Turning a New Sheaf

History: In 2009, President Barack Obama designated the Friday after Thanksgiving as “Native American Heritage Day.” The civil holiday is part of a broader effort to recognize and celebrate Native Americans’ cultural heritage and intrinsic importance to our nation’s past, present, and future. While industrial agriculture commandeers the US food system and perpetuates injustices based on land theft and indentured servitude, regenerative agriculture incorporates ecological practices established by Indigenous Peoples, including:  

  • Polycultures – A form of agriculture in which more than one species is grown at the same time in imitation of natural ecosystems. By incorporating grazing animals and agroforestry – the preservation and planting of trees – farmers can offer food, fodder, and firewood while improving biodiversity, enhancing soil quality, and sequestering carbon back into the soil.
  • Crop Rotations – The planting of different crops on the same plot of land so that no section of acreage sees the same crop in consecutive growing seasons. Indigenous People have utilized crop rotations in order to maintain the productive capacity of the soil, reduce chemical applications, and manage nutrient requirements. 
  • Inter-cropping – A method of cropping in which growers maximize land use by sowing multiple crops simultaneously. Not only does this mitigate the risk of a single crop failure, but it also fumigates the soil and acts as a weed suppressor.

This natural approach to land stewardship is built upon a desire to rejuvenate the environment and correct the agricultural missteps that have accelerated climate change. In light of recent shifts toward large companies dominating the seed industry, indigenous groups have also debuted initiatives like the Regional Indigenous Seed Growers Cooperative – an informal market that protects ancient seeds and creates regenerative economic development opportunities. As consumers, we can also support organizations like the Native American Food Sovereignty Alliance, which exists to revive ancestral knowledge and maintain the co-evolutionary dance between humans and our environment.

Listen: Food by Design is a new podcast by IDEO, a global design firm. In “Old Ag, New Crops,” Sandeep Pahuja sits down with a diverse cast of changemakers to decouple regenerative agriculture’s Indigenous roots. When European settlers first arrived in America and forced the migration of millions of Native tribes, they also displaced an ancient form of sustainable agriculture. And in the 50 years following the conversion of grasslands to croplands, the soil carbon of the Great Plains declined by approximately 50 percent. If this all sounds like doom and gloom, click the link to learn more about how regeneratively farmed goods might just show up in a grocery store near you.