The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimates that roughly 30% of global emissions leading to climate change can be attributed to agricultural activities, including pesticide use. One of the most effective tools for stopping the present increase in atmospheric CO2 is to build soil carbon through regenerative farming, grazing and land-use practices with a focus on soil health.

Studio Hill Farm, a fifth-generation farm in Shaftsbury, Vermont is committed to regenerative agriculture. For decades the 270-acre farm was managed through conventional agricultural practices. It was hayed rather than grazed and managed with tillage, fertilizer, plowing, and heavy inputs. When Jesse and Caroline McDougall took over the operation in 2012, the diminishing return of these inputs was apparent. They immediately stopped spraying chemicals and began to reintroduce livestock – chickens and sheep – to the land.

Today, Studio Hill Farm utilizes holistic management, ensuring that farming practices strengthen and enrich the environment in which they’re deployed. In practice, this means moving animals regularly to mimic how they would graze naturally. Eliminating the cost of fertilizer, reseeding, Roundup, and other high-cost inputs that have a diminishing return makes sense economically and, when paired with holistically-managed livestock, creates a positive ecological and economic feedback loop. These changes have improved soil health and add one centimeter of topsoil every year.

The McDougalls want to share their knowledge and experience with others and in 2019 they co-founded the Regenerative Food Network (RFN) – which works with traditional and regenerative farms to produce food for the region. RFN has built a slaughterhouse in Wilmington, an organic tannery in Manchester, and are developing a large meat finishing facility in Bennington – with plans to expand into regional produce and dairy infrastructure in coming years.

“These facilities will help build a resilient, regional food supply and help farmers transition to regenerative management – not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because it’s the economically-advantageous thing to do.” – Jesse McDougall