By Zoe Schaeffer, Regenerative Organic Alliance
Originally published: MOSES.
Regenerative Organic Certified (ROC), a new label for food, fiber, and personal care products, is now accepting applications for certification.
The label was first introduced in 2017 when a group of farmers, business leaders, and experts in soil health, animal welfare, and labor rights drafted the first ROC “framework,” the set of standards and criteria for earning certification. The certification is based on three pillars: soil health, animal welfare, and social fairness; and has three levels: bronze, silver, and gold.
In 2019, 19 farms and brands in seven countries participated in the Regenerative Organic Certified Pilot Program, agreeing to be audited to the ROC standard as it was first written and to provide feedback. The operations produced commodities from dairy to mangoes and cereal grains everywhere from Sri Lanka to Nebraska. The following farms and brands earned ROC designation following the pilot program:
- Apricot Lane Farms: Avocado Oil from Moorpark, California
- Dr. Bronner’s: Regenerative Organic Coconut Oil from Serendipol Ltd. in Sri Lanka
- Nature’s Path: Oats from Legend Organic farm in Saskatchewan, Canada
- Grain Place Foods: Popcorn and Cornmeal from Marquette, Nebraska
- Patagonia Provisions: Regenerative Organic Chile Mango from Sol Simple, Masaya, Nicaragua
- Lotus Foods: Brown and White Basmati Rice from Rohini, India
- Sol Simple: Banana from Masaya, Nicaragua
Other farms and businesses that received certification with products forthcoming:
- Tablas Creek Vineyards: Paso Robles, California
- Herb Pharm: Williams, Oregon
- Guayaki Yerba Mate: Misiones, Argentina
Armed with feedback from these farms and others, the Regenerative Organic Alliance (ROA), which oversees Regenerative Organic Certified, brought on task forces specific to each pillar. Recognizing that grand ideals and on-farm realities don’t always align, the ROA brought on farmers from around the world in addition to soil scientists, fair trade experts, and animal welfare experts to deliberate the finer points of tillage, contract labor, calf hutches, and more. The goal was to create a standard that holds a high bar for regenerative and organic practices while respecting the realities of farming and ensuring that a standard like ROC can work on the ground.
“Farming has a unique fingerprint in every corner of the world, and writing a standard that could accommodate the dizzying diversity of operations took much conversation and debate, explained Elizabeth Whitlow, Executive Director of the Regenerative Organic Alliance. “In the end, we think we’ve struck a balance between aspirational and attainable.”
The revised framework was released in June 2020 and is available at RegenOrganic.org.
ROC is built on USDA Organic, and only farms that have already earned USDA Organic certification or a NOP-recognized international equivalent are eligible for ROC. ROC then adds additional criteria, like stricter requirements for raising livestock on pasture, more robust requirements for cover cropping/ground cover, and requirements around worker rights and fair trade, among others.
The social fairness pillar is the greatest differentiator between ROC and other certification programs on the market. ROC is the first of its kind to marry all three pillars: soil health and land management, animal welfare, plus farmer and farmworker fairness. The Regenerative Organic Alliance intends to reduce confusion for consumers by providing this single label that accounts for an entire suite of values, guaranteeing that the land, animals, and people involved in creating a product were all treated with respect. ROC is a promise to consumers that their purchase makes a positive impact at every level: environmentally, socially, and ethically.
ROC was created because regenerative organic agriculture has the potential to address many of today’s pressing problems, including climate change, the ills of factory farming, and fractured rural economies. Industrial agriculture and the factory farming of animals are top contributors to climate change. In turn, climate change is making it harder to farm. Our conventional farming system has degraded our soil to dangerous levels around the world. Farmers and farmworkers are some of our most essential workers, and yet they face low pay, risky working conditions, and lack of access to health insurance. Rates of suicide in the farming population are some of the highest in the nation. Rural economies in the U.S. and around the world are suffering.
It’s time to make clear, calculated changes to our food and fiber systems. If we adopt regenerative organic practices on more farms, we’ll see improvements to soil health, the well-being of animals, farmers, workers, and the climate itself.
Feedback from Pilot Participants
“As farmers around the world embrace this movement back to biodiversity, the ROC standard serves to not only set the goals but to unite the culture and conversation around regenerative agriculture,” said John Chester, Founder of Apricot Lane Farms.
Jordan Lonborg, viticulturist at Tablas Creek Vineyard, said, “In all honesty, when the info for ROC first crossed my desk, I did not pay much attention. As a certified organic and biodynamic property, juggling a third certification seemed a bit daunting. As I began to dig through what ROC was, its standards, and its overall mission, it became quite clear that this was something that Tablas Creek Vineyard had to get behind. What really drew us in was ROC’s commitment to the importance of the Social Responsibility pillar/standard. In the world of agriculture, all too often are the workers overlooked.”
“Grain Place Foods is committed to the long-term goals established by the Regenerative Organic Certified program. It aligns with the vision of organic agriculture my father and I had when I returned to the family farm 45 years ago. Healthy soil is the key to a healthy life for everything,” said David Vetter, Grain Place founder.
“The Regenerative Organic Alliance’s certification program is allowing brands to come together as one cohesive voice in alignment towards the regenerative organic standards to really empower companies, farmers, and consumers with one voice,” said Manuel Gorrin, Brand Engagement Manager for Nature’s Path Foods.
The ROA recognizes that farmers already face time and financial burdens managing certification programs. We aim to reduce that burden to growers and producers as much as possible while encouraging the growth of the regenerative organic market. Farmers and producers can leverage their existing certifications to fulfill ROC criteria and, in some cases, ROC audits can be conducted simultaneously with other program audits.
How to Get Certified
The certification process works as follows:
- Submit an initial application online. The ROA will ask you for preliminary qualifying information (such as documentation of your current certifications) and basic details about your operation, including crop and/or livestock types, your average number of workers, and your primary sales method(s). You’ll need to pay an application fee that is based on the size of your operation.
- Submit your Regenerative Organic System Plan (ROSP). If the ROA determines you’re eligible to proceed after your initial application, we’ll send you a customized ROSP. You’ll complete and return the document.
- Get paired with a certifying body. The ROA currently works with four: QAI, Mayacert, Ecocert, and QCS. Your certifying body will review your ROSP, and provide you with an estimate of costs, and can answer any questions.
- Have an audit. In some cases, you can bundle your ROC audit with your Organic audit.
- Final review. Your certifying body will review the auditor’s report and communicate with you about any issues, questions, or follow-up requests.
- Get Regenerative Organic Certified! The ROA will issue final certificates. If your operation doesn’t earn certification, you may be eligible to reapply depending on your results.
The timeline for getting certified will vary depending on your certifying body. Some are experiencing unusual delays due to COVID-19.
Stay up to date with the Regenerative Organic Alliance by signing up for our email newsletter at RegenOrganic.org. New subscribers get a four-part series on the basics of regenerative agriculture and the ROC program, plus resources for further learning. Follow the ROA on Instagram @regenerativeorganic. The most current version of the ROC framework and all governing documents are maintained at RegenOrganic.org. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Zoe Schaeffer is the Communications Lead for the Regenerative Organic Alliance and a part-time farmer based in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.