Regenerative Organic: The Making of a Standard

March 19th 2020

by Elizabeth Whitlow – Executive Director, Regenerative Organic Alliance

What does it take, exactly, to change the world?

For those of us at Regenerative Organic Alliance, it takes conversation. Sometimes long, difficult conversation. And we’re okay with that.

Last month, our Board of Directors gathered to ask, “How can we improve on the first iteration of Regenerative Organic Certified?” Over two full days, we took a deep dive into many lessons from our pilot programs: Over the last year, we tested the first version of the Regenerative Organic Certified framework on the ground with nearly 20 farms and brands in seven countries. We wanted to hear from real farmers, auditors, and certifiers what they thought of our criteria and what we could improve.

ROC intends to be aspirational, setting the highest bar for farming practices around the world, but it also needs to be achievable. That’s why we’re committed to continually reviewing and updating the standard—not only to reflect the best regenerative organic practices as they emerge but to provide a clear and practical resource for farmers and certifiers.

Our Board members, task forces, advisory councils, and many other stakeholders are now in the process of digesting the constructive feedback and clarifying questions we received. Certain criteria points need to be modified, refined, eliminated, or perhaps didn’t even exist yet.

The birth of a new standard that promises to elevate farming around the world is exciting! Behind the excitement, however, is hours and hours of careful deliberation, lively debate, and hundreds of nuanced questions and concerns. We want this standard to have the utmost integrity, so we’re taking the time to consider it all.

Dr Bronner coconut oil with ROC SealAt the EcoFarm 2020 conference, two products debuted from our Pilot Program—Grain Place Foods’ popcorn and Dr. Bronner’s coconut oil. Both have officially earned certification after their farm audits, and that means the first ROC products are out in the world.  ROC intends to be the highest standard for agriculture around the world precisely because we’ve taken the time to have the hard conversations and honor the complexity of the issues.

Recently when ROC gathered our Board of Directors together in person, it was obvious that everyone in the room was aligned in our collective goal to create a genuinely transformative agricultural standard. It became clear that we all desire and support the same things: Above all, we value the health of our incredible, interconnected planet and all who call it home—those above and below ground.

Pictured above: Regenerative Organic Alliance (ROA) Board of Directors and staff. From left: Kendall Miller (ROA), David Bronner (Dr. Bronner’s), Zoe Schaeffer (ROA), LaRhea Pepper (Textile Exchange), Elizabeth Whitlow (ROA), Dana Geffner (Fair World Project), Jeff Moyer (Rodale Institute), Rose Marcario (Patagonia), Paul Dolan (Dark Horse Farming Co.), and Rachel Dreskin (Compassion in World Farming). Members not pictured are Will Harris (White Oak Pastures) and Alfred Grand (Grand Farm).  

To ensure a healthy planet, abundant and nutritious food, and thriving people long into the future, we believe in continuously improving the way we do everything, including how we farm. And to continually improve, we need everyone—innovative farmers, researchers, educators, policymakers, businesses, and individuals—to join us. None of us can do this alone.

The problems of climate change, factory farming, and food insecurity are complex beyond belief. We believe we can address them all with regenerative organic agriculture, and such a solution is necessarily complex, too.

It won’t be easy, but we’re not interested in easy. We’re interested in doing it right. 


Elizabeth Whitlow is the Executive Director of the Regenerative Organic Alliance. Regenerative Organic Certification builds upon the near 100-year legacy of organic movement visionaries like J. I. Rodale and Dr. Rudolf Steiner and provides stepwise guidance for farming and ranching operations, transportation, slaughter, and processing facilities that produce food, cosmetics, and fiber. It is essential to farm in a way that enriches rather than degrades the soil, and values animals and workers. Regenerative Organic Certification leverages existing highbar organic, animal welfare, and social fairness certifications, and includes additional regenerative requirements.