Cooperatives with a Regional Farmland Trust
Our goal is to return a fair share of the retail organic food dollar from Omaha, Des Moines and Kansas City to near-by farmers and ranchers.
Our cooperatively owned food system will operate under farmer-owned food brands supplied by local production cooperatives and supported by regional processing and marketing cooperatives.
This food system will be financed largely by private-sector investments managed through a regional farmland trust, as explained below.
According to the Organic Trade Association, consumer demand for organic food is strong and will continue to increase. For example the residents of Omaha, Kansas City and Des Moines spend a combined 350 million dollars each year on organic food – nearly all from outside of our regional trade area (USDA, OTA and Census data).
Our message to investors and consumers is based on three key concepts.
Regenerative Farm Profits = Soil Health = Human Health
Our initial plans center on beef, pork and poultry production and processing. Why meat and poultry? After all, most human health and animal welfare experts recommend that consumers reduce their consumption of meat, poultry and dairy products.
The short answer has two parts. First, our near term success depends on “center-of-plate” profits from the sale of pasture-raised organic meat and poultry in nearby cities. Second, if we earn consumers’ support, we can begin to rebuild soil health on more farms. The plant-based meat folks don’t mention either subject.
Agronomists and nutritionists know that soil health affects human health. Organic, pasture-based farming systems rely on cattle and sheep (in relatively small numbers) to help rebuild soils by rotating these animals (ruminants) through permanent and temporary pastures.
The permanent pastures (think carbon sinks) include nitrogen fixing legumes (like clover) along with grasses that thrive in cool and warm weather. The right grasses, in combination with livestock, return nutrients to the soil, and at the same time, eliminate the need for petroleum-based fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides.
Regenerative Agriculture Means Lower Food Costs
Over time, regional pasture-based food systems will be more competitive on price and nutrition when compared to foods from conventional systems, and from distant organic farms. Replacing year-around confinement feeding of beef cattle, dairy cows, hogs and chickens will generate some of these comparative price advantages. Other measurable savings will come from lower food miles, reduced water and energy consumption and from eliminating expensive chemical inputs.
Farmland Succession Depends on Regenerative Agriculture
Farmland succession within rural communities is essential to regenerative agriculture. We need more people on the land with real institutional knowledge about sustainable production, processing and retail systems. Therefore, our ultimate goal is to build consumer demand in the Missouri Valley for profitable, farmer-owned brands so that farmers and ranchers can pass their land to the next generation. This goal demands new ways of financing local and regional food systems.
Regional Farmland Trust
To finance these systems, we are organizing a “Regional Farmland Trust” that will link investors and producers through our cooperatives. This link leads to a diagram that outlines the flow of funds and trust operations.
Farm Organizations, Government and Universities
In addition to risk capital from urban investors, we need institutional support, including farm organizations, universities, economic development groups and environmental leaders. This support will help fund essential research on regenerative farming and food systems, and most important, on consumer demand for foods from these systems.
The ideas offered on this website start with my late father, Bob Steffen. He was the farm manager for Father Flanagan at Boys Town for thirty years and a leader in developing commercial-scale organic and Biodynamic farming methods in the Midwest. In later life, Dad sold Biodynamic produce to local restaurants in Omaha. He introduced me to many holistic thinkers, including E.F. Shumacher, Wendell Berry and Alan Savory.
After a lifetime in an around organic farming, my current interests are in attracting qualified investors to farmer-controlled food brands. These brands must be tied to pasture-based food systems that are big enough to supply upscale grocery stores and restaurants in near-by cities. On financing, Woody Tasch and his Slow Money Movement along with Michael Shuman, the author of Local Dollars, Local Sense offer excellent information on the economic potential of local food systems.
Our challenge now is to find the economies of scale that lie between “to small to make money” and the realities of the established food system – all without ignoring the real needs of land, labor, capital and management.
Please contact me:
Posted 1-30-17, Revised 01-15-2020