Announced at the 2018 Natural Products Expo West trade show, their new programs lend support to regenerative agriculture – practices that sequester carbon in soils to nourish crops, enhance natural resources, and support farming communities. Through new partnerships with farmers, converting conventional farms to certified organic land, and a commitment to measuring farm-level outcomes, Annie’s strives to create “a holistic approach to renewing resources in the soil, above ground, and within farming communities,” says Shauna Sadowski, Sustainability Lead at Annie’s.
Food Tank had the opportunity to talk to Sadowski about leading Annie’s sustainability efforts throughout the supply chain and the company’s newest programs advancing regenerative agriculture.
Food Tank (FT): Why is Annie’s dedicated to a “triple bottom line”?
Shauna Sadowski (SS): Since Annie’s founding in 1989, we have sought to integrate sustainability into our business model, focusing on the triple bottom line of people, planet, and profit. Our dedication to the triple bottom line is how we seek to live and breathe our mission: for example, we source ingredients conscientiously, reduce material use in packaging, pursue zero waste goals in our office, and conduct internal education events on soil health.
Our mission is to cultivate a healthier and happier world by spreading goodness through nourishing foods, honest words, and conduct that is kind to the planet. Our focus on sustainability and the triple bottom line helps us make meaningful impacts and allows us to be credible. Our model brings about benefits such as consumer trust, employee engagement, and supply chain efficiencies. We are proud of our progress toward building a different and better business model.
FT: What investments and support has Annie’s offered to advocate for regenerative agriculture – practices that improve soil health and reduce greenhouse gases by storing carbon in soil?
SS: At Annie’s, we have a long history of supporting organic agriculture – our first organic product launched in 1998. This commitment remains steadfast. We value regenerative agriculture as a holistic approach to renewing resources in the soil, above ground, and within farming communities. Regenerative agriculture protects and enhances natural resources and farm communities.
This year, we partnered directly with farmers advancing regenerative agriculture. Montana farmers Casey Bailey and Nate Powell-Palm helped create limited editions of our Mac & Cheese and Bunny Grahams with organic ingredients grown using practices like extended crop rotations and growing cover crops. We plan to support regenerative agriculture across our entire business as we work harder to connect consumers to the people and places that grow their food. Through this model, we are piloting Version 1.0 of the General Mills Regenerative Agriculture Scorecard, a user-friendly tool that verifies on-farm management practices as they carry out regenerative principles. Ultimately, we aim to measure on-farm outcomes in soil health, biodiversity, and farmer economic resilience to verify that we have the impact we strive for at the farm level. The scorecard tool represents an important step toward understanding the links between agricultural management practices and regenerative outcomes.
Our parent company General Mills is helping convert 34,000 acres of conventional farmland in South Dakota to certified organic acreage. Farmers managing the land will rotate diverse crops and apply other regenerative agricultural practices to build healthy soil. When the transition is complete in 2020, the farm will supply organic wheat for Annie’s Mac & Cheese.
Other projects to advance regenerative agriculture include our partnership with Organic Valley and the California Carbon Project to identify the regenerative potential of agricultural practices. We support multiple partners that are helping to advance regenerative agriculture, including the Climate Collaborative, Kiss the Ground, the Sustainable Food Trade Association, and others.
FT: How can Annie’s influence other brands of General Mills to pursue sustainable and regenerative agriculture practices?
SS: Sustainability has been a focus at General Mills for a long time, and we partner with our parent company and sister brands to share best practices and scale impact.
Regenerative agriculture is an opportunity for diverse farmers and brands to address environmental and social challenges in agriculture. We’re excited about regenerative agriculture’s potential across brands regardless of their starting point. Certified organic agriculture currently only comprises less than 1 percent of farmland in the United States. Thus, it is important that all farmers and brands — small and large, conventional and organic, crop and livestock — have an opportunity to pursue regenerative principles and contribute to sustainable agriculture.
We also recognize that we have plenty to learn from our parent company and its family of brands when it comes to sustainability. We want other brands within the organization to feel included in building soil health, fostering biodiversity, and supporting resilient farming communities. The opportunity to advance regenerative agriculture by implementing practices like cover cropping and extended crop rotations is open to any producer or brand that influences agricultural production.
FT: How will General Mills’ agreement with Gunsmoke Farms LLC to convert 34,000 acres of conventional land into an organic farm contribute to the company’s agricultural, climate change, and farmer welfare missions?
SS: Up to one-third of global greenhouse gas emissions stem from the food system, an estimated 80 percent of which comes from agriculture. Thus, agriculture is one of the largest contributors to climate change, but it also bears the most potential for a solution such as regenerative agriculture. Farmers at Gunsmoke Farms will use practices linked to regenerative outcomes, including diverse crop rotations and the planting of 3,000 acres of pollinator habitat. The farm will work with nature to pull carbon from the air and store it in the soil, where it can nourish a network of life. By sequestering carbon in the soil, regenerative practices can reduce the greenhouse gases in our atmosphere. By measuring the farm’s outcomes, we can understand our impact. We look forward to quantifying on-farm indicators to verify how farming practices are improving this farm.
Through this agreement, General Mills has developed a long-term direct contract that is unique for the company and the industry. This agreement has provided the needed security for farms and land-owners to make the choice to transition to organic.
FT: What further changes does Annie’s hope to see in General Mills’ current practices toward sustainability?
SS: We’re proud of the work that our parent company has been leading in sustainability and regenerative agriculture, including a US$3 million investment in soil health initiatives and a US$4 million investment in pollinator health. In the future, we look forward to continuing to work with our broader General Mills family to put our mission first and lead with purpose.