On June 28 and June 29, about 50 people representing Midwest farm and farming-related businesses, nonprofits, investors and economic development officials gathered in Northfield, Minnesota, to identify next steps toward formalizing the goals and launch of Regeneration Midwest (RM). RM is a 12-state regional coalition organized to serve as the foundation for transitioning five core sectors of the food and agriculture system from the current industrial model to a regenerative model.
RM came to life in late 2017, and has since been evolving as a platform for scaling up models that address the three pillars of regenerative agriculture: social, ecological and economic regeneration. The coalition originated from the poultry-centered regenerative agriculture design pioneered by the Northfield-based nonprofit, Main Street Project. Similar to other organizations throughout the country, Main Street has built a successful, workable and replicable model for re-designing the way poultry is raised. The system delivers a diversity of food products that can be produced and branded under a regenerative standard, with poultry at the center.
While highly successful as a stand-alone project, Main Street faces the same challenges as other organizations building similar models in other sectors: In order to focus on their core competencies and unleash their full potential on a regional scale, these projects need large-scale regional infrastructure support throughout the entire supply chain, which includes farmers, aggregators, marketers, distributors and processors.
RM will facilitate building and scaling up this regional infrastructure by focusing on five core strategically connected sectors of the food and agriculture industry. In this way, the coalition aims to address the common needs and challenges of individual organizations, so together they can scale faster and more efficiently.
Strategic Regenerative Opportunities
• Poultry: Starting with Main Street Project’s design, RM will facilitate the infrastructure needed for replication of this model throughout the Midwest.
• Grains: In partnership with the Midwest Grains Initiative and the Non-GMO Project, and in coordination with a large network of local operations, RM will aggregate existing standards that support agroforestry systems as a foundational blueprint for transitioning small-grain production for both human consumption and animal feed. The intention is to build supply chains to ensure a robust coordination and continuity of regenerative standards and the integration and stacking of related enterprise sectors to build larger-scale trading platforms.
• Pork, Beef: RM will join existing pastured-pork and grass-fed beef producers to coordinate and identify strategies aimed at improving production methods aligned with standards that support the regeneration of land, local economies and natural habitats for livestock species, in order to bring more valuable products to the marketplace.
• Strategically Selected Vegetables, Fruits: Vegetables represent a challenging sector for regenerative standards development, and application. Vegetable production requires intense use of outside inputs, especially if the farm doesn’t incorporate livestock for manure that can be transformed into fertilizer. Cover cropping, crop rotation, incorporation of perennial crops, alley-cropping vegetables and practices of this kind can help a farm regenerate its soil organic matter. RM will work to bring together regenerative standards that support regional scalable opportunities where separate livestock production and selected fruits and vegetable production can become more competitive as a result of their interdependence, and farmers can become their own region’s suppliers of natural inputs, thus regenerating larger landscapes.
Support Systems, Infrastructure
RM will focus first on mapping promising agriculture production models in the sectors outlined above. The core criteria for selection will be based on 1) a family of standards endorsed by the coalition; 2) the feasibility and impact of these models if they were to be scaled across the region; and 3) whether they were designed for the common good, meaning that they are ready to be made available to all farmers and institutions for adoption and deployment.
After these pieces are in place, RM will focus on missing systems infrastructure pieces that are critical to the combined deployment of promising models. So far, the following key areas of system-level programming have been identified as:
• Trade Infrastructure: A platform for large-scale trading of products will be central to the success of the 12-state coalition. RM’s role will consist of ensuring that the value-chain components are in place or that they are built by capable organizations, engaging these organizations and coordinating the process of building and scaling up a consolidated infrastructure so that participants in the 12-state region can access markets at all levels and use the trading platform to move more products from farms to tables. RM will not engage in direct marketing, sales, or handling of products. Blockchain technology, trading boards and standardization of productions and transactions for volume trading, are examples of strategic infrastructure options under development.
• Financing: Financing farms belongs at the local level, with local actors and local infrastructure. RM will help identify and support those organizations directly working at this level. Working with Iroquois Valley Farms (Evanston, Illinois) and Shared Capital Cooperative (St. Paul, Minnesota), RM will bring these financing tools to every organization in the 12-state region and facilitate their engagement. RM will also work to attract investors from around the country.
• Markets: In partnership with existing organizations, RM will support the creation of marketing campaigns to differentiate regenerative products in the marketplace through targeted regional and state campaigns.
• Education: In partnership with existing organizations, RM will support targeted regional and state campaigns aimed at educating industry leaders, investors, consumers and government officials at all levels.
• Supply Chain, Tracking Progress: The supply chain and flow of products from farms to markets is the foundation to successfully transitioning agriculture. Tracking the progress across the supply chain and ensuring that it improves continuously, that it is verified to meet regenerative standards and that there is integrity in the processes, is central to the operational goals of the RM coalition. RM will track progress on key indicators such as number of products available, number of farms engaged, acreage impacted and farmers’ overall financial performance. These indicators will ensure that we can monitor, measure, and continuously improve a successful transition to regenerative agricultural practices.
Building Executive Teams
Thanks to the strong support from Main Street Project, Regeneration International and Organic Consumers Association, RM has an organizing team and three core executives working daily to plan and execute the start-up phase of this initiative.
Based on regional conversations that took place during the 2018 MOSES Conference in La Crosse, Wisconsin, and local conversations in Minnesota, Nebraska, Iowa, Wisconsin, Kansas, Indiana and other states, we have produced a base directory of players across the 12-state region. Even though three people currently oversee the larger effort, members from each state are expected to join only if they are ready to work in cooperation, willing and partially resourced to carry on the process of building state-level coalitions and to work in alignment with the larger regional vision.
Farmers who want to join the system or nonprofits willing to engage in state-level organizing within the Midwest states can reach out to the organizers of Regeneration Midwest by emailing email@example.com.
Reginaldo Haslett-Marroquin is chief strategy officer at Main Street Project, founding member of Regeneration International and director of Regeneration Midwest.
Reposted with permission from MOSES.