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56. Accessing Capital & Supporting Regenerative Agriculture with Dan Miller and Spike Gjerde of Steward
Episode 5627th August 2021 • The Good Dirt: Sustainable Living Explained • Lady Farmer
00:00:00 01:06:38

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Separately, Dan Miller and Spike Gjerde knew that they needed to find a way to support regenerative farmers and producers using their own natural talents and expertise. Dan’s family had been farming in the Chesapeake Bay since the late 1800s, but he never understood how a region could have what appears to be a thriving agricultural system while also struggling economically. Meanwhile, Spike wanted to start a new restaurant concept that focused on growing seasons and local sourcing. It wasn’t until Dan created Steward, a platform that enables people to fund regenerative agriculture, that the two found each other and realized their shared passion. 

Dan and Spike define regenerative agriculture as a system of farming principles and practices that seeks to rehabilitate and enhance the entire ecosystem of the farm by placing a heavy premium on soil health. The benefits of this kind of farming practice seem obvious, but individuals and families running regenerative farms often achieve such small profit margins that they can’t invest in the equipment, training, and labor that allows them to scale. Dan hopes Steward will change that by allowing people to make small or large contributions to regenerative farms in their area. In turn, investors receive all of the environmental benefits while also making a competitive return on their investment.

When your local farms are thriving, you can taste the difference. That's why Spike has broken with traditional restaurant conventions and plans his menu with the seasons. You won't find lemons in your water at Woodberry Kitchen, but what you will get is food that supports everyone in the production chain. He encourages us to ask "How much does this really cost?" when we are tempted to question the high prices of local goods. Join us in this week’s episode of The Good Dirt Podcast to learn more.

Listen to the episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Podchaser, Simplecast, Podtail, or on your favorite podcast platform.

Topics Covered:

  • Regenerative Agriculture
  • Human Scale Farming
  • Community-Supported Agriculture(CSA)
  • Sustainable Agriculture
  • Grower Lending

Resources Mentioned:

Guest Info

Connect with Dan Miller on LinkedIn and Twitter.

Connect with Spike Gjerde on LinkedIn and Instagram.

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Mentioned in this episode:

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Transcripts

[:

You know, it's a great question. How much does this really cost? Anytime that you see something, you guys mentioned this earlier, it's so important. Anytime you see something that's cheap and that whole cost conversation, you know, whether it's at the farmer's market, why is this tomato so expensive, especially when something's cheap, you know, we should be asking ourselves how much does this really cost?

And I think we're starting to understand that because there are people doing great work around this kind of notion of real cost accounting when it comes to our food system.

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You're listening to The Good Dirt Podcast. This is a place where we dig in to the nitty-gritty of sustainable living through food, fashion, and lifestyle.

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We started this podcast as a means to share the wealth of information and quality conversations that we're having in our world, as we dream up and deliver ways for each of us to live into the new paradigm. One that is regenerative balanced and whole.

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We want to put the microphone in front of the voices that need to be heard the most right now. The farmers, the dreamers, the designers, and the doers.

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Hello everybody. We are now back after being away for a week, but it actually feels much longer. Wouldn't you say, Emma?

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Yeah, it definitely feels like there's been a shift in the whole season, even since we were last here recording an intro just two weeks ago.

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I'm getting that very nostalgic back-to-school feeling that comes at this time of year. It's right. When my mother would have taken me to get a new pair of Saddle Oxfords for the school year. And I would have been thinking about my first day of school outfit. What do you remember about those last days of summer vacation when you were little? You loved school so much. Do you remember being excited, excited about it?

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Yeah. I remember being most concerned about who my teacher was going to be or whose class I was going to be in. And then, which of my friends was going to be in my class, and if I was going to have any friends in my class. That was almost a stressful time. Cause what if you didn't have any friends in your class? But it was also really exciting.

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Yeah. We used to get this little postcard in the mail on the Friday before school started the day after labor day on Tuesday. And it told you your teacher, so we'd immediately get on the phone and start running around the neighborhood to see who was in your class. And sometimes you were really happy and sometimes you were really disappointed.

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Yeah. You had no control over it.

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Right.

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It's just so sad.

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It just was for told to you. Well, even if we aren't going back to school, so to speak, we are excited about all the things we've got coming up over here at Lady Farmer. If you follow us, you might've seen that tickets are now available for our annual Slow Living Retreat.

Again, online, it's going to be on December 3rd and 4th, which is moving straight into the holiday season, which in our culture is typically anything but slow living. So this year, our theme for this gathering is embracing winter.

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Yeah. So we've got yoga, workshops, as always the Lady Farmer coffee chats. So a session with you and I just sitting and chatting about, well, we'll have like a little plan talk and then we'll have some questions, time to get to know each other better. And we have a happy hour. So plenty of social time to meet other lady farmers. We'll have some live music surprises and yeah, all kinds of treats for this retreat.

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So full details are where?

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On the website, ladyfarmer.com. We have a full retreat section on the website.

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And we need to tell them about the Almanac and what's going on there.

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Yeah, so we will have enrollment is opening again for the fall. We've had a wonderful summer season. We're so excited about everything going on there. Also, you know, kind of sad to wrap up summer as always, but we'll be opening again in the fall to a new cohort of lady farmers.

[:

Yeah. We're really excited about our community-wide activity that's happening inside the Almanac. This month members will be preparing a special locally sourced zero-waste meal for a small gathering. And that could be family, friends, or whoever, or maybe even just for themselves.

[:

Yeah, the idea is just to celebrate the season for no real reason other than to celebrate the season and to be outside and to have an intentional shared experience that you put time and attention, and love into it.

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Yeah. And within the Almanac, we'll be sharing our ideas and recipes, our thoughts and photos, and all of that. As a way of supporting and encouraging each other to really immerse ourselves in the season and all of its offerings of food and harvest. And that leads us straight into the topic of today's episode and our guests.

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Yes, today we have Dan Miller, the founder, and CEO of Steward, a private lending organization that works with regenerative farmers, ranchers, fishermen, and producers to provide the capital that they need to expand and sustain their businesses. So it's really amazing.

And recently they brought on Spike Gjerde of Woodberry Kitchen in Baltimore. He is an amazing celebrity chef around here. We're so proud of him in the DMV area. You might've heard of him outside our region as well. If you remember the restaurant, A Rake's Progress, that opened in The Line Hotel in DC a couple of years ago, that was his beautiful brainchild and the Obama's dined there. And it's just legendary and Spike is legendary. So we're so excited to have him on the show along with Dan. We learned so much from them.

[:

Yes. And as Lady Farmer, and especially here on The Good Dirt podcast, we are committed to spreading the word about regenerative agriculture, which is actually a multifaceted concept that includes numerous philosophies methods, and even interpretations.

But the bottom line I think is that it's a growing movement that shows us a way to recover so much of what's been lost in recent decades, which is the access to clean nutrient-dense, locally sourced foods that do not rely on fossil fuels for production or distribution. That supports and protects the vitality of our soil and our individual and public health. And that supports the small regional farms that are essential to this reclamation of this most basic human need, which is our food.

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Yeah, and the most urgent need for the growth and survival of these farmers that are working so hard to make all of this happen is surprise capital. And that's exactly what Dan and Spike are here to talk about today. And this amazing lending model that they've created, how it works, how it has succeeded, and how we can all join in to support this important movement beyond just shopping locally, going to our farmer's markets, and knowing our farmers.

Those are all amazing ways to do this and the best ways. And we should all be doing that anyway. But with something like Steward in place where we can really participate at a really groundbreaking and paradigm-shifting level is super exciting. So we hope you enjoy this episode.

[:

Yeah. Sit back and have a listen and we'll see you.

[:

My name is Dan Miller. I'm the founder of Steward. It's a platform that enables people to fund regenerative agriculture. The access to capital obviously is one of the huge problems for regenerative agriculture so our goal is to help solve that. My connection to agriculture comes out I'd say two ways. My mother's family has been farming and the Chesapeake Bay since the late 1800s.

And as part of my work with Steward, I've gone back and actually, you know, found and verified the history of the ships they came across and the kind of German farming community they were part of at that time. And so we spent a lot of time out at the Chesapeake Bay. I grew up in Washington, DC in a city. You know, my mom left the farm.

That was pretty much the trend in that era. And, but we spent a lot of time out there and you would just learn about the depletion of the bay and the kind of dredging of the oyster reefs and the water that you could no longer see through. And so the ecological deterioration is clear, but I would see every farm planted fully with beautiful long rows of corn and everything else.

ning. And then I met Spike in:

I'd been familiar with Woodberry Kitchen, which is a fantastic restaurant that anybody in the Maryland region or abroad they should go to if they haven't. But I started to meet some of the farmers that he was sourcing from. And so, you know, you're, you're hearing the stories of these farmers, amazing products they're selling that there's demand for people to buy these products and be a part of it.

But none of these farmers had access to capital. And that just, it was surprising to me because the consumer demand has exploded. That's clear to anybody, but that's not actually led to more funding for the farms. So if they want to buy land, equipment, infrastructure, they're still in the same USDA-driven market they would have been a few decades ago.

And so kind of the world has evolved very rapidly around consumer demand for agricultural products, but the funding system is effectively unchanged. And so the goal was Steward was to allow those people that are leading the food movement that are putting their dollars towards local food to actually provide funding to the farms, to help them grow.

Connect the dots between producer and consumer, and also deepen the links in the broader agricultural economy. The reality is that these farms are viable enterprises and can do a lot of great things with financing, but you can only take it so far. So the goal is not only to bring capital to the farmers, but help them be successful because you need regenerative agriculture to actually be viable economically to sustain itself and grow, but we are seeing opportunities there.

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Awesome.

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Yeah. So exciting.

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I have so many things to comment on, but Spike you go ahead.

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A couple of years before I first met Dan, my restaurant career had kind of taken a turn. I was previously working with my brother in a number of restaurants here in Baltimore, and our partnership was kind of ending. And one of the reasons was I was really becoming interested in sourcing from local farms and I wanted to start a restaurant that was basically about that. And he didn't, which is fine.

started Woodberry Kitchen in:

And one of the answers that we landed on was we need to get more money back to growers. The growers that I knew were doing amazing things, a lot of them were just getting started. Some of them have started and have continued over the course of Woodbury's existence. Now going on 15 years, I think in a relatively short amount of time recognized that part of our quote job was to like return value to growers.

And we started to kind of shape the restaurant. What we served, how we kind of wrote the menu, what we served from the bar based on what we thought could get the most value back to growers. That started to mean like we even were excluding things from our menu that didn't do that. We stopped serving citrus kind of famously because obviously there are no lemons grown in this region in Maryland, but there are plenty of other sources of acidity and sourness for our cooking and for our beverages.

And so we'd kind of approached it like that. And we just like any way that we could find to support growers. And we came to realize that economic support was the main thing that we could do. You know, you can Instagram or, you know, post to high heaven, but ultimately growers need to pay their bills.

And as Dan said, these businesses can be viable when they find the right support. And the products are second to none. The work ethic is second to none, and I just felt like our role could be like cash flow. And we not only kind of shaped the business of Woodbury around that realization, but we created businesses to continue that or to expand upon that.

So our little coffee shop, Artifact, is built on the same model. Uh, we started preserving and canning because our needs as a year-round restaurant didn't exactly overlay with the growing seasons here. It doesn't take a genius to understand that preserving is going to be part of the approach if you're really serious about sourcing locally and in a seasonal region like we are here.

And so the one thing that I was hearing from growers over and over again, it's kind of what Dan referred to. As much as we could do around cash flow. The other thing that most businesses will need at some point is capital to either expand or to become more efficient in the case of growers that might mean mechanization. Uh, it might mean things like walk-ins or buildings and things like that.

And that was something that I couldn't really help with. That was, you know, our focus was on running the restaurants and buying as much as we could, but I was neither a lender nor did I have the wherewithal to address that very clear need.

And so along comes Steward, which is doing exactly that. And one of the things that's most special about Steward is that it is focused on the needs of these growers. There is a huge structure and framework and a history of governments and banks being supportive of giant farms of commodity farms, but little or few examples of the kind of work that Steward is doing. That is directed and kind of, again, scaled and understanding of the realities of these more human-scaled farms.

[:

It's incredible. Yeah. So we're just thrilled.

[:

And I have so many things to comment on, but so I'm, I'm assuming you're you, you were out loud about what you were doing with your customers. Like we don't have lemon for your drink because... I mean, this must have been, there must have been an education component to this whole thing you were doing, or was there? Did they just figure it out or how did you be out loud about what you were doing?

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I would say an inevitable conversation at the table at Woodberry because it wasn't just lemon. It was olive oil and it was salmon and it was all of that and olive oil and so many things that people kind of take for granted.

And I'm not anti any of this really. I have, you know, a lot of questions about salmon farming, but I think the deliciousness of a lemon is one of the most settled questions on the face of the planet. It's insane how, especially if you haven't had one for a while, how delicious a lemon is, but those conversations were I think, great conversations to have.

And you know, the fact that they were taking place in a restaurant was a little unusual, but that is Woodbury. And that helped I think a lot of people understand what was at stake and I think there's a lot at stake.

[:

And I think when you flip the other side of, when you say, well, let's take all the purchasing dollars and let's drive them through the local economy. It's just amazing how even small things like the butter on the table or the hot sauce like they use those then become huge drivers of revenue.

So if you just think that there's no compromise and you then will be surprised that kind of extra effect of every local dollar cause people can do up to 50% and 60%, and that's fine, but there's really a lot of extra ability.

I mean, the issue with the kind of citrus alternative, I found always fascinating that you know, developing basically a new product line for local farms that otherwise doesn't exist, but could have much broader applications throughout the region of people follow the same methodology. It's amazing.

[:

It really seems the whole Steward, the company, to me, it seems like too good to be true almost in like duh and like how come this hasn't happened yet? So can you explain a little bit maybe Dan, exactly how it works and maybe like some of the issues that the biggest issues you've run into? Cause I really it's really I'm like, why isn't everyone doing this?

[:

Sure. Yeah, it hasn't happened because the regulatory and technical aspects of it are very complicated and are designed to be so in the sense that there's a reason large money goes to large, it's simple and easy, but the way Steward works is we have an entity that's a lender, Steward Lending. It provides a loan to the farmer and then users on our platform, customers of the farm buy a piece of that loan.

So they're basically loans we're making that people buy them pro-rata shares little as a hundred dollars. You know, some people putting tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars, but it's really people who are aligned in values, regardless of what they're putting in. Who buy into the story of the farmer who want to see them grow and succeed, but also receive, you know, a reasonable return.

Most deals are between 6% to 8% and that fairly compensates the funder. So it's a completely alternative private market in that sense. We have us, individuals, and the farmer, we come to the agreement on the deal and the terms, and we put it out to the broader market. We're not reliant on banks or third parties.

And that's the only way this works, that it's completely outside of the system. And there's no sort of formal authorization around it because anytime you're working with banks and other institutional providers, you're bound by their restrictions and their restrictions are that they would just will not support this type of work.

It's too high risk. It's too unknown. It's too small. It's everything they don't like. It's variable. So you have to create a technology and regulatory framework that can then work at small amounts. So that's, you know, significant capital of in technology development, regulatory development, but now each new project is fairly quick and fairly simple.

And we're now raising, you know, $700,000, $800,000 for farms. Whereas a year ago we were raising 25 and 50,000. There's there's immense demand and interest. And I think people's reaction is what you said. Wow, what an opportunity to be able to actually support as farms. I hope to, I should be able to do more of this and you should be able to do more of this.

More of your money should be able to be put into local economy easily. It's not for many others reasons, but very overly burdensome regulation. So I find the farmer, the issue, the farmer faces are the same issues in finance of just really heavy regulations that are built for large organizations. And applying those at a small scale is very challenging, very costly, and it pushes people out of the market.

And so, you know, we, we understand from the farmer's perspective, they just don't have time to go through complicated applications. They don't have time to do complicated and regulatory filings. Like it has to be simple to them that they provide basic information. They tell their story, they receive funding, and then same for the funders.

It's not realistic. The funders have to do underwriting of a deal and sourcing of farms and overseeing the projects. You know, they need to be able to support, but in a limited capacity. So I think both sides of the market would like to be more closely connected, but it does require a central kind of infrastructure, I think, to oversee and kind of keep the order in the broad base, you know, many, too many businesses on both sides, many small to mid-sized farms and many small midsize funders.

[:

And at the same time, you know, they go to farmer's markets and so forth and people show up and say, gosh, you know, why does this cost so much? Why is it so expensive? And also something that's frustrated me in the past is this the message like on social media and stuff, you should go to your farmer's market to support your local farmer.

Almost like it's this quaint thing that, you know, we need to help them out by buying the tomatoes. Even though they're a little more expensive, that kind of thing. It's like, no, you need to support your local farmer because that is food of the future. That is our sustenance.

And it's not like, well, I can always go to the store and get the things from California. That doesn't really matter. It does matter. It matters in a really huge way. So one of the incredibly encouraging things about what we're talking about in your organization is giving these farms real lift. You're really, really putting a wind under their wings, and it's not just helping them keep their head above water.

It is lifting them up to make the infrastructure changes and the process changes that they really be able to join this movement in a bit. That's important to all of us.

[:

And that's, we're still proving that out. We're still learning that farmers are still learning that. I mean, it's, it's, it's hard regardless, but we're finding like direct sales and value-added products is where it seems to work well. And that, that's how we try to guide farmers, you know, margin and removing the intermediary.

[:

So, you do have this other aspect of the business that does help the farmer know what to do with the loan and how to organize themselves, or is that coming?

[:

It's become a part of the business cause you just have to do it. So, you know, you can't just passively fund a farm and hope that five years down the road, it will be working. So it began with technical assistance from a team member who's a farmer himself who would vet the projects, but it would end up being less diligence and more like, well, where's your farm at? What do you really need? You know, this piece of equipment is a nice to have, but it's not can drive revenue. What about focusing on this business line instead of three business lines at once?

So it becomes a bit of a business planning of like, let's do one thing much better. Let's scale one enterprise and give you the right infrastructure and labor to do that. And then over time do more. And then it's also become, well, I farmer wants to sell direct to consumer online. Yeah, that's hard for them. They don't know the technology. They don't know the infrastructure. So we're now providing marketing support, same with bookkeeping. So that's to our existing portfolio farms.

It's just out of I'd say a requirement to make, to help them be viable. But I think that is something that's important down the road of not only do they have the funding, but how can they leverage the skills and resources they need to be successful to actually cover their costs, have health insurance, you know, make a salary. None of them even dream of that, but that should be the standard.

How can they have kind of comfort, you know, just comfort, but some resilience in the business? And that is a big leap that they're taking. You know, these are farms that need a five-year sprint to kind of get there, but if they can have the right funding in the right markets and kind of grow their business, they should be able to arrive at that point where they can have a little bit more stability and reliability of funding.

[:

Yeah. It's probably a revelation for them to know that there's a way they can do more than just get by.

[:

Yeah. I mean, the standard for a lot of these farms is they, they, they have a farm and they work on the farm, but they also work in another job.

[:

Right.

[:

Because the farm either break, barely breaks even or loses money. And a lot of the growers I know that haven't made it on one side and the ones that have over the years, the line that you could probably drop down that group is that someone figured out how to get financing. Some might've had personal resources and others didn't. More often than not the difference between making it or not was somehow having access to capital.

And it took me, you know, I was just in there in the kitchen, you know, trying to buy as much as I could, but it's crystal clear to me now that this is as often as not the thing that helps farmers or creates success for farmers or you know, they ended up giving it up. Yeah. That happens quite frequently.

[:

Can you explain what regenerative agriculture is to someone who might not have any idea what we're talking about?

[:

I think it's great that Steward is focused as made this kind of a standard, or it means different things in different contexts. But I was thinking about this before we went on because I think it's such an important point.

You know, the word sustainable has a lot of it's used a lot. And I think regenerative is a great contrast to sustainable.

[:

Part of the benefit of regenerative is it's not defined by a set standard. It's not organic, which means just this. And the problem is set standards very quick to become co-opted and tend to be abused to again, larger organizations that figure out exactly how to manipulate the rules.

I find regenerative is, is focusing on, you know, sustaining resources, soil, like you're focusing on taking care of the land first and foremost, and taking care of the land leads to good products. The output is good. So right now, agriculture is how do we scale up an output with synthetic inputs versus how do we treat the land as well as possible, and are the employees who work there and produce the most nutritious high-quality products.

And it goes beyond, you know, food too. It's in forestry and other methods, but I think it's, it's, you know, why, why so closely maps, indigenous cultures, it's, you know, what's more, important than taking care of the land and the resources. And if you're doing that, then the downstream effects are, you have sustenance and you have shelter and you have basic world materials.

Um, when it comes to like specific farming practices that that team member I mentioned who runs our farm diligence team like he's speaking with the farmer about exactly what the rotation is or how are they doing this? We're certainly not supporting farmers who are spraying any synthetic chemicals. We're certainly, but it's not that it has to be only draft power horses, but there's a balance between the two.

[:

One way to kind of boil it down is organic, for example, focuses on, on a list of practices, accepted and banned and regenerative I think more broadly focuses on outcomes. It's like, are we gonna have a clean the Chesapeake Bay, for example. Are we going to have, you know, a viable the Chesapeake Bay? The way that the crab fishery is managed in the Chesapeake Bay is sustainable, supposedly, and that the catch is monitored, other biological kind of assessments are made, and they kind of assign a number of crabs that can be taken out.

And they hope that we can continue to do that. That's a sustainable practice. I would say that growing oysters in the Chesapeake Bay is a regenerative practice. It's going to contribute to the water quality of the bay. It's going to provide a habitat for other animals to live and thrive, and it's going to be and, it can grow and no matter how much it grows, it's always going to have those benefits and it's going to produce better outcomes.

And I think you can kind of apply that thinking across the board again. So almost all of the way that our food is produced, but also in so many other ways. And I think it's organic can only be like that only applies to, I think, a relatively narrow band of what we eat and how we live. But regenerative, I think really, if you're thinking about it and you're serious about it, it makes sense for almost everything that we do.

[:

Yeah. And I think the net positive, like symbiotic relationship, is a huge part of it. You know, if you do more of something, is the output better, and is there more improvement made? And that's like the exact opposite of our current agricultural system, you know, you're just depleting as you go.

And then that's why you're putting in synthetics because you've just. The resource. So wasters are one, that's always been the most powerful for me. If like that, they're there to filter the water and provide habitat and provide a source of nutrients and protein. Like they should be everywhere. Everything should be about supporting that industry and supporting the growth of oyster farms and supporting wild habitat.

But it's still just taken a long time for that to be acknowledged and that to be done. And it's behind where it should be. But I think ecological restoration is the net result of good bland management practices. And regenerative is trying to encompass well, what are the. Land management practices. And aside from the land, what are the kind of benefits around, you know, local food distance in terms of transportation and wages to farmers and accessibility of food.

So I also view regenerative is the business, the entirety of regenerative, if you're growing a regenerative product, and then you're finding it across the whole country kind of undermines a lot of the purpose. And so I think you can't look at it too small in just a route of farming practices. You know, what are they paying their staff that also matters and making sure that it's fair for everybody.

[:

It takes a lot of awareness about where things come from and you know, how they got to be in your hands.

[:

And what questions to ask too, like awareness of like, yeah. Even what to it's because we take so many things for granted or just, we don't think we have to don't ask. Yeah.

[:

You know, it's a great question. How much does this really cost? Anytime that you see something, you guys mentioned this earlier and I just cause it's so it's so. It's anytime you see something that's, that's quote cheap and that, that whole cost conversation, you know, when, whether it's at the farmer's market, why is this tomato so expensive, especially when something's cheap, you know, we should be asking ourselves how much does this really cost?

And I think we're starting to understand that because there are people doing great work around this kind of notion of real cost accounting when it comes to our food system. And I'm starting to see numbers that are like, you know, for the trillion dollars that we spend on, you know, in our food system every year in this country, we're probably costing ourselves around 2 trillion.

If we can put a number on the environmental cost of how we grow and processing our food, if we can put a number on the health costs of what it costs us, when we eat this food, we were starting to understand like before it was kind of an abstract. It's like, oh, you know, this cheap food is, there's a cost associated with it. That's externalized onto our health system and onto our environment. And now we're starting to understand it's we can put dollars on it and it's a lot.

[:

Yeah. We started out with Lady Farmer as a sustainable apparel brand and we produce a line of clothing and, um, have since supported other sustainable brands by selling their things on our website.

And we frequently get the question why would I pay $200 for a dress when I can go and get one for $20? And the answer to that question is, and I've said this before on here, many times if you're a regular listener. That dress did not cost $20. And when you are choosing to buy something for the least cost that you can find, then you're supporting a system that keeps many many people down the line, people's environment, whatever down.

That is not regenerative, that is not sustainable. That is degenerative. So, you know, we've been talking about the term regenerative, teaching people that think in those terms, they were just talking about this on a podcast, the one that's coming up this week, in fact.

Like if we can direct our consumer decisions on just that, what is going to regenerate life, what is going to help, whatever this is a food or a piece of clothing or a beauty product, or a cleaning product or whatever, what is going to be something that will help the next generation thrive and grow and not take away from it?

[:

Yeah. Fast fashion is as bad as fast food. I mean, they're, they're very, very. A lot of the same, you know, super high waste. Um, yeah, there's, there's a lot of questions in the labor model that, that happens across the board.

[:

A hundred percent. And we've been trying to like, you know, we've been talking about that for the five years since we began. It's, it's very much the same trajectory that food, the awareness on the food is a, it's a bit ahead of it. I'd say like maybe 10 years.

[:

But it's the same economic system that creates it. And so it's the same in every industry. It's attractive and the country was founded on extraction basically. So, you know, it's just permeated everything. It takes a lot of effort to go outside of that. But yes, if you do ask for full traceability, if you don't know where it came from, it's worse than you think.

And generally that traceability end it's very fast, you know, you can't even get, you can't even get two to three steps from where it actually the source was. Yeah, there's a reason for that.

[:

Yeah, absolutely. So how do you think then that we can make these ideas more accessible because they are sort of... Spike, it encourages me to hear you say that you think people are more understanding of it.

Um, I'm curious as to why you think that, but also for people who it is sort of a cerebral concept in many ways. And it takes a lot of thinking and lots of hoops and lots of questions to ask that takes a certain amount of education and awareness and knowledge. And all of these things in many ways are inaccessible to a lot of people.

So, how do you guys think we can make this a more accessible area, more palatable to people? It's hard to convince people to pay more for things. It just is.

[:

Wow. There are so many challenges to the, when we say this and this question, what do you mean? What is the, this like to make this more...

[:

Regenerative. Let's call it regenerative agriculture, like changing someone's buying habits basically. And what they're gonna carry out.

[:

A regenerative mindset. Yeah. To your consumer choices. Yeah.

[:

I'll say what's worked really well for me. It's twin forces. One that I was drawn to and that's much more positive and that is what you see, taste, feel, hear, and smell when you go to a, like a farmer's market.

You know, you hear and experience, you feel the community, you feel that that, you know, you feel like you're in a place with other people. And it feels really, really positive and great. And of course, then you're tasting and smelling delicious fresh food that's been cared for from the second it went in the ground.

And so I was drawn to that. I think I was so drawn to that, that I started a restaurant that was basically trying to express how great that whole world is and how, how great it is to be a part of that world. And I didn't really have a statement. I wasn't able to articulate why I was so drawn to it. I just was.

And I think anyone that goes to a farmer's market is participates in a CSA, goes and visits a farm in their neighborhood, whether they're in a city like Baltimore, which has incredible farms all across the city, we have amazing urban farms. And then you go out into the countryside and if you know where to look, you can find incredible human-scaled farms in Baltimore County and across the state.

And so to allow yourself to kind of be drawn to that, go to an orchard in the fall and pick apples and have some cider and just participate in what's going on around you. And you'll be drawn into that. And I think one thing will lead to another, uh, and you'll go from farm to farm from, from product to product.

You'll be overtaken by how wonderful it is. And it's, you know, for, as a chef, flavor is, is very high on that list for me, because the produce that we get for example is, is, like I said earlier second to none. The other thing is it's an awareness thing and it's, as soon as you kind of start to understand, what's really happening, the vast majority of our food now comes from giant corporations and it's not just one corporation, you know, it's not like that I'm just buying food at Walmart or McDonald's in a given moment.

It's that, that whatever that food product is, it started, you know, actually before it was ever planted or even thought about, it was a giant corporation that was probably providing the seed and the pesticides and fertilizer. And then that entire chain that goes from a lot of times mega-farms that are growing it.

And then processors of giant multi-billion dollar corporations that are turning it into food, um, or moving it around or ultimately retailing itself. It's just, there's never a moment where our food is now is out of those hands. And when you find out, as Dan said, if you don't know something about, you know, where your food came from, for example, then it's probably worse than you think.

And when you start to actually find out those stories, you know, if you, if you've read the reporting on civil eats, for example, or you'll be kind of repelled. So the twin forces I'm talking about. Be drawn into your local food system, be drawn in by the deliciousness of what of growers that around you are doing.

And other producers, you know, small-scale brewers, for example. Allow yourself to kind of just be, uh, taken in by that, but also make yourself a little more aware of what's going on out there. And, you know, I don't know what story is going to flip the switch for you. It might be environmental. For me, it was largely Woodbury became an environmental project in a sense, because I was so concerned about the Chesapeake Bay and it wasn't hard for me to connect the dots between the way that we were eating and what was going on with the Chesapeake that large-scale chemical-dependent agriculture was really having a profound effect on this thing that's essentially, you know, what people know about this region is that it surrounds the Chesapeake Bay.

It can feel overwhelming because there's so much going on, but those two things. This force that just kind of pushes you away when you find out what's going on with industrial-scale food, and then the wonderful embracing qualities of generally what you find at a farmer's market or at a farm. I don't know if that's because it is hard to sort through it all.

[:

Particularly that in, I think:

That's processed and marketed in our food system and distributed all over the country. I think that's really, really alarming. And it's obvious that you know, there are a lot of health problems in the public, particularly over the last year. And I'm just wondering when are the powers that be to start connecting those dots? I mean, they're connected for me and my mind.

[:

They are connected for them too. It's just not in their interest to go against those organizations. And, and I think between, I think it's also true forces. I think the positive is you have to prove viability of these enterprises to succeed and grow and like make more of them.

You know, there have to be way more farmers and way more service providers, these farmers, because it can't be just the farmer's market. You know, everything you're buying, you have to be able to have a good option and quality option, and that's not the case. And that's gonna require, you know, millions of more farmers, you know, massive, massive growth in the farms.

But at the same time, you have to have a policy shift because the entire agriculture and economic market, it's a policy market. I mean, that's a very distorted system of subsidies and incentives. And so it's, it's like it's abundantly clear that it's very unhealthy to everybody, but the lobbying power of those big organizations is immense.

So it real-world required grassroots, legislative, political change. It's happening at local levels. It just needs to filter up, but that's going to be the last thing to change. I think you have to prove that it can work. And then that's going to enable the room to provide an alternative.

Right now, when you say, well, let's do things differently. There's not a viable alternative to large-scale ag. It's not producing and the volumes and kind of scale to actually provide the resources that are needed. So you can't, even though it would be beneficial to just cut the system we have and hope it works out. That's not going to happen until there's a viable alternative that's ready to go.

[:

But if they wanted to cut all of the density at all, for our programs that I would, I think that would benefit the small sustainable farmer. So if they want to go full free market, you know, and actually be Republicans that speak around free-market competition, there are small local farmers selling great products, direct to people, you know, have high value are the ones that are sustaining.

And that was shown in COVID. You know, that the real resilience is in the small distributed farms. So that, that I think gave people a window to what does or doesn't work. And they kind of confidence in the current system was eroded. And I think that's the beginning of the end. It's not going to happen in a year or two.

[:

And does Steward have any sort of policy or legislative arm to it or is that outside the scope?

[:

I don't think you can be engaged in regenerative agriculture without being aware and thoughtful about policy, because that is what creates the market. You know, that, that all the systems that exist in agriculture are shaped by policy, but changing that is hard.

So we, we do have a team member we brought on who is a farmer himself, and then worked on Capitol Hill. So he's the perfect mix of policy work and agriculturalists. We're working on some different changes in some programs. I think my most, my interest in policy is like, what are small changes to existing programs you can make to start to move things positively while working on the kind of much bigger legislative changes that are going to take time and probably voted down for a long time.

One program that we're focusing on, it's called the Aggie Bond Program. It allows a tax-free interest income on loans to small farm. Like amazing idea. No one's ever really used it because the implementation and design of the program is not very flexible. So we're trialing a few of those loans to farmers in Washington state.

It means you'll be able to bring down the cost of capital for farms, which is a huge positive impact. And it's taken a lot of backflips to make it work. No other lender would go through it, just not worth it. And then that example we're going to use to then go for legislative push of, you know, what are the small tweaks in that program that could be made so that every state has available and it's used. And that would have a small, a big impact.

So I, I think it's a lot of small like regionalized state-level local changes that will. Yeah, but the big federal work it's like, Ooh, that's, that's, that's hard to even not even influence even to have an idea of what's, what's actually the conversation happening behind closed doors. That's a tough thing to break.

[:

I think something you just said a few minutes ago is super interesting. You said right now there's no viable alternative to the current big agricultural industrial system. The irony of that is, and what you guys know the alternative to it is of course, small, locally accessed food because the big thing is the opposite of all of this.

You know, it's like, you know, the food has to travel. It's grown in mass has grown with chemicals is like the big scale of it is flips the whole idea of local nutritious community supportive food on its head. So it's more than just looking for an alternative is actually dismantling.

[:

Yeah. I, I agree. When I say viable alternative. I don't mean that that type of agriculture isn't better, I mean, just the sheer numbers and volumes of farms and production that needs to exist is basically been displaced. It's been undermined by government policy. You know, you wouldn't have had that many farmers go out of business and consolidation without subsidized financing and these other programs.

So they kind of distort the market, squeeze, small farms, and then they say small farms can't compete. It's like, well, obviously they can't compete if you've created a system to squeeze them. But in reality, yes, I'm, I'm, I'm positive. Even if it looks bleak. I mean, more than half the farmers we work with are not from non-farm backgrounds.

You know the idea that non-farmers are going into agriculture is like, that's a huge change. So there it's happening, but it's, it's going to take a lot of effort.

[:

I think the place to start is, is a level growing field, you know, and I think that's where Steward is so crucial. Is it's not like farmers have ever been the ones to ask.

At least the ones that I know have ever been asked for anything more than just the opportunity. And as Dan said, the opportunity for so long in this country has been distorted. And if we just leveled the growing field, out so the farmers that we work with who grow the nutritious food grow, the tasty food, grow the food that doesn't impact the environment, the way that we're doing it now does it would be a start.

And I think a lot of growers are not asking for much more than that. And Steward is Steward is a piece of that because Steward comes along and says, you can access capital in a way that really that's suited to you. The way that big farms have had capital programs that are, that are suited to them. That's a huge step in the right direction.

[:

Do you guys have any favorite stories or one particular like Steward success story that you can share with us?

[:

I mean, I, I can go for a lot of time on that. The one that I, one of my favorites is a farm called Fisheye Farms. It is one of the first farms we funded in June 2017. They were an urban farm in Detroit.

They were farming on a side lot of a 10th of an acre, uh, next to the farmer's uncle who owned a dry cleaner. So like some of the excess land they found next to their uncle's dry cleaning business. Started farming, sold $10,000 worth of product off of that 10 little, tiny 10th of an acre. Um, but they want then wanted to buy more land.

And in Detroit, there is land everywhere, but most of it's owned by the Detroit Land Bank and the bank was unwilling to sell them an acre of land even though they have 10,000 acres of vacant land because they're a farmer and I don't know why. But we came in, provided the funding that the city was comfortable to sell it to them, sold them 18 lots or about an acre and a half.

And they've now gone from, you know, $10,000 revenue to $120,000 in 3 years. They've transformed a neighborhood by taking, you know, two acres of abandoned land, restoring it, and building a local farm stand. During COVID, they switched from restaurants and local farm stand to a hundred percent direct local sales started selling other farms product, you know, became a weekly pickup at the market at, at their own farm stands.

So they're just the kind of pillars to a community in a food desert, providing fresh food. Now they've even been growing green tomatoes for local black residents and even adjusting their products even to suit their local communities and proving viability. I mean, 10 times revenue growth in three years is massive for any enterprise.

And I think that's what I've seen. The demand is incredible for these products, but they can't get their production up. You know, they just don't have the equipment or labor to do it, but if they can get their production up, they can place it, they can sell it. And so that scene is kind of small and inefficient businesses, but it's not for lack of demand.

It's that without capital, you know, you can only take it so far. And that was on a loan that was a hundred thousand dollars, which is not a large loan in the scale of any financing. Um, and that fundamentally transformed, you know, a neighborhood in their opportunity. And it probably put them a decade ahead of where they would've had to be, you know, had they grown on cash flow year over.

[:

That's amazing. Yeah.

[:

Spike, what's your you're on the kind of buying from farms, engaging farmers, but what's a success story of a farmer you've been buying from that you love.

[:

Well, Dan knows that my favorite story, and a Steward is, is intrinsic to his success. It's an Amish farmer in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, who I'd been working with for years.

And he's got a family farm that, that grows any number of products, but a really important part of his farm is the dairy cows that he has on grass, old varieties of Brown Swiss and Jersey and Guernsey cows. And he was selling milk, like almost all of his neighbors to local processors co-ops and fluid milk bottlers.

And I won't go into the backstory on the global milk crisis, but he was like, many of his neighbors, uh, was being squeezed on price because the prices were constantly going down and eventually lost his ability to sell milk to his local co-op. There was just too much of it and, and there, it was too cheap.

And so through Steward provided first a loan to help him bring fluid milk processing onto his own farm. Just the way that this Amish farmer's life and his, you know, his ability to farm kind of intersected, but Stewards ability to bring, you know, what is it really a cutting edge platform to his service was to me, mind-blowing.

This is a guy that doesn't even have a phone in his house, reaching him. I'm kind of waiting for a call because he has a phone in his barn. And when you, uh, when he calls, you need to pick it up because otherwise these things, you won't get to talk to him again for a couple of days. But that's not even the best part of it.

The best part of it was that he's gotten this, this processing equipment in place and it's ready to roll and he's ready to start processing his own milk for the first time ever. And he can't navigate the regulatory system where that would allow him to get his Grade A license. And I felt powerless to help. And the guy that Dan referenced earlier stepped in with his experience in government and his, his, his ability to just kind of navigate government agencies, and through a process that I'm still a little bit flabbergasted by he got the right inspectors to show up at the farm and got the inspections to happen.

And I happened to be there for the last one. And the proudest moment for me was when the inspector literally just wrote down this farmer's approval number on a slip of paper. I was like, that's it? And he's like, that's it.

And I just ha I just held that the slip of paper up and took a picture of it and send it to the team because, you know, not only the improvements to the farm that are gonna allow Homer to continue to milk cows, um, which is, as I said, a crucial part of how he, he supports himself and his family but getting that final approval for him to do that, which I didn't know how it was going to happen.

Months went by and I would check-in and I would say like, what's going on? He would be like, well, it might be next month, and Steward and you know, the team there got it to happen. And I don't know what the alternative for me is like that it doesn't happen. And then, you know, we lose this really great farm and this great product.

[:

Wow.

[:

That to me was like I was, and that I happened to be there. I was really... I didn't get it to happen, but that I was there and it happened while I was there. And I could send that picture of that just says, handwritten, you know, he can now sell milk his milk anywhere in the country, because he has that inspection.

And, you know, our focus is Steward that Dan has made clear it's like not only the growing and the products but getting it to market connecting with those markets. And this, this is a great example of value add because you know, Omar had milk in a tank, but nowhere to sell it. And now he can.

[:

[:

Recently, it's been butter for me and cheese as he gets it into bottles. We're now ready to start. I've been working on the label with him so that we can get the label approved and get it out. Um, we'll use it. Uh, I can't wait to use it in our coffee shop because milk from grass-fed cows is, you know if you love your, macchiato, your cappuccino, your latte, that this milk is it's transformative.

And then I hope to get it. I'm equally excited to get it in front of other chefs and baristas that I know. And, and I think it's just great to work with. And that's, you know, it's one of the, he has a, a pasteurizer that he bought, uh, with a Steward loan. A separator, pasteurizer, uh, and now he has bottling equipment.

[:

Yeah. I guess it's really complicated for you in the restaurant business to get into raw milk products. I guess that's just inaccessible huh.

[:

I think the more accurate term would be illegal for a restaurant. I agree with Dan that a lot of those, you know, it's not just the finance side it's, you know, a lot of these laws are in place, I think, for the benefit of larger operations. And, you know, it seems to me that wherever the kind of industrial food system can find a way to, to put a little, uh, barrier in front of smaller producers, they'll do it.

And I think some of the laws around raw milk and other processing, you know, some of the laws we have around things like e-coli, which, which never happens on a small farm, you know, it's a lot of like e-coli in beef is, is, has been exclusively the domain of giant producers who have these processes that kind of lead to that consequence.

That's I mean, you guys know that, but for the benefit of our listeners.

[:

Yeah. Wow. Well, we're a part of a cow share in Virginia actually, cause we can't do it in Maryland or DC, but raw milk is life-changing.

[:

Yeah, it's been quite the process.

[:

It's like drinking a milkshake.

[:

Do I have the cow share for you guys. If you are into raw. We visited a farm with a group from Steward a few weeks ago. And I mean, I saw regenerative at it's far end of the rain. Down south of Charlottesville. I can send you it's another world.

[:

Amazing. Yeah. We need to do a farmer exchange. I have people over here on this side of the city that you need to know, or if you don't already.

[:

That would be great. Yeah.

[:

I have a suggestion for your restaurant.

[:

I do too. Ice cream. Okay.

[:

I was going to say Kiefer. Have you discovered Kiefer as a...

[:

Yeah, absolutely. And it was part of the farmer I was talking about is obsessed with that. Um, as soon as we get the milk going, I think that is something we're going to explore.

[:

We in our family are also obsessed with it. It's amazing.

[:

I feel like this whole thing has been a pitch. You don't need to pitch us, but I do want to hear to someone who might be listening to this and thinking about, oh, I would love to invest in these projects. How does that work? What is that like? And then what do they get a return on their investment? Tell us, talk us through that. The journey of the lender.

[:

Sure. So they go to the platform gosteward.com. They can either fund a loan to a specific farm. So, you know, this Amish farmer in Pennsylvania, just borrowed funds to finish out those final bottling costs and inspection costs. So people are able to lend him money over a five-year term with an 8% interest rate paid down monthly.

So you can pick a specific farm, fund them, earn reasonable returns, but also see the tangible benefits you know the story of what your money is actually doing, not in some theoretical way, but the reality of that actual business. Or they can lend money to a pool of diversified farm loans where it's spread across a network of regenerative farms.

They can read about all the individual farms, but they don't have to make the decision about which farm it is. We find some people, you know, love the farm narratives. A lot of times CSA customers become big anchor funders of deals. I mean, what better way to advance that CSA than provide that financing?

Oftentimes I find the CSA customers would like to fund the farm, but what's the legal structure? Kind of, how do they formalize it? Like, it's just a difficult situation. So oftentimes it's really just helping to drive relationships that already exist, but just kind of give a platform and infrastructure and professionalization to make it work.

But we have found people, funding farms, you know, all across the country. It's not, you know, it's not necessarily geographic. People have interests based on many different things. Some people love agriculture. Some people love livestock. Some people won't fund livestock. You know, it just depends on each person.

And I think that's the goal that the narrative across all the farms is aligned. Their kind of practices are all aligned, but depending on what is of interest to you, you know, you can score different businesses, and then you can visit the farms and engage with them. And I think that's what I get most excited about.

Most people that fund farms, you know, they're, they're appreciative of the ability to do it. You know, they're just excited to have that next level of engagement. And I think that's where most people are, who are, who are at least thinking about how do I put my money, which is something that aligns with my values.

There are an incredible amount of options that have no values at all, and we're never going to compete in that market. But in the market of, let me take 5% or 10% of what I have and start to put it towards kind of tangible impact investments and not impact from like some general sense of public companies.

But you know, that specific business that now can grow, you know, see improvements in their, in their underlying farm business, but also have, uh, independence, you know, have the ability to operate as with dairy farmer, you know, without relying on some third party that defines price and squeezes your business.

And so that kind of resilience around alternative funding from people who care about who you are to then support the farm. And then on the way back actually pay people and compensate for them. You know, that's the flow of funds, that's a cycle, but we do think people should earn a reasonable return, 6% to 8% c-average.

The farms sometimes think those interest rates are high, but it's like, you're talking about cheap food. People don't think of cheap money as the other side of that equation. And the math subsidy of financing at low-interest rates is what creates big ag because it lets it operate at a cost that's below what anyone would lend it to.

And it also means that if, if you don't fit in that market, you're on your own. And so you're kind of forcing the farmer with the carrot that you're going to get all the sheet money. If you just do these things and follow these practices and go this way, if you're going to be outside that is challenging.

And that's the farmers we're working with. I mean, they're operating on whatever they have. Sometimes it's very little, sometimes they luckily have some savings or capital, but what they can do with financing is really amazing is just really transformative for relatively small amounts of, you know, loans of tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars. Which are ignored in the American financial system, but can have like a fundamental impact on a whole community.

[:

Yeah.

[:

Yeah.

[:

And what happens if they like, do you ever have farmers fail and they can't pay it back? How does that work?

[:

We have not had it yet. Um, but even one current example, we have a farm that needs an additional working capital loan mid-season. Like most farms, you know, managing operational capital is very hard, particularly pre-harvest.

And so that's when we're, we're stepping in to provide more funding to a farmer, to help them continue their growth in a circumstance where they're running tight on cash flow, as they have lots of chickens out that they're ready to sell and lots of things to harvest. Our general view is, you know, we have that farmer I mentioned, and a network of other ag experts who stay in touch with the farm, who can kind of build that trusting relationship with the farmer around how's the business going? What are the challenges that you're seeing? Where can we help improve things?

And then work with them to resolve that the issue, you know, did they lose a market? Did they lose a customer? Were they just too tight on financing? If it came down to a farmer wanting to leave and not being able to farm, then we would want to find a replacement farmer to step in and take over the operation.

There are a lot of farmers out there that would love to step into a functioning farm, as opposed to having to do it all themselves, which is backbreaking work. But we're trying, we try to be as positive as possible, but we also want to make sure funders are protected, but we're communicative to our capital base that this is the farm. This is the reality. Here's a challenge of seeing.

And so I think it's a really just the adverse lender relationship is often when it's just like an institution who's got no flexibility and not interested in anything other than recovery of funds. But if you consider yourself actually invested in the success of that enterprise, hoping for them to do well, and you can provide some flexibility.

There's often an easy resolution. Most of the time, I find the problem with these farmers is short-term cash flow. You know, they just, they're running tight, always, and there's variability in their business. But the end demand is immense. And if they're good farmers they'll get their production where it needs to be.

So I think a lot of issues are created around short term cashflow that that really are longer-term issues, but our meetings are longer-term issues because banks won't be flexible or provide additional capital. And then you go down the road of being cut off for credit. And that's the end of that. So we try to be as accommodating as possible while still recognizing this is a loan.

The goal is for it to be repaid and we'd rather help them grow their way out of it, or kind of solve a problem and repay it then seize assets and try to get repaid that way, which is never a positive for anybody.

[:

It just sounds like a very human approach.

[:

Yeah. Alternatively, on the farmer's side, cause we do have a mix in our listener audience. If there's there are farmers listening or people who want to get into farming listening, how do they get a loan from you?

[:

I mean the short answer is gosteward.com for growers. It's an amazing platform. And for a lot of growers, the, uh, application process starts there. Uh, one of the great things I recognized very early on in my work with Steward is there's an incredible team that is making it happen for farmers and gosteward.com is the best place to start.

I've also heard, you know, in the conversations, we have at Steward, Steward is very good about helping farmers get to where they can get. For folks that are just starting out, it might not be the best place to start Steward, the vetting process that I've seen kind of happens in two areas that happens on the agricultural side.

And they have incredibly knowledgeable people, especially the ag lead that Dan was talking about. It's not like he needs to have, you know, what a small-scale farm does explain to him. He actually knows that inside and out, he's going to understand where your farm sits in regard to what it's doing, what it's capable of.

Maybe the improvements that need to be made, whether or not the use of the capital that's being discussed is the best use, or it's going to get the farm to a profitability, um, or improve its prospects. And then there's the financial due diligence that happens as well. So the experience that I've seen that Steward is that they're, they're working with farmers that have a little bit of a track record that have kind of a product already in the marketplace.

And the question for them is like, how do we get that know, how do we achieve kind of, uh, financial sustainability viability, and how do we grow to kind of help, you know, to ensure that. But one of the cool things for me, as you know, I've been able to have these conversations with farmers for years now about like buying their products.

But, you know, by definition, that was a little bit limited to the farms here, um, in a, in kind of the Chesapeake watershed. And if I traveled or if I was a little bit beyond, or obviously I can only buy so much, but now I can have a conversation with any farmer anywhere about, you know, this is the other side of this equation, as we've been talking about, which is like, there's this really great way for you to get capital support for your farm.

And it's called Steward. And I'd love to connect you. So I was, you know, I've been limited in the past because we can only buy so much. And we were only buying really from farms in this, in our neck of the woods. But now that conversation is, you know, with everyone that I meet essentially because I think it's, it's such a great tool to have in there.

[:

Yes. I feel the same way. I'm so excited.

[:

What does the good dirt mean to you?

[:

I think in this moment, I think the good dirt in the literal sense is something we need to be focused on. And I would say, you know, if you go back to the 1930s, soil was something that people in this country that the U.S. Government took seriously as, as a precious resource.

And I think we've lost sight of what soil as the basis for agriculture should mean in connections with the way that we eat. And I think what's so great about regenerative ag and, and what's so great about the farmers that I work with and who I talk to and I, who I learned from every day, is that by the work that they're doing, they are helping restore soil itself because great farming leads to more soil.

The loss of topsoil, the loss, you know, erosion and sedimentation in our agricultural system is a constant issue and we're, we've continued to lose millions of pounds of soil every year. The restoration of soil and soil fertility, two crucial, you know, separate, but interlock things is what I think of when you, when you mentioned good dirt, I think of the actual dirt and I think especially the good dirt. Uh, the soil, that's it, that's high in organic matter. That is fully alive because soil alive, healthy soil has an amazing microbiome. That's crucial to whatever we're growing in. It. That's what I think of. I think that good dirt is truly great, a live soil. That's the basis for every, every good thing that we eat.

Yeah, playing on what Spike said, I mean, I think of it, the literal sense of, you know, what, when you see a piece of land that is restored and is vibrant and a vibrant ecosystem, there's just something so tangible about that. I think the reference to what it's like at a farmer's market and the smell of the tastes like they're just the physical manifestation of that.

And I think that it's the same around humans and soil and land. I think I was reading somewhere too that if even when you smell soil it's calming similar the way it is to smell a parent when you're a baby. I mean, it's sort of built within humans to be attracted and comforted by it. And so I think that's the broader regenerative agriculture framework of how do you create healthy land and ecosystems and soil and all of that blended.

And then, in reality, I'm learning everyday about soil. And I just spoke to someone at biochar for an hour yesterday, and our farmer teams always just talking about the soil. Just the complexity of it too, I think, is not well understood broadly. And that there's more soil than just tilled ground soil.

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I hope many of our listeners out there are rushing to look you up right now.

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gosteward.com, right?

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Yes. Okay. Bye guys.

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Thanks, bye.

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Thank you.

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Good to be with you.

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I really appreciate these guys coming on and being with us today and really shedding a lot of light on regenerative agriculture and what it is and what it means and what we can do to help it grow.

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Yeah. I love actionable action steps. And as someone who, you know, as I said, I'm not quite there yet as far as having the extra cash to invest in the stock market. That's something as a young adult I'm working towards, but it's so exciting to be able to have this option of this kind of investment.

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And really what could be more fundamental than our food and investing in something that will ensure healthy, safe, and clean food for the future.

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And supporting those superheroes that are leading the way for us.

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Out there doing it. Also a reminder of the things we have coming up real quick.

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We've got our Slow Living Retreat, virtual retreat in December. Check out our website for more details on that. If you aren't already following us on Instagram, follow us @weareladyfarmer and keep your eyes peeled for the opening of the Almanac, which is our online membership community.

It's a warm, lovely community spot for lady farmers all over the place to connect and share inspiration, ideas, stories, recipes, all those good things. We really have a lot of fun in there.

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Yeah. And photos.

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Yeah. We will see you guys next week on The Good Dirt. Thank you so much for staying with us. We really appreciate the support.

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Have a great week, everybody. Goodbye.

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