First convergence marks turning point for the Regenerative Agriculture Alliance
Eleven farms are now operating in the system built by the Regenerative Agriculture Alliance with 20 more in the pipeline, and its first poultry processing facility in Stacyville, Iowa is now operating.
ALBERT LEA, Minn. — Construction of the framework for a regenerative poultry system meant to transform the local food system is underway.
The Regenerative Agriculture Alliance, who's founder and CEO is Reginaldo Haslett-Marroquin, is dedicated to bringing regenerative poultry products to market. Tree-Range® meat is raised on woody perennials in a habitat that is closest to poultry’s original geo evolutionary blueprint.
Since 2020 , the Regenerative Agriculture Alliance has grown exponentially. Eleven farms are now operating in the Tree-Range system, with 20 more in the pipeline, said Haslett-Marroquin, and the Regenerative Agriculture Alliance's first poultry processing facility in Stacyville, Iowa is now operating.
"It's a story of a whole ecosystem," said Haslett-Marroquin at the MOSES Organic Conference, a week before the Regenerative Agriculture Alliance's first ever convergence. "The regenerative poultry system is actually being nestled by a whole region rather than just a farm operation."
The first convergence
Haslett-Marroquin, who moved to Minnesota as an immigrant from Guatemala in 1992, said the Regenerative Agriculture Alliance Convergence brought together the "inner circle" of the system for the first time ever.
The two-day event held at the Wedgewood Cove Golf Club in Albert Lea on March 10-11 allowed participants to break out into smaller affinity groups and discuss how to best move the work forward. Tree-Range® chicken was served for lunch, while the Regenerative Agriculture Alliance team shared plans for deploying regenerative poultry as a regional innovation and economic development opportunity, as well as unveiling plans for the development of new regions across the country.
The convergence was held in Albert Lea, where the Regenerative Agriculture Alliance has partnered with the city to plan the construction of a value-added industrial park. Haslett-Marroquin predicted in 2020 that the park would be built within five years, and said it would process not just poultry but an aggregate of other sectors in the region by farms practicing regenerative agriculture at a system-level.
Diane Beck, community engagement director for the Regenerative Agriculture Alliance, said they decided to call it a convergence instead of a conference because it brought together people from different parts of the value chain.
"We have farmers in the room, we have investors, we have processors, we have consumers, and hopefully some buyers of Tree-Range chickens someday," said Beck.
At the community engagement day of the convergence, the system being built by the Regenerative Agriculture Alliance was lauded by Minnesota Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan and Patricia Torres Ray, a Democratic state senator from south Minneapolis.
"My office is proud to support this, these innovative systems that will advance the regenerative poultry system as a whole," said Flanagan. "Because data shows that this is a powerful climate change solution, and that BIPOC communities are best positioned to move it forward."
Flanagan said Minnesota has always been an agricultural leader, and it was time for the state to "scale regenerative agriculture," and demonstrate the economic opportunities that it represents for rural communities across the state.
Haslett-Marroquin called Torres Ray "a solid partner" for the Regenerative Agriculture Alliance from the very beginning.
Torres Ray was elected to the Minnesota Senate in 2006, and was the first Latina elected to the Minnesota Senate. Within her district she represents about 70,000 people, but Torres Ray said she gets people all the way from Rochester to Moorhead come to her, speaking in Spanish, saying that their senator doesn't want to meet with them.
"He works for you, she works for you — so they need to meet," said Torres Ray, as as translators from the convergence relayed her words to non-English speakers. "My work has been really about opening the doors."
As a token of appreciation, Haslett-Marroquin gifted Torres Ray a handmade table runner woven by Indigenous people in the highlands of Guatemala.
"Wherever you want to use it, as a way to remember that this is the beginning of a whole new story," he said to her.
Walking from the podium, Torres Ray wrapped the piece around her shoulders with pride.
While speaking to participants at the convergence, Haslett-Marroquin highlighted the first legislative support that the Regenerative Agriculture Alliance received in 2020, when the Legislature approved a small ($250,000) part of the bonding bill to explore the concept of a regenerative agriculture industrial park in partnership with the Albert Lea Economic Development Authority.
Working with Legislature to pass that bonding bill wasn't really about the money, said Haslett-Marroquin, it was about having conversations with lawmakers and understanding the process. When he and Wilber de la Rosa, manager of farmer outreach and technical assistance for the Regenerative Agriculture Alliance, talked to legislators over the bonding bill, Haslett-Marroquin said it was his first real interactions with senators and representatives.
"I got to see how the government works," said Haslett-Marroquin. "I never really cared to study that. As an immigrant, you have to focus your attention on pieces of the system — because this is such a massive system."
At the convergence was Colin Cureton, director of adoption and scaling for University of Minnesota's Forever Green Initiative. Through UMN, Cureton has worked for several years on perennial grains and also some woody perennials, including hazelnut and elderberry.
"I've long been interested in the free-range system," said Cureton, who's known Haslett-Marroquin for about 10 years. "I've supported the system since back then, and now we're trying to build higher level collaboration with it right now."
Haslett-Marroquin credited Cureton for leading a 30-member coalition to put the next major bill that would greatly benefit the Regenerative Agriculture Alliance. The bill, which would invest $10 million in value chain development for hazelnuts, elderberry, Kernza and camelina, was heard in the House and the Senate this month.
"The idea is to continue to support a continuous living coverage of the state of Minnesota," said Haslett-Marroquin of the bill. "For us, it means more hazelnuts, and more elderberries on the landscape, so that we can increase the throughput, and can build that throughput so we can deploy this industrial park in our way."
Also at the convergence was Joseph Rousu, founder and chief operations officer of Ogema Organics. He's a resident of the White Earth Reservation and member of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe.
Rousu has been growing licensed hemp in Minnesota since 2018. Before Ogema Organics, Rousu was farm planner for the hemp operation White Clay Industries, with business partner Douglas Lee on Lee's land.
"We were the very first tribal members to grow off of the reservation," said Rousu of him and Lee.
Rousu said he's interested in introducing livestock into his operation, and talked with Haslett-Marroquin at the convergence about his system designed for recreating the natural biome of the area of the region. But instead of raising jungle birds, Rousu wants to introduce birds native to his region.
"We have grouse and pheasants and lately there's been a repopulation of wild turkey," he said. "So we're thinking of ways to integrate or create some type of ruffed grouse, pheasant and wild turkey husbandry within the system."
"It's the exact same system, but they had chickens, and we got grouse," said Rousu. "They're the same birds, just you know, different feathers."
The Regenerative Agriculture Alliance's recently launched regenerative agriculture solutions platform has led to localized efforts to build out infrastructure.
At the convergence was Southeast Minnesota farmer Martin Larsen, who has been organizing and meeting with regional grain producers in the area to focus on supplying to the poultry system enough grain to come along.
Larsen, with Haslett-Marroquin and the Regenerative Agriculture Alliance's corporate partners, will meet with councils in Olmsted County this month to present evidence for them to invest $5 million in a county-level platform, to be used for transitioning farmers into regenerative systems. Those farms could then become part of the supply chain for the Regenerative Agriculture Alliance's regional depository system.
"Everything is connected — from the local county boards and the city officials, to the state," said Haslett-Marroquin.