Fi Global Insights is part of the Informa Markets Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them. Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

‘Regenerative agriculture is building up speed; there is a lot of thirst for this knowledge’ - Meghan Sapp [Interview]

Article-‘Regenerative agriculture is building up speed; there is a lot of thirst for this knowledge’ - Meghan Sapp [Interview]

© Fi Global Women in Food Interview_Meghan Sapp.png
US native Meghan Sapp worked in the sugar industry for almost 20 years before relocating to northern Spain with her family, setting up a regenerative agriculture farm, and helping other farmers to adopt more holistic farming methods.

Her farm is one of just two farms in Spain that is certified by the Ecological Outcome Verification system, an outcomes-based protocol developed by the Savory Institute for verifying land regeneration that measures metrics such as ground cover, water infiltration, biodiversity, soil carbon, and soil health.

Sapp is also co-founder and leader of the Hub del Norte, part of the Savory Network that trains ranchers and farmers across northern Spain and parts of France who want to practice Holistic Management, a framework for regenerating land and livelihoods through regenerative agriculture.

Fi Global Insights spoke to Meghan in March at the ChangeNOW Summit in Paris.

It seems that a lot of investment in the food industry is being dedicated to foodtech solutions, such as precision fermentation and cell-culturing, and less so to areas like regenerative agriculture.  Is this a source of frustration to you as a regenerative farmer?

"There's a lot of fear and a lot of unknown about regenerative agriculture in Europe whereas in the US, they've had a much longer experience with regenerative agriculture. What we've seen there is this idea of a J-curve: that you're going to transition to regenerative agriculture and you're going to have these huge losses for five years and [people ask themselves], ‘Who is going to pick up all of this risk that I am taking on?’

“But it's not true. I feel that this is misinformation to create more fear and create the appearance of more risk when it's not really the case. If you understand how soil works, its role in the ecosystem, how the rest of the ecosystem functions and you actually work with experts with track records who know how to do this, then you can go in the first year without losing yields.

“But you have to go in with help and you have to pay for this help […] as opposed to going in blind, saying: ‘I read a book, someone told me to put some cover crops in, but it failed.' Well, of course it failed!

“That’s why a lot of what I do and what we as an organisation [at Hub Del Norte] do is focus on training farmers and trying to help them understand how the ecosystem works [because] otherwise, how can they make those decisions? We […] also train trainers so we can get more people out there with this understanding and knowledge to be able to scale up. I can only do so much as one person!”

Hub Del Norte is based in Navarra in the Spanish Basque region. What has the reaction from local farmers been? Do you feel like you have support at a local/regional government level? 

"We've only been around [for] less than two years so, on the one hand, we are still very new and people are still getting to know us. Holistic management and regenerative agriculture is building up speed very quickly so there is a lot of thirst for this knowledge. But that comes up against the fact that farmers are over-worked and have no money and so they don't have the time to do the training or they don't have the money for that training.

“We are organising trainings and supporting the communities we create but also having to find the funding in order to help reduce those costs. Once people do the training they say, 'Oh my god, this is worth so much more’ because they are able to reduce their costs, rejig their business funnels, and really create something that works for them, their families, their communities and their land. 

“But because it's so new, it takes a while for that word of mouth to really kick in. I put in a grant application [in March] for local government funded programme. I'm quite happy with it, so I hope that we get it. You have to plant the seeds before you can harvest them.

“Last year, for example, I trained 20 farmers and with the funding that we got from the European Commission, EIT Food, and from a foundation in the US, we should hopefully train 70 or 80 this year. So, it is really picking up speed and, with the food system really creating the demand for all this, it's growing, growing, growing!" 

Large manufacturers need huge volumes. How optimistic do you feel that regenerative agriculture, organic farming, and other more holistic, environmentally friendly methods of growing crops can scale up and feed the world? 

“In terms of reaching scale, absolutely – we have colleagues in Australia who are doing holistic management on a hundred thousand hectares. […] We can actually help create global supply chains for global partners. My farm is very small but that's what I chose in my context: I have the size that works for me and my family.

“Within the Savory Institute ecosystem, however, there is the Land to Market [initiative] and [...] they work with the brands to create the relationships that create supply chains. Everything is backed by the Ecological Outcome Verification system that was created by Savoury Institute over the past 20 years. This is the new carbon market that is actually science-based and based on experience.

“Five million acres all around the world have already been verified but my farm and my neighbour's farm are the only two in Spain that have this verification demonstrating regeneration.

“So, it's just starting and it takes time […] but we need this support of the other actors in the supply chain to create this facilitation because if farmers think, 'Well, nobody is going to buy my produce’, they're not going to do it.”

You have been involved in several initiatives aimed at bringing together professional women with the aim of supporting and empowering them. Can you tell us more? 

"For nearly 20 years, I was working in the global sugar industry, which is a very male-dominated industry. But over the years, some colleagues tried to bring together the women and we got to a point where today there are about 200 of us. We are all working in different parts of the supply chain and companies so if there is going to be a big conference, we will organise a get-together. It's very informal and it's more of a networking organisation. 

“I was also on the board of directors for Women in Agribusiness Europe for a couple of years, which was an event to try to bring together women on the technical side but also on the networking, mentoring and career development side.

Do you see value in both informal support networks and more structured mentoring programmes? 

"Absolutely. It's the diversity – you need everything. I also participated this past year in EIT Food’s We Lead Food, which was specifically about career development for women in the agri-food sector. That was really interesting just because it brought together 40 women in this cohort from across Europe.

“It was kind of frustrating as a grower to be in a space where there was so much innovation in […] tech and non-soil-based food. But, at the same time, it opened my eyes to understanding how that part of the food system is developing. I started the experience feeling very attacked for producing food from soil because they were all very anti-livestock, anti-crops, very vegan.

“But as we got to know each other over the couple of months that we were together, we all grew and had more respect for each other. We were able to remove the labels and see each other as women with families and careers and it was a case of, 'It's not what we do, it's who we are'. I think that is really important: to be able to humanise rather than demonise.”