Generating Systemic Wealth — Part 5: The First Wealth-Generating Source, Biotic Life

Photo by Michael Schiffer on Unsplash

Living processes form the base for all other economic activities, since they provide the basis for human life. A whole range of human activities work directly or indirectly with biological systems as a source of food, fiber, fuel, medicine and ecological services.

When these activities are undertaken from a closed systems mindset, they result in extractive processes that are highly destructive to life. For example, when an agricultural enterprise looks at soil as a medium for production to which it has unlimited rights, the result is farming as factory or chemistry lab — a machine-like process that inputs nutrients and outputs crops.

When agriculture is undertaken from an open systems view, the farmer is more likely to understand that the soil and its nutrients need to be treated respectfully. The farmer may shift toward organic growing, adding compost in an act of reciprocity with the life of the soil and plants. Agricultural processes, such as cultivating, seeding, irrigating and harvesting are carried out in ways that do as little harm as possible to adjacent systems such as streams or wildlife habitat. Wealth is generated for both the farmer and the soil, with the understanding that this is the necessary prerequisite for agriculture to endure.

Although an open systems approach is clearly preferable in the long term, and organic products represent a fast-growing and high-margin market, it does not ensure the systemic connection to stakeholders that will move the pentad forward. Ecological agriculture may seek to be sustainable, non-harmful, and a provider of superior products, but in and of itself, it does little to awaken the inherent creativity of all stakeholders.

When an agricultural enterprise is carried out from the perspective of living systems, it can serve as the cornerstone of human life, culture, and a critical means for humans to play a role in the regeneration of the earth’s ecosystems. From this view, land is neither a commodity nor a machine, but a living part of a watershed and bioregional system with necessary work to do.

Agricultural activity becomes a dimension of that work and seeks to increase the contribution that a site can make to its ecosystem. The living systems farmer asks, “Is my wealth producing process improving and evolving the overall health of this bioregion and is my way of working with this farm supporting it doing its greater work? Are the rivers and streams in the region where I farm better able to support the future of fishing, agriculture, and clean water for people? Are the flora and the fauna above and below my farmland healthier every year, opening new opportunities for wealth to be generated through other economic endeavors?”

Such a farm or agriculture related business, if it is to truly spin the pentad forward, will awaken in its customers an appreciation for “terroir” — the unique qualities and flavors of a given place or piece of land. It will tap the innate drive of its workers to develop mastery in their field. It will foster the unique place-based culture in each community in which it does business. It will through demonstration and education help those communities become better stewards for their own watersheds.

In the next part of this series on regenerative economics and generating systemic wealth, we’ll look at the second source of wealth: minerals and chemicals.


For background on my pentad framework, an investigation of what constitutes real wealth, and an expose of myths about generating wealth, see parts one, two, and three of this series. To get an overview of the system of wealth generating sources, which biotic life is part of, see part four.

  1. Regenerative Economics and the Pentad Framework
  2. What is Real Wealth?
  3. Misconceptions About Wealth Generation
  4. A System of Wealth-Generating Sources