Common Wealth Partnership for a Regenerative Meat Value Chain in the Mid-Atlantic

With a $250,000 grant from the US Department of Agriculture’s Regional Food Systems Partnership program, Foodshed Capital is building capacity and collaboration with seven other organizations to scale the regenerative meat value chain in the Mid-Atlantic centered in Virginia.
It’s the How, not the Cow! Farming meat can be done in a climate-friendly way. Ruminants on the land are essential for ecosystem health. When allowed to graze freely, they help improve soil structure. Ruminants consuming forage under holistic management lower the climate impact of agriculture by drawing more carbon into pasture soil, roots, and plant material than the methane they produce. It is conventionally raised beef that produces higher levels of greenhouse gas  emissions, due to loss of carbon-sequestering pasture from conventional concentrated animal feeding, crop production with chemical fertilizers to produce grain for animal feed, and liquid manure storage facilities from confined animal husbandry.

Regenerative agriculture emulates natural processes through holistic management practices that rebuild organic matter in soil and restore soil biodiversity. Regenerative livestock management practices are pasture-based, and may include rotational grazing, diversified production, e.g., rotation of cattle with poultry and crop/livestock integration, and using animal manure to keep pastures healthy. Permanent cover cropping of forage plants reduces soil erosion and builds soil health. Minimizing the damage of tillage and inorganic fertilizers and biocides and incorporating forages and ruminants in agricultural ecosystems enhances biodiversity and wildlife habitat.
Constraints in the regenerative meat value chain. Regenerative meat production provides a premium product for a lucrative reason to conserve farmland. Besides reducing agriculture’s climate impact with plant and soil carbon sequestration, regenerative, pasture-based farming systems provide a marketing opportunity for prosperity of farming communities, but are limited by processing capacity and shortage of skilled meat cutters. Decentralizing meat processing strengthens resilience to food shortages as occurred with the Covid-19 pandemic.

For viable investment in small-scale processing, animal production for local slaughter must increase, which means building capacity of farmers and growing the market for local grass-fed meat. The processing constraint is multi-faceted, and requires a solution along the value chain addressing supply and demand factors, industry consolidation, access to capital, training meat cutters, capacity building in regenerative grass-fed farming, and marketing programs.

The Partnership. To develop a regional grass-fed meat value chain, the partnership will establish
regenerative meat certifications and producer networks; help farmers transition to regenerative
practices; facilitate investment in small-volume processing capacity that supports independent farmers and ranchers serving the regional market; and link to distribution and marketing.

The Partners. The Robinia Institute (https://robiniainstitute.com) at Timshel Wildland, a 400-acre
regenerative, conservation farm in Nelson County, VA, serves as Savory Institute hub, offering training and demonstration for holistic management. Robinia is scaling regenerative livestock production by promoting a method to measure ecological outcomes like biodiversity, soil health, and ecosystem functions of water and mineral cycles. Having an agreed method to quantify ecological outcomes of regenerative farming is key for enabling farmers to expand the regenerative meat market and participate in environmental markets like carbon credits that reimburse them for sustainable practices. Timshel Wildland is also establishing a regional producer network called Common Wealth and retail platform Commons Provisions 5 to aggregate and distribute ecologically verified meat products, using the Savory Institute’s Ecological Outcome Verification (EOV) protocol.

EOV is a soil and landscape assessment methodology that measures outcomes in biodiversity, soil health, and ecosystem function (water cycle, mineral cycle, energy flow and community dynamics) to quantify that a farmer’s management practices are regenerating the land base. Once certified, a farm can participate in Land to Market, Savory Institute’s regenerative sourcing roster that directs conscientious buyers, brands, and retailers to farms and ranches that are verified to be regenerating their land through holistic management.

Foodshed Capital (foodcap.org), a community microlender, will coordinate the partnership and set up an investment fund for regenerative meat production and small-scale meat processing, with Kitchen Table Consultants (www.kitchentableconsultants.com) providing investment strategy and business plans. American Farmland Trust (https://farmland.org/about/how-we-work/mid-atlantic-regional-office/), Future Harvest (www.futureharvestcasa.org), and Robinia will build capacity of producers to adopt regenerative grazing practices, while Kitchen Table Consultants and Foodshed Capital help farmers with the business aspects of operations. Future Harvest will leverage its Go Grass-fed marketing materials.

Building on a survey of six processors in the region on capacity and investment needs, Piedmont
Environmental Council (www.pecva.org/) will pilot a meat cutting training this fall in partnership with American Farmland Trust. An established multi-use food enterprise center, Hatch Richmond
(hatchrichmond.com), and a food hub distributor, 4P Foods (4pfoods.com), will provide value-added processing and market access for the increased meat production, as supply-side (production and slaughter) constraints are addressed.

The Regional Food System Partnerships program supports partnerships that connect public and private resources to plan and develop local or regional food systems. The program focuses on strengthening the viability and resilience of regional food economies through collaboration and coordination. The Foodshed Capital award is one of 30 partnerships awarded by USDA in 2021 in 24 states totaling $14.8 million. The grant is over a two-year period beginning November 15, 2021.

For more information.
On the partnership: Francesca Costantino at francesca@foodcap.org
On the EOV and Common Wealth producer network: Daniel Griffith at daniel@wildtimshel.com