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Tag: organic farming

Black Wind Farm: An investment in a veteran farmer’s journey to farmland ownership in New York

We are so proud to welcome Justin Butts to our portfolio. Justin is a first-generation, Navy veteran farmer with extensive and varied experience – he’s a farmer, a small business owner, and a chef. Hear Justin tell his story in this Sustainable Dish podcast episode.

Justin was the livestock manager at Soul Fire Farm, “an Afro-Indigenous centered community farm committed to uprooting racism and seeding sovereignty in the food system.” Soul Fire Farm’s wide-ranging and deeply impactful work was featured in Vogue in summer 2020 – read the article here. Justin continues his relationship with Soul Fire through their Braiding Seeds Fellowship, an in-depth mentorship & professional development program for farmers of color in collaboration with the Federation of Southern Cooperatives. Justin maintained a small animal herd on land leased in partnership with Laughing Earth Farm as he navigated his path toward farmland ownership. In regards to other farms and organizations that helped Justin along the way, he shares that “I would not be the farmer I am today without The Seed Farm,” an organization in Pennsylvania where he learned a lot of his initial skills as a farmer. Wilklow Orchards also helped by leasing Justin land during college and supplying the kitchen and storage space to start his soap business. 

We met Justin by referral from Local Farms Fund, a mission-aligned farmland investing company that owned the property Justin wanted to purchase. The 103 acre property is on a windy bluff in Albany County, New York and will be named Black Wind Farm. Justin has years of experience producing & selling artisanal soaps from his heritage Kune Kune breed hogs’ lard through his value-added business, Butts Bros Handmade Lard Soap. Justin’s expansive vision for the farm includes continuing the soap business as well as direct-to-consumer offerings of diversified livestock products, on-farm educational experiences, and habitat restoration.

He is also considering Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) carbon sequestration programs. Justin plans to plant a windbreak along the farm and restore four acres of wetlands and riparian habitat while maintaining perennial pasture. Justin is using management-intensive grazing techniques to rotate his herds and flocks of heritage breed pigs, sheep, broiler and laying chickens, and whole turkeys, in addition to growing produce. Justin intends to plant an orchard and fruiting shrubs that visitors to the farm can pick in a do-it-yourself program.

Working with Justin inspired Iroquois Valley to pilot an improved risk-assessment during the underwriting process which weighs land stewardship practices and community engagement along with financial metrics. Evolving our risk assessment is an intentional way to further broaden the way we approach partnerships and offers material support to more traditionally underserved borrowers. We look forward to deepening this work and continuously evolving how we share risk and offer support to the farmers in our network.

Eli’s Ridge: Pasture & forest-raised livestock in the heart of North Carolina

Shawn and Jennifer Hatley are fourth-generation farmers in Stanly County who raise sheep, pigs, cows, ducks, and chickens with their sons, Blake and Eli. The Hatleys apply sustainable and regenerative farming principles and work within a perennial pasture and forest-based farming system (also known as silvopasture) in Oakboro, a suburb of Charlotte. We approved financing for the Hatleys to purchase a 108-acre property from Shawn’s father, David Hatley, by the end of August, marking what will be Iroquois Valley’s first investment in North Carolina. This investment allows the younger generation of Hatleys to expand operations and take on ownership of their father’s land.

Although the Hatleys have experience with organic management, they have not pursued certification before, opting instead for Animal Welfare Approved. As a result of our investment, they will certify their land organic this coming year. Land stewardship is a prominent value to the Hatley family having partnered with the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) to protect a creek and riparian habitat on the property. They look forward to further conservation projects in years to come.

Building Community & Giving Back

Over the last decade, Shawn and Jennifer have created a collection of products and brands to bring value added farm products to market, including The Naked Pig Rendered Leaf Fat, Sun Raised Farms Lamb Salami, EggsbyEli.com, and Blake’s Creek Ranch beef. In July, the Hatleys purchased Rayfield Meat Center, a beloved country store and USDA inspected processing facility in neighboring Anson County, to vertically integrate operations. Rayfield Meat Center has been serving a diverse community for more than 50 years and the Hatleys plan to expand processing capacity through Rayfield Meats to serve more eaters and farmers in the region. The Hatleys also work with a nonprofit organization called My Father’s Cows, sourcing beef from local farmers for distribution through churches to people experiencing food insecurity. Their egg business, EggsbyEli, has a food ministry component, as well as pooling excess double-yolk and turkey eggs from their own and other local farmers in the area, delivering to the local feeding ministries. The Hatleys look forward to serving more with this investment from Iroquois.

Dr. George Washington Carver: More than a peanut man

George Washington Carver holding a piece of soil in a field, 1906. Library of Congress.

Celebrating Dr. George Washington Carver’s Impact on Sustainable Agriculture

Dr. Carver had a profound impact on sustainable farming practices in the South

Iroquois Valley was one of the first finance companies to support organic farmers, dating back to 2007. However, many years before us, Dr. George Washington Carver was applying organic practices to improve soil health. In honor of Juneteenth, we are celebrating the legacy of Dr. George Washington Carver, a Black farmer who was among the first to formally recognize the importance of cover crops (particularly the peanut) and diverse crop rotations.

While Dr. Carver is often cited in textbooks as the “Father of the Peanut Industry”, he has accomplished much more than his discoveries of over three hundred peanut products. His influence on sustainable agriculture and economic and social justice for Black farmers in the South is not widely known but is incredibly important to acknowledge. 

George Washington Carver at the Tuskegee Institute, 1906. Library of Congress.

Prior to becoming a world-class researcher and botanist, Dr. Carver was born into slavery in 1864. As a child, Dr. Carver wasn’t allowed to get an education at a public school but attended a school for Black children while working on a farm in southwest Missouri. Eventually, Dr. Carver studied agriculture and botany at Iowa State University and was the school’s first Black student. Following his graduation from ISU, he was invited to lead the Agriculture Department at Tuskegee University where he remained for 47 years. In his tenure at Tuskegee, Dr. Carver was particularly interested in sustainable agriculture as a practical solution for improving the lives of poor Black farmers in the South. 

At the time, many farmers in the South grew exclusively tobacco or cotton, and Dr. Carver quickly noticed the negative effects that monoculture farming had on the health of the soil. Cotton in particular has shallow roots and that combined with monocropping meant that soil eroded more quickly from a piece of land than if the soil was left bare. All across the South, soil was depleted of nutrients. Extensive nitrogen fertilizers seemed to be the only solution to restore the soil. 

In an effort to improve soil health and conserve the land, Dr. Carver encouraged farmers to diversify their crop rotations. He recognized that by producing multiple crops and rotating them every other year, rather than growing solely cotton or tobacco, farmers could restore soil health. Dr. Carter also determined that sweet potatoes and legumes had a positive impact on soil health. He was particularly fascinated by the peanut with its deep roots and its ability to add nitrogen back into the soil, thereby reducing the need for fertilizers. 

George Washington Carver in a laboratory at Tuskegee University in 1938. U.S. Department of Agriculture

Back at Tuskegee, Dr. Carver founded a research lab where he worked tirelessly to develop new applications for peanuts, sweet potatoes, and pecans. By the end of his career, he discovered more than 300 new uses for peanuts (including food products, cosmetics, and glues). In 1917, he published the prominent bulletin “How to Grow the Peanut and 105 Ways of Preparing It for Human Consumption.” 

His work with peanuts contributed to the economic improvement of the South and development of Georgia’s peanut industry. Nevertheless, peanuts were a hobby to Dr. Carver, and his main focus was on teaching poor southern farmers how to farm more sustainably. Many years after his research on peanuts was published, Dr. Carver’s guide to diversifying crop rotations “remains the standard for sustainable agriculture in the South and continues to lead to new developments for improving sustainability.” 

Following Dr. Carver’s death in 1943, President Franklin D. Roosevelt famously said, “the world of science has lost one of its most eminent figures.” We couldn’t agree more, and we are grateful to Dr. Carver and his team for all of their important work in advancing social justice and sustainable agriculture! 

Sources: 

Kaufman, Rachel. (2019, February 21). In Search of George Washington Carver’s True Legacy. Smithsonian Magazine. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/search-george-washington-carvers-true-legacy-180971538/.

Missouri Department of Agriculture. (n.d.). George Washington Carver: History of an Educator, Innovator, Leader. https://agriculture.mo.gov/gwc.php.

National Peanut Board. (n.d.). What You Didn’t Learn in School: George Washington Carver Wrote the Book on Sustainability. https://www.nationalpeanutboard.org/news/what-you-didnt-learn-in-school-george-washington-carver-wrote-book-on-sustainability.

Sandborn, Dixie. (2019, February 13). George Washington Carver’s contributions to agriculture in the U.S. Michigan State University Extension. https://www.canr.msu.edu/news/george-washington-carvers-contributions-to-agriculture.

2021 Holiday Gift Guide

Iroquois Valley is excited to share our annual gift guide featuring products grown by the farmers we partner with – 2021 has been an exceptional year, and we hope that you have been able to enjoy local and organic foods, diverse and thriving landscapes, and intentional relationships with your communities throughout it all. This year’s gift guide is illustrated by Evanston-based artist, George Folz who specializes in commissioned drawings of animals, family portraits, and people. Check out his website here, and scroll below for products available across the country as well as products available in certain regions. Best wishes for a healthy and joyous holiday season!

NATIONALLY AVAILABLE PRODUCTS

Janie’s Mill (IL): Janie’s Mill organic-milled products and grains include specialty flours, bran, and whole wheat berries. Visit their online store here. Make sure to check out their recipes for baking with heirloom grains.

Mint Creek Farm (IL): Year-round CSA shares, eggs, poultry, meat, & honey raised on organic prairie pastures. Visit their online store here. Products available for home delivery or local pick-up.

Singing Pastures (ME): Charcuterie and roam sticks made from heritage pork raised on organic pastures. Visit their online store here.

Prairie Fruits Farm (IL): Goat cheese and dairy products, including gift boxes. Visit their online store here. Goats raised in a silvopasture system that incorporates fruit trees and bushes that also flavor some of the products. Note: some products only available for pick-up at their farmstand.

Meadowlark Organics (WI): Organically grown grains, available as flour, rolled, and whole berries, as well as heirloom dry beans. Visit their online store here.

Vilicus Farms (MT): Organic lentils and grains grown by our partners at Vilicus Farms and other organic farmers in the Northern Great Plains. Visit their online store here.

Y-Ker Acres (MN): Heritage pork and grass fed beef raised on pasture in the North Woods of Minnesota. Shop their curated boxes and available cuts through their online store. Nationwide shipping and local delivery available throughout Duluth, the Twin Cities, and the North Shore.

Vermont Natural Beef (VT): Currently sold out. Grass-fed beef available in gift boxes and by the cut raised on organically managed pastures. Check back on their online store for future availability!

Doudlah Farms (WI): Over twenty varieties of organic artisan products including beans, flours, honey, and sunflower seeds. Check out the farm’s story and their products here.

Evergreen Ranching (SD): Audubon-Certified ranch that produces meats, jerky, and raw dog food / dog treats. If you are looking for something for yourself or your furry friend, shop their online store here. Items are also available for pick-up in Rapid City, SD and Sturgis, SD.

LOCALS-ONLY PRODUCTS

The Little Farm By the Sea (WA): Currently sold out. Grass-fed beef and pasture-raised poultry raised on the Olympic Peninsula in a silvopasture system that incorporates grasses, forage, and trees. Visit their online store here to check for future availability. Free delivery to the greater Puget Sound and Western Washington area.

The Pasturage (MI): Heritage pork cuts available now: bacon, fat back, smoked ham & hocks, sausage: (breakfast, bratwurst, Italian, German style Kielbasa), leaf fat, loin roast, pork chops, smoked shoulder roast, organs & neck bones, pork steak, shoulder roast, and spare ribs.

Email thepasturage@gmail.com to order pork or purchase a Square gift card for future orders. Pick-up at the Muskegon Farmers Market or at the farm. Local delivery may be available – email to inquire.

Featherstone Farm (MN): Sign up for a winter or summer CSA share! Featherstone Farm is a certified organic produce farm offering customized CSA shares for both summer (18 weeks) and winter shares (9 weeks). Available throughout the Twin Cities, as well as in Rochester, La Crosse, and Winona – find a full list of CSA pick-up locations here and learn more at the Featherstone Farm website.

Chehalis Valley Farm (WA): Pasture-raised poultry and forest-raised pork that is sustainably and ethically grown in the Chehalis River Valley outside of Elma, WA. Find it at local farmer’s markets in Olympia, Proctor, and Bellevue or order through South Sound Fresh. The meats can also be ordered directly through their online store for pick-up at the farm or a farmer’s market.

SUPPORT IROQUOIS VALLEY THIS HOLIDAY SEASON

Iroquois Valley is proud to partner with farmers raising good food across the country. We believe that land security enables land stewardship – our work supports farmers and their businesses. Investing with Iroquois Valley allows us to grow and partner with more farmers raising food in ways that enliven our soils, ecosystems, and communities. Learn more about our investment options here or set up a conversation by emailing invest@iroquoisvalley.com.

Iroquois Valley presented at the 2021 Regenerative Food Systems Investment Forum

The 2021 Regenerative Food Systems Investment (RFSI) Forum was held September 28-29 in Oakland, CA, and we were honored to have two of our staff members present at the conference. The RFSI Forum catalyzes conversation, advances education, and drives increased investment in regenerative agriculture and food, and attendees include global stakeholders that are committed to transforming our food system. Our key takeaways from the conference include: 

  • Reflecting on questions posed at the start of the conference by Esther Park of Cienega Capital and the #NoRegrets Initiative: How can we change investors’ mindsets and value systems to view investments through an intersectional lens? Investors might want to consider asking: does this investment place priority on beauty, diversity, and complexity? Where does the wealth go, and who benefits from it? Are there ways for wealth to be more equitably distributed? 
  • Asking ourselves how we can measure the emotional and economic health of our farmers?
  • Celebrating one of the farmers in our portfolio, Regi Haslett-Marroquin of Salvatierra Farm, and his contributions to a panel that asked how can we continue to fund justice and equity innovation

Claire Mesesan, Iroquois Valley’s Vice President of Farmer Relations, spoke on a panel entitled “Real Asset Investment Strategies.” Alongside her fellow panelists from SLM Partners and Biome Capital, Claire highlighted Iroquois Valley’s commitment to organic and regenerative farmers and ranchers with our farmer-first model. When asked if investors can make a bigger impact supporting row crop operations or perennial crop operations, she emphasized that annual cropping systems and perennial cropping systems can coexist: both types can sequester carbon and build soil health. Iroquois Valley’s portfolio supports farmers raising annual crops, perennial crops, livestock and dairy on pasture, and much more, often simultaneously in diversified operations. Investors can create impact supporting a wide range of organic and regenerative operations. 

The following day, Donna Holmes, Iroquois Valley’s Vice President of Investor Relations, presented at a panel titled “Bringing Institutional Capital to Regenerative.” Institutional capital is necessary to drive innovation and advance change across our food system, yet there is a significant gap between the demand for institutional capital and the supply. Donna recommended that we collaborate with institutions to design products that fit their needs. Further, she agreed with other panelists that a consistent definition of regenerative agriculture may be needed before more institutions commit capital to this movement. 

We were proud to sponsor the RFSI Forum, and we look forward to more networking, collaboration, and innovation with key players in the regenerative agriculture and food system arena. 

Financing organic farmers: opportunity intertwined with a challenge

We are pleased to announce Donna Holmes as our new VP, Investor Relations. She replaces Alex Mackay in this position as Alex has left Iroquois Valley to pursue other opportunities. Donna joins us with more than 15 years of experience in business development and investor relations. Her extensive educational background in law and taxation and her enthusiasm for organic farming make her an invaluable addition to Iroquois Valley. Outside of work, Donna enjoys gardening in her downtown Chicago apartment and cycling along Lake Michigan. To schedule an introductory call with Donna, please email her at invest@iroquoisvalleyfarms.com

Donna has recently been featured in Chicago’s Daily Herald: Business Ledger. Click here to read the article on the Daily Herald’s website or scroll down to read the full article.

When President Biden released his plan to protect and grow the rural economy earlier this year, he called for investing in programs that would help farmers reduce their environmental impact while increasing their productivity, profitability, and ability to sequester carbon from the atmosphere.

The goals that Biden’s plan highlights — carbon sequestration through planting cover crops, increasing farm productivity and resilience, and reducing emissions — are core tenets of regenerative agriculture, a more natural way of farming that we at Iroquois Valley Farmland REIT, a nationally recognized Certified B Corp, are well familiar with. After all, Iroquois Valley and its hundreds of mission-minded investors have been helping small farmers increase their organic and regenerative land holdings for nearly 15 years.

Farming is a volatile industry. Food prices and weather patterns fluctuate. Financing options are equally unpredictable. But our experience shows that organic farming is more predictable, more productive, and more profitable than conventional agriculture methods. Studies by our partners at the Rodale Institute and the Organic Farming Research Foundation, and others have found it’s better for our health, our soil, and the planet.

Yet despite the continual, rapid growth of the $60 billion U.S. organic market, organic land makes up less than 1% of our farmland. In Illinois it’s even less: about 39,000 acres out of 27 million. To Iroquois Valley, our investors, and our farmers, these figures represent a problem but also an opportunity.

For most of Iroquois Valley’s existence, investment opportunities were limited to accredited investors who were willing to make long-term commitments of capital, and to share risk with our farmers. We amassed a roster of hundreds of financial advisers, institutions, and individuals financing dozens of farmers across the country. Yet we realized this exclusivity limited our impact.

In 2019 we opened our portfolio to nonaccredited retail investors. There was a long-standing reason for this: We wanted regular people to also be able to support a healthy farm economy, from the soil to the food to the farmers. We knew there were investors out there who didn’t want to play the stock market and who sought a real connection to what their money supported, in this case, ownership of high-quality American organic farmland.

But we also recognized the business case: protection from market forces, flexibility for long-term investors, more stability in our portfolio, and more muscle to increase our holdings and grow organic farmland across the United States.

We correctly predicted the appetite for such an offering. In 2020 despite the disruptions from the pandemic and its economic fallout, Iroquois Valley saw record levels of new investment. More than 130 new investors — nearly half of them nonaccredited retail investors — committed more than $14 million. Not only that, but our land holdings grew by 10% and our stock price grew to $618, steadily growing from $260 in 2008, proving that the value of organic farmland continues to grow.

Would our number of shareholders have grown in 2020 had we not expanded our offering? Perhaps. But because we saw the powerful value of bringing retail investors into the fold, Iroquois Valley — and its investors — were able to make a much greater impact in this vital quest to grow organic land in the United States.

The mission — and opportunity — is even greater as the effects of climate change become more apparent.

As David Miller, Iroquois Valley’s co-founder and CEO, often says: “There’s no liquidity on a dead planet.”

Restoring the Agricultural Richness of Pembroke

Located one hour south of Chicago, the Pembroke Township in Illinois was once home to the largest Black farming community north of the Mason-Dixon line. Today, less than 50% of this land is owned by descendants of the farming families. Iroquois Valley, in partnership with Black Oaks Center, Savanna Institute, Conservation Fund, Food Finance Institute, and Fresh Taste, was awarded a Conservation Collaboration Grant in 2020 to support this farming community with the financial and technical resources necessary to expand and diversify the region’s agroforestry production. 

As part of this grant, Black Oaks Center recently hosted an Open House for all Pembroke landowners to attend and learn more about federal funding opportunities. Present at the event were Conservation Fund, Savanna Institute, Iroquois Valley, and Renewable Pembroke. The Farm Service Agency (FSA) was also available to sign up landowners for FSA programs – their first step in accessing National Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) services. John Steven Bianucci, Iroquois Valley’s Director of Conservation, reported that over 25 landowners registered with the FSA. 

Overall, the event was a big success, increasing the momentum for Pembroke farming.

5 Things We Must Do To Improve the U.S. Healthcare System

Shifting to organic practices on a large scale has enormous potential to regenerate soils, ecosystems, rural economies, our food system, and so much more.”

Dr. Stephen Rivard

Authority Magazine, a Medium publication, is devoted to sharing interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable. As a part of Authority Magazine’s interview series called “5 Things We Must Do To Improve the U.S. Healthcare System”, Luke Kervin, Co-Founder of PatientPop, had the pleasure to interview Dr. Stephen Rivard, co-founder of Iroquois Valley Farmland REIT. You can read the article below or view it on the original site here.

A native of rural Illinois with strong family ties to agriculture, Dr. Stephen Rivard practiced emergency medicine for 26 years, where he observed an increase in the number of patients seeking treatment for diet and environment-related illnesses. These experiences motivated Dr. Rivard’s interest in food as medicine and, in 2007, Dr. Rivard and his lifelong friend Dave Miller founded Iroquois Valley Farmland REIT, a Best for the World B Corp and public benefit corporation, to provide land security to organic farmers. With the support of over 600 impact investors, Iroquois Valley has built a portfolio that includes nearly 100 farmland investments, impacting over 17,000 acres of farmland across 15 states and representing $70 million in assets.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into our interview, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

My father died at age 42 from a heart attack. This destabilizing event influenced my decision to enter medicine. It’s hard to imagine now, but emergency medicine was a new field when I graduated from medical school. As a new doctor, the opportunity to be part of an emerging, highly integrative field was appealing. Because I had so many varied interests, emergency medicine felt like the best fit.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

In the ER, we were exposed to many extraordinary and often tragic events. Two pivotal experiences for me involved agrichemicals: on one occasion, I cared for a 4-year-old boy who was playing in his dad’s shed and spilled a bottle of an organophosphate insecticide on himself. The child died of heart and lung failure. On another occasion, a farmer arrived at the hospital with exposure to the same insecticide when he was in the field spraying. Thankfully, the farmer survived this experience, but he spent many days in the ICU on a ventilator. These were my first encounters with agrichemicals and their negative impact on human health. I was astonished that these same chemicals are widespread in our food system and used to grow food.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I made the mistake of underestimating one of my patients. I assumed my 93-year-old patient would be too weak to get herself up on a gurney. I offered my assistance, but she stepped up on the stool and hopped onto the bed. Surprised, I said with a smile that she reminded me of my mother.

“How old is your mother?” she asked. I responded that my mom is 78 years old.

“Oh, to be 78 again,” she said. It was a lesson to not judge what a person is capable of doing and to enjoy your life at every age. In fact, I am in the process of retiring from practicing medicine. I’m looking forward to being even more involved with Iroquois Valley. For this next stage of my life, I plan to participate in public-facing advocacy to bring awareness to the link between food and health.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

I often say that “anything worth doing is worth doing badly,” to convey that perfection should not get in the way of progress. It can be discouraging to be a beginner at something and to be out of your element. For example, I was terrible when I started learning piano, and I also sounded silly when I started learning French. We have to remember that mistakes are a part of life and that it takes courage to get going.

When my fellow co-founder Dave Miller and I started Iroquois Valley, I knew nothing about finance, but I knew what I’d seen practicing medicine and that something needed to be done about the converging food and health crises. Dave’s experience in finance made our partnership successful. I’m proud of how far the company has come and for the learning we did along the way.

How would you define an “excellent healthcare provider”?

A knowledgeable doctor is valuable, and coupled with empathy, that doctor is invaluable. It’s important that healthcare practitioners listen to their patients and treat their patients as holistically as possible.

What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to be a better healthcare leader? Can you explain why you like them?

There is a direct connection between the book Silent Spring by Rachel Carson and my work at Iroquois Valley. Carson concluded that DDT and other pesticides had irrevocably harmed ecosystems and contaminated our food supply. Another book that influenced me is Living Downstream by cancer survivor and ecologist Dr. Sandra Steingraber. Iroquois Valley is uncompromising in our support of organic farmers because they don’t use the harmful chemicals that are so common in the industry. It’s important for our healthcare leaders to understand the link between how we farm and human health.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

Iroquois Valley is developing an agroforestry and integrated crop farming campus at Rock Creek Farms in Will County, Illinois. This showcase farm will be open to the public and is about 50 miles outside of Chicago.

For the most part, crop farmers in the Midwest operate in monocultures of corn, beans, and wheat. At Rock Creek, we are practicing agroforestry at scale to integrate annual and perennial crops; for example, interplanting native fruit trees with alfalfa hay. Alley cropping and silvopasture are being incorporated along with riparian buffers and wind breaks. We are restoring wetlands to increase biodiversity and have planted over 10,000 trees. Food will be sold on the farm to feed and educate the local community. It is a multi-stakeholder venture involving Savanna Institute, the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, Rodale Institute, Village Farmstand, Prairie Fruits Farm & Creamery, and Healing Soils Foundation. Prairie Fruits currently sells its cheese throughout the Chicago foodshed as well as various sweetgreen locations. Rock Creek can support farms in our network and in the region to expand their businesses.

At Rock Creek, we will also conduct soil testing and nutrient density testing on food grown at this campus. I’m troubled by studies that show declines in food’s nutritional quality. Between climate change and widespread practices in agriculture that degrade soil health, I feel that some of the most powerful work I can be engaged in is to restore soil health through organic and regenerative practices. Doing this work at Rock Creek will hopefully produce more data points demonstrating that healthy soils grow healthy foods that contribute to the overall health of people.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the main focus of our interview. According to this study cited by Newsweek, the US healthcare system is ranked as the worst among high income nations. This seems shocking. Can you share with us 3–5 reasons why you think the US is ranked so poorly?

This actually does not shock me at all. During my years in the ER, I noticed a disturbing trend toward poorer health. I sometimes feel that we are sicker now as a population than we were when I first began practicing medicine.

Think about this:

  • Food allergies have increased.
  • Obesity is a significant health concern in America. It’s often accompanied with heart disease, hypertension, and diabetes and produces costly medical issues. In fact, when I first started practicing medicine, we referred to Type 2 diabetes as Adult Onset Diabetes because it occurred so rarely in children and teenagers. That’s changed, too.
  • Chronic inflammation, exacerbated by a diet of conventionally grown foods, can lead to obesity, diabetes, stress, mental health problems, and other negative health outcomes that are avoidable.
  • Neurologic diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s are more common, too.
  • Colorectal cancer is far more common, especially in people under 50. It’s been linked to chronic inflammation, declines in gut health, and diet, according to the National Cancer Institute.

The more I studied, the more aware I became aware that many of our medical issues are food related. At the same time, the costs of healthcare have skyrocketed. My reasoning tells me that these trends are not sustainable — we need to change our approach to healthcare, and I believe we should start with food and prevention.

As a “healthcare insider”, If you had the power to make a change, can you share 5 changes that need to be made to improve the overall US healthcare system? Please share a story or example for each.

1) Provide everyone in the U.S., especially children, with access to high-quality, organic food. Currently, only 1% of US farmland is organic. Shifting to organic practices on a large scale has enormous potential to regenerate soils, ecosystems, rural economies, our food system, and so much more.

2) Invest in nutrition education throughout medical school. When I was in medical school, we spent no time learning about the way food interacts with health. Since then, there have been some improvements, but in my opinion, we have made surprisingly little progress integrating nutrition into medicine. Pharmaceuticals are undoubtedly important and valuable in medicine, but I might spend a proportionate amount of time on food as both prevention and treatment, where applicable.

3) Clean our water. Water is critical to life on this planet, and I am incredibly concerned about pollution, including runoff from agriculture. Each year the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico grows, largely from fertilizers used on conventional farms throughout the Mississippi River watershed. For the sake of the planet and all of us living on it, this cannot continue.

4) Improve air quality. Respiratory illnesses are also on the rise, and they are exacerbated by wildfires fueled by climate change. In addition, inner city residents have higher rates of respiratory diseases, often due to their proximity to the pollution from industry and highways. We have a lot to learn about what the long-term effects COVID-19 will have on respiratory health. As I’ve indicated, I firmly believe that preventing disease is much better and more cost effective than surgical or other kinds of post-medical interventions.

5) Educate. We have to change a lot of people’s minds about how we farm, and the more hard science we have, the better. As mentioned, we are working on a Midwest showcase farm outside Chicago to demonstrate and teach best-practice organic farming methods that includes agroforestry integration. In addition, testing will be conducted to provide more data points on the benefits of farming in these ways.

What concrete steps would have to be done to actually manifest these changes? What can a) individuals, b) corporations, c) communities and d) leaders do to help?

a) Individuals: Buy organic food directly from farmers or at a trusted grocery store like Village Farmstand in Evanston, Ill. Many farmers in the Iroquois Valley network also sell directly to consumers through their websites. Get educated about organic farming. The Rodale Institute farm systems trial is a landmark, nearly 40-year comparison of conventional versus organic production. The Organic Farming Research Foundation has an organic for climate resilience campaign outlining the benefits of organic farming. Individuals can also support sustainable causes and organizations through their purchasing power, by donating time and money, and through investing in companies like Iroquois Valley whose work supports the future.

b) Corporations: Adopting responsible corporate practices more widely is a step towards the accountability we need from businesses. Iroquois Valley is a proud certified B Corp and public benefit corporation. This means that we have a corporate structure that supports social, environmental, and financial impact. We have been recognized for our impacts, and we have been named a Best for the World B Corp for multiple years. As a B Corp, we are required to consistently verify our impacts through a rigorous assessment process. We also report on the ways we are creating public benefit — in our case, to enable the production of healthy food, restore soils, and improve water quality by providing secure and sustainable farmland tenure. We believe that for-profit organizations need to be accountable to all stakeholders, including people and the planet.

c) Communities: Get educated and involved in local initiatives. For example, Iroquois Valley is in partnership with Black Oaks Center in Pembroke Township, which is a historically Black farming community south of Chicago. The township came together to develop a long-term sustainability plan prioritizing native ecosystem restoration, sustainable agriculture, and many health-giving quality-of-life measures. I’m inspired by this creative community-building.

d) Leaders: I would urge political leaders to look at the total long-term costs and impacts of conventional agriculture on human and planetary health. A particular concern for me is glyphosate (also known as Roundup), and in the U.S. we use over one million tons each growing season. Glyphosate has been linked to cancer and numerous states and international countries have limited or banned the herbicide. The pursuit of making food affordable through the industrial food model has come at a high cost.

The COVID-19 pandemic has put intense pressure on the American healthcare system, leaving some hospital systems at a complete loss as to how to handle this crisis. Can you share with us examples of where we’ve seen the U.S. healthcare system struggle? How do you think we can correct these issues moving forward?

I am not a virologist and don’t pretend to know the many intricacies of this specific disease. COVID-19 does appear to act differently from many of the viral diseases we have encountered in prior years. I’m also not a policymaker. It’s clear to me that this pandemic revealed how fragile many of our systems are, including healthcare.

How do you think we can address the problem of physician shortages?

There are many factors to consider, including the growing demand for healthcare. I believe that food — grown organically in healthy soils — is medicine. I think starting there and focusing on preventative medicine will be especially important moving forward.

How do you think we can address the issue of physician diversity?

I’m struck by how much work we have to do in many fields, including medicine. I think the events of the last year have brought racial and social justice issues home in so many ways that they weren’t before. I’m reflecting on the COVID-19 pandemic and its disproportionate impact on communities of color, both in the U.S. and internationally. I’m heartened because I have a sense that we’re approaching these topics more holistically than in other points of history that I’ve lived through. At Iroquois Valley, we participated in two training courses related to diversity, equity, and inclusion this year that I found enormously helpful. One starting point is to acknowledge and interrupt the biases we all have. We need passionate, intelligent, and caring physicians from all walks of life. We must work harder to support physicians of color to enter and thrive in our field.

I’m interested in the interplay between the general healthcare system and the mental health system. Right now, we have two parallel tracks, mental/behavioral health and general health. What are your thoughts about this status quo? What would you suggest to improve this?

Mental health is not my area of medical expertise. I have been following recent studies on the human gut microbiome that have shown a link between gut health and mental health. It is reasonable to believe that improving the way we eat could play a role in improving mental health.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I believe in the power of a grassroots movement. Iroquois Valley’s CEO Dave Miller and I started this work because we believe it is how we could make the most difference in the world. We are structured where accredited and non-accredited investors may support this movement with a minimum equity investment of roughly $10,000.

Organic farming is a way to restore health back to the planet. In addition, it can increase the flow of healthy and nutritious food that can help us prevent illness, shifting our healthcare system from reactive to preventative.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

For more information on Iroquois Valley Farmland REIT and its investment options, visit www.iroquoisvalley.com. You may sign up for our newsletter there and find links to our social media channels.

Thank you so much for these insights! This was very inspirational and we wish you continued success in your great work.

“We’re part of the solution: #fornature”: Celebrating the International Day for Biodiversity

“Biodiversity—the variation of life on Earth—is essential to healthy ecosystems and serves as nature’s own system of checks and balances.”

Rodale Institute

On May 22nd, the U.N.-sponsored International Day for Biological Diversity (IDB) was celebrated around the world. Events included visual art shows in the U.S., biodiversity presentations in Portugal, and gardening workshops in South Africa. The IDB reminds us that biodiversity is the solution to several sustainable development challenges, including food security, climate change, and health issues. 

Here at Iroquois Valley, we’re pleased to celebrate the biodiversity that organic farming encourages. Organic farming seeks to mirror nature and cultivates a diverse mix of microorganisms, plants, and animals on the land. This contrasts conventional farming practices, which eliminate biodiversity through the widespread use of toxic chemicals and monoculture cropping systems. Through crop rotations, cover crops, and soil amendments (like compost), organic farmers are transitioning land from degraded soil into a world teeming with a variety of organisms.

Photo Credit: Sharing Our Roots, a Minnesota-based farm in the Iroquois Valley portfolio

From the field: Farming regeneratively at Singing Pastures Farm

This piece originally appeared in a newsletter and is shared with permission from the Arbuckles at Singing Pastures. Iroquois Valley provided mortgage financing to the Arbuckles to establish their operation in Maine.

Singing Pastures has deep roots in farming. It’s not just a job, it’s a commitment to food and the global community we serve. We want to do the most good possible.  We’ve decided that “sustainable” isn’t good enough. We want to be regenerative.

In 2021, we’re committed to sequestering more carbon than we’ve ever sequestered before. We’re planting hundreds of apple, pear, chestnut, and acorn-bearing oaks that with time will help us to build healthy soil even faster. We’re making compost on an enormous scale. We’re planting willow trees along sensitive creek banks. Imagine in 5 or 10 years a herd of pigs grazing clover in the alleyways and apples under the trees!

Since beginning the regenerative management of our farm in coastal Maine, we have watched the wild, grassland loving species populations explode and come back to life. Ground nesting birds, coyotes, foxes, and about a million small mammals are living here in greater abundance than we have ever seen them. The pastures around our house are getting louder and louder as more wildlife sings and croaks and howls on summer nights. 

The result of our pigs living and grazing our fields has made the wildlife more abundant, the creeks are cleaner, the grass is thicker, the carbon in our soil is greater, and the entire ecosystem is healing!

This is one of the many examples of how human beings can be a positive, nurturing influence on the earth. We invite you to come with us on the journey and learn with us as we go.

Shop Singing Pastures regenerative pork products at their online store and at Thrive Market online.

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Events

2021 Holiday Gift Guide

December 3, 2021
Iroquois Valley is excited to share our annual gift guide featuring products grown by the farmers we partner with. Scroll below for products available across the country as well as products available in certain regions.

News

Iroquois Valley Farmland REIT, PBC Announces Bill Stoddart as CEO and Christopher Zuehlsdorff as COO

July 28, 2022
Iroquois Valley is proud to announce the hiring of William “Bill” Stoddart as CEO, effective July 11th, 2022, and Christopher Zuehlsdorff as COO, effective July 25th, 2022.

What We're Reading

Iroquois Valley joins Will County, IL farm alliance to improve soil health, water quality and local economies

August 20, 2021
We need a regional agricultural food, nutrition and conservation business plan that incentivizes farmers to continue producing economic, environmental and social benefits for another 100 years.  

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