Last Updated on September 17, 2023
At ButcherBox, we’re committed to working with farmers, ranchers, and farmer cooperatives that envision a better way. One approach that can benefit the environment, the financial well-being of farmers, and the lives of animals is regenerative farming. In a previous post, we explained what regenerative agriculture is and how farmers and ranchers can create positive changes in the health of their soil by embracing the key principles of the regenerative approach.
To more deeply understand what these practices look like in action, we’re connecting with farmers and ranchers throughout our supply chain to learn about the regenerative practices they’re using. Recently, we caught up with the Jovaag family from Austin, Minnesota who run a diversified multi-generational farm that is part of the Niman Ranch network of family farms. As an example of how regenerative farming works, we want to share how this approach has benefited the Jovaags and their farms’ most valuable resource, the soil.
Creating a Regenerative System – The Jovaag Family
Jon and Ruth Jovaag are proud practitioners of regenerative agriculture principles. Continuing the traditions of land stewardship begun by Jon’s parents, this husband-and-wife duo regularly test new regenerative practices on their farm. Jon Jovaag explained that to stay true to their regenerative agriculture approach, they ask the simple question, “How do we develop a system that works as a system in itself?”
For external inputs–such as fertilizer, for example—many farmers must rely on vendors, whose prices may fluctuate greatly. To avoid the uncertainty that causes, the Jovaags rely on regenerative principles, such as the rotational grazing of animals, to generate the vital inputs they need. Currently, the Jovaags raise pigs, sheep, cattle, and some chickens and thus have access to plenty of manure to apply to their fields.
“You don’t find an ecosystem out there without animals in it,” Jon and Ruth said, “You have to integrate livestock. Cattle, sheep, and pigs—all three of them intertwine to make it work.” As an example of the different roles animals can play in a regenerative ecosystem, Jon noted how their pigs are not only a product of their farm, but also offer a solution when experimentation goes awry. The Jovaags like to experiment with a variety of alternative cash crops and various cover crop mixes. If the experiments don’t work out—whether due to market interest or limited plant growth—they can bale up the unused crops and feed it to the pigs, averting a total loss.
“I am more willing to take risks because it can still be utilized,” Jon explained.
How Regenerative Farming Builds Resiliency
Pests, invasive species, and extreme weather are all major threats to farmers regardless of the practices they utilize. Regenerative principles help re-establish resilient ecosystems that enable farmers and their land to resist the potential adverse effects posed by these threats.
For example, the Jovaags plan to graze their pigs and sheep in a wooded area of their property that is prone to an invasive plant species in order to curb its spread. They have also started roller crimping their rye fields, which has been a “game-changer” for the health of their soil. This practice involves rolling over and crimping the stems of cover crops—such as rye— and flattening the crop against the field as a thick mulch—while simultaneously planting a cash crop (often soybeans). The roller crimping action ends the growing season for the cover crop naturally, without the need for herbicides or tillage, and keeps the cover crop physically on the land to suppress weeds for the cash crop. The process instantly creates a two-inch-thick mulch mat, which protects the soil by providing shade, preventing erosion, and retaining moisture as the soybean plant grows.
This practice also increases the land’s resiliency to drought, according to Jon. The Jovaags use moisture sensors in the ground to help them predict when they should provide water for their crops. Jon recalled a particularly dry period in which other neighboring farms were forced to irrigate their fields; meanwhile, the Jovaag’s sensors were indicating that their fields had sufficient moisture. It took 10 days before their sensors recommended watering the crops thanks to the roller-crimped mulch protecting the soil. This saved thousands of gallons of water that otherwise would have been needed for irrigation and helped the Jovaags grow a healthy crop.
How Your ButcherBox Supports Regenerative Farming
Whether creating their own fertilizer or finding ways to protect crops from harsh weather conditions, farmers and ranchers, such as the Jovaags, that use regenerative practices ensure the longevity of their farms and their economic futures. And, at their core, regenerative principles enable farmers to achieve these outcomes by restoring the quality of the soil. By being a ButcherBox member you are helping to support farmers, like the Jovaags, who are committed to these sustainable ecosystem practices and long-term soil health, which, ultimately, is better for the environment and for the food on your table.
Beyond partnering with families like the Jovaags and Niman Ranch, ButcherBox believes that there are other ways of supporting this work. Recently, ButcherBox backed a five-year research project, led by the Noble Research Institute, to investigate the connections between regenerative land management on grazing lands in the U.S. and soil health. It is our belief that this work will have ripple effects on the welfare of American farmers and ranchers.
Kelly Hilovsky is the Senior Manager of Social and Environmental Responsibility at ButcherBox. She has an MPH from Johns Hopkins and is committed to addressing complex social problems through the lenses of public health and food justice.