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Inside Organics: Regenerative Poultry Convergence report

At the beginning of March, Regenerative Agriculture Alliance hosted the Inaugural Regenerative Poultry Convergence. The two-day event took place in Albert Lea, Minnesota, and brought together stakeholders from multiple sectors of the regenerative poultry ecosystem. As with any inaugural event, there are things that you plan to accomplish and then there are the unknown variables that present themselves through the act of converging. As a systems-rooted organization, the RAA engages with a variety of businesses and individuals on a regular basis.

Working on system-level change means being able to understand what things look like when success is achieved, and then understanding what needs to be done now while staying in alignment with the final destination. Since inception in 2019, the RAA has been chipping away at the layers associated with building a regenerative poultry system platform. First we finished basic components like what a production unit would look like for both eggs and broilers, then we built the blueprint for a fully functioning regenerative poultry farm operation. From that starting point, we have systematically built an ecosystem of farmers, supporters, investors, markets, development partners, and scientists. In 2021, we opened a processing facility in Stacyville, Iowa, to help bridge the processing infrastructure gap that hinders the deployment of small to mid-sized farmers allowing us to engage at an entirely new level.

The Regenerative Poultry Convergence became an obvious next step as we initiate a new stage of systemic change. A convergence is a place where we come together with our individual stories of triumphs, challenges, and questions to create something bigger, to make decisions, to be proactive, and define how we will operate no longer as individuals but as part of a collective effort. We were excited to have the support of sponsors and colleagues for this inaugural event. MOSES supported the convergence by hosting registration and bringing decades of event organizing experience to the table.

Oftentimes, we forget that commitment starts with a conversation and that conversation doesn’t stop – or at least it shouldn’t. On the landscape this looks like constant and continual observation of how things are interacting with each other. The ancestral way of understanding the concept of regeneration teaches us that as farmers and food system workers we are not producers of anything. We are simply stewards of energy transformation processes that the earth developed over billions of years, and that eventually resulted in the vast biodiversity of life that exists today. At any moment, energy is being transformed from inedible to edible forms in a never-ending chain reaction from the smallest to the larger organisms.

The indigenous intellect results from an understanding that as humans, we exist within this never-ending process of energy transformation processes, somewhere in all of those cycles of eating and being eaten, of feeding and being food. As stewards of those energy transformation processes, we strive to discover ways and implement practices that stimulate healthy outcomes. In social systems it is imperative that we ask ourselves similar questions; what are the values that we aren’t willing to compromise? To whom do we owe loyalty? How can we organize ourselves to have the most collective impact to generate healthy outcomes?

The convergence was organized in a grassroots manner to observe the organic matter of our ecosystem as it is today. We were delighted to have over ninety attendees and twenty farms represented in the room ranging from beginning to well-established farm operations. Additionally there were chefs, scientists, financial partners, government officials, and nonprofit organizations in the room.

When registering, individuals were asked to identify their connection to the regenerative poultry system. By associating with a particular affinity group, we were able to begin a conversation about what it might look like to gather on a regular basis in order to make collective decisions about goals and objectives particularly important to defined affinity groups.

The agenda was designed to focus on an introduction to regenerative poultry systems on the first day and expand to apply that learning to social systems design practices on the second day. Each day opened and closed with a spiritual ceremony that allowed guests to become grounded and express gratitude for the opportunity to come together. So often at conferences it is difficult to find time in the day for reflection as there are many different activities happening at the same time. By having all the programming happening in one room we were able to have a shared understanding and recollection of the event.

Another important element of the Regenerative Poultry Convergence was the presence of translation services for both days of the event. One of the highlights of the event was a farmer panel that allowed for real-life perspectives to be shared as well as for the attendees to ask questions directly. This exchange benefited greatly from the ability to communicate clearly, which would not have been possible without the presence of translators. This will continue to be a priority as we seek to share and develop programming and curriculum within an inclusive design.

Dr. Carrie Jennings, Research and Policy Director at Freshwater, and Dr. John Beck, professional soil scientist, both presented on the impacts of regenerative farm practices on the soil and water. As a part of a collective of scientists, they are conducting groundbreaking field work within the regenerative poultry ecosystem. The development and findings of their studies will continue to validate the system’s attributes and will be a central theme at future convergences.

Ana Fochesatto, currently pursuing her Ph.D at UW-Madison, presented her findings from conducting a range of interviews with regenerative poultry farmers over the course of the last two years. Ana uses a grounded theory approach in order to conduct interviews with farmers that have chosen to join the regenerative poultry system. There are currently eleven producer farms within the border region of Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Iowa, with more coming on board in 2022. Ana’s work will further the understanding of how farmers and organizers are framing their efforts to change the food system across the Midwest.

On the second day, we had a chance to hear support from two government officials while enjoying a delicious lunch that featured Tree-Range® chicken. Minnesota’s Lieutenant Governor, Peggy Flanagan, shared virtual remarks and Senator Patricia Torres Ray attended the convergence both days. Senator Torres Ray talked about the importance of entrepreneurship and innovation in the field of agriculture as well as the vital role immigrant farmers play in the United States’ food systems. The food system that we seek to build requires that the ownership, governance, and control lie in the hands of those that directly participate and work within the agricultural system.

Avian flu was also center stage. Dr. Greg Suskovic from the Minnesota Board of Animal Health addressed core strategies related to dealing with the highly pathogenic strains of avian flu and biosecurity measures. Whether it is human health or the health of animals, it is critical to understand the facts and best practices to create a safe environment. This continued education and learning is imperative. Although sometimes things can feel out of our control, it is apparent that when we come together with a cooperating spirit, we can have difficult conversations and a better chance to find solutions than going at it alone.

The Regenerative Agriculture Alliance sent out a survey in an effort to learn more about what the key take-aways of the Regenerative Poultry Convergence were for attendees. The power of collectivism, a demonstration of hope and vision, and a better understanding of the regenerative poultry ecosystem presented themselves as common threads for those that attended.

Greta Larson with Iroquois Valley Farms shared that she had “Infinite takeaways. What I have been communicating after the convergence is a hopeful vision of farmers having the opportunity to integrate into a community, an ecosystem, and enterprise.” Helen Forsynthe with Feed the People Farm shared that she “took away a better understanding and grounding in being a part of a robust network and system, and greater sense of how this could all unfold, and deeper connections to other farmers and people within this network.”

Many attendees expressed their interest in a more in-depth workshop and training on how to deploy the regenerative poultry system. As the summer season approaches, the Regenerative Agriculture Alliance is teaming up with Clean River Partners to host a series of workshops and field days on various poultry farms in Minnesota. Additionally, the regenerative poultry framework is being translated into a virtual training program that will be available to farmers. The best way to stay connected to the Regenerative Agriculture Alliance and upcoming events is to subscribe to our newsletter and follow us on our social media channels.

Whether it’s on the landscape, on the grocery shelves, or in meeting rooms, one thing is abundantly clear. Regeneration doesn’t happen on a farm, through a product, or because of one individual business or an organization. True regeneration happens at the ecosystem level. On March 10-11, we shared an experience that marked a new phase of our collective regenerative poultry systems story. A story that will continue to grow and evolve for generations. It is our intention that the act of hosting a convergence will inspire other regenerative agricultural sectors to start finding their collective voice and power, and to start sharing their intentions and plans for regeneration.

Diane Beck is the Community Engagement Director for the Regenerative Agriculture Alliance.

Issue: May 2022
By: Diane Beck