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Regenerative Agriculture: The Future of Food.

Rescue the U.S. food system from collapse by implementing regenerative agriculture practices nation-wide.

Photo of Maci Maier
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Lead Applicant Organization Name

Thousand Hills Lifetime Grazed

Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Small company (under 50 employees)

Website of Legally Registered Entity

www.thousandhillslifetimegrazed.com

How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?

  • 10+ years

Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?

Becker, Minnesota

Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?

United States of America

Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?

United States of America

What country is your selected Place located in?

United States of America

Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, it is estimated we have approximately 60 years left of global harvest before the U.S. soils will be too degraded to feed the U.S. population. Decades ago, our food system shifted to an industrialized, mono-cropped system of farming to ultimately make more food, cheaper and less diverse. The current U.S. extractive agriculture system quickly degrades valuable soils through petro-chemical sources of nitrogen, harmful pesticides and GMO monoculture crops sprayed with heavy doses of glyphosate.

We understand that choosing the United States of America is a larger area than 100,000km2, however, our vision is to save the U.S. food system from collapse by implementing regenerative agriculture practices nationally. It has been proven that soils regenerate faster with animal impact from cattle. Thousand Hills is currently regenerating grasslands on 600,000 acres with the help of 60 like-minded family farms spread across 18 states. That acreage is expected to increase as we work towards our goal of regenerating 2 million acres by 2022.

 Living in this country, we experience daily how this broken food system has impacted ourselves and everyone around us. Unfortunately, in the U.S. there is little importance placed on how our food and land practices alter our health and communities, which is critical to the survival of all living species. Since the Industrial Revolution, the priority of our food system is to produce and consume the cheapest, fastest food available. However, the important connection that needs to be made is that though the food may be cheaper, there are still major costs, just in different ways, such as medical bills and quality of life. This quick-fix mindset has, in turn, caused an increase in diabetes, autism, cancer and other terrible diseases, affecting each of us deeply. In the end, cheap food is very costly.

Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.

The United States of America is the third most populous country in the world, with an estimated 330 million people. According to the Census Bureau, the U.S. population is expected to rise to 402 million by 2050; a 38% growth rate. The U.S. is one of the most diverse countries representing an array of ethnicities and languages, where median family income in 2019 was $73,891 with an estimated 43 million Americans living in poverty. The American West consists of deserts and mountains, including the Rockies and Sierra Nevada’s. The Midwest was formerly all prairie (flat and rolling grasslands) but now consists of vast areas of tilled farmland where the major crops are Corn, Soy, Wheat, and Milo. The most drastic change of seasons occurs in the Midwest, with northern cold, long winters and heat in the summers, where the rainfall is 20-30 inches. The Midwest states represent some of the most prevalent areas of agriculture in the world and affect the economy globally. According to the USDA, in 2007, Midwestern states had a market value of crop and livestock products sold of over $76 billion, encompassing corn, soybean, livestock, vegetables, fruits, tree nuts, berries, and nursery/greenhouse plants. The South is more moderate most of the year but is very hot and humid in the summer months. The East coast has more mild weather in the summer and has significant winter weather events. The West and East coasts have better access to quality food due to their locations, whereas the interior of the U.S. has less access to quality food, because most of the food comes from mechanized, mono-cropped, and industrialized agriculture systems.

 The rural U.S. population is decreasing as people move into urban/suburban areas. The population shift is largely due to big agricultural corporations taking over small farms. The result of the population shift is the loss of valuable rural communities. During this process, people are increasingly removed from the land and production of food. Yet, it is proven that small farms are more productive and better stewards of our land. The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy states, the benefits of small farms extend beyond the economic sphere, whereas large, industrial-style farms impose a scorched-earth mentality on resource management — no trees, no wildlife, endless mono-cultures — small farmers can be very effective stewards of natural resources and the soil. Therefore, we find it important to focus our regenerative revolution on the entirety of the U.S.

What is the estimated population (current 2020) in your Place?

300000000

Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.

The current state of the food system is extremely broken and quite frankly, not sustainable. Environment, Diets, Economics, Culture, Technology, and Policy each play big roles in why our food system is the way that it is and continues to deteriorate.

The average American spends only about 10% of their income on food, while in other developed countries around the world it is upwards of 20% or more. In the United States, it is easier and more readily available to consume processed convenience foods produced depending on Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) plants most likely treated with glyphosate, listed as a probable human carcinogen by the World Health Organization. It is troubling from a policy perspective that, the U.S. government subsidizes farmers who are growing the commodities contributing to a degenerative food system. Ultimately, the current subsidy policies support large food corporations motivated by high yield and profit at the expense of human and climate health. These commonly used methods within the current system act as a crutch to increase yield and production. The major policy will continue to support a broken system until a massive change is made.

Most agriculture companies use technology to advance GMO seeds to create more powerful pesticides, herbicides and synthetic fertilizers to compensate for our degraded soils. This short-term solution has created an accelerated decline of the nutrient density in our food while increasing our exposure to harmful chemicals. The combination of lower nutritional quality in foods alongside increased chemicals causes human bodies to crave more food resulting in unprecedented prevalence of obesity, diabetes and cancer.

The environmental damages conventional farming practices have on our land is catastrophic. Specifically, when talking about beef, taking cattle off the land and forcing them into a Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) causes massive methane and carbon leaks into the atmosphere, while at the same time rapidly degrading topsoil due to farming practices. Ironically, our best natural resource of deep, rich topsoil throughout the Midwest we rely upon in our extractive agriculture system was built by millions of ruminants grazing our land for millions of years. Our conventional system has almost completely depleted this resource in less than a few hundred years. Our environmental issues are a direct reflection of our current industrialization of agriculture, and our climate will only continue to worsen until consumers are aware of the situation and vote with their dollars to see a real change in the food system.

 By 2050 these challenges are only going to cause increasingly great destruction on our farmland, drastically altering the nutrient density of our food, and wreaking havoc on our bodies. If we do not take immediate action in changing our food system, this timeline could mean by 2050 we may only have about 30 years until the total collapse of food and agriculture production. According to the USDA, by 2050 the world demand for food is expected to increase by 60%. To meet this challenge, the U.S. will need to devise new agricultural practices, and build new markets.

Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.

Thousand Hills can help steward a real change in the U.S food system. We pride ourselves in digging deeper to understand the implications of our decisions. We focus on what nature intended and work with her versus manipulating for the short-term. We are Regenerative Renegades in our food system.

We have effectively implemented our holistic, regenerative land and grazing practices on 60 family farms and ranches, representing 600,000 acres of farmland across 18 states. We are a small company, but we believe we are currently the largest impact regenerative food company in the U.S., yet we are barely scratching the surface of our potential to shift the food system!

Thousand Hills Renegades follow a strict protocol. They do not use GMOs, glyphosate, excessive tilling, excessive petro-chemical fertilizers, pesticides or fungicides, etc. They manage their cattle through holistic grazing practices. The known outcome of these practices are to build soil health, reduce erosion and runoff, increase biodiversity, maximize photosynthesis, sequester carbon, re-establish diverse grasslands, benefit pollinators and wildlife, eliminate dependence on chemical herbicides and synthetic fertilizers, improve nutrient density in the meat while benefiting rural economies and INCREASING production on the land. As consumers become more aware of the benefits of regenerative agriculture and the positive role of grazing ruminants, they will vote with their dollars and our Renegades will convert more land to regenerative practices. The resultant benefits are many but most important we will build our soil, and thus, our collective health, indefinitely into the future.  

 Thousand Hills Lifetime Grazed works with, and educates the supply chain including, family farmers, processors, distributors, retailers, and consumers. We recognize each of them as a link affecting the entire food system from land to store shelf to consumer kitchen table. Each person who supports our vision and mission is a Regenerative Renegade. They understand change can only happen when we passionately synchronize efforts. Supporting this vision carries a responsibility bigger than themselves that many times means sacrificing potential personal gains. We see them as superheroes. Our Renegade Retailers understand that not all grass-fed beef is created equally. They seek out, offer and promote true regenerative food products. They vigorously vet companies and take the responsibility of your ‘Food Gatekeeper’ seriously. The Renegade Consumers dig a little deeper to learn about their food. They aren’t scared to put in the work to seek nutrient-dense products that promote their health and well-being, and most importantly, use their dollars to vote for real change in our U.S. food system. Without our caring consumers, we simply could not do what we do.

High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.

In 2050, grasslands will look the way they used to with tall, thick grass; dark, rich soil smelling of organic matter, and creeks that carry crystal clear water no longer murky with topsoil and chemical runoff. Our species of plants, animals, fungi, bacteria and more will be flourishing, no longer worried about endangered species, but instead seeing them thrive. Cattle and other animals such as chickens, pigs, goats, sheep, and bison will no longer be confined in feedlots, they will be out grazing the land under holistic management practices. Thousand Hills plays a role in creating markets to support such smaller, diverse, multi-species, regenerative farms, allowing people of all ages and backgrounds to work on the land producing nutrient-dense foods from rich top-soils.

We will ultimately be on the path to repairing our environment because solving climate change won’t happen in just 30 years. With the amounts of carbon, we will be sequestering into our soils due to ruminants grazing our grasslands, we will be well on our way to solving a massive problem. With a growing population, we could think about growing more food in less area as we regenerate our land.

Americans will have access to nutrient-dense food, for a price that they can afford. People will realize that what they spend on food is more important than material goods, because investing in what you eat, is investing in your long-term health. Ideally, processed food will be gone entirely, however in the event, it is still there, people will have the tools to make informed choices and selections about what food they should be eating due to education on food choices being readily available.

 With this comes lowered rates of autism, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and other diseases, possibly to the point where we can eradicate them in years to come. This will all stem from a different food system where the diets of Americans can change because ultimately the culture has changed.

Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?

Thousand Hills Lifetime Grazed envisions a future in 2050 where Americans have unlimited access to affordable, nutrient-dense food, and understand the importance of nourishing their bodies and our land. Education about the U.S. food system will be widely available to fully encompass the need for disease prevention and environmental health. Ruminants responsibly grazing our lands, making CAFOs obsolete, which is beneficial to the nutritional value of meat, humane animal practices, and the environment. The U.S. will be regenerating topsoil, sequestering carbon to build soil fertility, will have clear streams and rivers, and will be increasing biodiversity across ecosystems our ailing system so badly needs.

At our current environmental state, we will no longer be able to grow food from our degraded soils in an estimated 60 years, due to the constant loss of topsoil at the rate of about 5 tons/acre/year in the U.S. Knowing this, and when thinking about 2050, nothing is more important to us than our environment. With the discontinuation of CAFOs, and land stewards across the United States properly incorporating holistic management, we will be effectively sequestering carbon into our soils rather than our current problem of omitting carbon and methane into our atmosphere. There will no longer be industrial mono-cropping operations, instead, when growing food other than meat protein, crops will be in rows, separated by cover crops year-round. Farmers will have a comprehensive understanding that tilling greatly destroys the soil structure but adding animal impact will rebuild topsoil and increase water holding capacity, decreasing the chance for flooding.

Thousand Hills is tirelessly working towards and envisions a radical shift in the American diet, where the norm is to go to their local grocery store and purchase all their food from land that was managed regeneratively, without exposure to harmful pesticides. The standard of the American family dinner will change to become a healthy, delicious, nutrient-dense meal. To make this happen, there needs to be a cultural change. Americans must understand that they are being detrimental to their health and the health of the environment when consuming processed, mono-cropped conventional foods regardless of where they are being sold. If convenience-based restaurants must still exist they will be fully converted to improving the food system by offering true grass-fed, regeneratively raised protein, and pesticide-free vegetables and carbs. To make this radical culture change, Americans need to be completely educated about the importance the food production model has on our entire system.  

It is easy for us to envision these diet, cultural, and environmental changes for the United States. We also know it is entirely possible, because on a small scale, we have witnessed the improvement of the land and food system landscape. An increasing number of distributors, retailers and consumers are asking more questions about where their food is coming from and how it is being made. Lucky for us, we are witnessing the shift happen right in front of our eyes. With the growth of Thousand Hills and numerous other health-conscious food companies, we are gradually seeing the U.S. population in search of better food options. The number of people in this health and environmentally conscious group only continues to grow, and we do not see this trend stopping anytime soon. This is not just our vision; we believe that eventually, this will become the vision of the American people.

When looking at the dietary and cultural shifts of the future, you must also take into consideration the economic factor. In 2050, Americans can be looking to change their diets and spend more of their income, however, this will not work if the food is not affordable for an average American due to limited supply. Currently, American’s can go into a co-op or natural food store in the U.S. and buy our 100% Grass-Fed Beef 80-20 Ground Beef for $5.99/lb., adding a vegetable or other small side, that would be able to feed a family of 4. As Thousand Hills grows, we will continue to push value to the renegade farmer, assuring they have resources for a living wage and can thrive in a regenerative agriculture system; we simply cannot lose them to conventional practices! For this to work, there must be a balance between the American people willing to spend more of their income on nutritious food and the food itself becoming more affordable with scale.

If we expect Americans to make this shift in their spending and thinking, the food industry must make it easier for them to access the healthy food they desire. Food deserts pose an issue in the United States, which can be large or small areas where the inhabitants don't have access to any nutritious food or maybe even any food at all. Thousand Hills will continue to make our products available in as many retail locations as possible, but that is simply not enough. An all-encompassing solution to addressing the food desert includes the support of government policy.

Policy plays an important role in the future of our food system, but the vision Thousand Hills has for 2050 does not rely on the government’s willingness to help the regenerative agriculture food system movement. However, we must challenge the government to discontinue propping up the industrial mono-crop agriculture industry. If the government eliminated the practice of subsidizing corn, soy, and wheat farmers, the free market could then fully function, allowing change to happen at a quicker pace for farmers and consumers. We aim to communicate the importance of regenerative agriculture to lawmakers, to shift investments from subsidies to policies supporting regenerative agriculture, such as carbon credits. Although, regardless if the government changes their involvement in our food system, we believe in the power of our work across the grazing lands of the United States, and the American people to steward the real, necessary change.

Technology will also be a major part of the equation in 2050. As mentioned before, there is an incredible opportunity for technology to help farmers market to consumers directly or through third-party channels such as online buying programs or social media marketing. We have entered a technologically advanced age, where people have unlimited access to the internet, giving us incredible power to educate and inform consumers about the future that we strive to see. It also provides us with the ability to source the food we want, online, shipped directly to our doors. Thousand Hills has recently launched an ecommerce site www.grazgrub.com that provides consumers this exact opportunity.

We, as a company, are already established in the natural food market channel with our Ground Beef being the number one fresh protein SKU. We are represented in this channel in 500 retail locations across 49 states. Consumers have responded with great enthusiasm to our comprehensive product line, the quality in our beef, and our undeniable regenerative practices. However, in order to have a bigger impact across the United States we must be represented in more conventional retail markets. In doing this we will be able to capture the consumers who are not intentionally looking for a regenerative product, along with providing us the opportunity to educate the consumers about the products that they are buying and the impact they are able to make with their purchasing decisions. 

Thousand Hills Lifetime Grazed has a bold vision for 2050. It is easy to throw out grandiose ideas for the future, but we are so passionate because we can see the genesis of this change happening before our eyes. We see the results in the soil, in the land, in the biodiversity, in the retailers and ultimately passionate, enthusiastic Renegades in every step of the process. At Thousand Hills, we have already started down this path of a healthier and more food secure future at every necessary level. We see our food system as the greatest issue of our time, and that is why we are working so hard to make this change happen. We believe we can make this beautiful future a reality. It will require hard work, dedication, and persistence as we move forward, but we hope to be an example for many others as we thoughtfully and quickly move towards 2050. Thank you for your consideration.

How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?

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Attachments (1)

SCTimes Clearwater farmer distributor raise beef to improve soil help planet (002).pdf

An article that was recently published about Thousand Hills owner, Matt Maier's farm and regenerative practices.

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