Regenerative Tree-Range Poultry System: A strategy to build a regenerative poultry industry
To launch a network of small-scale Tree-Range poultry producer pools across targeted US markets and from there, grow a regenerative industry
Tree-Range(tm) chicken is designed to return poultry to its original jungle-like habitat. Starting with small-scale production units, they aggregate to engage aspiring and small farmers, who when networked and managed under a standard poultry production protocol can build large-scale regional producer pools capable of influencing markets at scale resulting in system-level production impact, water protection, and land regeneration. 14 enterprise sectors integrate to build economies and compete.
Lead Applicant Organization Name
Regenerative Agriculture Alliance
A tax-exempt 501-c-3 MN-based organization. Its mission: To assist in scaling-up regenerative agriculture
Lead Applicant Organization Type
Small NGO (under 50 employees)
If part of a multi-stakeholder entity (i.e. team), provide the names of other organizations and types of stakeholders collaborating with you.
Thunder Valley Development Corporation, South Dakota
Macoke Agriculture Services, South Dakota
Regeneration Farms LLC, Faribault Minnesota
Southern MN Initiative Foundation
Green Lands Blue Waters
Website of Legally Registered Entity
How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?
Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?
Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?
Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?
20 Counties in SE Minnesota Driftless Region, we are calling this effort the "Driftless Regeneration Project"
What country is your selected Place located in?
United States of America
Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.
I move to Minnesota as an immigrant in 1992, the first place I lived in was Northfield MN and returned here after over 20 years of living in other areas of the state. My vision in life has always been to farm according to my indigenous upbringing and adapt these to the current market conditions. In 2006 I had to leave a farm an hour away where I thought I could farm. I landed in a much smaller space here in Northfield but was able to develop and establish a small research and development regenerative poultry production unit. I have since then turned this initial unit into a scalable design and have built curriculum and the a replication strategy. I have worked internationally my whole adult life, but I have established roots in the SE-MN region and this is where I want to see this system thrive and become a leading regenerative social, economic and ecological force in the coming years. This place is now home to me, I want to make a significant contribution to the future of the region's ecology and economy and most importantly, I want to be part of building a better future for minority and immigrant farmers like me coming into the US marketplace seeking to find solid, system-level alternative infrastructure so they can too be part of a regenerative future. I came into this community in 2006 and was welcomed and supported in creating this vision and it is where this system has the best chances of success. For the first time since I came to the US in 1992 I have been able to build an actual community of friends, supporters and partners that see the system-level infrastructure that we have to build in order to build pathways to success for those always left behind. Being one of those folks myself I made it my top professional priority to build a system-level solution. I can now become a farmer within my own system and collaborate and build a larger regional community with hundreds of others in the same position I found myself before and build a system-level solution.
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 SE-MN 20-county region where the Driftless Regeneration Project is located on the MN side is part of what is called the Driftless region. During the last ice age, large icebergs flattened large parts of the central US but left regions untouched. The Driftless region is one of them. The topography includes rolling hills, flat fertile land, the mighty Mississippi River runs through it with hundreds of tributaries, the Cannon and Straight Rivers among the most important and valuable hydrological resources that drain whole headwaters that cover farm drainage ditches, trout streams and seasonal creeks. The four seasons are marked and clearly differentiated, with winter temperatures dropping sometimes 30 degrees Fahrenheit below zero for weeks at a time. The small rural downtowns are colorful and full of traditions, from germanic to Latino, African, Native and many more ethnic origins. The region is home to remaining Lakota and Ho-Chunk product Native American first nations and their burial grounds and presence is felt consistently across the region. Food is as diverse as ethnic backgrounds are present in the region. From a dominance of traditional fast food to specialty Latin American although mostly Mexican cuisine to festivals in places like Winona, Rochester, and Northfield that bring out long-held traditions. Wineries and local breweries are growing in presence. Historical sites like Lanesboro and Red Wing are windows to a past of hard-working industrialists and migrants that moved west, most of the historic towns along the Mississippi river settled along the waterways as a way to install industries like grain milling and timber operations in the pre-internal combustion era.
The SE-MN region is a fragile ecosystem, full of waterways, karst formations, and sandstone dominate and while forest do well in these conditions and protect the water, wildlife and build soil, the use of row crop agriculture practices and its dominance in the region have turned an otherwise potentially highly productive and regenerative region into a net loss as suspended soil particles and agrochemicals flow down ditches, streams, and rivers into the Mississippi River and make their way down to the Gulf of Mexico where they become part of an ever-growing ecological disaster in the ocean and its shores. A mostly rural region, with towns like Northfield and Faribault within 20,000 people. Most towns still read in the few thousands and under along the mostly rural roads that are connected by the two major highways 52 and interstate 90 and 35W.
Ethnically, the region is mostly white Anglo descendants, but in the last decade, influx of mostly Mexican immigrants and in a lesser number from Central America have change the population diversity significantly, in counties like Rice and Mower reaching upwards of 10%. There is a general sense that the region needs to transition, agriculture is central but commodities are draining the region. Regenerative small farms are growing.
What is the estimated population (current 2020) in your Place?
Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.
Commodity corn and soybean agriculture is now a serious threat to biodiversity, above and below water systems, one-third of MN's SW region water systems are now considered impaired, wells are drying up and those with water are fully polluted in a vast extension of the region. The region's diet is directly affected by the lack of diversity of production at sufficient scale and during winter months most of the food comes from other regions of the country. It is estimated that the net balance of trade in the food sector is negative as is common in rural regions where commodity non-edible crops is the norm.
Culturally the region is rich and vibrant, acceptance and tolerance of ethnic diversity is very positive in the 20 county region, just west of the 35W interstate line the difference is significantly felt. Arts, theatre, outdoor activities are common and well supported. Each town has it's annual fair or festival with an endless set of opportunities to enjoy culture and traditions year-round.
Technologically, the region is no silicon valley or anything like it, but it has the Mayo Clinic, a world-renown health center which is the pride of every community in the region.
During a 2010 regional economic competitiveness evaluation and strategic planning project, the top economic development opportunities were identified in health care and agriculture. This process produced a series of regional recomendations, the Tree-Range regenerative poultry system rose to become one of the top regional most promising ideas. The political system, however, from the state's department of agriculture to banking and county and township ordinances support mostly traditional row-crop commodity agriculture, while the federal government have no incentives for fruits, vegetables, and diversified and regenerative agriculture, large agribusinesses enjoy strong support all the way from federal funding to local political support. This has become evident and although the regional planning process was intended as a place to generate political, economic and cultural change, the road to implementation has faced the same traditional resistance and ostracizing that is common across the country.
Despite these setbacks, regenerative agriculture continues to advance and larger-scale cooperation, fear of water contamination if things don't change on the land use and need for innovation and economic diversification is starting to tilt the scale in favor of new systems thinking. The high-level connections necessary to make in order to build system-level changes are more possible now than ever before. Going forward, the challenge is mostly access to capital to launch regenerative farming systems capable of generating sufficient throughput to build an economic presence. State and local agencies are more receptive and regenerative agriculture is now a common conversation even among very conventional multigenerational farmers. Changing conditions on the ground will require system-level think
Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.
There are two key criteria that have historically defined if an idea has a system-level potential impact or not. 1) the idea must be focused enough that it represents a unique entry point into the larger system it seeks to change (food system in this case) and that entry point must also have the largest potential ripple effect. 2) the strategy for introducing the new idea must be so that it can be achieved with a small percentage of the time, investment and energy going into defending the idea and the largest percentage (90% or so) into implementation.
The Regenerative Poultry system achieves these two critical keys to success because of the following strategic and competitive factors.
- Poultry is compatible culturally, economically and socially with almost every single ethnic group on earth, it does not conflict with religious traditions.
- A farmer can become part of the Tree-Range Regenerative Poultry system with as little as 1.5 acres of land as long as the township ordinances allow livestock on the site. This does not limit farmers who want to deploy multiple production units on larger farmers. My home where the first prototype unit is still producing results is based on 0.80 acres and delivers upwards 2,400 Tree-Range broilers a year. The second operation located on 42 acres, when fully deployed will deliver upwards of 25,000 broilers a year. Other farmers may deliver up to 50,000 broilers a year per farm. On the egg production side, a single production unit with a total of 6 acres will deliver upwards of 85,000 dozen eggs a year, these factors are embedded into the design to ensure rapid acceptance and market penetration as well as reaching a level of scale and efficiency and competitiveness. These factors are key in turning the energy investments into deployment rather than defending the system.
- Poultry has a short lifecycle, this is critical for beginning, minority and small farmers who have limited access to capital to run multiple flocks during the first years.
- Poultry is a jungle fowl, the Tree-Range system incorporates economically valuable perennial crops like hazelnuts, elderberries, sugar maple, oaks, basswood and other species which in turn become highly valuable by-products of the regenerative poultry system design.
- A regenerative poultry production protocol ensures that no matter how many units a farmer may operate, or how many farmers might engage in a region, the production is consistent in quality, cost to the farmer, can be organized and structured to generate large-scale system-level impact and can be defended from a policy perspective at all levels from the local, regional to the state-level of policy generation.
- A farm operation or a project-level thinking does not deliver sufficient capacity to build and support infrastructure, but regional producer pools are calculated in terms of the break-even-point and economic viability of the value-added infrastructure, this is where the system-level bottle-neck is
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.
A regional producer pool deployment for SE-MN can be profiled as follows.
10 Broilers of production (sufficient to support one poultry processing facility at a low-level of productivity yet sufficient to deliver finished product at a reasonable cost). This represents 1,667 production units, at 8 units per farm there would be 208 farms deployed. Each farm would generate from the broiler production alone a total of 48,000 birds, or 187,000 lbs generating a farm-gate gross value of $542,000 and a net of $129,000, sufficient to support two full time and 2 seasonal jobs, in short, a full fledge family farm per farm operation. Another 2 full time jobs would be supported by the perennial cropping system 5 years after the operation was started and the perennial system is in full production.
500 Million eggs of production. Each production unit delivering 1.02 million eggs and each farm operating 2 production units a total of 250 egg-laying farms would be supported. Each farm would generate $493,000 of gross income and an average of $123,250 net income, plus 12 acres of perennial crops together supporting a full family farm.
As egg and broiler production evolves (the current focus is on broilers until a total of 250,000 is reached, four farm operations are engaged with capacity for 20,000 broilers a year, once broilers are fully established, egg-laying systems will initiate)
As both of these tracks progress, demand for grain increases, grain, egg, chicken processing facilities emerge, larger-scale grain contracting is possible, regenerative production protocols are extended to other enterprise sectors, as each sector becomes consolidated as part of the larger regional system deployment so does the social connectedness needed to sustain, govern and defend the system. Perennial crops provide soil protection, water purification, carbon sequestration.
The social, economic and ecological defragmentation delivers a true triple-bottom-line and the foundation for regeneration.
Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?
The environment (the ecology) is central to the concept of food production. Our interference with the foundational way nature works is the very reason there is more poverty, hunger and food insecurity. The Regenerative Poultry system I work with is designed to return chickens back to their natural jungle-like habitat as a foundation of delivering the best environment for growing poultry that at the same time restores the perennial cover, biodiversity, soil health, spiritual connection to the land, and overall a balanced approach to interacting with the environment and working with it while increase the overall vertical and horizontal food output from a given area of land.
Organized as a production unit for engineering purposes, each broiler unit needs from 1.5 upper Midwest region, to 2 acres lower Midwest region and dry corridors to deliver between 1,000 to 1,500 birds per flock with upwards of 7,000 birds per production unit per year in warm regions and 6,000 in cold regions. An egg production unit oscilates between 6 and 10 acres and total bird population varies from 3,000 hens to 4,000 depending on the region's ecology.
With a production unit well defined and specifications standardized for shelter the model can be adapted to multiple production units per farm to deliver a economic unit or a family farm level operation capable of supporting a whole family working on full time.
By aggregating the economic units regional producer pools or economic clusters are formed, these economic clusters are designed to generate sufficient throughput to support robust and efficient value added processing, aggregation, marketing, branding, distribution. Owned and operated under commonly owned structures such as trusts, cooperatives and associations the wealth creation can be distributed equitable across the supply chain creating a fair, equitable and resilient economic blueprint.
The key to regenerative farming is to look at the land first from a tri-dimensional perspective. Instead of looking at it as a flat surface, an acre of land or hectare starts deep below the soil surface and ends way up on the higher-level strata or forest canopy. This is what I call the "energy transformation field". When looked at land this way, a fourth dimension is possible, a spiritual connection to what goes on in that space. This is why I call true regenerative agriculture design a "four-dimensional indigenous system", indigenous understood as all of humanity being indigenous to earth and capable of seeing the world through this four-dimentional lense if we choose to.
When we look at the ecology, the economy and our social and spiritual connection to all of this from this four-dimensional perspective we move from simply being food producers to "energy stewards", where the role of the farmer and everyone up the supply chain become one of energy management. Since money is directly attached to the flows of energy, the whole system synergies and full application of the first and second laws of thermodynamics becomes the scientific foundation of the engineering and design process and for calculating the feasible and desired economic, social and ecological impacts.
When the ecology is managed under an indigenous framework, it produces food in excess of the needs of the current population in the world. The issue of hunger and ecological destruction plaguing the world today has little to do with nature's capacity to feed the world many times over, it has to do with how the land is used to produce mostly non-edible outputs such as corn, soybeans and fiber.
As a child, I experience hunger, poverty and malnourishment first hand for many years. Yet, by re-designing and indigenizing the way we managed a small plot of land, we achieved full food security, economic stability and eventually supported an education and re-established our social presence in the surrounding community. It is not rocket science to feed the world and restore the ecology, but it is very incovenient for the corporate and governmental profit-driven priorities. The issue is that self-sufficient communities that use actual natural systems and true science to feed themselves need no corporate foods, their poverty, hunger and loss of hope are central for the cheap caloric-based corporate systems to thrive and profit, the opposite is good for communities, eliminates hunger and malnutrition, creates local economic development and ecological regeneration and builds community bonds and social cohesiveness, but reduces and eliminates its connection to corporate supply chains. The dominant political and economic infrastructure is designed to disrupt this kind of community security so that it can penetrate the farther confines of the earth. Even one community that shows a different way becomes an important target for disruption. This disruption is well documented and its ramifications well established across the world.
Technology is critical in this system proposition. Primarily in the measurement and evaluation of progress and impact.
Block-chain technology for example through Nori coins has been a critical element in defining the specific area for the poultry production units. Each production unit operates and can be documented, progress measured, soil health tracked and documented on blocks that mirror the very structure of block-chain technology.
In terms of gadgets, using facebook private places, we have started building and will continue to expand coordinating, learning and consultation platforms where experts trained in the system and farmers can interact with each other to deal with deseases, mechanical issues, building and even coordinating farm chores and cooperating to carry out joint work, share equipment within regions and barter and trade.
Working with organizations like Grounded Growth and the Biodynamic Food Association this system will serve to build a land-to-market nutritional tracking mechanism where soil, plants, animal health can be correlated accross the supply chain from land to market where consumers can scan with handheld devices made available for sale and for in-store use by retailers so that consumers can verify the nutritional density of the foods on the shelve before the make a purchasing decision. This technology will allow Tree-Range to sell on the basis of quality and quantity of nutrition contained per pound of meat or dozen eggs, nuts, vegetables etc, instead of the price per pound itself. This differentiation has the potential of rendering regenerative products cheaper on the basis of nutrition delivered than conventional products full of contaminants and generated through systems without integrity in terms of delivering health and nutrition to consumers.
This system is centered on five governing criteria.
Economic Fairness for workers, income for the farmers, and price to consumers)
Health, for the animals, the soil, workers, supply-chain workers and health of the final products that consumers purchase at the store.
Economic Sustainability, of the system as a whole so that each of the components can also reach a level of operating economic sustainability which guarantees the financial sustainability of the farmily farmer, fair wages for workers and a permanent capacity to grow, support and defend the system.
Resilience, which results from sustaining, enhancing and protecting and scaling the genetic integrity of livestock breeds and plants so that they can continue their evolutionary process and use their genetic markets present in their genetic code to adapt to the changing climate. The integration of the economic and social design into the overall system generates a triple level of resilience as the ecological supports the economic resilience and both support the social.
Transparency, this is critical for the governance, improvements and long-term visioning and planning of the system.
To these principles, a set of criteria has been added to ensure that each principle is applied to the design and deployment process with no geographical or other limitations.
To the criteria a longer list of indicators of success have been added to ensure that success at each level is being monitored and documented, from the economic and ecological profile of a single production unit to the economic performance and energy generated (mostly through manure harvesting) from a single flock. The health of the animals is measured based on mortallity and morbility delivering a clear indicator of how the production model is functioning or failing and needs improvements.
To these indicators a set of verifiers have been developed so that the progress, the advancements in the soil, the ecosystem, the quality of life of all involved, the healthyness of the product delivered to consumers, the fairness of wages and final price to consumers are documented and tracked so that the system produces the kind of data that can serve the larger-scale management.
Put together the over 14 enterprise sectors engaged at the landscape level to generate the 10 million broilers and the 500 million eggs as the baselin of each cluster's first major milestone, generate regional producer pools. As these pools develop, new producer pools will be supported. Forming a national producer pools network capable of delivering an actual industry-level impact and system-level change.
Structured this way, the system will also deliver all the data needed to market environmental services, influence policy in the regenerative food and agriculture field and support the spread of this kind of strategy as a way to feed the world and cool the planet.
How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?