Catalyzing Ecosystem Restoration: The Regenerative Farms non-profit Founder’s Story

In the late 1990s, a young woman named Mary Johnson was living a life that many would consider successful. She was an international supply chain sustainability consultant, working with clients in the natural products industry, and her career was on the fast track. But Mary knew something was deeply wrong. Something was pulling at her heartstrings, and she couldn’t ignore it any longer.

Through her work teaching local organizations about the power of regenerative eco-agriculture, Mary began receiving emails from grassroots leaders from the global south, all with a common plea for help. They were tenacious change-makers, teaching permaculture to smallholder farmers in their communities, trying desperately to stem the tide of problems their people were facing, but their lands were overwhelmed by extractive industries causing massive deforestation, and cultural traditions plagued with gender-based inequality, violence, and years of desperate levels of hunger & economic poverty. Their’s were communities filled with trauma, the unfortunate legacy of colonialism, and now they were facing the added threat of climate instability and the onslaught of multiple extractive industries. They were communities in crisis, and Mary was deeply moved by their stories, and full of her own sleepless nights lying awake due to a growing dread caused by climate anxiety.

As Mary delved deeper into these communities’ challenges, she realized that innovative solutions existed, and their rapid dissemination was desperately needed to address these complex, ever-evolving problems. She couldn’t turn away. She couldn’t simply go back to her comfortable consulting job. She had to find a way to put her knowledge to work and use her time in service to these Regeneration Heroes asking for help.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, another visionary was confronting similar challenges. Dr. Willie Smits, an orangutan biologist and forest engineer, was working tirelessly in the rainforests of Borneo with his brother Theo. For two decades, they had been grappling with the devastating impact of deforestation, climate instability, and extractive industries on indigenous communities and ecosystems. Their solution was as unique as it was complex – the sugar palm village hub.

This innovative concept was starting to make a real difference in protecting and restoring rainforests while providing indigenous communities with alternative livelihoods. When Mary learned of this remarkable project, she saw the potential for it to transform the lives of the communities who had reached out to her for help.

The first step on this transformative journey was reaching out to Dr. Smits. Their meeting marked the beginning of a partnership that would change countless lives and ecosystems. Together, they began to envision a plan to scale up and transfer this powerful solution to other locations around the world.

Mary’s passion and dedication led her to create Regenerative Farms, a nonprofit organization dedicated to catalyzing ecosystem restoration and empowering women farmers to fight climate change. She knew that without significant partnerships with philanthropy, ethical natural product buyers, and social impact investment, the scale of regeneration needed to address global challenges in the timeframes necessary would remain out of reach.

Regenerative Farms Inc. became an official US registered 501c3 in 2022, and now serves as a capacity-building hub for grassroots collaboration, bringing together a diverse collection of regeneration partners, many of whom work with some of the world’s most remote indigenous nations. From the Pygmies displaced from their homelands in eastern DRC to the Maasai who’ve suffered prolonged drought in the Great Rift Valley of Kenya, to Aboriginal communities fighting for their territorial rights and the rights of nature in north-western Australia to indigenous nations protecting their traditional ways and forests in their territorial lands in the Amazon and the Andes, Mary and her team connect these partners with the funding and technical assistance they need to adapt the Regeneration Hub model to their unique challenges.

But the journey isn’t without its challenges. The COVID-19 pandemic created new crises that demand immediate attention. Mary’s leadership and determination ensure that Regenerative Farms is listening to local needs, and is responding with programs and support to address these urgent times while continuing its mission of catalyzing equitable eco & social system repair.

Today, Mary Johnson leads Regenerative Farms with a fierce commitment to making the world a better place for her children and all beings who depend on the Earth. She and her team are working tirelessly to accelerate the transfer of the Regeneration Hub model and to raise the funds necessary in order to provide all those who want it with the technical assistance needed to respond to the growing threat of complex global challenges.

Through the dedication of Mary, Dr. & Theo Smits, and the countless change-makers involved, Regenerative Farms is not just a nonprofit; it’s a beacon of hope. It’s a testament to what can happen when individuals and organizations unite with a shared vision of healing the planet and its inhabitants.

Join us in supporting Regenerative Farms and be part of a movement that is catalyzing ecosystem restoration, fighting climate change, and creating a brighter future for us all. Together, we can make a world of difference.