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5 Steps to Building a Regenerative Agriculture Coalition to Tackle Climate Change

by Shelly Rothman, WFU Member

In the Afrikaans language, they have a saying: ‘n boer maak ‘n plan: a farmer makes a plan. My husband hails from Namibia, where Afrikaans is the lingua franca, and where I became a farmer. This saying is used a lot in Namibia. There, just like in the US, farmers have to be adaptable, creative, and tenacious. When faced with a challenge, a farmer makes a plan. So, who better to tackle one of humanity’s greatest challenges, climate change, than us, the farmers?

Farmers in our area, the Upper Fox River watershed in east central Wisconsin, can tell you stories about how climate change is impacting our livelihoods. About extra hours put in when extreme rainfall events cut gullies through their cornfields, needing a bulldozer to dam the flow. Or the anxiety they feel when a polar vortex rolls in and their pigs are getting frostbite in minus 40 temps. Or plain fear for losing the family farm when the bills aren’t getting paid. We tell these stories about the changes we’re experiencing, but more importantly, we made a plan to adapt to these changes.

Our community collaborated to form the Foxhead Regenerative Agriculture Project. We are tackling issues like climate change, soil health, clean ground and surface water, ecosystem biodiversity, and farmland preservation and land access using regenerative agriculture.

Together, we are working to acquire farmland and maintain it as affordable, regenerative family farms for beginning and underserved farmers. By increasing the amount of farmland in our area practicing regenerative agriculture, we will decrease the amount of chemicals in our environment, runoff and other pollutants in our water, and carbon in our atmosphere. At the same time, we will increase the organic matter in our soils, pollinators and other wildlife on our farms, and the number of farmers making a living on the land.

This isn’t a new idea. Regenerative agriculture methods have been used around the world for centuries. What’s more, there are several organizations around the country already carrying out similar missions: Equity Trust, Land Stewardship Project, Quivira Coalition. We simply saw the benefits of their work, adapted it to our community, and got to work.

You can, too. Chances are good that the pieces you need to build a regenerative agriculture coalition are already present in your community. You’ll just need to do a little legwork to bring each piece to the table.

Here are 5 straightforward steps to get you on your way:

1. Do Your Research. Make a list of the different non-profit organizations in your community. Read up on the conservation initiatives of your local government. Check in with any colleges or universities in your area, plus churches, socially-minded businesses, or civically-active neighbors. Food and agriculture connect us all, and you may be surprised how many groups already have projects related to food, land, conservation, or social justice. Consider everyone a partner. If not now, they may be down the road.

2. Build your case. Get your facts down pat about regenerative agriculture and any other aspects you want to build into your project. Similar organizations in other parts of the country can be great inspiration, and serve as testimony to stakeholders that these ideas have been tested and proven to work. Assemble a project one-pager, and set aside relevant pictures, headlines, links, and documents. These will come in handy later when you give presentations to stakeholders.

3. Make friends. When you have a strong project plan put together, you’re ready to approach potential partners in your community. Refer back to your list in step 1 and start at the top! Calling works better than emails - emails are easy for folks to brush aside and forget about, especially when they don’t know you personally. Introduce yourself and your project plan. If they are interested, you can share your one-pager, and further, set up an in-person meeting (or video call in the times of COVID-19) to get into more details. If you’re an introvert, and cold-calling is one of your least favorite activities, don’t fret. I empathize. For me, I found that the project was more important than not sounding like an idiot and I put myself out on that limb. I still get nervous before cold calls, and I’m still making them.

4. Listen to feedback. As you present your project to stakeholders and begin acquiring partners, truly listen to what they have to say. A project will never be successful in the long run if we force our ideas of how things “should be” onto other people. We have to be willing to tweak pieces or drop whole portions, maybe even portions that feel especially important to us. Compromise is crucial.

5. Spread the word. Once you have a solid base of stakeholders from various positions in the community, they can serve as your steering committee to help guide the project as it moves forward. But don’t work only amongst yourselves - get the idea out into your community. Not everyone will be as passionate about your project as you are- some may not be interested at all. Don’t be discouraged; soon you’ll get a call from strangers, like the neighbor of your mother’s dentist who inherited a farm nearby and wants nothing more than to turn it into a regenerative agriculture operation.

Building a community project takes time and, therefore, patience. Hang in there, you’ll find friends and inspiration along the way to relight your fire when it dwindles. Remember why you started in the first place.

Finally, when you’re up and running, let us know. A network of regenerative agriculture communities will be stronger than any one group on its own. Together we will be a formidable force, against climate change, and the ever-present challenges of Farm Life. Because, hey, we’re farmers. We’ll make a plan.

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