Carbon farm & ranch program
Carbon is the currency of life and drives the economy of nature. It is the cornerstone of soil health and impetus of many ecological functions, like water availability and fertility. Diverse, carbon-rich agroecosystems are more resilient to environmental and economic stress. Carbon farming has the power to transform vast landscapes of commodities into ecologically vibrant agroecosystems.
Our mission is to help farmers and ranchers thrive ecologically and economically. We work on-the-ground with producers to create CFPs. We don’t shy away from dreaming big about the ecological, social and economic potential of carbon farming. We are healing landscapes that have been mismanaged and need love, care and stewardship.
In the short film (right), we are helping Marcus McCauley and the City of Boulder restore degraded rangeland. The verdant landscape has been managed with carbon-benifical practices.
Our Carbon Farm & Ranch Plans empower land stewards to use regenerative agriculture by providing access to capital, encourage radical investment in soil health and connect regenerative products to high-value markets.
How it works.
The CFP model` builds on Conservation Planning, a process developed by the USDA National Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) to help farmers and ranchers solve their resource concerns by educating, designing and cost-sharing (~50%) the implementation of conservation practices. The NRCS has a wide portfolio of conservation practices proven to enhance soil health and sequester carbon, like cover crops, no-till farming, prescribed grazing, riparian restoration, forage planting, irrigation improvement, contour buffer strips, composting and more. Carbon sequestration and ecosystem benefits are modeled with COMET-Farm planner (http://cometfarm.nrel.colostate.edu), a powerful greenhouse gas accounting system developed at CO State University. Unlike other whole-farm design frameworks, like permaculture or holistic management, CFPs leverage existing and trusted networks of financial and technical resources to de-risk the transition to regenerative agriculture. CFPs are very flexible and allow deep contextualization and custom-tailored plans to meet the producer on their journey toward creating climate-beneficial agriculture.
1) We start by walking the land with the producer, listening and learning about their journey, history of their operation, and vision for farming or ranching, exchanging stories and ideas, building trust and camaraderie. We take a whole-farm assessment of current practices and identify resource concerns, i.e. what’s holding them back from carbon farming? Then we begin co-creating a CFP that lays out an array of carbon farming practices in space and time.
2) We prioritize practices and develop a 3+ year working plan that lays out management, timelines, implementation strategy, expected needs and outcomes in terms of carbon and money. We are developing cost-effective verification methods using COMET and Quick Carbon, a rapid assessment tool in R&D (https://www.quickcarbon.org). We document a detail plan and then liaison the plan to sources of funding to solve the capital barrier to implementation, de-risking and easing the transition to using regenerative practices of agriculture.
3) We are using CFPs to discover, blend and flow a variety of technical and financial resources, hitherto inaccessible or disaggregated, that want to accelerate carbon drawdown (i.e. carbon markets), resource and water conservation (e.g. USDA NRCS, Land Trusts, Water Utilities), and regenerative agriculture (e.g. municipal, philanthropic and investment funds).
4) We also use carbon farm and ranch plans to help producers access high-value markets for their products.
5) We make a long-term commitment to producers to verify, modify and complete the CFP.
Our Pilot Farm and Ranch Partners
McCauley Family Farm & Ranch
Location: Niwot, CO Area: 200 acres Production: Livestock (Sheep, Llamas and Poultry) and Vegetables. Market: Picaflor Brand, Local Farmer’s Market, Direct to Restaurant Sales. Producer Vision: “Our mission is to heal people and the planet with delicious food. We connect the dots between consumers and crops, produce and people, seeds and souls.” (Contract with City of Boulder to restore 160-acres of Open Space, see right. This ranch will a demonstration site for compost additions to pasture land).
Location: Longmont, CO Area: 26 acres Production: Diversified Vegetable and Perennial Crops, Sheep for Wool.
Market: Farm Store. Local Markets. Fibershed, seeking Climate-Beneficial Wool Cert. Producer Vision: “We produce top quality farm products through regenerative agri- culture. We view our farm as a living, connected system and do many things to ensure the health of the plants, animals, water, and soil that encompass it.” (The CFP includes 16 acres of Boulder County Open Space and will incoporate demonstration plots for compost to rangeland).
The Golden Hoof
Owner/Manager: Alice & Karel Starek Location: Boulder, CO. Area: 27 acres. Production: Livestock including Sheep (Wool, Meat), Cows, Pigs and Poultry, and Hemp. Market: Farm Store and Select Direct Market Opportunities. Seeking Climate-Beneficial Wool Certification with Fibershed. Producer Vision: “We are a ‘Slow Food Farm’ established in 2012. We enjoy provid- ing healthy food for local consumption. We manage our farm holistically using methods inspired by nature’s self-sustaining ecosystems.”
Lewis Family Farm
Owner/Manager: Mark Lewis Location: Longmont, CO. Area: 354 acresProduction: Organic Broad-Acre Farm (Alfalfa, Hay, Heritage/Perennial Grains, Lentils)Market: Aurora Organic Dairy, Hay Auctions, Regenerative Grain & Pulse MarketsProducer Vision: “Our mission is to be an exemplary carbon farm, reversing climate change and producing delicious food. We want to be a beacon of change in a land- scape of monocultures, impelling those around us to shift to carbon farming.” (Potential Regenerative Organic Certification).
Innovation in Practice and Science
The future of good agriculture is a combination of looking back to old ways of whole economy and pushing the boundaries of imagination and innovation. We combine the old with the new to redefine practices of regenerative food production.
Our core focus is soil - the foundation and great connector of our lives. We are experimenting with new methods of catalytic restoration, like adding compost to rangelands and pasture (see right), and exploring how new technology can help elucidate baseline and future stocks of soil carbon, like Quick Carbon - a spectrophotometric approach to scanning and estimating soil carbon (see right).
Theory of Change
True Wealth Attracts Others. We work with sector champions to showcase the power of CFPs to generate economic, social and ecological wealth, which will attract others within existing trust networks, impelling grassroots change in agricultural communities. CFPs are an exit ramp for producers out of industrial agriculture. We host public and producer tours and workshops with our partner producers.
Scale through Replication. Mad Ag wants to empower others to develop CFPs. Thus, we are developing an open-source, easy-to-use toolkit so CFPs can be readily adopted by other organizations. A key piece is training the trainers, bringing Conservation Districts, NRCS and other partners into CFP design and implementation early on, which we are doing. We share our work liberally, so our work is catalytic rather than incremental. We are building a movement, where cooperation thrives over competition, sharing over IP protection.
Socialize the Solution. Mad Ag is making carbon farming the new normal. We advocate, educate and inspire others at our monthly Farm Forum (see right), a very popular monthly gathering of farmers, ranchers and citizens in the Front Range, CO. We frequently give talks on carbon farming, from local textile shops, major universities, regional Conservation Districts, Fibershed, leading brands, like Patagonia, and many more locales.