Chris Newman on busting the single family farm myth and why indigenous collectives are the way to go

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Why does regenerative agriculture not scale beyond the often single family farm? What if we unleash the power of economies of scale specialization and actually build wealth within regenerative agriculture? What does inclusion mean within farming? Why does seed keepers and livestock breeders act as the key to our survival?

Today, we go deep into the issues of single family farms and the potential of collectives to manage whole landscapes way more effectively to produce more food and wealth. Chris Newman, founder of Sylvanaqua Farms, joins us for another riveting conversation about regenerative agriculture. 

LISTEN TO THE CONVERSATION ON:

Key points:

  • why collectives make more sense than single family farms
  • why regen ag doesn’t scale
  • economies of scale in regenerative agriculture
  • specialisition is key
  • what regenerative agriculture needs to do to reach it’s potential
  • why indigenous peoples should receive most of the investments in regen ag

From Coding To Livestock Farming

What got Chris started with farming and livestock was a health scare that he potentially got due to stress. He used to work in IT at Washington DC without finding fulfillment with his 9 to 5 job. Together with his wife, they decided to purchase land and started poultry and pork farming.

“I went to a bison farm in Central Virginia and I watched the bison cow jump over a five or six foot fence from a standstill and say, ‘Okay, I don’t have the money to build 10-foot-high Jurassic Park fences all over the place.’ So we decided to go with something a little smaller, a little more reasonable, less dangerous, less wild, and just got on poultry and pork to start with.” – Chris Newman

Unspoken Truth About Single Family Farms

Chris digs into the “unspoken strategy” around the idea of Yeoman family farms who compete with traditional Agribusiness in the aggregate. Frankly, a significant number of regenerative movements are in love with the idea of a number of little farms spinning up and together. They’re supposed to be able to challenge the power of income in agribusiness. 

“The problem is that if these farms are going to replicate like that it would have happened already. But it’s not because it’s too difficult to make a living as a farmer doing that just for any number of reasons. There’s very little historical precedent for that kind of farming to actually work without creating some kind of exploitative relationship with the people who are doing it.” – Chris Newman

If Farms Operate On A Larger Scale

Chris says that if more people are drawn into a collective, rather than working from that top down command and control model — where you’ve got an owner who owns all the assets — scaling will be easier. 

“You start to expand and actually offer the pie to people. As you scale up, you’re able to engage in farming in a way that’s less exploitive on people and on the landscape.” – Chris Newman

The other part of scale is the fact that farmers need to get big to compete with big players.  

“You’re just not going to do that with a million independent farms all doing their own thing, uncoordinated, not leveraging economies of scale, repeating all kinds of work. I mean, the engineer in me, just thinks about like decentralized processing and things like that. It’s like ‘No, they really don’t do that.’”  – Chris Newman

Inefficiencies of “Smallness”

Chris continues to give out scenarios based on the reality of inefficiencies of small farmers. He shares his frustrations on how farmers purchase, spend and identify price points based on this failure to come as a collective. 

“You’ve got 100,000 people driving their cars to 100,000 different markets, and you’ve got 10,000 poultry farmers all buying the same equipment. It’s like, why? The amount of inefficiency that comes from our failure to scale. I did an audit of my own business and just try to attribute how much of our price point is owed to inefficiencies, just because we don’t do things at scale. We can’t buy feed in bulk. We don’t share markets.” – Chris Newman

Economies of Scale in RegenAg

Their plans for regen ag is purchasing hectares of land in Chesapeake Bay and entering agreements and contracts. He further shares about the idea of the collective, which is based on equity and farming. He poses the question: “how do you get people to farm in the first place and be able to make a career out of it?”

“There’s lots of people who want to farm and who would make good farmers, but who aren’t good entrepreneurs, who aren’t people that want to deal with the non farming parts of things, but should still be able to get access to the landscape to do what they do. This is what regenerative agriculture is supposed to do. Build topsoil and improve biodiversity and sequester carbon, do all the things that it’s supposed to do.” – Chris Newman

To know more about Chris Newman and how he busts the single family farm myth and why collectives are the way to go, download and listen to this episode.

Bio: 

Chris Newman is an ehakihet (farmer/land protector) and an outspoken evangelist of ecological, economic, and social sustainability in food. He’s garnered both criticism and praise for:

  • Advocating a moderate, pragmatic approach to sustainable food systems that recognizes the complementary roles of both ecological farming and technological innovationFrank discussions of the intersection of race and agriculture
  • Blunt, unsparing criticism of the “clean food” movement’s often-elitist values and aversion to self-reflection.

Links:

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TRANSCRIPT OF THE INTERVIEW

SUMMARY KEYWORDS

people, regenerative agriculture, farm, farming, food, agriculture, farmers, land, problem, collective, scale, investing, acres, regenerative, building, soil, landscape, big, terms, agribusiness

SPEAKERS

Koen van Seijen, Chris Newman

Koen van Seijen 00:00

Why does regenerative agriculture not scale beyond the often single family farm? What if we unleash the power of economics of scale, specialization and actually building wealth within regenerative agriculture? How would that look like? Today we go deep into the issues of single family farms, the potential of collectives to manage whole landscapes way more effective, producing more food and wealth, and what does inclusion mean within farming, and why seed keepers and livestock breeders are the key to our survival.

Koen van Seijen 00:30

Welcome to another episode of "Investing in Regenerative Agriculture: Investing as if the Mlanet mattered", apodcast show where I talk to the pioneers in the regenerative food and agriculture space to learn more on how to put our money to work to regenerate soil, people, local communities and ecosystems while making an appropriate and fair return. Why am I focused on soil and regeneration? Because so many of the pressing issues we face today have their roots in how we treat our land, grow our food and what we eat, and it's time that we as investors big and small and consumers start paying much more attention to the dirt / soil underneath our feet.

Koen van Seijen 01:08

In March last year we launched our membership community to make it easy for fans to support our work and so many of you have joined as a member. We've launched different types of benefits, exclusive content, Q&A webinars with former guests, ask me anything sessions plus so much more to come in the future. For more information on the different tiers, benefits and how to become a member, check gumroad.com/investing _in_regen_ag or find the link below. Thank you.

Koen van Seijen 01:33

Welcome to another episode of "Investing in Regenerative Agriculture" today with Chris Newman founder of Sylvan Aqua farms. Welcome, Chris.

Chris Newman 01:41

Thanks for having me.

Koen van Seijen 01:42

Personal question to start with why soil? Why farming? Because you don't have the background, like many people actually in this space. What drew you to the land?

Chris Newman 01:50

Initially, it was purely selfish reasons. I was working in tech, I had a health scare that basically resulted from the stress of my job, working as a technology consultant near Washington, DC, and my wife and I had always planned on doing some kind of agricultural project around indigenous meats, indigenous land stewardship.

Koen van Seijen 02:07

Bisons I herd as well.

Chris Newman 02:08

Yeah, bison was the initial thing we were focusing on or thought we were going to focus on. So we decided to end my tech career and move that plan up. Bison did not happen. I went to a bison farm in Central Virginia, maybe a few months before the farm started, and I watched the bison cow jumped over a five or six foot fence from a standstill and said "Okay, this is not, I don't have the money to build 10 foot high Jurassic Park fences all over the place". So we decided to go with something a little smaller, a little more reasonable, less dangerous, less wild, and just got into poultry and pork to start with.

Koen van Seijen 02:44

They can fly.

Chris Newman 02:45

Fly but they can't kill you. Or I don't know, let's say turn into like Jurassic Park velociraptors and really come after you. No, that hasn't happened yet. So we started off with them just from a number of things. We read things by people like Allan Savory, Andre Quason and a few other people, some figures in the regenerative ag movement that now I kind of frankly have a lot of issues with.

Koen van Seijen 03:09

We'll get into that yet, yeah.

Chris Newman 03:11

But we got into it from them. And our journey kind of started with the whole like smallholding, almost juiced up homesteading kind of model, but the engineer in me just could not help but do the math around the amount of food that needed to be produced and the amount of food that this movement was producing, and we quickly realized that there was kind of a lot of virtue signaling going on in the regenerative ag movement. We weren't operating at the scale that we needed to, we were still operating under some very, perhaps not so great assumptions around farming oriented around nuclear families and oriented around command and control ownership and retaining that farm-owner farm-worker divide that tends to be fairly exploitive. So there were a number of issues that me coming in from a as a complete outsider, like not only an agriculture outside, but a cultural outsider, I think made me able to look at things from kind of a different lens and maybe with a more critical lens for regenerative agriculture and some of the problems that I was seeing. So that's just kind of how we got started down this path toward where we're kind of a almost a counterculture organization within the movement, where we're looking at scale, we're looking at integration, we're busting up the whole family farm paradigm, because there's just a lot of problems with that, or problems with.

Koen van Seijen 04:22

There's so much to unpack there, but it's interesting that you thought you were going to a lower stress environment and you probably didn't.

Chris Newman 04:31

No, but it was..

Koen van Seijen 04:32

It's different.

Chris Newman 04:33

But it was for something. The tech job was for a paycheck. I grew up not exactly poor, but definitely poor adjacent and could see what the consequences of failure would be. So a lot of what I'd been doing was running away from fear and you're working 15, 16 hours a day sleeping at the office, not seeing your family, not seeing your friends. And it's like, for what? You get this money that you don't spend on anything, because I'm not a very high class kind of guy. So that kind of stuff piles up. Whereas for farming, you know, pulling chicken tractors and a thunderstorm and harvesting paw paws when it's 1000 degrees outside, you know it means something. There's a connection to it, it comes from a place of trying to do good and fix a lot of very difficult problems that affect a lot of people. So it's good stress. It's a good thing to keep you up at night and be stressed out about.

Koen van Seijen 05:21

So let's unpack some of the issues, you see, let's start with scale. What's up with the image we have of the one family that runs one farm that owns the farm and wants to do regenerative stuff. Basically bit like you started, as a bigger homestead in many cases because that's what you can afford, if you have to buy the land. What's the issue? What does the engineer say to that in terms of issues?

Chris Newman 05:44

Well, the fundamental issue is this. Kind of the unspoken strategy around, at least a part of the regenerative movement that's in love with the idea of a small Yeoman family farm, is that the strategy is to compete with traditional Agribusiness in the aggregate. So there's supposed to be lots and lots of these little farms spinning up. And together, they're supposed to be able to challenge the power of income and agribusiness. The problem is that if these farms are going to replicate like that, it would have happened already. But it's not because it's too difficult to make a living as a farmer doing that just for any number of reasons. There's very little historical precedent for that kind of farming to actually work without creating some kind of exploitative relationship with the people who are doing it. We don't associate Yeoman farmer with really savory parts of at least American history, I don't know about global history, but at least here, it's not such a great thing. But no, I mean, one of the things that you hear, you hear agricultural gurus, you know, Joel Salatin and various others, who espouse this model tend to gloss over the ways they had to get lucky, and the things they had to be handed in order for their models to work. Most people who make it have to have very deep social safety nets, they usually have to inherit something, whether it's a house, whether it's land, whether it's both, whether it's a bunch of money, to be able to fail, you know, over and over again, while they learn the trade, make mistakes, learn how to both grow food, processed food, and trade food, which are three completely separate businesses all in one. It's just there's not enough people who are inclined toward that entrepreneurial mindset to be able to do that. There's lots of people who can grow food, well. There's lots of people who can process too well. And there's people that are good at trading. But it's incredibly unusual to find all three in the same person. And it's even more unusual to find all three in that same person with the inheritance and the safety net, and all these things that you need in order to in order to make it. Like these handful of people that that have made it, like if you actually look at their balance sheets and their tax returns, you find things that go "Oh, well, gee whiz, you know, I could have done that if I'd inherited 550 acres".

Chris Newman 07:59

So yeah, the issue is that, you know, the scale by working in the aggregate just isn't gonna work, this is just not going to happen, you can't get enough of these things spun up, because the work is too hard to really do by yourself. So that's, that's where we really get the idea of, you know, if farms were to operate at a larger scale, if they were to draw more people into a collective, rather than working from that top down command and control model, where you've got an owner who owns all the assets.

Chris Newman 08:25

Yeah, and they've got their people underneath them, who they're usually barely paying under the guise of an internship or Woof or whatever. You know, if you get away from that, and you start to expand and actually offer the pie to people, as you scale up, you're able to engage in farming in a way that's less exploitive on people less exploitive on the landscape. And the other part of scale is just the fact that we need to get big, like if you're going to compete with big Ag, you have to compete as a large entity. And you're just not going to do that with a million independent farms all doing their own thing, uncoordinated, not leveraging economies of scale, repeating all kinds of work. I mean, the engineer and me just just thinks about, like decentralized processing units and things like that. It's like No, don't do that. You got every individual farmer doing the exact same things, spending the exact same money.

Koen van Seijen 08:26

And the hands.

Chris Newman 08:55

And driving on Saturday to the farmers market, yeah.

Chris Newman 09:20

Yeah you've got 100,000 people driving their cars to 100,000 different markets, and you've got 10,000 poultry farmers all buying the same equipment. It's like, why? The amount of inefficiency that comes from our failure to scale, I mean I did an audit of my own business, and just try to attribute how much of our price point is owed to inefficiencies just because we don't do things at scale. We can't buy feed in bulk. We don't share markets. Like we don't leave space on the supermarket shelf. Like we drive ourselves to the market and you know, do all this stuff. And it came out to be in something like near 20% of our price, is just inefficiency of smallness.

Koen van Seijen 09:57

And what was the trigger for you and your wife to say "okay, well, they go this homestead plus idea and start exploring collectives, etc." Was there that audit? Was there something else that you suddenly realize: this doesn't make any sense.

Chris Newman 10:10

Yeah, it's funny. It came from a movie called War Dogs, which is just a stupid movie, I think feature Michael Cera and whoever that other guy is that he's always in movies with. It was a movie about these arms dealers who were going through Fed biz opps, just to like, I don't know, buy guns and arms or whatever from Eastern Europe and bring them to the United States and sell them to the federal government. But it was funny that I hadn't really thought about Fed biz opps since I've left government consulting several years ago.

Koen van Seijen 10:35

So what Fed biz opps just for anybody outside?

Chris Newman 10:38

Yeah, yeah. Fed biz opps is basically a central repository for all of the publicly available federal government contracts in the United States. So like anything that the government needs, whether it's weapons, food, I don't know, diapers, equipment, like whatever they need somebody private to bid on and to provide to the federal government goes on this website. So I just decided, you know, I hadn't been there in forever since I was bidding on like software services and stuff like that and I figured, you know, what's food like? Cuz the federal government has to buy food. And so I just decided to look for it, just figured what is the procurement order for the Department of the Army look like. And my jaw just hit the floor.

Koen van Seijen 11:18

Because of the size

Chris Newman 11:19

The size was just, I mean, was indescribable. Like you'd have contracts that would have a single line item for 200,000 pounds of beef. Like one line item in one contract, and then it'd be like 150 contracts. And I would think about some of the farms that I consider to be like, big boys and the regernerative space, like if you look at a Will Harris's place, Joel Salatin place, and they Will Harris is probably way bigger than Salatin. But if you look at these guys, like they're tiny, even these big farms are tiny, like it would have taken a polyface something like 25 years just to fill that one contract, and that one thing is like this is impossible.

Chris Newman 11:55

So it really got me to think about what the actual size of the problem is, when you're looking directly at the market like this is one federal agency, one contract, one line item within that, it really made me think that we're a candle to the sun and we need to really do better and I'm just not hearing, and this was the big thing, I did not hear any kind of critical voices or peer review about the mathematical modeling around regenerative agriculture coming from regenerative agriculture. So that that is really what kind of lit a fire on me was the fact that nobody was doing the work of figuring out how to do the math.

Koen van Seijen 12:31

And that's from the consumer, or in this case, the federal government side, but if you look at, we need to do a lot better in terms of the amount of acres or hectors we cover and does landscape management and thus CO2 and carbon and water and everything else, the sheer quantity is just enormous, like what needs to be done. And it clearly shows that over the last 30-40 years with mostly the organic movement, who has done a lot of good things but just never scaled to the potential we all hoped it had or we we needed to have, I think that's the... so it needs some other organizing principles and you are working on a collective. So what is that vision for a much larger scale, but not 100,000 hectars but a much larger scale collective? What does it mean? When you talk about regenerative agriculture? I think everybody can imagine we talk about a huge farm monoculture soy GMO in Australia, you can imagine what that is. I mean, it's two guys with a tractor and a lot of drones. But what does it mean in terms of regenerative agriculture when you talk about scale?

Chris Newman 13:31

Yeah, so we're talking about putting together a mosaic of landscapes in our particular area, which is the western shore of the Chesapeake Bay. So we're talking about buying land for ourselves, we're talking about entering into agreements with departments and resources, park services to have control over 100 acres here, 200 acres there, private landowners and nonprofits that control a surprising amount of land in our area. We've got at least 5000 acres that we can have access to just from historic estates that are looking for somebody to farm in a way that's not just corn, soy, wheat, canola. They want to do something different.

Koen van Seijen 14:08

They want food.

Chris Newman 14:08

Yeah I mean they want something that goes to a market I mean, no corn, soy and canola their food, in a sense. So yeah, we're really thinking about there's lots of bits of land everywhere, there's lots of people who want to farm and who would make good farmers, but who aren't good entrepreneurs who aren't people that want to deal with the non farming parts of things, but should still be able to get access to the landscape to do what they do, which is what regenerative agriculture is supposed to do: build topsoil and improve biodiversity and sequester carbon, do all the things that it's supposed to do.

Chris Newman 14:42

So the collective though, really came out of the idea of equity and farming it was how do you get people to farm in the first place and be able to make a career out of it and not have it just be this thing that you do in your 20s when you can afford to work for free and you think you're gonna live forever and you're never going to get sick or want kids or retire, whatever. Like how can you come to the landscape and stay there? And when I was talking about this with Sarah Mak, who at this point is almost like our advancements / Chief Operating Officer type. Her opinion having visited all the farms that she has and all the countries that she's gone to, she's basically said people will not pay enough money for food for farmworkers to make a livable wage. They just won't do it. But the problem is just too politically intractable, and there have to be other ways to compensate people financially for the work that they do and a lot of that solution revolved around then "Okay, well, what if we build a more asset heavy kind of model, which farms tend to be anyway". Asset heavy in terms of land, livestock, you know, various things that actually appreciate in value. Why not bring people in and make them owners, and then have their compensation be wealth-based rather than income based.

Koen van Seijen 15:54

So you get a bit of income, which is enough to live off, and you get amazing food, and you're building wealth into a collective, into a company.

Chris Newman 16:01

Yeah, you're building wealth in the background, you're able to leverage it if you need to, but hopefully you don't, you know, if you're farming in community and your housing is taken care, your food is taken care of, your insurance is taken care of then ideally, hopefully, you won't need that much of a wage. But of course, you should still be paid anyway. But the idea is that we find a way to pay you what the market will bear in terms of income, but then do what all these other rich incumbent tractor farmers do, which is basically just watch their land value appreciate. And that's the fundamental basis of their wealth and how they stay in farming. Despite all the belly aching, you hear about half of farmers have net losses every year and blah, blah, blah. I could talk about that forever, and I won't. So the collective idea just came from that, and it also comes from an indigenous notion that land ownership is a really odd concept. That one person like draws lines around a part of...

Koen van Seijen 16:53

...and now it's mine, yeah.

Chris Newman 16:54

Yeah right around, Kishila Mgunch creation and just says "Okay, this is mine is not anybody else's" it's like what? What? I don't understand, like, there's there's no word for that, in my language. Very few of the native languages that I know of, can even conceptualize that concept in words.

Koen van Seijen 17:08

Which is very something very recent.

Chris Newman 17:10

Yeah, yeah. I mean, here, you know, this country is young. But it comes from just that idea that farming, fundamentally, at least for me, and from my cultural tradition is an act of protecting creation. We here tend to consider ourselves to be land protectors and water protectors, and food is the byproduct. And that's kind of a concept that's been appropriated by regenerative agriculture, this idea that I'm a soil farmer and the byproduct is grass fed beef. And I listen to this, I'm like that sounds awfully familiar but like sort of bastardized, but okay. But when you've entered in that kind of relational food system, which is what a lot of indigenous people will refer to this as, you have to operate collectively, you have to operate as equals. There is no command and control. Everybody has equal access to this place to the assets and the natural resources that we draw a living from. So for us, the collective thing was just natural, it was a natural economic fit, and it was a natural cultural fit.

Koen van Seijen 18:08

And for that, do you need to own all the land? I mean, in this case, not because he mentioned, we will be working with this land for quite a bit, and so how much of this vision, let's say, you own yourself as a collective, not you personally, and how much is done leased land in terms of what lease land are you actually helping to build up the soil, to build up the biodiversity, to build up life literally, but not on the land you actually own? So how does that work with the wealth creation if you don't own the underlying lands?

Chris Newman 18:36

So you own some and you lease some. I mean, that that's the way most farms operate. They'll have their 100, 200, 300 acres and then they'll lease 1000 acres of somebody else's. For our leases and our non-owned parts we're going to be focusing more on institutional ownership, because that portion tends not to change hands.

Koen van Seijen 18:56

Yeah, that's what was gonna be my next question. You need something long term there, otherwise, why bother?

Chris Newman 19:00

Yeah, you need to make sure that land is somewhere where it's not just going to go into private hands, it's going to wind up being developed after you were there for 30 years, you know, building soil and doing what you had to do, and then next thing, you know, it's McDonald's and McMansions and Mc everything else. So you've got a lot of these institutions, NGO estates, for example, that's just big in Virginia because of our slaveholding history here. They've got all these old like slaveholding plantations that still have two 3000 acres attached to them, but they've got like a real guilt complex around it. And they're trying to do right, they've got conservation easements on everything, stuff is never going to be developed.

Koen van Seijen 19:32

But it's also not going to be farmed. Yeah.

Koen van Seijen 19:34

It can be farmer, and so that's the thing, like we're able to come into these places, again, with the notion of "We're going to protect your landscapes here, we're going to do your forestry for you, we're going to do your pasture management, we're going to make sure that everything is taken care of and we're going to happen to bring in plants and animals to do that for us. We're going to encourage wild species, we're going to encourage game trails, we're going to create this long term hybrid system of domesticated agriculture, intensive agriculture with more extensive indigenous focused kind of wild-based agriculture". And so for these institutions, it's again, it's about protecting that landscape and making sure that it's it's healthy and functional and it's a place that people want to come to visit and get all the other ecosystem services besides food that people get from these places. And the fact that they are institutional, they're NGOs, they're not going anywhere, makes us pretty comfortable with branching out and protecting those places.

Koen van Seijen 20:30

And even if they in the rare case, if something would change, and you're mostly, let's say, I mean, some of the assets you can move in terms of animals, etc. I mean, it's not that you're building enormous stables there full of pigs that are impossible to move. Luckily, for many different reasons, but you also have a bit of flexibility in the odd case of one in 100, that actually does change at some point. And with all the easements actually, something does go wrong, you could move out of that. Which it's not ideal, but you have the flexibility.

Chris Newman 21:00

Yeah, that's the thing. You know, if you've got, let's say, in our 10-15 year vision, we own 1000 acres, and we lease like seven or eight thousand.

Koen van Seijen 21:08

How many people are in the collective then?

Chris Newman 21:10

Right now, there's like eight of us, we're still small.

Koen van Seijen 21:12

But then in that vision, you're managing 1000 acres, whats...?

Chris Newman 21:16

We're talking hundreds, a lot of people, you know, if you go to a city and interview, like, I'd say, 100 people, I bet you five of them would say, yeah, I think I'd like to farm for living. And out of those, maybe like a half a person would actually be able to do it.

Koen van Seijen 21:33

But in this case, 'do it' is interesting because what you mentioned before is obviously this sort of jack of all trades, that traits that both is a great farmland manager is a great chicken processor, or processor in general, is a great accountant and is a great trade sales manager. But in this collective that will be separated. And so actually, 'it' is very specific here, it's not managing a full farm on 1000 acres.

Chris Newman 21:56

Yeah, that's the idea is that when you have a collective and you have hundreds of people whose talent you can draw from, not everybody has to be an entrepreneur. One person can just be a really good seed keeper, and that's the thing that they do, and that's the service they provide. Somebody else can be an accountant, somebody else can be a livestock manager, somebody else can want to deal with a bison jumping over the six foot fence. You know, people will be able to specialize, and that's the idea is that you'll be able to draw in so much more talents, so many more people who want to do this work, but can't do all the work. Because we don't require that in any other industry, except for startups. You know.

Koen van Seijen 22:33

Yeah but they are meant to grow, and to get people to do things. I mean, after a while, if you didn't hire your CFO, and you look at them weird.

Chris Newman 22:39

Yeah, but we kind of have to get out of that idea that farms are supposed to stay in this startup phase like forever, with this one person being that every man or every woman, just interminably. But yeah, going back to your initial question, it's just, you know, that large landscape goes hand in hand with having more and more people involved in that landscape. You want people on the ground, you want those farmers in those communities growing food for those communities, you don't want somebody in Brazil, making decisions about what's going on with the food system in Texas, because people in Brazil don't know what's going on in Texas. It's how you wind up with supply chain issues that we had with COVID, you know, with empty supermarket shelves and really tight supply chains and all this stuff. But getting to that scale and operating on those thousands of acres, it just comes with so many benefits in terms of the number of people that can come in, the amount of acreage that you can restore actually making a measurable ecological impact as opposed to just doing your you know, having your 50 perfect acres.

Koen van Seijen 23:35

Your little piece of paradise. Yeah.

Chris Newman 23:36

Yeah, I mean, it's like the parallels to Covid are ridiculous. It's like having one person wearing a mask while everybody else surrounding them isn't. It's just coughing all over everything. It's like, it's not how you create a system, it needs to be bigger.

Koen van Seijen 23:49

And what does it do for price? Because that's what Sarah came back with from her global travel, like this is not going to be sustainable and consumers are not going to pay enough to pay living wages. In this case, scalability helps, I mean, economies of scale help with that. What is your calculation there in terms of, because your not at that scale yet, but what is your vision there?

Chris Newman 24:09

That's the thing. I haven't done exact calculations in terms of like what the price comes down to, but I know it comes down just because you're operating...

Koen van Seijen 24:16

The 20% you mentioned.

Chris Newman 24:19

Yeah that 20% gets to go away, you know, in theory, but when you're leveraging economies of scale, you're able to actually control your buying relationships really well, when you're able to vertically integrate so you're not paying markup at every single point in the food value chain, that's all stuff that can come out. I don't know if you're ever going to get down to like Walmart prices doing regenerative agriculture...

Koen van Seijen 24:38

But do you have to?

Chris Newman 24:39

I mean, yes and no. People are definitely price sensitive. They absolutely are but they're not as price sensitive is people tend to think. A lot of access to food, in my own experience, is not so much around the cost of food but around the cost of being able to prepare food. It's you know, a pork chop my costs like $10 or something like that, but you got to have pots, you got to have pans, you got to have time to clean, you got to have time to shop, you got to have time to thaw the pork chop season, the pork chop, cook the damn pork chop, eat the pork chop, wash your dishes when you're done, put the stuff away, you got to have refrigeration for the leftovers. People who haven't been poor don't understand that there are people who will not turn on their hot water heater because it's too expensive.

Koen van Seijen 25:22

So how does this help with that? When you talk about processing? Does it mean getting it to a level where you can simply microwave it and eat it in that container as well? What is your vision to make it accessible, even if price is maybe not the most important thing, but the total cost actually is an important thing?

Chris Newman 25:37

Well, here's the thing I'll push back on a little bit, is that people tend to expect farming to bridge that whole gap. Like I think agriculture can do a part. I think regenerative agriculture can do some things to make itself more efficient lowers prices a bit. But there's got to be part of that gap that has to be addressed by wider society. There's just there's only so much that farming can do itself to address things like inequality, to address the fact that people have to work, you know, a regular full time job and then two jobs in the gig economy in order to make ends meet. Farming can't really solve those problems. What farming can do is create an environment that we can live in, that we can live with, that can help solve climate change, they can bring the price of things down, they can make food more healthy. We can do some work to make food more accessible in more places by for example, getting rid of this whole - I'm gonna get a lot of trouble saying this - but I think farmers markets are kind of ridiculous.

Koen van Seijen 26:32

I will link to an interesting article he wrote about the calculation. The fact that you drive there with a lot of produce. I mean, it depends obviously, I know a number of farmers that are using regenerative practices in grain. I mean, they don't know the farmers market, they never go there, because that doesn't make any sense because you're not going there with six tons of grain. But let's say you're selling your produce and the amount of waste, inefficiency time of not selling previously, and not just dropping off, like there's some ordering now in mostly retail rings in the Nordics, like they drop x 1000 in an hour because everything is pre sold. And it makes so much sense. But yeah, it's not that interacting, which is great as well but it has such a big costs on a farmer that already does 80 plus hours a week, and he's overworked probably burned out and relationship is exploding. It just doesn't make sense. It's never gonna compete with the supermarket. And it's cute and nice and it's an experience. But yeah, I'm gonna get in trouble for this as well. But it just doesn't make sense on so many levels.

Chris Newman 27:28

Yeah, it's, I mean, it has a place. It is nice that there's somewhere you can go and interact with your farmer and have that connection. But the fact that, you know, what percentage of people have access to that? You know, and it's fine for that to exist but when your whole shtick is: we're saving the world, we're doing the right thing, this is the future of blah, blah, blah. And it's like "No, no, it's not."

Koen van Seijen 27:51

None of you have a full time job and you need to do two gig economy jobs just to make ends meet, you're not going to go on Saturday morning to the farmers market.

Chris Newman 27:57

No, not at all.

Koen van Seijen 27:58

Even if you had the money. I mean, at the time.

Chris Newman 28:01

Exactly. That's exactly right. Like even if you have the money, there's so many other pieces that you have to run through. And most people, and an increasing number of people, aren't going to make it.

Koen van Seijen 28:11

And so there's only so much you can do, obviously, in terms of price. And hopefully at some point, I mean, society, all of us have created this system of farming, some more than others, and all of us have to contribute as consumers, but also as investors. So let's switch gears a bit in terms of the investment side. Because I've heard you say on multiple places, investing is key, not just being the consumer here, but also putting your dollars, euros, yens etc. to work. For this vision, you are in a very interesting place at the moment because you are - this is not investment advice - but you are taking your relatively small scale farm to this much larger vision that you painted, obviously, with a number of steps in between. Where are you now? What are you doing at the moment in terms of fundraising? And how is that going?

Chris Newman 28:56

It's gone shockingly well, to the point where

Chris Newman 28:59

Which is good to hear.

Chris Newman 29:00

Yeah, I mean, we raised way more money way faster than we thought we would which offered an initial kind of a raise to hit our phase one for buying a small base of land so that we had some kind of land tenure that was better than like five, six year leases that we have now. To buy cattle herds, we could start building that asset. Livestock herds are incredible way to build wealth. And just getting some efficiencies done on the farm and expanding our cold storage, stuff like that. Just being able to really expand our capacity to meet more consumer demand.

Koen van Seijen 29:30

Would that be your series A if we stay in the startup? Or you're a seed? What do you compare that to?

Chris Newman 29:36

I don't know the startup parlance very well, like I wasn't in that part of the tech world. I was in the like government consulting, writing evil software for evil organizations part of it.

Koen van Seijen 29:49

I mean, you have a very strong market for your current farm. You need a number of infrastructure in place and a number of things to start that would take way too long if you do it on cashflow basically that's the spiel now.

Chris Newman 30:01

The margins aren't terrible, but to operate at the scale you need infusions of money, you need impact capital, you need people willing to give you fairly large loans, and there's lots of vehicles for doing that. But we were in something like 300,000 or so in, like 30 days, and I'm not gonna lie, we weren't trying that hard. I wrote a brief in a pitch deck and put it out there and figured we'd maybe get some attention but just the amount of...

Koen van Seijen 30:27

And this investment is equity, it's loan, what is the structure?

Chris Newman 30:30

It came out to be something like, a little less than a third in gifts in the balance and well, short term in the grand scheme of things, loans, like five year loans with three and a half percent lump sum at the end. Really just impact loans, you know, hardly any return at all, like you don't you don't lose money on interest.

Koen van Seijen 30:45

Impact's first.

Chris Newman 30:46

Yeah, exactly. So yeah, I mean, people really connected with this mission, that I think investors, I think people in general, consumers, everybody out there looking for somebody to tell them the truth about agriculture, and the truth about environmentalism and agriculture, and not just be trying to sell them the next product. And I feel like in a lot of ways, regenerative agriculture is kind of descended into a marketing arm for grass fed beef, in a lot of ways, like, it's very disappointing to kind of watch happen in real time. There's just been a great response to a non traditional voice, which means you know, someone who's indigenous not white coming in from outside of agriculture, who's a cultural outsider who will look at this.

Koen van Seijen 31:30

An engineer as well.

Chris Newman 31:31

Yeah, I mean, it's to have this objective problem solving oriented view toward our food and agriculture and environmental systems, I think it's something that people really connect with. And to have somebody who's willing to push back against the "be small, orient around your nuclear family", somebody that's willing to integrate and get big and and really just take the fight to traditional agribusiness. Because we've really shied away from, you know, just putting the gloves on and saying "ADM, let's box, let's see who wins" and, you know, let's try to get to a point where we can compete with them. And I think people just responded to the idea that there could be an actual strategy around "Okay, how are we actually going to compete with these guys? How are we actually going to scale up? What does this end result look like?" instead of this pie in the sky motion that lots and lots and lots of small regenerative farmers are going to come from the ether somewhere.

Koen van Seijen 32:25

They fall out of the sky, I heard.

Chris Newman 32:26

I mean, at this point, they're gonna have to!

Koen van Seijen 32:28

So when, I mean, I know a lot of investors and people working in the space that are listening to this that are super enthusiastic about soil that have read some of the books, have visited some of these farms that somehow against all odds and with a lot of luck, either because of inheritance etc. have made some kind of success, they want to invest in this space. Without giving investment advice, they can of course look at the proposal you have out there, but what would you as an outsider/insider, tell somebody who's in Australia, or was in Italy, or who is in Florida says: "Okay, I want to be part of building something like this, I can invest". What should they look out for? Where should they go and listen, and basically, at some point, maybe invest.

Chris Newman 33:12

So given the title of this podcast Investing in Regenerative Agriculture I'm gonna say investors should look outside of regenerative agriculture. And what I mean by that is that regenerative agriculture has turned into a very monolithic industry of people of extraordinarily similar backgrounds, looking at a problem in the exact same way. And it's become a little bit problematic, because you've got some issues with basic scientific literacy, you have some issues with certain studies about things like carbon sequestration being oversold, like there's a lot of promise in what regenerative agriculture offers, like in terms of increasing biodiversity in terms of the ability to improve degraded soils and sequester carbon in degraded soils but a lot of it's being oversold by a lot of attackers. A lot of people are using regenerative agriculture to argue, for example, that the United States can still have 100 million strong beef cattle herd, which, you know, even as the guy who loves cattle, I graze cattle, I rotate cows, I love cattle, but No! The math doesn't work. I've done the math, I've have written about the math, and got yelled at about it but nobody was able to actually refute the math, I just got yelled at for not being cool.

Koen van Seijen 34:25

Saying basically, unless we asked a much harder question, like how much beef are we actually eating or any other very intensive protein, how do we need to change our diets? How do we need to change much more of our system? It's not enough just to switch everything to grasp fed, holistic graze, etc. etc. It won't fix it.

Chris Newman 34:45

Yeah, I think you just have to be careful, you know, if you're an investor or even a consumer, when you've got a problem that's as complicated as food, because food is wrapped up in every fundamental issue that like, especially in the United States food is wrapped everywhere.

Koen van Seijen 34:58

No, it's everywhere. I don't remember who said it, I think it was maybe Dan Barber or something, like it's one of these - I don't remember it was him - one of these carpets where if you pull one string it's attached to every single other thing in the whole. Like, you cannot just say "Okay, this is the solution, grass fed beef, or vegan burgers, or lupien, or seaweed, or anything" like. The moment it becomes a single solution, you know, somebody didn't ask enough questions.

Chris Newman 35:24

Yeah.

Koen van Seijen 35:24

Because it cannot be.

Chris Newman 35:26

That's what it boils down to. There's not going to be any simple solutions. And when people are offering simple solutions to food that's tied up in environmentalism, racism, climate change, land use change, you know, all these different things yeah, it's No. The solution is usually going to be multifaceted and extraordinarily unsatisfying. And that's okay.

Koen van Seijen 35:47

So what should investors do?

Chris Newman 35:48

What investors really should do is specifically seek out voices from people who have been systematically excluded from agriculture. And here's the reason why. Our whole, when I was looking at the ITN framework that you sent me...

Koen van Seijen 36:03

Next question will be about that.

Chris Newman 36:05

... it really caused me to think about, okay, what is the actual problem that we're trying to solve? Like you know, in one sentence what's the problem? And what's the solution we're trying to come up with? And in a sentence it's: create a competitive alternative to traditional agriculture and agribusiness. Like, that's the fundamental thing we have to solve. You've got an extractive agriculture and agribusiness system, we need to find a way to compete with it in a way that is regenerative and restorative and restores relationships between all the different forms of life on this planet that depend on each other. And one of the first things, you know, before we even get to like integration, scale, in like changing who we're accountable to, being accountable to the people in the collective as opposed to stockholders who only care about, you know, the next quarters, returns or whatever. The first thing I put in there was bringing in people of color and people from other marginalized communities for two reasons. One, is because these are people who have had to spend their lifetimes and generations adapting to impossible conditions. Like these are the people who can look at a problem like food and say "You know what, I've lived under racial oppression, I've lived under gender oppression, I've lived under Trans and Queer oppression, I kind of know how to dance around big problems. They spent their whole lives doing it. Developing patterns for solving hard problems. You want these people in the room like there's a reason that organizations like Google would hire brain surgeons in neurologist to help set up their server networks because their brains were wired for this particular problems set, and people of color and queer people and trans people, like people who live their lives on the outside, they have more practice solving what feels like impossible problems just as a part of their day to day lives. So those are people you absolutely have to have in the conversation. And when you have people like that, who are devoted to changing the food system, they need to be listened to. And right now they're just not. Nobody's given them the mic. Like this mic that I have right now is a rare mic that is given out to people with my background.

Koen van Seijen 38:04

I hope not the last. If you go to conferences, no, it's white, it's all the same background. Definitely.

Chris Newman 38:10

There's nothing wrong with being white. Like I have to tell: "it's okay to be white."

Koen van Seijen 38:14

Yeah, but if it's only, if it's only it becomes...

Chris Newman 38:17

It's like if you grow a cornfield that's only corn, like you're gonna have problems and very specific diseases that sprout out of having this monoculture. You know, monocultures can exist in society as well, and within industries, and right now, that's what we've got. So if you're an investor who really wants to make that impact, and really hit that ITN framework, especially when it comes to the neglectedness part of it and the tractability part of it, your dollars will go a really long way when they're invested in people who look like me and look like people that aren't usually in those rooms. Because you'd be surprised how much they can do with so little, because these are people who were used to having to do twice as good with half as much.

Koen van Seijen 38:56

Yeah, just to give a bit of background in why I'm asking this question. Actually, you're answering before I'm asking, which is perfect. But ITN is a framework on importance, the eye the tractability so how solvable is the problem, and neglectedness, which I always struggle with, but how neglected is this area? And it comes from effective altruism, if you want to know more about it, I'll put it in the show notes below and it really forces people to - we all have limited resources could be money, could be time, could be attention, probably all three, and many others - what should you be working on and where can you have the most impact in terms of importance? Is this a big problem? If we would solve this problem would that really help? And in this case fixing agriculture, definitely a big problem and a huge potential? Is it solvable? That's a big question, but seems to be that it's solvable and tractable and seriously we can trace the steps. It's not that we have to wait for nuclear fusion another 15 years. Like this is something that we sort of know how to do and probably will get better at. And is it neglected? And in this case, what you're pointing at, your dollars, your investments, your resources, your time will go way further, like and multiple x further, if you focus on these pieces that are completely ignored. Like if you look at the books that are out there, and I'm not gonna ask you the question which book should you read simply because they're not there. And which interviews, which movies should you watch, etc. etc. simply because this whole area of indigenous and non white farmers communities has been almost completely ignored, which is something that I don't think many people, at least many people I know, are very aware of. And I think calling that out is very important. And making sure we stop ignoring that is very important as well, but making sure we put money to work, because at the end, it's nice if we don't ignore you anymore, and we put your podcasts etc. But as long as we don't really invest in it as well, these collectives don't go anywhere.

Chris Newman 40:44

Yeah, yeah, I agree. I mean, and the neglected is part of it is just, when we think about regenerative agriculture, especially its insistence on the importance of biodiversity, no one is better at managing diversity than indigenous people. I mean, National Geographic came out with something I think, a little over a year ago, that found out that indigenous people make up 5% of the global population or something like that, and are protecting 80% of the remaining biodiversity on the planet. So it's like, I don't know how you can have a serious discussion about biodiversity...

Koen van Seijen 41:16

Without them on the table.

Chris Newman 41:18

Not just at the table, there should be mostly indigenous people at the table with support people. You know, if you want to solve a physics problem, you probably want to run full of businesses. You've got a biodiversity problem, you probably want to want to talk to the people that are doing it. They're doing the work, they're getting it done, that are demonstrably protecting what's left on this planet to be protected.

Chris Newman 41:38

So yeah, it's again, just the amount that we could do with, you know, you mentioned Dan Barber just a minute ago and I just remember that I think they started Stone Barns or something with like $30 million, or something like that. And the indigenous community has some issues with Dan and Stone Barns and some of the stuff they're doing, but I'm just like, if I could get half of $30 million, just half, the amount of change in people that I would be able to feed and bring onto the landscape and the change that we could render in the landscape would just be so overwhelmingly incredible. And for literally half the cost of what it's taken to create stone barns, which as lovely as it is, I mean I know a lot of people at Stone Barns, people who I respect a lot, who managed some of their programs there, but it's a jewel box in New England for rich people. Like where's the impact, it's like, give me a fraction of what you got. And the reason I say that is because there's a lot of me's out there could take these millions of dollars that are being spent on these really shiny kind of objects. But if you give it to these people who were kind of operating in the shadows, who were, who were hustling and making it work with what little bit they've got, you give somebody like them, you give somebody like me just like 1 million, half million, or whatever, the amount of change you will get for your dollars is so much far and in a way better than what you could invest in right now.

Chris Newman 43:10

And to switch the discussion there, what if you be in charge of a $1 billion, so that's a B so nine zeros, which I'm asking this question specifically because I meet a lot of farmers and land stewards who are not used to thinking in those numbers, or thinking those zeros, let's say, and I really want... Because the money is coming in a sense that there's a lot of pressure for larger investors, institutional investors, family offices to get into the space, and the retail is a whole different discussion. I mean, I think there's a lot of interest, you see that now, a lot of people want to do things, but I think we completely missed the infrastructure to put that kind of money to work. So as somebody that's in the space, that is an engineer, but is also very active, what would you do if tomorrow morning you wake up and you have an investment fund, but you could be completely free how to use it, but it has to be invested of a billion dollars.

Chris Newman 44:00

After I stopped weeping tears of joy, the first thing I do is one of the really interesting things has happened, and this is gonna sound like I'm going off on a tangent I promise I'm not, one of the things has happened in the wake of the killing your George Floyd and all the protests that have come out from is people of color especially, who are trying to do projects on the landscape have gotten a lot of visibility and are raising a lot of money. But they're disconnected.

Koen van Seijen 44:27

You mean from each other or from...?

Chris Newman 44:29

From each other, yeah. They're you know, you've got one farmer here in New York, you've got a couple like starting a thing over in California, you've got somebody doing pigs in Texas, you've got somebody doing indigenous heirloom seed stock up near Canada somewhere. You have all these efforts, a lot of them like clustered near each other, but operating independently of one another. If I had a billion dollars to throw out there, I would absolutely incentivize all of these guys who were close to each other to collectivise. I'll tell them look, you were able to raise 10 grand if you partner with the like 20 farmers that are in your area, and I will help hook you up I'll give you like $3 million each so that y'all can actually create a regional food system in the area that you're at. So that you can buy the things that you need in bulk, so that you can, like so you can get your prices down, so you guys can work together so you're not all working 60, 70, 80 hours a week. So you can have quality of life. So you can still be farming when you're 60. There are so many, so many clusters of these individuals who are operating all over, at least in the United States, operating all over this part of the country who if they would just be able to see each other and have the mechanisms to combine their land, combine their resources, combine their labor, combine their equipment, their markets, their sourcing, their vendors, all of that stuff, it could be so overwhelmingly powerful. I think it would topple traditional agriculture and agribusiness so quickly, I don't know if they'd even see it coming. Even with just a billion dollars because a billion dollars is like a rounding error when it comes to agriculture.

Koen van Seijen 45:59

It's nothing and it's a lot, yeah.

Chris Newman 46:01

Exactly! Like for us a billion dollars going into BIPOC farming collectives that are specifically geared toward operating at scale.

Koen van Seijen 46:09

Sorry, what kind of farming collectives?

Chris Newman 46:11

Black and Indigenous People of Color. That's sorry, that kind of a term used in the US a lot to describe all the minorities all at once.

Koen van Seijen 46:17

Which is kind of weird, but yeah.

Chris Newman 46:20

It takes some getting used to, definitely. I mean, to have a billion dollars go to people who right now effectively have nothing and are still having a fairly incredible and outsized impact, given how small we are.

Koen van Seijen 46:32

Imagine if they could.

Chris Newman 46:34

Imagine the leverage that a billion dollars would give those people.

Koen van Seijen 46:39

If you'd like to learn more on how to put money to work in regenerative food and agriculture, find our video course on investing in regenerative agriculture.com/course. This course will teach you to understand the opportunities, to get to know the main players, to learn about the main trends and how to evaluate a new investment opportunity. Like what kind of questions to ask, find out more on investing in regenerative agriculture.com/course.

Chris Newman 47:05

The other thing out I would invest it in honestly, in pretty much every, especially indigenous people, seeds stock keeper, seed keeper and stock breeder. Because I think one of the biggest and most unspoken threats to the food system globally, is the reduction in the diversity of our wild stocks in our seed stocks. We've got climate change coming, we need more species that are more adaptive, but we've got genetic bottlenecking happening in both livestock and seeds that's happening at a rate that should scare the socks off of everyone. But it's so technical, that nobody really cares. You know, it's really hard to say, hey, you should really care about the reduction of genetic diversity within domesticated seeds, you know, everybody just goes to sleep. I go to sleep just thinking about it. But it's incredibly important. And most of the people who I know who are keeping these rare, especially things like corn, shushquim, you know, beans, squash kind of our traditional crops that are that are kind of engineered by thousands of years of hybridization to do well, in different environments, you know, from the high desert to rain forest, everywhere else. The people who are keeping them are like, guys that are keeping their stuff and like a rubber shed outside, like you know a hundred dollar rubber shed and it'll be sitting on a little Ziploc bag that has like the last of some ancient variety of corn, where if it disappears that's the last one to include this latitude in the desert in this part of Arizona. It's nuts, how underfunded these people are given how important the workers are doing. So I think after I was done collectivizing as much of agriculture around the country as I could, just all the money these seed keepers need to do what they need to do, and restore these seed stocks and compete with just the incredible concentration of power that comes with genetic engineering.

Koen van Seijen 48:51

And taking away your powers as an investor with a billion dollars. If it was one thing you could change in agriculture, so you have a magic wand now, and there's one thing you can change tomorrow morning, it sounds a bit like a fairy tale, but what would that be?

Chris Newman 49:03

I would end farm welfare in the United States as we know it. I would end the part of farm welfare that encourages farmers to treat their operations as something other than a business, which is fundamentally what happens. It's why we have so many grains. That's why we're farming more land than we need to. And we have these giant surpluses that our cheap food system is based on is because farmers do not have to care about the consumer. They just have to grow X amount and they're going to make X amount based on what the market has, and if the market doesn't make that amount, they're going to get a direct payment. They're going to get their crop insurance or some of these guys they're going to be paid not to farm like you're going to get paid by CRP by Conservation Reserve Program so like just leave your fields fallow. I'm like "Are you freaking serious? What other industry does that except for maybe like defense in the United States? So yeah, if I could wave a magic wand CRP, CI and direct payments go away tomorrow.

Koen van Seijen 49:51

I've heard similar ones before and I think it's very similar to to some of the situations in Europe as well. I mean, some other countries, obviously a very different systems, but it's such a distorted and very difficult to compete with someone, obviously that's paid not to farm or that's paid to farm every little inch they can find, but farming a product that nobody actually will buy and just goes into your commodity system and ends up in your petrol car or something like that.

Chris Newman 50:16

A car, or it goes in cows. Like, usually destined for one of those two places.

Koen van Seijen 50:22

And I want to be conscious of your time as well, Chris. And I don't think it's the last time, I hope it isn't the last time we talked because I think there's a lot to follow here and to see how the collective gets funded, first of all, and then gets going further than it already has been? What, I mean there are many things I think, but if you had to pick one thing I'd like to ask the question that John Kemp asks about general, asks in his podcast about general extractive agriculture but I'd like to ask it about region ag. What do you believe to be true about region ag that others don't believe to be true? You've mentioned a number of them, what's the top one that you think "Okay, if that could, that myth could go away, that would be amazing."

Chris Newman 50:56

Ah, it's kind of hard to distill that into one thing, but I'll say kind of what I've said before. Regenerative agriculture has become kind of dangerous, it's become corporate, it's started to orient itself around a specific product, and a specific diet, not so much around land protection anymore, not so much around soil building anymore. And what I see, and this is just my opinion as one guy, like I see regenerative agriculture quickly turning into a device that protects a very specific type of farmer. There's an extraordinary aversion to critical peer review in the industry. There's a lack of basic scientific literacy a lot of the time. And there's a very incestuous and dangerous tendency for experts in the industry to cite one another in a circle. There's very, very few people from the outside, examining this thing, examining the premises and conclusions of regenerative agriculture and challenging those conclusions so that the movement can get better. Like the muscle is not flexing, and it's causing it to atrophy, I believe. And I think all of that combined is is hobbling the ability of the movement to maximize its impact because the change that regenerative agriculture can make is very real, and very incredible. But right now, the movement is not doing itself any favors by making itself composed of one very specific type of farmer and one very specific type of consumer. Regenerative agriculture needs to try harder. And I think a lot of people don't believe that.

Koen van Seijen 52:34

And with that, I think it's a perfect end of this podcast. I want to thank you so much for your time. And I know you need to start packing a lot of chickens. So I'll let you go. And I hope isn't the last time we have you on the podcast.

Chris Newman 52:44

Absolutely. This has been a pleasure. I really appreciate the opportunity. Thank you.

Koen van Seijen 52:49

If you found the "Investing in Regenerative Agriculture and Food" podcast valuable, there are a few simple ways you can use to support it. Number one, rate and review the podcast on your podcast app. It's the best way for our listeners to find the podcast and it only takes a few seconds. Number two, share this podcast on social media or email it to your friends and colleagues. Number three, if this podcast has been of value to you and if you have the means please join my membership community to help grow this platform and allow me to take it further. You can find all the details on gumroad.com/ invest_in_regen_ag or in the description below. Thank you so much and see you at the next podcast.

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18 comments on “Chris Newman on busting the single family farm myth and why indigenous collectives are the way to go

  1. An says:

    We were part of a 4-H co-op at a central location for several decades. It was great for the children (whose families did not own farms). However, it was incredibly frustrating for anyone who had an idea the “co-op” didn’t want to run with. A new breed of farm animal? Sorry. You want to pasture raise lamb? Sorry. Go with the flow. Do what the group wants. No freedom to try new things, new techniques. Your animals or vegetable plot might be yours, but you did not have the FREEDOM that comes with full OWNERSHIP. That’s one reason our founding fathers made property ownership such an essential part of our nation. Better to farm a 1/4-acre plot the way YOU decide, than be a groupie forced to do what you are told, and share in the profits. Now, if several family farms decide to join together and each produce products to sell as a CSA co-op or something such method, great. But own your own little plot, farm, animals. Then your successes will be yours, and you can’t blame anyone else for your failures.
    By the way, blacklisting someone because you don’t like their freedom of speech or don’t understand what they are saying is in-American and wrong.

    1. Koen says:

      Dear An, thank you for sharing, hope you enjoyed the interview and learned what Chris had to say about their collective (not a co-op) and how they are organising themselves for scale and give many more people, who historically don’t have access to land, access to farm land and a chance to build up wealth.

  2. Mike says:

    I think he has a LOT of interesting ideas. Can he alter his delivery and message to not be so off-putting? He comes off kind of arrogant (is that the engineer part?) I don’t completely agree with his idea that it’s all about cattle in the Regen Ag busienss. Maybe the people he’s looking at/competing with? Herding has also been a tradition in European culture for milennia and those traditions came to North America (for example with my great grandfather and his Highland cattle…granted, he did that on land purchased from the Queen of Enlgand which was originally Sauteaux Indian land. Layers of history. Layers of opportunity. Many would see his story as one of privilege (private schools, university degrees, high-paying job to fund his transition to farming) so maybe he should go a bit more gently with his colleagues. There is a lot of effort being put into ruminant grazing in Regen Ag, for sure, but I see that as striving to balance out the damage being done by feedlots and vegans! There are many companies getting involved now, not the least of which is General Mills (hardly a cattle operation…) in Regen Ag, and that is both exciting and concerning. Will it get diluted? Is that necessary? Thanks for this podcast!

    1. Koenvanseijen says:

      Thanks for the comment mike, indeed lots to unpack:) I would not call his story a story privilege;) to dive deeper follow them here: https://www.instagram.com/sylvanaquafarms/ and read the background and investment docs here: https://www.sylvanaqua.com/invest

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