating you're not your own, because there's a whole ecosystem on it, around it, underneath, etc. But that you're operating from, let's say, a working commercial farm, as you mentioned. It's important, as it been for you. Oh, I mean sometimes if it's a Apart from when you get amazing food and your children are playing outside all the time and getting amazing food. I mean that everybody understand the basics are very key here. But let's say in your how good life, etc. How does that help you?

Speaker 2:

It's incredibly important because I can speak with a level of groundedness and reality that is beyond a good idea like you were talking about. It's sort of a naive vision idea, but also beyond a financial business pitch that I'm just trying to make money for myself or my company. I mean, when I leave the farm, sometimes if I'm going on a significant business trip where I'm going to be stepping into that boardroom or I'm going to be at stage at the climate conference or Davos or something like that, I'll always try to take something from my farm like a little mint leaf or an acorn nut or some little thing and I'll tuck it in the breast pocket of my jacket To keep connect.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, right to have it, to get a little whiff of, oh, this is what regeneration might look like in this place, and I can remember it. And so when I walk into those scenarios I am whole. I'm not a segregated, split out person trying to do a business thing over here and something else over there in my farm. I am whole and I don't know, does that really do anything? I think it does.

Speaker 2:

How good is growing incredibly quickly in the world. It's not, of course, just me, but then other people in the company also. Many times people come to this company to get a job and then they start a garden. Or one person came in the left and started their own food business. Another guy planted an agroforestry coffee farm in Brazil in backyard in 200 square meters that had 57 different species of herbal medicinal plants in it that he didn't have before joining. How Good. So there's something that happens here where the reality of regeneration can be seen, and that infuses everything we do out into the world with what it's going to take on this difficult path to move into regenerative agriculture and regenerative food systems.

Speaker 1:

And what do you say? I mean, you're on stage, you're having a lot of conversations on this techno optimism. We'll get to the levels of regenerative agriculture. I think the part of the answer is there, and when people are really in the, let's intensify as much as possible I think ecomodernism is another term for that and somehow put the regeneration piece, a regenerated ag, in that corner of again the anti-science, the romantic, the low yielding sorry. Often it's like this okay, if you're going into any kind of sustainability direction, by definition you're producing less and we're producing more, so you're starving people. That's sort of the very basic discussion there and so we need more land. And like, how do you, when somebody throws that curveball at you, what do you normally say? Or how do you counter that? I don't even count out. What questions do you then throw back, because I'm imagining that your normal response is asking questions. What context? What questions do you ask back to somebody that throws those curveballs at you?

Speaker 2:

Now this one I'll just fire right back at them. This is just at this point in time. It's like that was a cute perspective 10 years ago. But now that you have the largest food companies in the world and the largest even chemical companies in the world putting their money in the basket of regenerative agriculture and talking about the benefits that it's creating for large and small farmers around the world, that argument is just not really tenable anymore. Like it's not anti-science, it's not low yielding. You can listen to John Kelf about this. He and I had a great conversation where he was like there's no yield drop if you switch to regenerative agriculture. That's just bad agronomy. Like if you've got good agronomy that is tuned into regenerative agriculture, you don't have the yield drop. You maintain yields and build soil health and build the potential for higher yields down the road.

Speaker 1:

So I would also say Bath-station not interesting or not relevant anymore as a point. Ten years ago maybe, I think that there's Look.

Speaker 2:

Part of that argument came because there was 15 years of intensive research, probably billions of dollars, that went into focus on industrial, mechanized, conventional input heavy agriculture.

Speaker 1:

But the interesting piece where you say it like that it suggests as a narrative that this is not industrial, not mechanized, which I just want to feel out there, can absolutely be Like be extracted. That's the no no, I'm just-. Because sort of in our mind, we go okay, so the other side must be hand. Nope, that's wrong Hand.

Speaker 2:

You didn't quite catch the angle. So I'm telling the story of why people got to the thought that regenerative agriculture wasn't this, which is so much effort in that space, generated a huge amount of yield, a huge productivity. But now some of that same research money, some of that same focus with some of those same systems are beginning to turn towards regenerative agriculture, and the expanses that we're having there, the growth that's happening at the large scale and at this small scale, are really powerful and significant. So regenerative agriculture is not about what size farming you do. It's not about whether you're hand tools or gigantic tractor. It's not about where you are in the world. It is about how you generate outcomes in the farming system you have, and those outcomes are economic, they are yield, they are also ecological and cultural and social. And so regenerative agriculture looks at what outcomes do we generate, not even the practices.

Speaker 2:

That's one of the reasons that the continuum that I did is cool and useful. It's good to see and understand, but it also isn't enough, because I preset what I thought some of the practices were along that continuum more than a decade ago now, and actually they all hold pretty true. So that's a good indicator of I was a bit ahead at that point. It wasn't just me. I learned from others in doing that. But also it's not quite enough because practices there are no regenerative agriculture practices right there. There's only outcomes that we're aiming for. And farmers get the creativity in Collaboration with their supply system and with their downstream partners and customers. They should get the freedom to figure out what practices, what behaviors, what approaches are going to work in order to achieve these regenerative outcomes in the system.

Speaker 1:

So now I mean, I hear there a Thing like a narrative. We're very early, we. We are very early in terms of even knowing what what agriculture systems with this new focus could look like in terms of yield, in terms of Like the research that's being put into it has yielded enormous, like that kind of energy and resources have yielded enormous outcome in the in the industrial Ag extractive side, and I were starting to put that into Intergenerative and we're Early on in terms even what, what's the potential in terms of biomass, of biodiversity, in terms of nutrient density, in terms of a lot of things. But and then let's go back to you, said we, the continuum holds and holds up pretty well, but you're, before we started recording, you mentioned you use more and more the four levels of a regenerative agriculture and the different paradigms, and let's unpack them a bit more and see what you and why you started using that more because it feels sort of like the Continuum but any 3d, like we add a lot of Of complexity to it, which definitely like read the continuum first, I get get comfortable with that, but there there are some more layers to it now, at least that's how you, how you at the moment, describe it definitely, and I want to just go back one minute before we do that, because it you said something like we're early in it.

Speaker 2:

I think we're early in large-scale industrial agriculture turning its attention to Regen. However, that's not the only form of regenerative agriculture. It's important to point out that Regenerative agriculture the best, the most well-known and ancient forms of it far predate modern agriculture, even the advent of modern tillage agriculture. 10,000 years ago, regenerative agriculture lived with indigenous communities and still does with some of those same communities to this very day, but it doesn't look necessarily like what large-scale monoculture industrial agriculture looks like. So regenerative agriculture can have a great diversity.

Speaker 2:

You can have a small-scale Vegan farm that's doing regenerative agriculture. You can have a mid-scale organic market garden. You can have, you know, regenerative range land grazing, whether that's in the what's now called the United States or it's Maasai herders in Kenya. Right, have been doing it for generations. So there are many forms of regenerative agriculture and one of things we have to or one of these I invite you all who are listening to this to be aware of and push back against, is any sort of Purity or fundamentalism about what regenerative agriculture is, because that actually Kills the diversity that we need. It kills the diversity of the world. To say there's only one way, and it's my way, and and there's only one regenerative agriculture and it has to be X, it has to be organic or it has to be no till or it has to be Whatever that's, that's gonna.

Speaker 1:

Has to be biochar, come on.

Speaker 2:

And an earth spiral. God damn it, right like, whatever the thing is of course, like. That that's, that is not the red approach, that is not a biodiverse, regenerating our thinking approach.

Speaker 1:

And so we have to look at this mass to begin with.

Speaker 2:

We, we exactly. We have to look at the diversity going forward. We can't have a fundamentalist mind about what regeneration is and try to wall it off because, to your point, there can like. That is the mentality that got us into where we are right now, and so we have to break that while also working hard to uphold the integrity of what regenerative agriculture is and can be and to make sure we're focusing on Outcomes, on what is actually happening, and not just like improving outcomes a little bit, but actually getting towards the point where it's net zero, actually getting Beyond carbon neutral and towards carbon sequestered, towards biodiversity enhancing, not just like there's a little more biodiversity In my big monoculture field. So now it's regenerative right. It's like we have to keep pushing for that regenerative end of the spectrum, while also supporting many at different scales, with different approaches, on their path towards it. Okay, so you want to loop us back to our paradigms question now that we touch that absolutely?

Speaker 1:

Yeah, no, I absolutely want, because that's that touches exactly the paradigms and the context of whoever is listening in whatever context and how. What is a logical next step or what would be a next paradigm for them? So we started with and you mentioned them at the beginning let's say if, if somebody, when you ask a few questions, response to that with and I want to reduce and my negative impact, I want to focus on that, etc. That's, that's one paradigm. Of course we have the extreme extractive one. I just want to make as much money as possible. That's sort of the first and then. What are the others like? Let's walk us through the different.

Speaker 2:

The four, and I'll just note these are not the only four, there's probably ones so I don't know at a different level lower, and there's probably ones beyond the four that I've named. So it's just useful to note that, like, we've got a map, but the map may be bigger. So you know, like my daughter, my six-year-old daughter, said to me yesterday when she got home from school and be out and Hike shoes on, she said do you know? We're in outer space and this, just this concept of like there could be something so much bigger than what we're currently holding and looking at. I just want to put that sense of awe forward here, that like, yeah, I've got four paradigms that I've articulated. They come primarily from my work with Carol Sanford and her work on regenerative business, but there's probably more beyond this. So we've got the extractive, we've got the conservative.

Speaker 2:

Next, there is a pretty significant shift. He sort of passed through and over what would some might call Sustainable or circular. A lot of people go for the circular thing of like you just go around in a circle. I think circulars really funny, cuz circular, like the circular community Figured circular economy community figured out that like they didn't quite have it nailed for natural systems. And so then they started using the term regenerative and say oh well, to be circular, actually you have to be regenerative towards nature. So they like I think that's a funny kind of midpoint, but above that there's there's what I call net positive or net Contributive. So this is where you get to this sense of we can't just do less harm, we have to do good. You can't just, you know, emit carbon dioxide. You need to capture carbon and put it into the soil. You can't just what example? If we not use it. You can just like do less harm to animals in the terms of animal welfare. You have to give them a life that is as close as possible to what their natural, wild existence was. So we're moving into this place where you're adding value to the farm, to the system, through what you're doing. That's net positive and that's great we should all be doing. All these levels are great. All of them have their value and Importance in the, in the system.

Speaker 2:

When you get to the fourth level that I've named regenerative, here our focus goes beyond the farm itself.

Speaker 2:

It goes beyond the individual good that you're doing and it says how do we regenerate the whole system that we're part of. How do we involve the capacity Not just of my farm but of all farms in the region and all buyers of food in the region so that they can see and hear and understand what regeneration could be like? How do we express the unique essence of this place, not just like, how do I make this a carbon-capturing farm? That's do good, that's, you know, net positive paradigm. But what is unique about this farm and this bio region, this bio regional fingerprint? What is the terroir of this place and how do I express that Uniquely through the goods, through the crops, through the ingredients that are being produced from here. Now we're getting into the realm of Regeneration, where you start to have larger systemic effects and you're never thinking of yourself or of your place, but in the nested whole system that you're part of and can touch and move through the agriculture that you do.

Speaker 1:

And just to give an impression, like when you're talking, working with these bigger companies, where do you feel most people are, what are most of your conversations and work around, because it feels like the fourth level or the last one you described. I want to name them or number them, because there are multiple there and I don't want to go below zero. That would be weird, like how are we mapped on the space, like the work you do or the space where we're in now? Where do you feel we're at Especially, let's say, large companies, your daily work? Yeah, I guess I'll say there's great diversity and that I embrace that diversity.

Speaker 2:

It's important we learn. Yeah, it's incredibly important because there are individuals inside of every company in the world at least everyone that I've ever gotten into who really deeply understand the world, every company in the world at least everyone that I've ever gotten into who really deeply care and are pushing their minds towards regeneration, towards that fourth paradigm or beyond. And that's not everybody inside of most companies, some companies, it's more and more. There's some companies that have worked farthest in this realm and you can see my interviews with them on how good resources are paid or at the events that we do at a client week or COP or et cetera. Like there are many who are thinking in a regenerative way and there's still a lot of people who are extracting and are coming from a conservative paradigm. All of those are there, I think. Would I love there to be more in stepping to net positive and regenerative? Yes, of course, but I'm also not pushing and trying to get people there, because you do not move people, you cannot move people. I guess I'll just say that this is a premise. I don't think you can push someone to get to any level or another. I think the only way that I or that you or that anyone takes a step in what they're able to see and do in the world is if you invite them to see the whole map and ask them where they want to go and what it'll take to get there. They then have the potency to take the step. You also have to back them up with data.

Speaker 2:

We're focusing on the practical philosophy of regeneration here, but also there's a lot of functional content and data. You need the carbon footprint and you need to be able to track those outcomes. For any farm up to any product, you really need to be able to do a product level. So much of the whole corporate world is focused on this sort of top-down greenhouse gas accounting or biodiversity nature accounting that looks at like headquarters and your initial scopes one and two, that you have control over and then maybe finally slowly gets down to where all the impact lies 90% of it in your scope three, you're far out and how good things. That's the wrong direction and that you actually should come from the individual products, the individual goods, and build your way up to get a sense of the whole. So you know we power all of the data and all of the decision making to help make that happen at companies, large and small, but you need that alongside an invitation to grow the paradigm you're working from. Everything will go faster if you can line them up together.

Speaker 1:

And I want to be conscious of your time as well. So, as a final I'm going to say final question usually becomes a final set of questions, you've been following very actively. Actually you've been participating in the data regenerative movement, whatever that means, for for quite a while. Are you first part of the question? Are you optimistic? And if so, what is different now compared to 10, 15, 20 years ago? Maybe?

Speaker 2:

Wow, I mean 20 years ago. It's a world of difference. So five years ago, even like, how good is now a member of multiple global coalitions who care about this and are focusing on this work? So there's the Sustainable Markets Initiative, which is doing incredible work, put out a great report last year called Scaling Regenerative Farming. That's freely available and there's going to be another one coming out around the time of COP. That's an implement, more of an implementation plan.

Speaker 2:

You know that organization has companies that are 250 billion in annual revenue. We're part of it. We're also members of WBCSD, the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, who has a whole work stream on regenerative landscapes and scaling up agriculture, plus the One Planet Business for Biodiversity Coalition. You know I don't know the exact numbers that probably has 400 billion in revenue. Companies that are part of it.

Speaker 2:

So like this is a major going folk. Even the World Economic Forum is like starting to step in on soil, health and regenerate. So like there are big companies that are putting their smart people and their resources and their energy and their creativity into moving this at a scale that the world has never seen before. It also needs the banks and the governments and the investors and philanthropic capital to come in and support the journey along the way, and that's some of what's starting to happen. I think the other thing that's different from five years ago is that it's not just carbon anymore, like this isn't just a conversation in the business world. Thank God, thank God's right, it's not. It's no longer just one thing, it's no longer just one God of carbon.

Speaker 2:

It's right, it's a whole system it's carbon, it's nature and it's human rights, and all of those are nested within each other and we have to do all you have them Data for all of it. How good has, from the beginning, for 17 years now, been pulling the data together for each of these different parts so that you can see it as one whole and make decisions that you know don't improve your own carbon, but screw you on biodiversity. And so I would say that's a major difference the scale of effort that's going into it, the amount of financial capital flowing into it, the creativity in the current capitalist system to work on it, from you know biodiversity credits to new laws that are like super stringent, like the EU deforestation law.

Speaker 1:

I don't know if they do do it, but like companies who don't comply with this law, the fees are massive.

Speaker 2:

Man, it's 4% plus of your annual revenue in Europe if you get caught out with any deforestation for six top commodities. So there is a rising to the difficult occasion. That is good and is happening. Am I optimistic? I don't know. Climate change is moving faster than anyone thought. Antarctica is melting, the Mediterranean is boiling Like the.

Speaker 2:

I think a change that is just starting to happen that we'll likely see more of and hear a lot about, you know, in Dubai this year, is getting adaptation as well supported and funded alongside the efforts towards mitigation. So we, like you, should check out Probable Futures I think it's the name of the outfit which basically says look, it's not a green tech utopia where we're going to solve this. It's probably not the day after tomorrow global catastrophe. You know that the media says it could be. It's probably going to be somewhere in between, if you look probabilistically and so that that might not mean 1.5 degrees, it might mean two degrees or three degrees or four degrees warming, and so what's the world going to look like in that scenario? And so we've got these great, this is public, you know maps that you can see and download the data.

Speaker 2:

How are we going to adapt? How is agriculture going to adapt? How are we preparing for the changes that are most likely to come so that we can keep producing significant amounts of food and nutrition for the people of the world and on all the other beings of the world? So I think that is like I'm stepping a little beyond where much of the conversation is right now to say here's what I think is important and what we should go towards. And you know, we've got artificial intelligence to help us out with that now, in a way that we never had before. We've got indigenous wisdom and leaders like stepping to the fore. They haven't gone away, they're here, they're being listened to like never before, and I think there's some converging forces that are important for us to pull all together into one whole system. So I don't know, I'm not pessimistic. I'm not sure I'm optimistic. It's going to be an interesting next couple decades.

Speaker 1:

So many follow up questions, but we're not going to go there as there will be a three hour interview, which we'll do over time, where we have Ethan back very regularly, which is amazing. But I want to ask from a very basic question and you've seen that and I know you've spoken about it but on the consumer side, or the customer side I know some people hate the word consumer what have we seen there? Is that different now as well, and or is that is a very generalized there? But do we see interest from people buying food for these kind of things? Very basic, yes absolutely.

Speaker 2:

I mean I generally think of them as citizens or eaters, because usually when you say customer, that means something different to each step in the supply system. But, yes, the individuals who are eating food, which also includes UMA and everyone I know of. On the planet, there is motion towards more regenerative. Most people don't know about regenerative, but anyone who learns about regenerative immediately wants more of it. It's so much sexier than sustainable.

Speaker 1:

Or organic or something yeah regenerative is just like.

Speaker 2:

It's such a great story, and so you're seeing the brands that move towards regeneration. They're doing well in the marketplace. You're seeing companies that are more transparent, even if they're not regenerative yet, but they're yet, as if you could ever get there. But even if they're on their journey and they're just starting their journey, being transparent and telling the story along the way is working. We just did just one example, and there's a press release out about this. We worked with a really great company, ses Imago Tag, who has these electronic shelf labels in the grocery store. So, instead of just like a paper tag, it's electronic, still much lower energy usage, but it's also very creative. It can like it can know who you are as you walk into a store with your cell phone and that you like regenerative beef or regenerative mushrooms or plant based Exactly, it can link a little led, so it shows you where it is so you can walk towards it.

Speaker 1:

It's a great company and we did a trial with them, or I can send it a list and it tells me exactly how to work. It would be so fast. Follow the light.

Speaker 2:

Actually, we work with an AI company called Vernique that does that. That's a shopping assistant. So you say could you please show me a gluten free, low cost snack for my six year old? Oh, and make it regenerative. And the large language model behind it will listen to that. It'll find the right product, it knows where it is in the store and they'll tell you where to walk.

Speaker 1:

So all of that is coming. Sorry, but let's go back to the press release.

Speaker 2:

In this press release we basically show the results of some trials in a small store not particularly in Stod Massive, a Stod Tiny store in London, in Bellsized Park, and we put little labels on it to help shoppers find the more sustainable foods, the more regenerative foods. And they say little things like climate friendly or fair labor, not a big. I'm not trying to teach people about the spectrums, I'm just trying to give them so they can make a decision off of.

Speaker 1:

And incredible results Is this thing on the whole aisle you could do the full spectrum with colors and stuff, but that's different and you wind up the bad foods that want to know you can't do that.

Speaker 2:

It actually doesn't work. I'm just saying it doesn't work to do negative ratings. It really works to do a small number of the most successful products and then help people find them. But telling people that 70% of their food sucks, just you know it doesn't go over well. Retailers don't like it either.

Speaker 1:

Makes them depressed.

Speaker 2:

So in this example, we saw significant lifts 25 to 45% lifts and sales of the products that were fair labor or climate friendly or water smart, right, and it was a short trial, but it mirrors what we've seen. Every trial we've ever done. Wow, we do this positives only rating system using how good it's data. It's an immense rate. We're crunching 100,000 data points for every product. Essentially, that we're doing it for, but we put it into two words that are really simple to understand and the sales go up. So this is being mirrored.

Speaker 2:

Mckinsey put out a report on this earlier this year. It mirrors the results from NYU and IRI and the work that they've done. So like consumers are heading in this direction, especially millennials and Gen Z. They want better food. Impact matters. They're willing to pay for it. Is this a blanket statement across the whole world? Maybe not. There's some differences. We're going to see in Dubai. We're doing some really exciting trials with a retailer there where we'll get to see a little bit in a different cultural context. Does this same thing happen? But by and large, I would say yes. Now it is different than five years ago. You can go in this direction and expect greater benefit for the earth and greater benefit for your financial bottom line.

Speaker 1:

Even as we're battling, in many places inflation and organic is actually being hurt in some places. So that's an interesting moment, or an interesting moment in time. Like you've seen for the first time, growth numbers are organic and not there or actually reducing in some places, specific products etc. But it didn't go through the sky or to the sky as it always went. But these kind of data show very interesting early results. So I want to thank you so much for kicking us off here, for giving us a look into your daily life, first of all in your daily work, in your mind, and that we should definitely use the continuum as an intro. But then there are many more layers and many more levels and it's a 3D world we live in. So let's not get stuck in 2D, but let's make it visual and make sure we move on in your own context and with your own speed and whatever it takes and whatever is necessary. So thank you so much, ethan.

Speaker 2:

Great. I'd say the last point yes, you're on speed, but let's go fast. There's a lot of change, there's a lot of levels. We got to walk up a lot of earth and you know humans to work with towards regeneration. So, come on, let's go. Let's get going.

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The Shift Towards Regenerative Agriculture
Demand for Regenerative and Sustainable Food
The Changing Landscape of Organic Growth