A conversation with Yanniek Schoonhoven, co-founder of the Regeneration Academy, a physical learning hub and model farm in the South of Spain, about building a space and community to become practitioners, entrepreneurs, innovators and leaders in the field of regenerative agriculture and eco-system restoration, specialized in semi-arid areas.
LISTEN TO THE CONVERSATION ON:
How do we expose the next generation of farmers to regenerative agriculture? Why is an 1100-hectare farm in a very high and dry area in one of the most threatened places when it comes to desertification, the perfect location to run and build a Regeneration Academy. A place where we can also expose active senior business leaders to regeneration.
The Regeneration Academy is born next to La Junquera, a 1,100-hectare farm working with regenerative practices since 2015. It is based in the Northwest of Murcia, one of the most desertified areas on the Iberian Peninsula.
EDUCATION NEEDS TO HAPPEN IN THE FIELD
Yanniek talks about the benefits of learning in the field and how the farm could learn from the things the students bring in, and the students can learn from the things they see on the farm. Things that you cannot learn in a classroom. All the theory in the world is just theory in the end, and in the field sometimes things work differently. Understanding the complexity and how everything works together and bringing that back to wherever you go next, is super valuable.
“For us, it was extremely valuable to have more brains to put on this transition, because this will never be done, we’re never finished. So, how could they help us with the experiments that they came up with? Bring them into practice. And basically, we would have 10 more brains on our farm to do the things that before only we were doing. So, now there were 10 people thinking […] So both we were benefiting from each other a lot. And I think that is what’s really the power of the Regeneration Academy.” – Yanniek Schoonhoven
“I really saw a lot of people interested in coming. But there were no facilities to make this happen, or there was a language barrier, or there was a lack of space, physical space for them to be, many students don’t have a car, so, there was always the question… People want to come and help, people want to make an impact, but we don’t have yet the way to facilitate that.” – Yanniek Schoonhoven
TRAINING THE NEXT GENERATION OF FARMERS IS AN ABSOLUTE KEY
The organization of a regeneration festival was a turning point for the territory where she is and for how people were looking at the regeneration movement. Before they were looking at it as a niche that was not for most people, only for weirdos, but slowly they are starting to see it a lot more as something that can be very successful.
“Focusing on these young and future farmers for us is key to transforming this territory. If we don’t focus on them, and we don’t focus on this next generation, in five years, 60% of the farmers here have stopped working. They’re already above 65 years old now. So, who comes next?” – Yanniek Schoonhoven
“We organized a regeneration festival here five years ago and from that moment on, a lot more young people got interested, because that’s also the moment that they saw ‘Oh, there are actually young people in the countryside, and they’re doing cool things. And they’re not extremely weird. They like good music, they like to party, and they’d like to restore the land and be super sustainable’. So you can actually do all of that, and you don’t have to choose.” – Yanniek Schoonhoven
“On the first open day, we had four people joining. And the last open day we did, we had 100 people, and those were all locals, so they’re really interested in what we’re doing.” – Yanniek Schoonhoven
EXPOSING ACTIVE SENIOR BUSINESS LEADERS TO REGENERATION
After it, Yanniek and her team started to organize crash courses for everyone interested in regenerative agriculture. It was to introduce people to the necessary concepts in a dryland context. At first, they mainly had people who own lands, but during the last crash course they organized, they started to have only people who were higher up in the value chain, business leaders, people into logistics or sustainable packaging, into the food sector or restaurants. A group that is more interested in the systemic side of what they have to offer.
“We realized that there’s also a really high demand from the senior business leaders to understand the system better, while also getting a peek into what it is like to live on a farm, to be on a farm, to work with your hands, to have the cows escape at night, and all those other elements that are part of farm life.” – Yanniek Schoonhoven
OTHER POINTS DISCUSSED
Koen and Yanniek also talked about:
- Grazing is becoming less and less normal
- How much more biomass we can have
- What would Yanniek do if she had a magic wand
- Jasper Bertels on how to regenerate and calculate the returns in a landscape of 1M ha
- Michiel de Man, pushing back the desert in Spain with regenerative agriculture
- Paul McMahon on building a 250M climate positive portfolio of tree crops in Europe
Feedback, comments, suggestions? Reach me via Twitter @KoenvanSeijen, in the comments below or through Get in Touch on this website.
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The above references an opinion and is for information and educational purposes only. It is not intended to be investment advice. Seek a duly licensed professional for investment advice.