FINAL UPDATE: Friday, February 26th, 2016
I received word this afternoon that the Vermont Senate Committee on Agriculture has decided to table the bill for this session. I was given no more details than that. Sad news for the day, to be sure. But the future is bright! Throughout this process we've learned that support for regenerative agriculture in this state is STRONG and it makes me proud to be a Vermonter. We'll recuperate for a bit. Then we'll rewrite the bill. And, when the time comes, we'll reintroduce something stronger. Thank you all for taking this journey with me. It has been fun, productive, and one hell of a learning experience.
UPDATE: Monday, February 22nd, 2016
The bill is still with the Vermont Senate Committee on Agriculture. I hear they've got another day of testimony planned for tomorrow. They're certainly investing a lot of time and interest—and we're grateful! Meanwhile, the news of the bill continues to spread. We learned this morning of a great article about the importance of soil health from Dr. Mercola in which he quotes me and mentions the bill. Onward!
UPDATE: Friday, February 12th, 2016
On Thursday and Friday of this week, the Vermont Senate Committee on Agriculture heard many hours of testimony on behalf of our regenerative agriculture bill. I was honored to begin Thursday's session with about an hour of testimony. The senators were interested, attentive, and had wonderful questions. My testimony was followed by testimony from business leaders, journalists, public policy advocates, professors, and farmers of every stripe.
Both Senator Brian Campion and our district Representative Alice Miller were there in support. I believe the Committee on Agriculture is excited and enthusiastic about the bill and will try to move it forward. But, as with any legislation, there are many hurdles to clear. Onward!
UPDATE: Wednesday, February 10th, 2016
Today, our bill has received the endorsement of two regenerative agriculture advocacy groups: Kiss the Ground and Regeneration International. We're thrilled to have their support. Read the blog post here.
UPDATE: Friday, February 5th, 2016
The Senate Committee on Agriculture has scheduled a session for testimony for next week. So...we're headed to Montpelier! We're so grateful that we'll be joined by Senator Campion, fellow regenerative farmers, soil experts, and the good folks from Rural Vermont to testify on behalf of the bill. Speaking of bills...I'm also armed with a letter of support from Bill McKibben. Onward!
UPDATE: Tuesday, February 2nd, 2016
Our bill was introduced this morning by Senator Brian Campion to the Vermont Senate Committee on Agriculture. Senator Campion did a wonderful job presenting both the bill and the benefits of regenerative agriculture. He was backed up with testimony from Andrea Stander and Andrew Bahrenburg of Rural Vermont—an outstanding and influential organization working on behalf of Vermont's small family farms.
The committee is said to have been "intrigued" and "receptive." They will now take the bill under consideration for a few days while they weigh the bill's merits and their legislative schedule. Updates as they happen. Onward!
I am a busy bee over here at Pullman Farm/Studio Hill:
- I'm trying to work out a home-delivery meat CSA system for the upcoming season.
- I'm writing carbon farming articles for HuffPost and Modern Farmer.
- I'm doing some remodeling in two houses.
- I'm job hunting.
- I'm playing pteranodon with Angus.
- And, I'm catching the occasional lamb.
One of the endeavors I'm most excited about, however, has been my work with Senator Brian Campion and the state's fellow soil nerds on, what I'm excited to say is now known as, Vermont Senate Bill 159. If passed, this bill would create—what I believe would be—the world's first regenerative agriculture certification program.
While haying this summer on Studio Hill I was debating myself—pretty heatedly—about whether or not to pursue Organic certification for our land and products. I have been 100% 50/50 on the idea since the record-keeping is daunting and, more importantly, any marketing benefits we'd receive completely miss the mark. Organic certification only tells my customers what's NOT in our food—not what it is or how it was raised. I've got more to say than that.
As you know, we're practitioners of regenerative agriculture or "carbon farming." The sheep, chickens, turkeys, and pigs are all here to improve our farm's soils, grasses, and carbon cycle. The meat is a byproduct of a biological soil regeneration engine we're running. As we showcased earlier this summer, the field in which we had all the animals this summer out-produced our other pastures by 300%. We're jumpstarting the natural cycles in our fields that conventional agriculture had halted. The proper and natural treatment of the animals is KEY to that success—they must function naturally in the environment in order to recreate the natural cycles.
THAT'S what we're proud of. THAT'S what we're doing. Of course we're not going to force-feed hormones or antibiotics or GMOs or pesticide- or herbicide-laden food. If we wouldn't eat it, nor will the animals in our care.
Anyway, the proposed Vermont Regenerative Agriculture Certification Program would be a voluntary program that Vermont farmers could join which would subject their production acres to three years of testing. If their fields proved to build topsoil year-over-year, or build organic matter, or sequester carbon, then they would be granted certification and could stamp all their products with the state's seal of "Certified Regenerative."
THIS tells customers more than what isn't in their food. THIS tells customers about the life of the animal, the goals of the farmer, and the impact their meal had on the environment. (Hint: Awesome.)
Below I've included my executive summary of the bill. I've uploaded a PDF with the complete text of the bill as introduced for your sharing convenience. I will keep you updated on the bill's progress and our quest to rebuild and restore Vermont's soils for future generations.
Vermont’s Regenerative Agriculture Certification Program Vermont Senate Bill 159
Soil is the key element in all of Vermont’s goals for natural resource conservation. It gives us: clean air, flood protection, food, feed crops, clean water, fuel, fiber, and so on. Protecting and rebuilding our state’s soils should be a top priority for any environmental policies created and promoted by the state.
The following soil regeneration program I propose would help Vermont:
- bolster our state’s food brand by adding humanely-raised, pastured meat alongside our maple syrup and dairy industries;
- export more high-quality food products to urban centers;
- bring more money into the state without depending on tourism;
- conserve our small farms by opening up new markets and revenue for farmers;
- attract young people to the state by creating a supportive pathway to farming;
- increase our state’s resistance to damage from flooding (a 1% increase in organic matter across 1 acre of land retains 16,000 more gallons of water—and we could add 1% per year in places);
- increase the capacity of our state’s water table to help avoid droughts by keeping water in the ground (healthy topsoil slows water runoff and prevents evaporation);
- build a resilient local food system by producing more food here in the state;
- support our composting efforts & companies by building a strong instate market;
- lead the nation in the discussion on reversing/battling climate change.
With its agricultural roots, small farms, proximity to urban markets, progressive/innovative population, strong food brand, and governmental accessibility, Vermont is poised to take the global lead on combating climate change through farming. Here’s how we can start.
The Proposed Certification Program
Along the lines of the USDA’s Certified Organic program, I propose a state-level Regenerative Farm Certification Program under which farmers can have their land and their methods certified by the state as regenerative. The state would certify farms and farmers that have been able to prove over a three-year period that:
- their land is building topsoil year-over-year, or;
- their farming methods are sequestering carbon year-over-year, or;
- their soils contain an increasing percentage of organic material year-over-year, or;
- via some other verifiable, and quantifiable method.
Once the certification was awarded, regenerative farmers could use the regenerative label to boost their marketing efforts—particularly out-of-state where urban consumers are looking for consciously-raised, environmentally-beneficial food sources.
Vermont would become the first in the world to implement such a certification, thereby taking the lead on the fight against climate change and shifting the focus of the global discussion from vague doomsdayism to hope and progress.
Programs That Could Follow...
Once the certification program was in place, Vermont could explore ways to compensate farmers for doing the work of regenerative farming.
For example, farmers could be paid some amount of money for each ton of carbon they’ve been able to sequester in a year. Or, they could be paid for each centimeter of topsoil they’ve been able to build. Or, they could be paid incrementally according to some other scientific measurement of their success. It is in the best interest of Vermonters to maintain and build healthy topsoil, therefore it is in the best interest of Vermonters to pay farmers to use methods that do so—instead of the opposite, which is all too common.
This program would be designed to:
- signal to America’s young would-be farmers that Vermont is lowering the barriers-to-entry for farmers by providing a revenue stream to anyone who cares to take up regenerative farming and
help us improve our state’s soils and natural resiliency;
- signal to existing farmers that there are different methods of farming that don’t create the problems of erosion, soil depletion, compaction, drought, etc., and that they’re worth exploring—if only for the extra revenue.
This program could be funded by a statewide carbon tax to be paid by drivers at the gas pump and carbon-emitting industries. This would give Vermont another first-in-the-nation decisive move against climate change.
Other Ideas to Consider
- Work with the state’s private land trusts to offer additional incentives for conserving certified regenerative farms or transitioning farms to regenerative practices;
- Help fund a marketing campaign to promote Vermont regenerative-certified chicken, beef, pork, lamb, turkey, goat, pheasant, eggs, vegetables, etc.;
- Help regenerative farmers with their processing needs by allowing farmed meat processed at the state’s custom butcher shops to be sold directly to consumers and in stores;
- Help regenerative farmers by opening up five state-run, state-certified processing centers around Vermont (operating at a profit for the state);
- Help regenerative farmers (in some way) with transportation of certified-regenerative meat to New York, Boston, Albany, etc.