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Restorative Farmland Finance Is Growing Organic Agriculture

Author: Katy Ibsen | Published: August 1, 2018

Iroquois Valley Farmland Real Estate Investment Trust puts organic farmers first. As a restorative farmland finance company, it is helping organic and regenerative farmers gain long-term, secure access to land by through farmland investment. By offering equity and debt investments, the company is able to provide favorable leasing and mortgage opportunities to farmers.

“We’re not as much focused on the real estate as we are the farmers themselves and using land access as a way for them to become more successful in their business,” said Claire Mesesan, communications director.

Rather, Iroquois Valley Farms (IVF), as it’s more commonly known, provides financing for organic farmers who present the company with specific land opportunities. This effort fills the void of banks and traditional forms of financing that are not prevalent in rural areas, especially for organic farmers.

Today the trust is operating in 14 states and, according to Mesesan, that growth was not only strategic but an outcome of the organic-farming community.

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Brent Preston is Farming Sustainably for the Next Generation

In his book ‘The New Farm,’ Preston shares his experience and wisdom for successful organic farming.

Author: Lela Nargi | Published: August 2, 2018

In 2003, Brent Preston and his wife, Gillian Flies, packed up their two kids and moved to a rural town about 100 miles northwest of Toronto. Their initial aim was to live less chaotically and to raise some of their own food. But this morphed into a plan to make a living farming organically.

The inevitable years of mistakes, false starts, financial hardship, emotional and physical exhaustion, scorn from local conventional farmers, perseverance and—at very long last—success, are documented with candor and humor in Preston’s book, The New Farm: Our Ten Years on the Front Lines of the Good Food Revolution, released in the U.S. earlier this year.

Civil Eats talked to Preston about the lessons he and Flies learned from their first decade of rural experience, advice for other well-intentioned (and sometimes naïve) aspiring farmers, and what it might take to bridge the seemingly unbridgeable gap between conventional and organic farming.

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Coalition Grows at Regeneration Midwest Gathering

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 regenerationmidwest@gmail.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.

Regeneration Guatemala Seeks to Transform Rural Guatemala Agriculture

In 2017, several members of Social Lab Guatemala, an incubator for social business, were inspired to build a national model for regenerative agriculture in Guatemala. Their inspiration led them to strategic partnerships with Regeneration International (RI) Main Street Project (MSP) and ultimately to the formation of Regeneration Guatemala.

Regeneration Guatemala’s mission is to rebuild the deteriorated social, ecological and economic systems in Guatemala by transforming the agricultural landscape through regenerative agriculture and land-use practices, with a focus on Poultry-Centered Regenerative system design.

The organization is off to a strong start. This year, a team of young entrepreneurs, farming cooperatives and rural community members are in the process of establishing five regenerative poultry farms. These five pilot projects form the centerpieces of five regional demonstration models for how to scale regenerative poultry production while simultaneously developing the regional infrastructure needed to grow a national regenerative agriculture industry. 

RI and MSP both played key roles in the launch of Regeneration Guatemala. Reginaldo Haslett-Marroquin, principal architect of the MSP poultry-centered regenerative agriculture model and an RI founding partner and steering committee member, had this to say about working with the team in Guatemala:

“As a Guatemalan immigrant living mostly in the U.S., but as someone who owes most of my training and professional capacity to the teachings of our elders and our rural community leaders in Guatemala, being able to turn around and bring all of the experience accumulated through years of learning and capacity-building back to Guatemala is really a dream come true. One must not be confused as to what I am bringing back, it is not a foreign idea, it is an idea that was born in Guatemala, in the forest and in the rural communities, which I have been able to further develop with support from people all over the world.”

Haslett-Marroquin says that Regeneration Guatemala is a story of resilience. He explains that the threat to survival caused by the agricultural systems that came out of the “green revolution” can be reversed by reclaiming and adapting traditional and ancient knowledge.

“The answer to poverty and hunger and to developing the capacity of communities to feed themselves, was right there in the communities all along. The time has come to recover what we know, use what we have learned and recall the falsehood of empty promises that corporate factory foods will nourish the world. It is time to engage nature at its best and to unplug from degenerative systems that are destroying our forests and the very ecosystems on which we depend to feed the country.”

Regeneration Guatemala is starting out with five strategically located regenerative poultry projects. But the organization envisions many more as it works to fulfill its long-term vision for achieving high-impact, large-scale change in Guatemala.

A big part of the organization’s commitment involves saving and restoring ancestral knowledge developed and curated by indigenous Mayan cultures throughout the Mesoamerican region. Their practices, production systems and native species have been handed down through generations, and conserved by their descendents, through struggle and resistance. Despite colonization and violence, history and contemporary circumstances make it critical that this ancient knowledge be preserved and put back into practice.

It isn’t just the future of Guatemala that motivates this new organization. By becoming an active contributor to the international regeneration movement, the founders and members of Regeneration Guatemala hope to do their part to help address global warming, feed the country and the world, promote public health and prosperity, and provide the foundation for creating the conditions that ensure global peace and wellbeing.

Stay tuned in for more news from Regeneration Guatemala and the growing regeneration movement around the world by signing up for the RI newsletter here

Winners of Grow Ahead’s 2018 Scholarship Announced

Author: Eleanor Barns-Graham | Published: May 2018

Portland, Oregon based crowdfunding platform, Grow Ahead, has announced the 2018 winners of their Agroecology and Regenerative Organic Agriculture Scholarship.

The Agroecology and Regenerative Organic Agriculture scholarship provides women farmers from Africa, Asia, or Latin America with the opportunity to gain further knowledge and experiences to support their farming communities through climate-resilient agroecology projects.

Grow Ahead raises resources for farmer-led agroecology projects by collaborating with local, organic, and fair trade farmer cooperatives around the world. The projects include farmer-to-farmer trainings, scholarships, climate change resilience loans, and tree plantings.

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17 Organizations Promoting Regenerative Agriculture Around the Globe

Author: Eva Perroni | Published: May 15, 2018

Transitioning to more sustainable forms of agriculture remains critical, as many current agriculture practices have serious consequences including deforestation and soil degradation. But despite agriculture’s enormous potential to hurt the environment, it also has enormous potential to heal it. Realizing this, many organizations are promoting regenerative agriculture as a way to not just grow food but to progressively improve ecosystems.

Drawing from decades of research, regenerative agriculture uses farming principles designed to mimic nature. To build healthy soils and fertile, thriving agro-ecosystems, this approach incorporates a range of practices like agroforestry and well-managed grazing. Benefits of these practices include richer soil, healthier water systems, increased biodiversity, climate change resilience, and stronger farming communities.

To celebrate the ongoing work of individuals and organizations dedicated to healing agro-ecosystems around the globe, Food Tank is highlighting these 17 organizations building a global grassroots movement for better agriculture.

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Josefa Breathes a Sigh of Relief

Published: March 28, 2018

Though life in Chunox may seem idyllic to some (birds chirping in the morning, exuberant kids playing marbles on the quiet dirt roads, no one walking around with their eyes stuck to their cell phones), it’s getting harder and harder to make a living here. The conventional sugarcane industry, where many have made their living, is crumbling. Due to overfishing, the daily catch is no longer as lucrative as it once was. No doubt about it, life in Chunox is tough.

For Josefa, adversity is nothing new. At age five, Josefa’s father died, leaving her mother to raise their six children alone. When her mother fell ill, Josefa was forced to leave school to take care of her. After third grade, she never went back. She speaks Mayan, Spanish, and some English, but she never learned to read or write. Though Josefa was twice married to capable, loving men, she’s also twice widowed, both of her husbands having succumbed to sickness. Now she has eight grown children, many of whom have children of their own. While Josefa has been able to support her family, it hasn’t come easily.

While Josefa’s mind may be at peace when a ranchera comes drifting through in the afternoon breeze or when she’s meditatively making corn tortillas so that all eleven members of her household have something to eat, these moments are fleeting. Before long, concerns about how to sustain herself and her family creep back in. Josefa seeks permanent solutions to food insecurity and poverty, not just temporary answers.

Despite these hardships, Josefa’s home has remained an atmospheric place full of joy and mirth. Hugs and laughter are available in mass quantities. Good quality food, however, is not always as abundant.

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EPIC Receives Savory Institute’s Frontier Founder Award

Founding brand partner of Land to Market™ program recognized for
commitment to verified regenerative sourcing

Published: March 12, 2018

BOULDER, Colo. (March 12, 2018) – EPIC Provisions™ was honored last weekend by the Savory Institute with its Frontier Founder Award in recognition of the pioneering company’s commitment to regenerative sourcing. The award was received during a news briefing for Savory’s Land to Market™ program, the world’s first verified regenerative sourcing solution, at Natural Products Expo West in Anaheim, Calif. The award was accepted by Taylor Collins and Katie Forrest, EPIC Provisions co-founders, who have championed Savory and its Land to Market program since its inception.

“This is a huge honor,” said Collins, as he received a ceremonial spear, commemorating EPIC’s willingness to be ‘tip of the spear’ for responsible sourcing. “When my wife, Katie, and I founded EPIC, our mission was to fuel a food production system that fosters a healthier, more responsible relationship with our bodies, our animals, and our planet. Savory’s Land to Market program means we can formally integrate a net positive impact on the land into our sourcing practices.”

Collins added, “The Land to Market program will create a pathway for a new generation of farmers, companies and consumers to come together to regenerate grasslands and soils around the world. That’s a legacy we can all be proud of”.

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Connecting Through Food

Author: Nigel McNay | Published: January 27, 2018

A greater profile for the wide-ranging benefits of regenerative agriculture is what a Stanley woman hopes will flow from her recognition in a national awards program.

Jade Miles has been announced as one of three finalists in the Victorian Rural Women’s Award.

The award is part of a wider program, with the Victorian winner to be named at Melbourne Museum on March 20 going on to the national award ceremony in Canberra in September.

Ms Miles said that to be nominated “really is incredible” and “actually a bit of a surprise”.

“More than anything it allows you to know that the work that you’re doing is understood and it reads with people,” she said.

“What it does is provide an opportunity where people are starting to actually listen to what your message is.

“Because mine is around regenerative agriculture and local food systems, it’s not one that usually gets a very loud voice.”

Ms Miles’ nomination outlined how she wanted to share her learnings from developing a community-owned regional food co-operative and to build a social enterprise-based model that could be rolled out in other regions.

She and her husband, Charlie Showers, and their three children live at Black Barn Farm, which they plan on becoming a regenerative and diverse orchard, nursery and learning space.

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Baby Steps – Profile in Soil Health

Moving Beyond Sustainability into a Regenerative System

Ezra Lakey started Lakey Farms in 1945 with a focus on small grain production.  Half the acres were in small grains and the other half were summer fallow, with the occasional plow down nitrogen pea crop.  The farm progressed and grew through the years as did the family.  Ezra’s five children all helped on the farm, but Dwight and his younger brother Jerry were the two who were most involved.  Dwight’s eldest son, David, returned after college to the farm to help the operation grow to nearly 9,000 acres at one point.  With the passing of Ezra in 2009 and the retirement of Jerry, additional help was needed.  At that time, Dwight’s youngest son, Dan, was 2 years out of college where he had obtained a bachelor’s degree in Business Management and was living in Twin Falls working in outside sales.  With the pending birth of his first child, the desire to raise his children on the farm was growing.  When presented with the opportunity to return to the farm, Dan and his wife, Marie, made the decision to return to the small East Idaho town.

A Legacy of Conservation

Soil conservation is nothing new to the Lakey’s.  In the early 1980s, they transitioned away from moldboard plowing into chisel plowing to reduce erosion.  They also incorporated water and sediment basins and contour farming for the same reason.  Then in the late 1990s ,they moved away from fallowing so many dryland acres and moved to annual cropping. Dwight served on the Caribou Soil Conservation District from 1989 to 1998.  Through the years, they have tried to implement the best conservation techniques of the time.

When Dan came back to the farm in 2009, changes were in the works.  The Lakey’s were seeing the negative effects of using Anhydrous Ammonia (NH3) fertilizer and starting to transition away from it.  Dwight was looking at incorporating mustard into their limited crop rotation.  Then a JD-1895 no-till drill was purchased. Dan was tasked with figuring out how to operate it and run it.  By 2013, mustard was in the rotation and giving the ground a much needed break from cereal grains, but they still were seeing some concerns on other cropland.   “At that time, I thought that what we needed was a different tillage tool or something to dump out of a jug that we could use to cure the problem,” Dan recalls.

Changing Views

The farm was looking at additional tillage implements such as disk rippers and high speed vertical tillage tools to deal with compaction and residue.  At one point, he thought possibly more fallowing and returning to the plow might be the answer.  Then, Dan began attending soil classes in 2014.

“I started to realize that what I was seeing and treating on the cropland were merely symptoms, and they weren’t addressing the real problem,” he said.

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