The Future is Regenerative

by reginaldo haslett-marroquin Apr 10, 2021

 As I stand on the highest point of the 75 acres of land my wife and I recently purchased here in Bridgewater Township in Northfield, Minnesota, I can't avoid feeling overwhelmed. 

Don't take me wrong, this land purchase is the realization of one of the most important dreams I have had since I came to this country in 1992. Since I came to Minnesota from Guatemala, I have been working with farmers by helping them build their homes, restoring old buildings, helping market their CSA shares, buying shares for our family. Always looking for a connection that can bring me back home to the land.

I am more than excited about this new place where we plan to make our final home, but I also have a full-time job, a 17-year old that has not started college, and two grown kids that although they moved to California last December will continue to be a top priority. This new farm will take all of the bandwidth left after all of those priorities are covered.

I have dedicated my whole adult life to regenerative farming, or better said, to "Indigenous Agriculture." These ancestral ways of living within nature's cycles, of learning from it, of being within it, of thinking, knowing, generates a different connection to the land and what we do on it. The way we farm becomes a whole different paradigm than the conventional linear, extractive, and colonizing way we are stuck with.

Since 2004 I have been developing regenerative poultry as an actual model. That was my second attempt at accessing land out of Jordan, MN. I have followed a process in alignment with these indigenous ways, complemented by extensive training in conventional and organic agriculture at the Escuela Nacional Central de Agricultura and the Facultad de Agronomia de la Universidad de San Carlos de Guatemala. Furthermore, I decided to pair the training in agriculture with a minor in communications and a major in business management from Augsburg University. I figured that should do it as far as preparing myself for a career in indigenous agriculture.

Standing here in the middle of the farm, contemplating the project, the wind blowing hard, sprinkles of light rain crashing against my face, I am not overwhelmed by what needs to be done on the farm.

I see on one side of the farm 26 acres of 45 to 50-year-old forest, three seasonal ponds form an interconnected above-ground hydrological web. The frogs are loud, ephemeral plants poke out of the ground taking advantage of the few weeks of sun they will get before the trees leaf out, a flock of wild turkeys has scratched the ground in multiple places, their footprints clearly marked on the muddy areas along the woods' edge. All of this is beautiful, energizing, in no way overwhelming.

What overwhelms me is the magnitude of our disconnection with the rest of the living systems we depend on. This disconnection allows us to confine animals into factory-like conditions, install drainage tile and turn this precious life living liquid into an ecological liability, drive tractors pulling plows, discs, planters with seeds foreign to the land, roll large tanks of poisons that kill the very biology of the soil on which the energy transformation capacity of the land depends.

We have developed justifications for everything we do that is destructive, we have internalized those excuses, build brainwashing campaigns, a corporate system, and a government structure to subsidize this way of doing things. We have driven these colonizing ways until we all feel that we must support those ways to be patriotic, to support the economy and the farmers until we can't see collective ways out of them.

Of the 75 acres, 26 are woods and we still need a full plan and a lot more knowledge and wisdom before we will know how best to benefit from working within this landscape. The rest of the farm has been tilled and planted with corn and soybean rotations for as long as anyone around here can remember. There is barely any topsoil left on the high place I am standing. Some of the soil that used to be here is easily found in the lower part of the land, but only some of it. This farm is located in the middle of Heath Creek, a watershed that flows into the Cannon River, which flows into the Mississippi River, which flows into the Gulf of Mexico. If I were to pick up the soil filling up the lower land and try to put it back where it was originally since the last glacial activity, it would at best, amount to a little sprinkling. Most of this soil and the hundreds of thousands of pounds of chemicals, insecticides, and herbicides applied over decades in this land are now permanently part of the marine dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico as unretrievable life-killing residue. Meanwhile, all of the lands that I can see from this higher point on the farm continue to be farmed without regard to this magnificent impact, or consideration of the magnificent capacity of this ancestral Dakota landscape.

Are you starting to understand why I feel overwhelmed? It is not the farm that does that, it is the sense of disregard for nature I see everywhere around me and the sheer magnitude of the infrastructure and investments that we have made nationally and globally to protect and perpetuate that way of seeing, knowing, living.

But these are thoughts that come here and there because I, like everyone I work with, must understand these issues in order to generate the passion and energy that drives us to do things differently.

The tilled land is about to get planted with a barley crop, subsequently planted with a sheep pasture, and subsequently fertilized with an organic fertilizer to ensure that new land cover gets a solid start this spring and grow those permanent roots and forage while giving us some grain for the chickens that will come later.

The other priorities are getting the access road, the barn, well, electrical, all in so we can start building coops. After the basic access is completed we will lay out the first coops and build them as we raise the capital. The egg-laying demonstration and R&D unit will occupy an 8-acre section of its own with a capacity for 4,000 egg layers, while the broiler units will be on 1.5 acres and have the capacity for 1,500 birds per flock and up to three flocks per season. In total there will be 6 broiler production units and one egg-laying unit. The pasture which we are planting on the whole farm will serve as forage for the chickens within the paddocks and will support a new regional collective of Dorper Sheep farmers we are also intending to join. We will focus on finishing the sheep while others manage the reproduction farms.

As part of a regional regenerative poultry system working under the Tree-Range(R) system, we purchased a poultry processing facility along the border with IA just south of Austin. Similarly, we will be drawing up the plans and structuring the scaling-up strategy for meat sheep and preparing to tackle processing, branding, aggregation, marketing, and distribution.

Our farm is not a stand-alone operation, understanding the challenge that the concept of changing a system implies also means understanding that alone a small farm is simply too risky. Regionally, we are forming the Tree-Range® farmers cooperative to be launched this spring. Together we are just under 30 farmers from many ethnic backgrounds and multiple levels of land ownership. We are an affinity group that shares common goals and objectives, the cooperative will allow us to build stronger supply chain infrastructure, share equipment, knowledge, and sometimes our collective labor to get big farm projects done. Recent estimates show that we have saved among the farms over $250,000 of farm expenses and supplies working collectively. One single farm received over $75,000 worth of hazelnut rootstock, while our new Salvatierra Farm has also received over $75,000 worth of gifts and helping hands.

When I feel overwhelmed about what is in front of us at a system level, I turn around and look at all that we already have, especially our relationships, and the sense that we will indeed create the system change we need. The energy that this feeling and the possibilities generate is sufficient to power us for years and ignite a whole community so we can further minimize inherent challenges and facilitate the return to our indigenous nature. We must recognize that we are made from the elements of the earth, we belong to it like every other living organism on the planet, we are all indigenous to the earth, and we did not evolve alone, we are fully dependent on every living system and organism.

The future is regenerative, but we need your partnership, support, resources.

In the coming days, we will be launching a campaign to raise funds to build out the chicken coops, buy chicks and feed, and plant over 35,000 trees on the land that was stripped tilled for decades. We hope you will help us gain more energy and turn around those moments when we have to face the fact that we are a tiny spot in the larger context of regenerating the planet, but we ARE a spot, part of the solution, that matters and energizes us, and we invite you to be part of this emerging story.


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