Regenerative Farming Scholarship

A  truly once in a lifetime moment arose last week at Linger, the restaurant where I work.  Darren Doherty, a man I knew nothing about when I met him last week (other than he was Australian), his wife, Lisa and their son Zane were seated at my table with another amazing man that I did know a little about Mike Callicrate. I’ll get back to Mike in a minute.  These amazing people started talking with me about their projects and all the work we were doing at SOCF came into conversation. They generously offered me the unique opportunity to have a full scholarship for their world-renowned 10 day course, REX (Regrarians 10) (taking place across the US and finally in Chile) about “regenerative farming.” Naively, I assumed this course was simply similar to “Permaculture,” the permanent agriculture field, created by Australians, Bill Mollison and David Holmgren.  As it turns out this course is so much more than I ever could have fathomed.   

Prior to taking the class, SOCF and I have been working with our Nepali partners at Prakriti Ko Ghar (PKG, a Nepali Non-Profit) to support the Lali Gurans project (www.socfusa.org/laligurans or www.lali-gurans.org ) with sustainable farming and permaculture designs.   As determined as we have been to have the absolute highest standards of systems and designs in these fields  (including but not limited to our cover crops, bio-intensive method, soil regeneration, rotational cropping, fire breaks), I realize I have so much more to learn.  Every minute is enlightening and filled with new possibilities.  There is so much material to process that I am just spending each moment absorbing as much as possible.   

Darren, his non profit Regrarians (www.regrarians.org ), and regenerative farming are on a whole other level.  Darren has taken on the daunting task of breathing life back into a dying keystone of society: industrial farming and food production.  As well, I have learned that sustainable farming may not be the right word.  Darren made it clear to me at our first meeting that, “nature cannot sustain itself, it regenerates itself.” Therefore, he believes regenerative farming is the way towards the future.

From this journey, I’ve learned in-depth what challenges farmers both foreign and domestic are facing such as their ever-dwindling water resources, lacking soil quality (due to pollution and a lack of phosphorous and the use of chemicals), EPA restrictions on farms (which while perhaps have solid intentions) have a devastating impact on the small farmers.  I was told that last year more than 40,000 farms in the U.S. have gone under or disappeared. Conditions have gotten so bad that the majority of family farms find their youth not wanting to stick around and manage the business; or, conversely parents often encourage their children to pursue other fields because of the immense daily struggles. The majority of farmers in the U.S. are in debt or only function due to subsidies that result from tedious claims through their insurance companies. Needless to say, our food production, and therefore our very lifeline is threatened.

The future though is not so bleak thanks to the practical education that Darren has created. His courses offer viable solutions to all these issues through a pragmatic and holistic approach. I encourage anyone reading this, whether you are in the field of permaculture and regenerative farming or not, to research the work of the Regrarians in more detail (see the HTML links throughout) as if nothing else, their work will truly inspire you.

The Regrarians also break down the main components to manifesting a economically viable regenerative farm and offer their REX course to further detail these various aspects such as geography, water, access (meaning roads), forestry, fencing, soils, marketing, and energy. The first day of REX, “Climate,” deals with more forms of the word than we generally think, such as the social climate of the people involved with the farm (the hierarchy of the people working at or with the farm, as well as the consumers who depend on the farm economically or as a source of food), as well as the actual environmental climate itself.  This is often overlooked and is so essential as if the people themselves fail, the farm fails and vice versa.

Now returning to Mike Callicrate—the man, the myth, the soon to be legend, and owner of Callicrate Farms where REX Kansas takes place: as I mentioned, I knew a little about Callicrate Farms previously, because the restaurant I work at uses his beef and pork in different dishes.  I already knew that Mike (along with a small group of farmers) had taken on the beef industry for being unjust and bias with which producers they were more readily dealing with and providing benefits to (usually the large scale producers who often utilize inhumane and harmful farming practices). As a result, smaller producers went bankrupt or were left struggling, and having to take lower than market prices just to sell their products.  The case, which made its way to the Supreme Court, was decided in favor of Mike and his associates. However, once that was all said and done, the beef industry, resentful, stopped accepting any of his products at all.

Mike was left between a rock and a hard place; he had to create and adapt.  He created one of the first, if not the first, mobile slaughter units. These were designed not only to offer services to smaller farms (that can’t afford or don’t want to use cruel and mass-production units) but also to provide more humane ways of dealing with the livestock.  Instead of inducing the horrible and stressful conditions which leave animals stressed and sickly (having to watch each other bleed out in front of each other), the animals are privately, quickly, and humanely slaughtered.  This process is otherwise a very dramatic event for the animal in which livestock will release stress hormones as a response. These hormones actually release into the meat, which can affect the flavor, quality, and health of those who consume the food.

I actually felt I had to watch one slaughter, not because I was excited to see something like that, but just because I needed to see with my own eyes and sense what the animals go through.  It was a quite hard for me because of the compassion I have towards resulting from work on Lali Gurans and living in Nepal where the people respect the cow as their Hindu deity (Dhurga).  I also asked another student to prod me with the cow prodder, just to know how it feels. I suppose I felt that if I’m going to eat beef, I need to fully absorb the process.  

Mike has created other financial support links to the farm and diversify: his “bander” inventions (a product to ease the task of cutting the testicles off the animals) www.callicratebanders.com . This is better for the animal because other methods cause the animal more pain, the need to sedate the animal, or the risk of infection. Cutting the bulls testicles also create a higher fat content in the bull and thus higher value on the market.  They also have created a metal fabrication business, a farm to table distribution business (www.ranchfoodsdirect.com ), No Bull Inc, and a new venture creating bone char (a way to utilize the bones from the farm to rejuvenate the soil in a big way).  Bone char adds more phosphorous, absorbs nitrogen, filters fluoride, and is a porous material which retains more water.

Mike and Darren are now working together to combine their unique talents and designs. Together they will take Callicrate farms and regenerative farming education to the next level.  This will allow Mike to lead the way of the future for production, permaculture on a larger, more industrial level. However, when I say industrial, I don’t mean in the same way we think of the term as applied to farming now. The goal is to completely redefine the term with a very conscious, long term, mindset.

If all this wasn’t enough to write about, there is yet another great, unexpected part of this journey: the other students.  I say students lightly because everyone here has so many other “real world” talents to learn from that they could all be considered teachers as well.  Each of these amazing people have so many equally important and innovative experiences, passions, and wisdom to share.  I sit and learn during class; when we have free time, I sit and learn from the students. For me coming into REX with very little knowledge has been challenging because my hand doesn’t move fast enough.  My lack of understanding has been filled by these other students. I have learned the importance of specific species, the importance of native grass production to feed the livestock, the necessity of innovations in tools and systems, and perhaps most important, what obstacles they have faced and the solutions they have come up with to overcome.

I am forever in debt for all of these amazing people, from Darren and Lisa at Regrarians, to the other students here learning with me, Mike Callicrate, and everyone on this amazing farm. Because of you I now have the tools to make a truly successful farm that will support Lali Gurans and hopefully countless future projects to come.