In September Ecotone Analytics hosted a panel during Twin Cities Startup Week, “Regenerative Ag and Equity in the Future of Food Production,” focusing on sustainability in food production and Regenerative Agriculture. When assembling the panel we wanted to include a variety of perspectives from large agriculture companies to individual farmers. The panel included Margot Conover – Senior Sustainability Analyst from General Mills, Lisa French – Project Coordinator for Cheney Lake Watershed Organization, Suzan Erem – Executive Director and one of the founders of the Sustainable Iowa Land Trust (SILT) and Naima Dhore – founder of Somali American Farmers Association and a first generation farmer. The discussion centered around what each person or organization was doing to help advance sustainable farming practices, specifically Regenerative Agriculture and equity in farming. Here are some ways they’re creating change:
The Sustainable Iowa Land Trust (SILT) is leveraging partnerships to transform what farming in Iowa looks like. It works to provide access to farmland for people of color, working people and anyone who would otherwise not have access. SILT supports local farmers and farming communities while advancing sustainable and regenerative farming practices. They understand that community and support from farmer-to-farmer is incredibly important, which is why they partner with Practical Farmers of Iowa to connect with farmers. They also help facilitate conversations around what Iowa’s agricultural landscape could look like and how they can diversify their crops beyond the two current staples (corn and soy). In addition they work with the real estate industry to help preserve farmland. Suzan also brought up a future initiative called “Circle our Cities” which is meant to have farms surrounding every city to provide fresh food to the city.
Naima Dhore is a Somali-American, certified organic, first generation farmer, and the founder of Somali American Farmers Association (SAFA) and Naima’s Farm. She created SAFA to support other Somali American farmers, help them get started and connect them to their home, as well as provide access and education around culturally specific foods. She is working on creating an intergenerational program to connect elders with youth in the community. She has also secured seeds native to Somalia to grow on her farm and wants to bring more culturally specific organic foods as well as indigenous African farming practices to the community.
General Mills has been actively working to advance Regenerative Agriculture with its commitment to Regenerative Agriculture on 1 million acres of farmland by 2030. Margot discussed some of the ways that General Mills is supporting the adoption of regenerative practices in its supply chain. She emphasized that the most important innovators in Regenerative Agriculture are the farmers, which is why General Mills has programs to support farmers adopting regenerative principles such as a mentorship program. Farmers are the ones doing the work and figuring things out, but business can close the gap between the science of Regenerative Agriculture and the innovation of the farmers, as she says it can “get it off the farm and into the product”. A way they are doing this is through the sourcing of certain products directly from the farm. It’s important to educate consumers and bring awareness to these types of farming practices in order to advance them and bring them to scale. She also brought up the importance of reimagining supply chains to work with regenerative agriculture practices because “commodity supply chains are not built for this”.
Cheney Lake Watershed, Inc. has shifted to using Regenerative Agriculture and soil health as a way to evaluate water quality in a more holistic way. In the area the farming community is geared toward a culture of “tidiness”, with neat rows and fields being standard, but Regenerative Agriculture doesn’t always fit into that idea, so the organization is working to change that mindset in the farming community. They have also partnered with General Mills in order to create initiatives on a larger scale.
In addition to the discussion around all of these initiatives, Ecotone’s senior analyst and the host of this panel Stephanie Shekels discussed how impact measurement fits into Regenerative Agriculture. Since it is principles based and not practice based, there is a lot of variability in how it’s implemented, so identifying stakeholders and how much they benefit can be important for building networks that support farmers and contribute to success. Also, certain outcomes occur at different time scales, so it can take a while to see some on- and off-farm benefits, which is why identifying key metrics and using them to benchmark is important for supporting accountability and continuous improvement
To read more about Naima and her work with SAFA check out this Ag week article
To find out more about Ecotones work with General Mills check out this blog post
Watch the full recording of the panel here