Organic Broadcaster

 

Revolution needed to change rural landscape to regenerative organic

By Brandon Welch

“The care of the Earth is our most ancient and most worthy, and after all our most pleasing responsibility. To cherish what remains of it and to foster its renewal is our only hope.” ~Wendell Berry

Industrial and extractive agriculture has subverted the economy of nature, degrading planetary ecosystems and creating some of the largest challenges humanity has ever faced, like climate change and the loss of biodiversity and fertile soil. The modern industrial agricultural system has gutted rural America, and yet this manner of agriculture is expanding across the globe. The health of the whole system is faltering—the soil, the people, and the environment. 

Evidence is everywhere. Commodity markets dehumanize food and expose farmers to the brutality of bottom-line production and international trade dynamics. The USDA Economic Research Service recently forecast a $767 median farm income in the U.S. for 2020. Small towns are boarded up and people are leaving in droves. Small- to medium-sized farms are in sharp decline. Skyrocketing numbers of childhood obesity and autoimmune diseases are well known and not refuted. Rural poverty, job insecurity, food deserts, mental and physical health, and subsequent health care costs are worsening in the agricultural lands and communities. COVID19 has exposed the dysfunction of industrial supply systems, which have failed in many ways to connect food grown at the farm scale to consumers in need. 

All of this has come at a huge cost to the Earth. Industrial agriculture is threatening all dimensions of ecosystem wellbeing, from local to global scale, witnessed in the acceleration of climate change. Climate change is the greatest threat to human civilization and the ecological integrity of the planet and represents the penultimate outcome of our modern and imbalanced affair with nature. 

We must change course. We need a paradigm shift that creates system change. There is no “silver bullet” to solve the current crisis. The system needs re-imagining, re-working, re-creation across all domains—culture, economy, policy, diet, and technology. We need a rebellion to drive the next great revolution in agriculture. 

That rebellion is regenerative organic agriculture. Regenerative organic agriculture is a system of farming principles and practices that focuses on maximizing the health of soil, plants, people, and animals. Regenerative organic agriculture takes a living systems approach to work with nature, rather than against it. Regenerative organic agriculture, in its deepest essence, is founded upon and operates from a different set of values than those that guide the industrial economy.

It manifests as a shift of values and concepts, from linearity to circularity, quantity to quality, monoculture to diversity, competition to cooperation, short to long view, extractive to regenerative, centralized to decentralized, dominion to interbeing, power to empowerment, withholding to sharing, manufactured to authentic. It inverts the industrial economy and rebalances the global biogeochemical cycles (i.e., carbon and nitrogen) by shifting the economy of extraction to the economy of giving, and in that reciprocity, nourishing ourselves through the natural outcome of healthy food as a result of investing in healthy soil.

The time is now for a regenerative revolution in agriculture. Out of great pain, great innovation occurs. The conditions are ripe for change. A perfect storm of social, environmental, and economic factors are aligned for another major revolution in agriculture. While daunting, any system can rapidly reconfigure with catalytic strategy and investment. The Green Revolution was funded with less than $50M from the Rockefeller, Ford, and Kellogg Foundations, as society was primed for rapid adoption of industrialization during post-war economy and the rising wave of technology, mechanization, and corporate control and consolidation, and neoliberal capitalism. 

Rapid and widespread change can be hard to imagine. How will farms change into something different? Sounds impossible. Yet, it has happened before, and recently. Most Midwestern farms grow the same thing—corn and soybeans—but only for the past several decades. It wasn’t always this way.

The question becomes, how? Change happens farm by farm, from the ground up. Yet, how does a farmer take the first step? How does a farmer find the off-ramp into a different system without going bankrupt? How does the rebellion begin? 

We need leaders to break the trail. Leaders that our community can confidently follow. It’s up to farmers across the country to put a stake in the ground, break the levees, and charge forth, united in the agricultural revolution. To stop the corporatized, commoditized, dehumanized, system that’s putting our entire civilization in jeopardy. We are here to support those leaders.

Mad Agriculture is working from head to heart, poetry to science, financing to markets, and soil to shelf to catalyze a revolution in regenerative and organic agriculture that is beautiful, just, and inevitable. We help farmers understand their vision and develop conditions for success. In the process of designing and activating a regenerative organic system, every farm and farmer faces a different set of obstacles. For some, a community of like-minded farmers is all that is needed to revolutionize their operation. The catalyst for others can be markets that reward beneficial stewardship of land or an integrated farm plan that brings clarity and technique to their vision. 

When capital is the primary barrier, there have been few and insufficient solutions. So, we created the Perennial Fund, an alternative bank built for regenerative organic farmers. We replace traditional operating loans with capital that invigorates the imagination, liberates farmers from the industrial shackles of old-story debt obligations (i.e., bank requirements for GMO seeds, synthetic inputs, etc.), and enables the transition to regenerative organic agriculture. We offer a 10-year commitment to financing farmers through their entire transition. We equip farmers with capital to thrive during the 3-year organic transition trough, build their own working capital reserve, and leverage our farm planning team to co-create a transition plan at no added cost. 

Each loan is structured farm by farm, to ensure farmers have something that actually works for them. We base their payback on a standard APR or a crop share (revenue share) tailored to the individual farm. Farmers work with our on-staff crop markets lead to access new value-added markets beyond organic premiums with diversified strategies.

The Perennial Fund is structured to ensure that the success of Mad Agriculture, partners, and the farmers are one and the same. The health of the soil and all people is one and indivisible. 

The Perennial Fund is built upon the principles of the new story. We put our skin in the game to rehumanize finance, share risk, redistribute wealth, decentralize control, and empower place-based wisdom, with integrated technical assistance every step of the way. 

The Perennial Fund is inspired by the ecological principles, structure, and function of primordial ecosystems, like the tallgrass prairie, redwood forests, or tropical rainforests. These systems are nature’s most mature, beautiful, and resilient expressions of economy, characterized by co-evolution, circularity, diversity, symbioses, closed feedback loops, reciprocity between life and death, and a low natural rate of return (<10%) because most resources are used, shared, and distributed quickly among members of the ecosystem. 

We invite you to pursue the vision in your heart of a world that is better and more beautiful, but not yet defined. Don’t just read it. Believe it, test it, try it, live it. We challenge you with the words of Adrienne Brown. Can you say? “I am living a life I don’t regret, a life that will resonate with my ancestors, and with as many generations forward as I can imagine. I am attending to the crises of my time with my best self, I am of communities that are doing their collective best to honor our ancestors and all humans to come.”

Join us in catalyzing a regenerative revolution in agriculture. Learn more about the Perennial Fund and Mad Agriculture.

 

Brandon Welch is the Director of Radical Capital for Mad Agriculture.

 

From the March | April 2021 Issue

 

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