Sam Smith  -  Regenerative agriculture: a shared ambition for the future of farming?

McDonalds UK & Ireland

I studied engineering at Cardiff University, motivated by a curiosity of how things work and the way design can help people live better lives. My interests in food and farming came later. During University, I became more aware of the environmental stresses we are placing on the planet, so I turned towards attention towards renewable energy and was fortunate to have the opportunity to study an MSc in Sustainable Energy.

After University, I enjoyed several years at Bioregional, an entrepreneurial charity famous for its work in the built environment, with developments such as the BedZED Ecovillage. Here, I worked with a broad range of organisations from their recycling company to projects with the construction sector, local authorities and businesses. The work often involved helping organisations to understand their carbon and ecological footprints, and take bolder action through creating a sustainability plan.

In 2011, I spent a fascinating year in Kenya helping develop a renewable energy company called Steama:Co (formally access:energy). Around this time, I completed a Permaculture Design Certificate. A strong interest in food and farming was brewing and on returning from Kenya, I took over Sutton Community Farm, a 7 acre horticultural farm on the edges of London that we launched at Bioregional. With the support of a brilliant team, we grew this into a productive community-owned farm business and VegBox scheme. Most importantly, we created a warm, welcoming environment for people to join in.

In 2016, while continuing to support the farm through its management committee, I stepped away and spent a year supporting other community food projects with business planning and governance. While a big advocate for building resilience local food systems, I was curious to understand more about the larger food system. This led me to Forum for the Future.

At Forum, my work is focused on how we accelerate systems change in our food system - moving towards a more resilient, sustainable and healthier food culture. I work with a variety of influential organisations on this challenge. Given the deeply complex and interconnected challenges in our food system, this is no small aim and I was motivated to join Forum for their strengths in systems thinking and collaboration. I believe these two approaches can play an important part in speeding up the transition society needs to make.

I am also a Director at the Farm Carbon Cutting Toolkit, an enterprise helping farmers to understand and improve their carbon footprint. In my spare time, I play the fiddle and guitar, enjoy swimming in wild places,bee-keeping and hiking up mountains.

I feel very honoured to have been awarded a Nuffield Scholarship and excited about the journey ahead. I’m truly grateful to McDonald's UK and Ireland for generously sponsoring my study.

Food and farming organisations are showing increasing interest in regenerative agriculture. As a movement, regenerative agriculture typically advocates an approach that continually improves ecosystem health, such as biodiversity, soil health and watersheds. In particular, there’s a hope that scaling-up regenerative agriculture will support large-scale carbon sequestration.

Through my work, I’ve witnessed a variety of understanding about RA and its potential. This Nuffield study will explore how it’s being understood by different actors in the food system – from farmers and retailers, to NGOs and certification bodies – and whether it has potential to offer a shared goal for the food and farming sector.

With farmers, I will also map interests towards different regenerative practices and with retailers and brands, I will explore how it is influencing their strategies and sourcing. Finally, I will determine the barriers and enablers considered to help scale-up regenerative agriculture.

This study builds on various Nuffield projects which have explored sustainable agricultural practices. Uniquely, it explores perspectives and activity across the supply chain. It will raise the profile of regenerative agriculture, showcasing powerful and ambitious examples from around the world, providing valuable insights and inspiration to shape our food and farming industry.