FSA leader gets tour, taste of the Tree-Range Farm ecosystem

Reginaldo Haslett-Marroquin told Zach Ducheneaux that Tree-Range farms has created a blueprint for USDA's Farm Service Agency.

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Reginaldo Haslett-Marroquin, president of the Regenerative Agriculture Alliance, stands with Zach Ducheneaux, head of the USDA's Farm Service Agency, at Tree-Range Farm’s prototype poultry production site in Northfield, Minnesota on Feb. 17, 2023.
Noah Fish / Agweek

NORTHFIELD, Minn. — Zach Ducheneaux, who leads the USDA's Farm Service Agency, got a taste of Tree-Range Farm’s prototype poultry production site last week — along with the chicken that comes from it.

Daniel Mahoney, executive officer for the USDA, said the goal of Ducheneaux's trip to Minnesota was to attend the National Pheasant Fest and to promote the availability of the newest Conservation Reserve Program sign up period, which Mahoney said is the "flagship conservation program" at the agency.

"But when the administrator comes to Minnesota, he looks for other opportunities to talk about the other priorities of the department," Mahoney said. "One of those is access to credit, and improving our systems and processes by which we can access that."

Ducheneaux said he's been following the work of Reginaldo Haslett-Marroquin for a long time and wanted to check out the progress of his latest focus of scaling up of the Tree-Range regenerative poultry system.

"I recalled that there was a organization and a gentleman that I was familiar with in this part of the country, who was really at the cutting edge of some of these things, and reached out to our state staff to see if they could get me a visit," said Ducheneaux of Haslett-Marroquin and Tree-Range Farms.


Speaking of Tree Range Farm's newest site, purchased in 2020 with three mortgages that have since been paid in full, Haslett-Marroquin said that Tree-Range farms has "created a blueprint" that FSA should take serious note of.

"The blueprint includes how you go about it and how to engage with institutions, and this is where the FSA is gonna be the most important part," said Haslett-Marroquin. "You guys have to stick with us, and you guys really have to understand this system all the way through."

Mahoney said when looking at the Tree-Range model in Northfield, one of the linchpins is access to credit from the FSA for the producers who are involved in in the system.

"FSA now could potentially look at this as a system, and literally pre-qualify the farmers, because we have a full system in place," Haslett-Marroquin said. "No other farmer comes in with an application, and a whole ecosystem to support them, from contracts to the working capital, to the training and technical assistance ready to go."

Also on the tour was FSA staff from the national office that work exclusively on conservation.

"This particular model is very focused on conservation as an element of the agricultural production, and the opportunity for those staff to see this is really important," Mahoney said. "We only know so much when we're working at our desks, and so actually getting to see the implementation of a lot of the same processes that we're interested in, in a systemic way, is a good opportunity, even if it's February."

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Noah Fish / Agweek

Ducheneaux said the visit to Tree-Range Farm’s most established prototype poultry production unit — where the agronomic work for the production model has been developed — confirmed what he had heard about the system.

"It's a solution, and part of a grander solution that we really need to take a look at, if we're going to meaningfully empower producers to impact, for the better, climate change," Ducheneaux said. "The big thing, and the way Regi put it, I really appreciate, is that this isn't proving that indigenous knowledge works, and indigenous practices are effective — it's validating it. We just need the science to validate it, so that we can then begin to more effectively deploy resources towards more of this type of activity, that's based on that indigenous knowledge. It's really a more holistic examination of ecosystems."


Ducheneaux also got to tour Tree-Range Farm’s newest site, which is a demonstration and training farm, and the first to be built with full integration of the key farm enterprise components. The components include broiler production, agritourism, extended perennial cropping system, dorper sheep under silvopasture systems, water management at a larger scale and other critical aspects of the standard poultry-centered farming operations.

The 65-acre farm showcases an "economically viable farm enterprise assembly," according to Jen Zepeda, COO of Regenerative Ag Solutions, which she said Tree-Range Farms will seek to replicate "many hundreds of times to build the regional blueprints across the country."

"With the building, by making it simple, it's actually not only an economic advantage, but it's also a social advantage, because this building is easy to build, the amount of square footage is smaller, the production unit has all of it in place, and the architecture makes it more affordable," Haslett-Marroquin said. "Somebody's coming in, all you need is one production unit to join the system. That's one and a half acres, one building about $55,000 of investment for the whole thing. And you're set for a very long time."

Chris Gamer is a builder at the newest Tree Range farm site, who has 35 years of experience, most of which spent designing renewable energy building installations.

"I spent 20 years doing renewable energy construction projects, hoping to make a contribution to the carbon problem, and then I met Regi, and learned about the Regenerative Ag Alliance, and I know that this kind of solution has way more to contribute than all of the solar and the wind in the world," said Gamer. "If you don't find funding for developments like this, I'm going to be here tending chickens. I'd like to be building barns, but I'll stay to tend to chickens."

After the farm visits, Ducheneaux sat with the group at the Just Food Cooperative in Northfield to eat Tree-Range chicken cooked by Chief Chef Adriana Casillas. The cooperative, along with a handful of other locations, sells Tree-Range chicken.

"This has been a really busy little shop while we've been in here, and they're looking to make a choice with their food dollar, because they understand that the value of that purchase is more than just the flavor and the taste, it's the nutrition and the health of an economy somewhere, and an ecosystem. So I think that's really critical," Ducheneaux said. "And the chicken was really good."

Noah Fish is a multimedia journalist who creates print, online and TV content for Agweek. He's also the host of the Agweek Podcast. He covers a wide range of farmers and agribusinesses throughout Minnesota and surrounding states. He can be reached at

He reports out of Rochester, MN, where he lives with his wife, Kara, and their polite cat, Zena. He grew up in La Crosse, WI, and enjoys the talent from his home state like the 13-time World Champion Green Bay Packers and Grammy award-winning musicians Justin Vernon and Al Jarreau.
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