Cultivation and Regenerative Equity Part I

Photo by Tania Malréchauffé on Unsplash

Food cultivation is a central theme of both social justice (aka Food Justice) and regenerative practice. Filling an inherent human need, equity of food sources must be addressed in order to build a fully regenerative society. If food sources only regenerative for a few, the planet and society are incomplete. One of the first field to take up regenerative practice is those who grow food, providing valuable lessons for other fields.

As I mentioned in my first thesis post, Robert Rodale is the furthest back where I have been able to trace the term ‘regenerative’. When he used this terms he was referring to an agriculture that changes and gets better over time rather than one we are simply trying to sustain or keep the same (Rodale, 1989). Today, celebrities such as Rosario Dawson, advocating for healthier soil to fight Climate Change and organizations such as Kiss the Ground in LA, CA are returning to his ideas.

When listening to Dawson and Ron Finley list tips for a garden to be regenerative (composting, no bare ground, biodiversity, no tiling, etc.) they sound very similar to Permaculture Principles that encourage an appreciation for plant diversity in the resilience and mutually beneficial relationships various plants provide, using an entire space (including the ‘edges’), and using ‘waste’ to feed the system. Mimicking and utilizing natural plant soil-building and co-evolutionary tendencies in these ways allows for growing food in abundance despite changing conditions.

One permaculture method is Food Forrests or Forest Gardens, an agricultural technique that upon first glance would look like a wild forest, but uses a wide variety of food plants and companion plants at all forest stories in order to create a resilient, plentiful food system. Behind the techniques offered by the Principles, permaculture is guided by 3 ethics.

Photo Credit: Timber Press

Permaculture’s ethical tenets are: Earth Care, People Care, and Fair Share. Mimicking the classic triple bottom line (originally coined by John Elkington in 1994): People, Planet, Prosperity, permaculture invites us to reinterpret a financial economy to one that is generous and grounded in equity. When I talk about cooperation in relationship to foundational regenerative concepts, this is the kind of cooperation I mean. It is a cooperation that is not wrapped up in growth at all costs economics, one that gives more than it takes to the environment and to other people, especially those less privileged. Though obvious to some of us, if equity is not stated as an explicit goal, it is usually not actually being addressed.

Not everything that is faced can be changed. But nothing can be changed until it is faced.

James Baldwin, civil rights activist
Photo credit: the seedling at sagada (based on

With the regenerative principles from the architecture field, The Ecological Principles of Design written by Nancy and John Todd explicitly include equity as a criteria for design (1994). The eco-machine developed by the Todd was the precursor to the Eco Machine in the Omega Center for Sustainable Living that treats waste water on-site in one of the world’s first certified ‘Living Buildings’ by the International Living Future Institute (ILFI).

ILFI has 20 ‘imperatives’ that a building project must demonstrate before being certified under the ‘Living Building Challenge’ and 4 of those imperatives are around ‘equity,’ 4 are around ‘Place’, and 3 are around ‘Health + Happiness’. Along with careful consideration of the build environment, ILFI emphasizes the human aspects of place and design, calling for a more systemic approach to architecture than even that lauded LEED certification requires. Although regenerative practitioners and authors such as Dominique Hes and Chrisna du Plessis acknowledge that these architectural models (such as offered by ILFI) are not the complete extend of regenerative practice, they are some of the earliest and best existing examples of the creation of regenerative societies (2015).  From the Todd’s foundational Ecological Principles to the imperatives of ILFI, the emphasis of equity in regenerative practice is growing.

So what does cultivation of equity look like in the cooperation required for regenerative practice? Of course every situation is different which is where Systems Thinking and ‘Place Literacy’ (Mang & Reed, 2012) come into play because every situation is different. In Part II, we will start to understand equity in regenerative practice better with a few of examples.

People from around the world use our regenerative design framework to create spaces that, like a flower, give more than they take.


Works Cited

Hes, D., & du Plessis. (2015). Designing for Hope: Pathways to Regenerative Sustainability. Retrieved from

Mang, P., & Reed, B. (2012). Designing from place: A regenerative framework and methodology. Building Research & Information40(1), 23–38.

Robert Rodale Question 4 (interview with USDA)[Documentary]. (1989). Retrieved from

Wiek, A., Withycombe, L., & Redman, C. (2011). Key competencies in sustainability: A reference framework for academic program development. Integrated Research System for Sustainability Science53(6), 203–218.

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