In 2018, we shared details on Happy Family Organics’ regenerative agriculture farmer training pilot (see the full blog here). The program set out to provide free technical support and guidance to farmers in Happy Family Organics’ supply chain on how they could shift to practices that can help store more carbon in the soil, improve watershed health, support biodiversity while also improving overall soil health and land productivity. The project fit into the brand’s larger ambition to help reverse the climate crisis through supply chain reductions and on-farm carbon sequestration.
Two years later, they've completed a second pilot and have now launched a Regenerative Farmer Fund to provide ongoing support to farmers in their supply chain. We sat down with their Sustainability Director, Katie Clark, to learn more.
Why did HF launch the Regenerative Farmer Fund?
We learned so much from the pilots in 2018 and 2019-two big takeaways to really support their transition to regenerative agriculture were that our farmers need financing mechanisms to make these changes and they need more ongoing access to our consultant. The Fund created a way for us to tackle both of these challenges at once.
How does the project work?
|Before Cover Cropping Trial|
|After Cover Cropping Trial|
We’ve set aside $40,000 per year toward the fund, which will support up to four farmers annually with new practice implementation. We invite farmers in our supply chain (across the globe, not just in the U.S.) to submit an application detailing their current practices and the opportunities they see for improvement. Our regenerative agriculture consultant, Pur Projet, works with the farmers to design regenerative project implementation and a pathway towards becoming Regenerative Organic Certified™.
Once selected for the fund, the farmers have several calls with Pur Projet, to draw up a budget for the proposed practices, baseline the carbon impact of their current practices using the Cool Farm Tool, and provide any technical support needed to help implement the new practices. Additionally, the farmer most in need of support is selected for a 5-day site visit by Pur Projet.
While the money we provide isn’t a massive capital investment, it can make a difference for a farmer wanting to experiment with a practice change. Farmers in Happy Family Organics’ supply chain are already certified organic, and we’ve found that many are already interested in the ecological and social benefits that regenerative agriculture practices can provide. The co-financing that this fund provides, along with technical support, is proven to encourage farmers to invest in regenerative practices. In the first year, we’ve found that farmers are proposing budgets that exceed their $10,000 allotment and are more than willing to make up the difference. Because farmers are investing their own money alongside our grant, they are also stakeholders in the work.
What has the first year looked like?
It’s been a strange year for launching any new projects, of course, with the COVID-19 pandemic; but we did have four farms apply, and we are working with them now: two in South America, one in Italy, and one here in the U.S. We’ve met with all of the farmers virtually so far and are inspired by their resilience to the pandemic and their continued motivation to invest in regenerative practices.
This year’s focus of the Regenerative Fund was soil health, and we have seen great innovation from the grant recipients on how they want to leverage the funds to improve their soil. One farm is regenerating a new 48-hectare field through a cover-cropping practice, another farmer is purchasing a new piece of equipment to support mulching in his orchard, and another farm is setting up an agroforestry parcel and a specialized irrigation system to support soil microbial activity.
Our program was set-up to be primarily managed from a distance, which allowed for us to achieve most of our objectives, despite the pandemic. The projects have been set up and supported from a distance, and a field site visit will occur for one of the farms following COVID-19 protocols.
What feedback have you gotten from farmers?
“[Our farm], holds environmental conservation and the production of organic fruit as its key principle. Because of this, incorporating new practices that minimize the environmental impact of our system will be of great help. Incorporating organic matter into the soil has multiple benefits, from helping to improve moisture retention, to increasing the biodiversity of the soil. As an operational practice we are incorporating the use of compost into our crops each year and we believe this has been one of our greatest successes. In the near future we are also planning to incorporate oat mulch into our crops.” – Pablo and Giovanna Montes of Agricola los del Monte
Do you have any lessons learned, or advice for other companies looking to support uptake of regenerative agriculture within their supply chain?
If you’re looking to take up regenerative agriculture in your supply chain, don’t be afraid to start small to prove out the concept. There are many regenerative agriculture and soil health experts out there at a variety of price points – you could even look at local technicians at universities with Extension programs near your target farms. You will learn a lot from starting small and truly partnering with your farmers to meet their needs, along with your company’s.
I also think it’s important to educate your consumers on what regenerative agriculture means so you can help them understand why you are working with your farmers on this topic. We released a children’s storybook and educational video earlier this year for this reason, and we encourage other brands to find ways to tailor the education to their consumer’s needs as well.