Letter to Slow Money:
I am the farmer who crashed the SM event, bothering everyone
i could find to talk to about soil carbon
First of all, much respect to you both, and everyone involved so far. Much good work being done.
Second of all, here are some thoughts from a farmers perspective, one
who is also thinking as deeply as he can about all of the
relationships that converge in our food system.
A couple of premises first to help frame things:
On the most fundamental level, soil carbon and soil fertility (which
are inherently linked) are going to be one of the primary limiting
factors in sustaining human populations and civilization as we know
it. We are already in a deep global crisis regarding our soil that is
masked by fossil fuel inputs. It is almost impossible, imho, to
overstate the gravity of this crisis and its implications.
The coming generation of farmers, eaters and food sysem investors are
the ones that may well be determining the very future of human
civilization, via how they manage (and restore)together the carrying capacity of our soils.
I feel there are some limitations to the effectiveness of SM
at least as currently concieved. It is natural that a hammer sees each
problem as a nail. Investors and those coming from capital markets see
their hammer as the solution. But it has its limits, and we need to
consider those limits, and how to synergize with other tools to be
most effective in reaching our shared goals.
For instance, we have a small CSA, and are comitted to growing with
regenerative farming methods that sequester carbon and build soil. We
could certainly benefit from some capital, but that is not what we
need most. What we need most (besides secure access to affordable land) is a market. Ideally an informed and
motivated market that pays a premium for carbon-negative food. That
market doesn't exist yet, and until it does very few other farmers are
going to adopt these methods.
If the eaters and shapers of the marketplace do not pay a premium for
soil regenerating/carbon sequestering food, it is not going to happen.
If doesn't happen we all lose. So the bottom line is- can we create
a market-based incentive for carbon sequestering food?
There may be various ways to create this incentive, and I would love
to talk further with anyone interested from SM in this. I certainly
don't have all of the ideas on this, but I do have one - a Carbon
Negative food label.
I think a new certifcation regime would be one good way to make this
all happen. I like the brand "Regeneratively Grown" but maybe cleverer
marketing minds can come up with another name.
It will require some work, some money, and multiple influential
stakeholders to make a new certification system work of course-
1) We need a marketplace for the "brand". Can WholeFoods or other
big distributers make the commitment to carry such certified food? It
would require a lot of effort, esp to start, that would no doubt add
costs to their current procurement. Are they willing to accept this?
If they are not, who else might be?
2) We need the non-profit certfying bodies that will do the research,
testing, and farmer support that will be needed to train new farmers,
and help farmers transition This is an important strategic area to
direct philanthropic dollars to right now and SM could be a voice for
this. There are a lot of places doing this research, often with very
little funding, and they could all use help. Of course unless we
simultaneously create a market, those research dollars are just
funding more studies that farmers probably won't read, much less
We are personally trying to raise funds to move our CSA to a secure
and much larger piece of land (conserved by a Land Trust) and
simultaneously create a regional non-profit that can begin to lay the
groundwork for this in our region. We are calling it the "Hudson
Valley Regenerative Agriculture Center." Seems catchy enough. I did
not come to the SM conference hat-in-hand for this effort, mostly
because i wanted to get a sense of the seriousness and perspective of
the crowd there. We do need support though, and see a regional
research and education center(s), based around a working farm, to be
an essential incubator to all of this.
3) Yields and returns: By creating a new niche in the market like
this, we are opening up all sorts of opportunities for the types of
investment that SM is talking about. We will need some philanthropic
dollars to "prime the pump" in all of this, but assuming we get a
market for truly regenerative food up and running, the sky is the
limit for investment dollars to yield the truly transformative
dividends that SM articulates so well.
look fwd to any thoughts!
Hudson Valley Community and Agricultural Land Trust