As part of our ROOTED Community, the Climate Collaborative and committed companies work each month to explore ways to improve farmer training practices, methods for quantifying carbon soil sequestration, and how to market these activities to consumers and other stakeholders. For information on how to join, email [email protected].
For companies looking to integrate carbon farming practices into their supply chain, farmer engagement is an early and crucial step to success. Happy Family Brands is on this journey as part of their agriculture commitment, and has just completed their first farmer training program. Katie Clark, their sustainability director, returned from Argentina a few days ago and gave us an update on what they’ve learned from their pilot training project.
Happy Family’s Agricultural Roots:
Happy Family has been committed to organic sourcing since they launched, and over the past two years, in part through their participation in the Climate Collaborative, they have been slowly building out an approach to integrating carbon farming across their supply chain.
This work is core to the company’s mission, which focuses on changing the trajectory of children’s health through nutrition. On-farm work to improve soil health—reducing short-lived climate pollutants in the air and improving water quality due to less runoff—resonates with the company and its consumers.
They view carbon farming practices as a way to take their strength as an organic brand and go one step further, to maximize their relationships with farmers in ways that will benefit farmer livelihoods and productivity, while also improving carbon soil sequestration.
Getting their Farmer Training Pilot off the Ground:
This year Happy Family started looking at how to turn their aspirations into action on carbon farming and exploring how they could implement a program in their supply chain.
They already had strong relationships with farmers and suppliers, which served as a strong springboard for starting a conversation with them around carbon farming practices.
They began by surveying farmers they work with and asking about the practices they are using and why—from tilling to cover crops, composting, and more. They looked at international and national suppliers, and perennial and annual farmers to try and get a comprehensive set of data to work from.
Soil & More Impacts, a consultancy firm, worked with Happy Family to analyze the responses farmers gave, recommend opportunities to introduce carbon farming practices, and to set up a few experimental farmer training pilots.
Farmer engagement in the survey and pilot project was enthusiastic, which Katie credits to Happy Family’s ability to provide farmers with free access to a soil health expert to help address problem areas or concerns on the farm.
In this first pilot, they worked with Javier Legaspi, who owns 100 hectares of organic apple and pear farms in the Rio Negro region of Argentina. Javier’s family has been farming organically since he was young. Since his family made the transition, Javier has been eager to experiment with practices that could improve his productivity and soil.
Javier already has a number of soil-beneficial practices in place on his farms, including the use of cover crops in the aisles between the trees to improve the nutrient availability for his crops and having multiple plots where the land has not been tilled for over 5 years.
Happy Family’s training with Javier focused on compost production—he had attempted to build a pile on his farm from manure and tree clippings, but after a year the pile still had not transformed into finished compost. After examining the pile, Soil & More worked with Javier to develop and train him on a system that uses compost starter to inoculate organic matter in the aisles between his trees, which can be incorporated into the soil upon completion. This compost start will accelerate the composting process and allow Javier to make compost in the exact location he needs it.
Happy Family is treating these pilots as an experiment to explore how they can incorporate more regenerative practices into their supply chain, and they are committed to continuing the dialogue with their farmers to develop solutions that lead to better outcomes for the farmers and for the planet. Happy Family hopes to develop a set of core strategies and best practices that are most relevant and of interest to their farmers, and then to potentially develop case studies to share with other farmers in their supply chain. They may even try to convene a farmer summit to enable group training and engagement.
They’ll also be tracking success of the methods farmers are introducing. They used the Cool Farm Tool to capture the carbon footprint of Javier’s farm, which can be adjusted as Javier implements new practices. They also took soil health samples as part of the pilot training to generate a baseline of soil carbon and organic matter. In three years, they’ll measure again. Until then, they’ll continue experimenting and working to continuously improve the program and deepen their relationships with farmers. We look forward to following along!
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