Organic farming was hailed as an answer to the pesticides, GMOs, and chemical fertilizers of conventional commodity agriculture. And it did largely get rid of those undesirable elements. But as sales grew—to about $20 billion in 2020—many of the most successful organic farms were sold to much larger, conventional agriculture operations. Although those businesses did (usually) abide by the USDA requirements for organic, the result was what is now known as industrial organic.

Yes, it’s still a worthwhile improvement over conventional factory farming, but mainly by reducing the synthetic chemical content and GMOs in non-organic food products. Otherwise, it’s still largely accomplished by machines and technology, and now organic fertilizers and pesticides, with much the same kinds of processed foods.

That’s why the concept of regenerative agriculture has come to the fore. Whereas organic is defined mostly by what it avoids—all those toxic chemicals and genetic engineering— regenerative seeks to accomplish what organic purists had in mind in the first place. That is, it focuses on the continuous development of complementary and ecological processes, so that it’s much more holistic, inclusive, and expansive than organic. For instance, it’s possible to use “natural” pesticides that approach the toxicity of conventional pesticides, and to get organic
certification even if farm workers are underpaid and overworked. Not so with regenerative, which is much more holistic and truly natural in its approach.