Dr. Bronner’s, an American producer of organic soap and personal care products, and increasingly food (try their chocolate) is partnering with Domaine La Falize, a well-known leading European farm in the organic and biodynamic farming movement.
Together they are galvanizing a new vision of planet-positive food and fiber production “regenerative organic agriculture” a new way of farming that heals the soil and can reverse climate change.
Dr. Bonner’s has made a financial contribution to La Falize, a 500-acre family estate farm located in the rural and picturesque Namur province of Belgium. The money will help La Falize implement and pursue regenerative practices and expand the farm’s carbon sequestration, biodiversity and water-holding capacity. La Falize is famous for its working market garden, vineyards and organically-grown field crops and boasts a castle built in the 17th and 18th centuries.
The partnership was facilitated by Soil Heroes, a planet-positive farm-to-company matchmaker. Soil Heroes provides farmers with the financial incentive and means to transition to regenerative farming practices by connecting them with businesses, organizations and individuals committed to helping farmers restore and regenerate their soil and natural landscapes.
“We want to show that farmers can be a real part of the solution toward climate change, in terms of carbon sequestration, biodiversity and the health of the landscape of our countryside.”
Farming Regeneratively Can Heal the Planet
Regenerative agriculture, a slate of agricultural practices focusing on regenerating soil health, has been proven to sequester carbon, improve the water-holding capacity of soils, increase the biodiversity of farmed landscapes and grow more nutritious crops.
“We want to show that farmers can be a real part of the solution toward climate change, in terms of carbon sequestration, biodiversity and the health of the landscape of our countryside,” says Pierre-Yves van Haute, managing director of Domaine La Falize.
La Falize doesn’t grow the sort of crops Dr. Bronner’s use in their products. But by investing in La Falize’s regenerative practices, Dr. Bronner’s is “supporting and getting to know the different regenerative approaches through Europe and strengthening the regenerative network by being part of it,” says Anke Buhl, the managing director for Dr. Bronner’s European operations.
Dr. Bronner’s is a long-time supporter of regenerative agriculture. They are one of the founding members of the U.S.-based alliance that created the Regenerative Organic Certification(TM) (ROCTM), a gold-standard label for farms that pursue organic practices farming without the use of artificial chemicals and regenerative methods focused on soil health.
Dr. Bronner’s announced their own ROC product, virgin coconut oil, in the spring of 2020. They plan to achieve ROC status for all the main ingredients they source and use in their production. The major ingredients of palm oil and mint oils are already ROC.
Farming Regeneratively and Organically is Challenging
While there is a groundswell of farms in the U.S. and Europe adopting regenerative practices, by far the majority still use man-made chemicals in their farming operations, particularly for weed control.
One of the main tenets of regenerative agriculture is not tilling the ground to support soil health. But, that means weeds can take off and out-compete crops. As a result, many regenerative farmers use chemical weed control products. On the other hand, most organic farms use intensive tillage practices to control weeds precisely but sacrifice their soil health to eliminate weeds.
The first year La Falize experimented with regenerative practices, they lost more than 20 hectares of crops due to overwhelming weed pressure, van Haute says. But with the financial help from Dr. Bronner’s, they hope to develop better methods.
Specifically, La Falize plans to explore different cover crops to determine which one works best for which type of cash crop they are growing. A cover crop is a sacrifice crop that is not harvested but is planted explicitly to cover the soil. It is typically mechanically killed, grazed by livestock or allowed to die during cold winter weather. Then the cash crop is seeded or transplanted directly into the decomposing cover crop plant material.
They will also use some of the funds to purchase machinery to help them better prepare the land for the cover crop plantings, van Haute says.
But just because it’s more complicated doesn’t mean organic farmers shouldn’t pursue more regenerative practices, van Haute says.
“Twenty years ago, La Falize was a pioneer farm in terms of switching from conventional to organic. Now we see how many farms are going organic and realize we need to go one step further to continue being a leader,” van Haute says. “We believe regenerative agriculture can help organic farmers generate a new revenue stream related to carbon credits and ecosystem services, improving their profitability but also the environmental health of their farms. “
“I want to be able to sell my cereal crops to a baker directly, rather than go through a middle man.”
Inspiring a New Regenerative Supply Chain
Anke Buhl and Gero Leson, Vice President of Special Operations at Dr. Bronner’s, recently toured La Falize, where they learned more about the farm’s history, La Falize’s long commitment to environmentally-friendly practices and more about their regenerative plans.
La Falize started implementing organic practices in the late 1990s because the nitrate levels from farming with chemical fertilizers were so high that their water was hazardous for human consumption. Now the water is safe and drinkable, but in the process of going organic, they learned many more interesting lessons, van Haute says.
They began to diversify their crops. Not just growing row crops for reselling to large distributors but also concentrating on specialty market garden crops of fruits and vegetables like ancient varietals of tomatoes and high-end strawberries, cherries and asparagus sold to chefs and consumers. They also planted a vineyard, a successful experiment proving that high-quality wine could be grown in Belgium.
All those years of learning, experimenting and pursuing new markets for their farm products led La Falize to realize the need for farmers to shorten supply chains and establish closer relationships with companies that buy their farm products, van Haute says.
“I want to be able to sell my cereal crops to a baker directly, rather than go through a middle man,” van Haute says. “This partnership with Dr. Bronner’s is inspiring to us. It is going beyond and disrupting the food system we’re currently in.”
Working directly with their own supply chain, with sister companies and smallholder farmers in countries like Sri Lanka, Ghana and India, Dr. Bronner’s have expanded their thinking. For example, Dr. Bronner’s has a limited-edition chocolate bar, developed after they realized the farmers supplying their fair-trade and regenerative organic palm oil were also growing cocoa and needed a better outlet for it, she says.
Helping their supply-chain farmers adopt regenerative organic practices has enabled a more reliable living for their smallholder farmer supply chain, a healthier planet and been a “source of inspiration for new products,” Buhl says.
Rubie Van Crevel
Business Development, NL
Let’s talk Regenerative Agriculture
You know you’ll dig it too.