Farm Food Facts

Heifer USA Discusses Their Response to the Pandemic and Their Regenerative Ag Practices

April 20, 2020 USFRA Episode 73
Farm Food Facts
Heifer USA Discusses Their Response to the Pandemic and Their Regenerative Ag Practices
Show Notes Transcript

On this 50th Anniversary of Earth Day, we talk with Donna Kilpatrick, from Heifer USA, about their ability to adapt in this time of change and how they continue to value the land through their regenerative agricultural practices.

Phil:   0:01
Farm Food Facts.  Where every farmer every acre and every voice matter. Welcome to Farm Food Facts for Wednesday, April 22nd 2020. It's the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. Happy Birthday Earth Day! I'm your host, Phil Lempert. Every farmer, rancher, retailer and consumer is faced with one of the most serious epidemics in our lives. Right now, many of our farmers air in the fields preparing their crops for spring. We're also seeing extraordinary efforts from our farmers and our ranchers working together and coordinating their efforts to fill the supply chain. And our supermarket shelves are filling up today. Our guest is Donna Kilpatrick. With over 20 years of experience in agriculture, Donna is a land steward specializing in regenerative agriculture and ecosystem, health and abundance. She has been with Heifer USA since 2007 overseeing all agriculture enterprises on Heffer Ranch since 2017. So, Donna, first I wanted I want to ask you about something that you're doing at Heffer Ranch, which I applaud your donating 150 pounds of food a week to Arkansas food deserts. Tell me a little bit about that.

Donna:   1:18
Sure. Well, right now, first of all, thank you all so much for having me on farm food back the pleasure to be here. And I'm really excited about sharing what we're doing at the ranch. And, as you mentioned, some of what we're doing right now, and this very unprecedented time in history is donating some of the food that we're growing at the ranch as we've seen a slight decrease in our available market. So we're donating about 150 pounds of food, mostly from Meyer, three acres certified or gaining vegetable garden to people within the little rock area that are finding themselves and facing food scarcity issues.

Phil:   1:58
So also, what's interesting about Heifer for me is your livestock program. Would you run? Is a team of all women farmers? Why is that?

Donna:   2:10
Well, I think that I think that it wasn't designed in that in that way. It just turned out that way. But I feel like it's a phenomenal group of women farmers, and it's a small team, and the livestock team is comprised of myself. I managed the cattle herd as well as all land management, so that would be evaluating, forage and making sure that we're putting in cover crops that could help regenerator soils. But we also have people on her staff. Christine Hernandez has been with us for a long time. She oversees our swine operation are wood lot swine operation as well as our land production. And then I've just recently within, I guess the last month made a higher from white oak pastures and Bluffton, Georgia. Kayla Alexander has just started. She's actually in quarantine for a week as a requirement of being on the ranch. But she's she's coming out of that soon, and we're so excited to have her Kayla is gonna be overseeing all of our poultry production. So that's our broiler production currently. And then we might include some layers in the future, but just sort of dreaming about that now.

Phil:   3:27
So some of the changes that we're seeing in the food sector because of the pandemic is a lot of companies going direct to consumer. I understand that Heifer USA is doing that. Tell me a little bit about that program and what what you're offering to consumers directly and how you're managing that.

Donna:   3:48
Sure. So in 2014 half for USA helped grassroots farmer's cooperative get off the ground So grassroots is an e commerce platform that supports and trains smallholder farmers, many of which are living and marginalized rural communities. So the cooperative connects these farmers products, the products that they're growing livestock to national directed consumer market and the ranch supporting that produces a significant portion of grassroots prank, which has helped grassroots scale up and end the scaling up that what that does is it opens up room for more smallholder farmers to enter into the grassroots cooperative.

Phil:   4:33
Do you think that small scale farmers says, as you're describing, are able to adapt more quickly than you know large scale farmers,

Donna:   4:44
Um, to the pandemic into this to this time that we find ourselves in? I think possibly. And I think one reason is that we don't have bottlenecks in the supply chain. One thing that I really feel about small scale farmers does their nimble. They adapt quickly, and one of the main things is that small scale farmers have built relationships with their customers over time. I mean, an example is when I go to the local Kroger, I don't necessarily know by name the people that are working in the produce department, but when I go to my weekly, you know, the farmers market, which I do frequent every Saturday morning, my family, we go to the farmer's market. We have a group of about six farmers that we buy from every week, and that's where we get most of our groceries. I know those farmers by name. I know their families. I know what they're going through. So it's a relationship. And I believe that that relationship building between smallholder farmers and their consumers enables them to react to the consumers needs and help meet their needs in terms of their food supply.

Phil:   5:55
So do you, as you describe your Saturday farmers market outing and connecting with these, you know, six people that you're buying all the time from, and the connection that small scale farmers have by selling direct with consumers. Do you think that this is the impetus they can really get the average American consumer to understand where their food is coming from?  More about farming,  more about ranching Just basically having a closer connection to food.

Donna:   6:28
Yes, I do. And I think it's on a couple of levels. First of all, it seems like the smallholder farmer is the one that's able to connect communities right now with the bottleneck. As I mentioned before in supply chains, it's been an issue for some restaurants to stay open because of supply. We've seen empty grocery store shelves based on that limited supply as well as you know, scarcity, buying the feeling that oh, we're not gonna have it. So let's by all of the toilet paper or all of the milk. So it made people think about where they're getting their product and who has the product. I also feel like with this p endemic, many people are thinking about their help. What can we do as consumers to become more healthy, to become more resilient in the face of health? Crisis is such as this, and I think that in itself is causing people to re evaluate the type of food that they're buying and the source of it.

Phil:   7:27
So when we talk about health, and I think that's a very interesting observation and I agree with it that what I'm here from a lot of people is I need to build up my immunity. So in the future I am less likely to get a flu or a virus and so on. And a lot of that has to do with produce Citrus, for example, dark, leafy greens and so on. So I I would agree with you that I think that one of the outcomes is gonna be that people have, you know, a better understanding of what they need for their for their own health. You know, tell me a little bit about the savory institute hub. I know you're a candidate that you're currently working towards becoming an accredited professional. What about these designations are important for you personally and for Heifer.

Donna:   8:22
Well, I've long been a fan of the work that hell unsavory has done in terms of regeneration of the world's grasslands. And his teachings are through and holistic approach a holistic management to address the global issues of desertification, climate change and food and water and security that really ties in with what we're doing a heffer ranch and evaluating the 1200 acres we have here and making sure that we're being the best stewards of this ecosystem that we can while increasing our productivity. So in the last couple of years, we have really increased based on our relationship of grassroots farmer's cooperative and the market that we have there to sell protein. We have really scaled up our pastured poultry. Our beef production are wood lots, mind production, turkey production and land production. So all of those those enterprises go towards grassroots farmer's cooperative. But at the base of that is there so little health and none of those enterprises. You're gonna work unless we have an incredibly healthy ecosystem which begins with the soil. I think Charles Kellogg said that basically, all life depends on the soul. There could be no life without soul and no soil without life, which I think is absolutely true. So based on that and our and our focus on regenerative agriculture here, it just made sense. And because Heffer International is a global organization, it just made sense to align forces with the savory Institute. So about a year ago, I went through the application process and submitted an application for half a ranch to become a hub. We were one of four farms chosen at that time to become a hub, and we're in the process of I'm taking classes with Savory Institute and we're in the process of becoming a hub. What does that mean for Heffer Ranch? It means that we'll become will continue doing exactly what we're doing. Our ranching, regenerative Lee, but that we've become a center and a training center for other people who are interested in learning about savories working about regenerative agriculture.

Phil:   10:43
The buzz words right now around climate change, our regenerative agriculture, sustainable farming. But the more farmers and ranchers that I talked to, especially small scale farmers, they have been doing this for years. This is nothing. This is nothing new for them. Why do you think that these smaller scale farmers have been utilizing these practices well in front of others?

Donna:   11:11
Well, I think I mean, for me when I think about regenerative agriculture and when I think about what I love about ranching and farming, it is the relationships between all the various players within the ecosystem of the ranch. And I think that it just honestly for me and I'm only speaking from me, it makes sense to ranch in this way. Um, when I go out and look at the cows and I see various species of birds flying around the pasture and I see earthworms you know, in the soil, if I flip up so and I see worms and I see a dung beetle on the ground, that means that things were going right, in my opinion. So it all has to do with interconnections in a relationship amongst the various livestock on the ranch, the soil, the forges. It's about diversity. For me, it just feels right and to do that type of ranching. Sometimes there's a less inputs required of the rancher than, say, another system, which might, you know, be monoculture focused or or something like that. But for me, it just feels right to ranch in a regenerative way.

Phil:   12:24
And you clearly, again, talking to a lot of farmers. The yield that they get, the soil health. I mean, everything just is a better practice, both for in terms as we're talking on Earth Day in terms of the Earth, but also as a business, it becomes a better, more solid business when you treat your former ranch that way, isn't it? Well,

Donna:   12:51
I think it is, and I think that any time you have diversity, you have multiple multiple venues for sales that that that's very helpful. So you know, on my ranch we have four different enterprises within those enterprises where I would say, within the cattle enterprise, there's three different revenue streams. So in my opinion, diversification is key to success. The margins for farmers are so low that the more you can diversify, the more that you can add things like agritourism, different things like that, the better that that the better financially it's gonna be for the rancher for the farmer.

Phil:   13:31
So does it surprise you that currently with the pandemic and the focus that consumers and everybody has on the food supply, that farmers, especially the small scale ones, are becoming, you know, akin to public servants?

Donna:   13:49
Yeah, well, in my opinion, there's no question that farming is a public service, and I really feel like farming is a calling. And I think it's somewhat unfortunate that it takes scarcity or a health crisis for all of us to step back and see that eating nutrients and food is fundamental to the help for our families and citizens and providing that food is essential. So, in my opinion, without a doubt, farmers are essential personnel, and what we do is imperative to the health of our community and to the earth.

Phil:   14:22
So, Donna, what is half a range doing to support local communities during this pandemic crisis?

Donna:   14:29
Yes. So we've already talked a little bit about our weekly donations through fresh to you to the Little rock community. So we're continuing to do that. We're also doing some digital farmer training. So as part of what we do here at the ranch, we don't only produce food for various markets grassroots and also through our organic vegetable markets. But we also train farmers, and that's a huge mission of Heifer. USA is to train farmers. So we've shifted a little bit in that we're doing more digital platforms, So we're doing digital farmer trainings were also doing some Facebook live tongue events with the farmers to educate anyone with interest in farming and gardening at home. And throughout all of the century, acres certified Organic Garden is producing hundreds of pounds of produce that we still are selling to several local markets. You have been able to keep their doors open because they can access their products. So just like we talked about earlier, it's all full circle.

Phil:   15:33
So, Donna, between what you're doing with regenerative agriculture, what you're doing with training other farmers, what you're doing to help the needy. There's no question that you are one of the people who really understand what Earth Day is all about and giving back to the earth. So thanks so much for joining us today on form food, fax.

Donna:   15:56
Happy Earth Day to you all and thanks again for having me. It's been a pleasure.

Phil:   16:01
Thanks for listening to today's podcast episode for more information on all things food and agriculture. Please visit us at US farmers and ranchers dot or also be sure to look for us on Facebook at US farmers and ranchers or on Twitter at USFRA until next time.