“We plan to scale regeneratively-farmed ingredients across our business – at the same time as we connect consumers to the people and places that grow their food,” Shauna Sadowski, sustainability lead at Annie’s, told FoodNavigator-USA.
She explained that the duel launches this month of Annie’s Organic Elbow Cheddar Mac & Cheese and Organic Honey Bunny Grahams, along with a video of how the products’ ingredients were sourced from regenerative farms in Montana, “are proofs of concept for a new way of partnering directly with regenerative farmers,” and “an example of how we’re driving impact by investing in local farming communities that are advancing regenerative agriculture.”
In the video, viewers meet farmers Casey Bailey and Nate Powell-Palm, who explain how regenerative farming can help restore and enhance natural resources by reducing greenhouse gas emissions and sequestering carbon into the soil, which plants turn into nutrients that feed soil life.They also discuss some of the challenges they faced in adopting regenerative farming, which Annie’s hopes to help more farmers address through multi-year, multi-crop, direct-farm contracts that include measuring the impact of regenerative farming techniques on soil health, biodiversity and farming communities, Sadowski said.
“This long-term contract decreases the transaction risks for the farmer and land-owner, making it more feasible for farmers to make this choice,” she said, adding, “by working directly with farmers, we are hoping to better understand and address the challenges that farmers face.”
At the same time that Annie’s is helping individual farmers, it is building on its own organic-based mission.
“We are working to advance regenerative practices at scale by supporting the conversion of thousands of acres of conventional farmland in South Dakota to certified organic,” Sadowski explained. “As part of this project, farmers managing the transition will implement leading regenerative soil management practices, including crop rotations and cover cropping. At the end of the transition the land will produce organic wheat, among other divers crops. Annie’s will use the organic wheat in its pasta products, including its signature mac and cheese.”
While not all regenerative farms are also organic, Sadowski says Annie’s sees the two approaches as building blocks that together help it achieve a higher goal than each individually.
“Organic and regenerative farming share many of the same underlying principles. Both approaches prioritize soil health, leverage biological nutrient cycling to minimize the need for inputs and address animal welfare,” Sadowski said.
She explained that while the organic standard focuses on minimizing synthetic fertilizers and pesticides – while also using cover crops and other practices to build soil health – “we see regenerative agriculture as a way to build on organic principles to more holistically account for the renewal of natural resources and the prosperity of farming communities.”
She added that through regenerative practices such as not tilling, extending crop rotations and integrating livestock and cropping systems, Annie’s believes that farmers can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and sequester carbon, “both of which are needed to mitigate the effects of climate change.”
Change that can be measured
A key element of Annie’s approach to regenerative agriculture as an extension of organic is measuring the impact of the techniques, to ensure “desirable outcomes,” Sadowski said.
She explained that Annie’s will focus on three key outcome areas: healthy soil, above ground biodiversity and farmer economic resilience. These will be measured using an open-source scorecard designed by the company that includes 19 indicators.
“We made the scorecard open-source to transparently demonstrate our approach, solicit feedback from diverse stakeholders and provide a resource for others to use in their supply chain,” Sadowski said.
The scorecard deliberately is not connected to a larger certification effort, such as those being advanced by the Savory Institute and the Rodale Institute.
“We are mindful of eco-label proliferation leading to consumer confusion. That said, we believe it is critical to substantiate claims, which is why we have developed a practices-based scorecard and continue to work toward on-farm measurements,” Sadowski said.
Looking forward, she stressed that this is only the beginning and the brand is excited to introduce more rengeneratively grown ingredients across its products.
“Our work in regenerative agriculture is a journey,” Sadowski explained. “Moving forward, we will go beyond assessing practices to also measure outcomes in soil health, biodiversity and farmer economic resilience. Coupling practices and outcomes will help us understand how certain management techniques lead to results of interest.”