The Farming spectrum is used to trace a product’s supply system back to the source, in order to understand the growing practices behind each ingredient and evaluate the environmental impacts.
In HowGood’s vision for a healthy food system, the country would be fed by a network of regional foodsheds. Each foodshed would comprise a multitude of interconnected, small- to medium-scale, highly diverse farms, employing regenerative practices and on-farm food processing. Consumers would differentiate on quality rather than price, encouraging ever better growing practices and land stewardship.
HowGood ratings currently reward farms that meet or exceed current USDA Organic standards, which prohibit the use of genetically modified seeds and synthetic chemical inputs (like antibiotics and pesticides) and impose more stringent requirements for the care and breeding of livestock. Organic farming doesn't always guarantee a lower carbon footprint, but it does reduce the toxicity levels and the reliance on fossil fuels, which is a shift in the right direction.
Over 99% of food sold in the United States is derived from resource-intensive monocultures of grains and legumes that are extremely destructive to the environment. The synthesis of chemical fertilizers for commercial farming consumes up to 5% of the world's annual natural gas usage, reinforcing a dependence on fossil fuels. This method of farming employs heavy amounts of synthetic pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides. Over time, the chemical inputs combined with overproduction cause barren land, compaction, and erosion, which can have dangerous repercussions as evidenced by the Dust Bowl of the 1930s.
But soil degradation is not an inherent impact of farming. Regenerative agriculture systems around the world employ practices like intercropping, crop rotation, management-intensive grazing, cover cropping, composting, and agroforestry, which enrich the soil and improve the land in production. At present, there is no accepted certification encouraging farms to transition from conventional to regenerative systems, so HowGood uses Organic standards as a baseline metric. While we acknowledge that the USDA requirements could do more to reverse the current trend of land degradation, the certification is a straightforward and positive step available to farmers today.