Regenerative agriculture is more than just a buzzword, it’s a way of life for Jupiter Ridge farmers, Will Lorentzen and Adrian White. They grow a variety of mushrooms and vegetables in the northern Iowa plains using practices that not only enrich the land for next season’s crops but also the local ecosystem. Long-term objectives like theirs can help us understand what regenerative ag means and how it’s done.
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Nestled on a bluff atop a 1,200-foot-high ridge in Iowa, surrounded by dense forest, Jupiter Ridge Farm is an ideal landscape for growing all types of mushrooms, vegetables, and perennial flowers.
The Importance of Regenerative Agriculture
Will and Adrian farm on land leased to them by the Sustainable Iowa Land Trust (SILT). The land was donated to SILT by Steve Beaumont (on far right in above photo). To farm here, Jupiter Ridge – and all SILT farmers and ranchers – are required to have third-party certification to affirm that their agricultural practices are regeneratively grown.
For Jupiter Ridge, this means applying environmentally-responsible growing methods, like healthy soil building, cover cropping, crop rotation, compost amending, using all-natural fertilizers, and minimizing chemical use for pesticides.
These measures ensure that their farming practices give back to the land in some way. As Will explains, they are only temporary stewards for this land, and they will eventually pass it along to another farmer. It is critical that their operation continues to improve the soil, making sure it is full of nutrients and microbes.
It’s important to note that the term, “regenerative agriculture”, does not have any globally definitive guidelines that state whether one operation is effectively regenerative or not.
But operations like Jupiter Ridge use these farming practices to make real and lasting changes.
When we asked Will and Adrian why regenerative ag was important to them, they did not hesitate in their response:
“We are honored to be able to grow whole, healthful food for our community while ensuring the sustenance of those who eat it, but also the health of the land it came from.
We have always felt a ‘beyond organic’ spirit when it comes to farming, taking it a step further and always making sure we’re putting life and health back into the soil after every crop.”
– Will Lorentzen, Adrian White
By cover cropping and crop rotation, Jupiter Ridge re-injects micronutrients back into the soil. Rather than ripping up the root system after every harvest, rotational planting allows them to nourish the soil with a variety of new nutrients. Furthermore, cover cropping provides protection against soil erosion, maintains healthy topsoil, suppresses weeds, and deter pests.
This promotes biodiversity and ultimately reduces soil compaction, allowing for better CO2 sequestration in the root system.
Regenerative Ag Practices
At Jupiter Ridge, Will and Adrian don’t just farm mushrooms, they also grow a variety of vegetables and perennial flowers. They believe this not only promotes soil health but encourages large pollinator habitats on the native prairie lands to thrive and expand. Will explains that by applying regenerative farming practices like planting perennials, it can increase biodiversity, and ultimately serves as a tool on the farm.
“If there is wildlife flourishing around our farm every year — monarch butterflies, beneficial pollinators, pest predators — then we feel we’ve done a good job, too.”
– Adrian White
“If you look at studies and research, the health of the soil is directly tied to the actual health of the plant foods that grow in it. Abundant soil life is critical for adequate nutrient uptake into fruits, vegetables, etc.”
Will continued, adding that with soil health comes flexibility, explaining that resilient soil allows them to keep their products and production methods varied. Healthy soil increases water absorption to protect against droughts. This flexibility, he says, is imperative in an ever-changing world.
One of the coolest things to see on the farm are the tangible results of these efforts: when farmers help the land, the land then helps farmers.
“We had a pest problem take care of itself this year with no needed actions taken from us because of the flourishing perennial environment. Soldier beetles that thrive in the surrounding prairies fed on the pest and took care of the job! If we didn’t grow sustainably or regeneratively, this wouldn’t have happened,” Adrian White commented.
Measuring the Success of their Hard Work
While the most formal method of measuring success in regenerative ag is to measure carbon sequestration, Jupiter Ridge has identified other ways to realize the effects of its regenerative practices. With carbon sequestration measurements not yet scalable and mainstream, Jupiter Ridge measures their increased yields, decreased inputs such as fertilizers and pesticides, as well as increased resiliency of the crop — like in the example of the soldier beetles.
“The subjective feedback we get is from our customers. Returning customers, chefs, and CSA members say it all—they want more of the quality food we grow, which keeps them coming back. If people are pleased with the quality, beauty, and flavor of the food we grow, then we feel we’ve grown regenerative food very effectively.”
“We also use responsible forestry techniques to source the logs for our shiitake and other mushroom production. We also use things from off the waste stream as much as possible.
We’re also planting more and more perennial crops each year that require less maintenance and tillage. Some of our practices are sustainability requirements in our one-of-a-kind land lease with SILT and encourage good soil erosion prevention techniques.”
Challenges and Misperceptions to the Operation
Farming regeneratively does not come without its challenges. Will and Adrian both note that the timing and terminating of their cover crops is difficult. Furthermore, perennial crops are expensive when they are not sold. He points out that growing regeneratively demands labor, time, and investment.
“Even if people can charge more for regenerative to compensate for their labor and time, the process of making a considerable profit margin is far more challenging than most other businesses.”
While Will and Adrian don’t think that any misperceptions exist at this early stage in regenerative ag, they want people to know that it is more than a buzzword. It is a way of connecting eco-friendly farming practices to climate change and soil health. This, they believe, is another incredible and impactful step in the sustainable movement to better our world.
But so much of what goes on at a farm is invisible to the consumer, leaving many of us out of touch. That’s why Jupiter Ridge supports ongoing traceability efforts and believes the best way to know where your food comes from is to shop local. An added benefit? Regenerative operations are often started without immediate financial rewards, so shopping directly from the farm helps to offset these financial burdens.
The Bottom Line
Time, effort, science, investment, energy and love all go into Jupiter Ridge’s commitment to regenerative agriculture. As ‘temporary stewards’ of the land, they plan to leave this land better than they found it, by applying a variety of sustainable farming techniques to maximize output and soil quality. Support your regenerative farmers by buying local and equipping yourself with information on who are your farmers.