We recently sat down with Sara Harper, founder of Grounded Growth, a membership-based company that enables, supports and grows business partnerships between member businesses, member farms and consumers. Sara brings over 20 years of industry experience and a deep expertise in the intersecting areas of agriculture, climate change and sustainability.
(Emma) What are the major shifts you are seeing in the ag industry today?
(Sara) First, is the acceleration and importance of data. It’s a race to get data. Data has always been at the forefront for growers and in recent years we’ve seen this data become more accessible through equipment, satellite imagery, farm management systems, you name it. The agriculture community has taken hold of this and recognizes how important on-farm data is in making decisions. The second is the need to manage the footprint, whether that is on-farm practices or reducing waste in food packaging, consumers today want to know how their food is grown and food companies are having to respond to that. Food companies have an opportunity to define and differentiate themselves through their company’s mission.
(Emma) How do you see the interaction between the food company and growers changing?
(Sara) I see food companies and growers building trusted partnerships. Millennial consumers, whose buying power is approaching $200 Billion, want to be connected to their food source. This is why you see the picture of the farmer on the back of the milk carton or the local farm listed next to a menu item. Unfortunately, millennials lack trust in corporate institutions. Large food companies are tasked with building trust with millennials by putting health at the forefront. The focus on healthier food and clean label is here is to stay. Food companies are in a unique position to listen to the consumer market and connect the dots to their farmers.
(Emma) What is regenerative agriculture and how does this fit in?
(Sara) Regenerative agriculture refers to a way of farming that restores, rather than depletes or even maintains existing natural resources – especially the soil. While the practices needed to achieve this restorative outcome will change from year to year and place to place, the guiding principles remain the same. They can be summarized as:
- Keep the soil covered
- Minimize soil disturbance
- Increase plant diversity
- Continual living plant and root
- Livestock integration
Consumers are just starting to be introduced to regenerative agriculture. The things that regenerative agriculture can produce have the ability to hit consumer desires, along with the environmental benefits.
(Emma) Where does soil come into play?
(Sara) Soil is the primary asset we need to focus on to restore nutrient density and quality to our food and to restore our climate. The amazing thing is both can happen at the same time using regenerative farming practices!
“The soil microbiome is essential to agriculture, food production, human health and climate regulation.”
When you look at the soil microbiome it is essential to agriculture, food production, human health and climate regulation. This underground world containing billions of tiny living organisms working communally with each other drives nutrient cycling and is a primary determinant in the productivity of the soil.
Trace Genomics is a breakthrough enabler to understand the changes and interactions taking place in the microbiome community. By understanding the microbiome interactions, producers can expand regenerative ag practices because they know which practices are moving the needle. This is something we haven’t been able to measure in the past.
(Emma) How does the consumer ultimately benefit from regenerative ag practices?
(Sara) The most direct benefit to consumers is increased food quality because of the likely outcome that food grown in a restored, healthy microbiome will be healthier for people too. The research looking for the link between regenerative farming and higher quality, nutrient-dense food is a big focus of study right now. Food grown using regenerative farming practices will also enable consumers to support a food system that is significantly better for our shared environment, something many of today’s consumers care about deeply.
(Emma) You recently launched the Grounded Growth Community. What’s its mission?
(Sara) At our core, the goal is to expand regenerative agriculture through business partnerships. The Grounded Growth Community fosters connections among food companies and growers. We’re an online platform for learning and connecting the supply-chain. These are complex systems solving complex problems. That requires the ability to meet the stakeholders and explore partnerships and projects in a customized way. We bring two worlds together: food companies and farms – so that both their businesses and the planet can prosper.
Get in touch with Sara Harper