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New Book Offers Vision for How Regenerative Agriculture Can Help Transform Food Systems

CLF’s aspirational book describes how sustainable agriculture could benefit soil, land, health, farmers, animals, rural communities, and climate.

May 16, 2023

Image with two cows


The Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future (CLF) has published a book entitled What if CAFOs Were History?: The Rise of Regenerative Agriculture, which describes an alternative model of agriculture that offers myriad benefits over the predominant industrial model. The book envisions how positive transformation in the food system could be gained by advancing a “biological revolution” in farming that starts with soil health.

Regenerative agriculture is a holistic land management practice that aims to build soil health, close the carbon loop, and boost crop resilience and nutrient density.

“Industrial agriculture has been a significant contributor to our climate crisis, but regenerative farmers could be key allies in reversing this crisis because they nurture the biology in the soil and by doing so can vastly expand the carbon bank that healthy soil represents,” said the book’s author, Leo Horrigan. “We need many more people farming this way, and creating all the other benefits that follow from it. The transition won’t be easy, because there is always a constituency for the status quo—in this case, chemical farming. But the stakes couldn’t be higher.”

The book is a natural evolution of the Center’s decades of work detailing the problems associated with industrial food animal production (IFAP), from water and air pollution to the lack of resilience in the supply chain to policies and practices that exacerbate racial and environmental injustice. The Center has produced numerous reports and peer-reviewed research characterizing, for example, the harms of IFAP on the people who work in the facilities and the people who live near them, and the misuse of antibiotics in food animal production.

Regenerative agriculture is still considered an “alternative” model of farming in some circles, but the Center hopes that this book, in conjunction with a growing body of scientific literature, will help to move regenerative farming practices into the mainstream. As the centerpiece of a new era for agriculture, this model shows promise in three key areas where the industrial model has failed: ecology, economy, and equity.

“This book is an important new resource in understanding how moving away from reliance on the IFAP model and toward more sustainable methods of agriculture can help mitigate environmental, health, and socioeconomic problems – as well as contribute to other changes that are essential for broader food system transformation,” said CLF Director Shawn McKenzie.

The book presents a vision for how abandoning chemical farming and prioritizing soil health could lead to a cascade of positive consequences that include greater food sovereignty, improved equity, a stronger and more diverse farming workforce, healthier ecosystems, a more stable climate, and more profit and less expense for farmers.