Regenerative farmers' stories

Farmer Story: Singing Frogs Farm

This Farmer Story is a special one because the very existence of Project Grounded owes itself, in part, to the food grown on Singing Frogs Farm.

I’d heard of this innovative regenerative vegetable farm even when I was still living on the opposite coast of the US as a novice regenerative agriculture enthusiast. But at that point, I was excited about regenerative farming, or carbon farming, in theory — because of what I knew about its climate-stabilizing potential and other ecological benefits. This changed when my ecological design studies brought me to live practically down the street from Singing Frogs Farm and I got to join their CSA program. When I actually started eating food every day from carbon-sequestering farm soil, I was utterly won over by its quality and flavor.

These were hands down the best veggies I’d ever eaten. They came in all the colors of the rainbow. My toddler and I kept popping the carrots and the cherry tomatoes in our mouths like they were candy. The greens and the brassicas had such delicious, subtle range of flavor to them that it wasn’t a chore at all to “eat your greens.” And it was clear that there was an intimate connection between the quality of the produce Singing Frogs Farm was growing, and the ecological farming methods for which they were so famous.

It was a light-bulb moment, really. Here is food that helps to slow down climate change, AND it is more nutrient-dense and makes me feel great, AND it tastes this amazing, too? Why aren’t we all farming and eating like this?

Singing Frogs Farm is a small farm: farmers Elizabeth and Paul Kaiser grow 140 different crops on only 3 acres. But it is one of the leading innovators of regenerative farming in the US. The Kaisers have won numerous sustainability awards and are frequently featured in the news. They are sought-after speakers at farming conferences around the country, and are actively training other farmers to be as successful as they have been in regenerative, soil-building farming.

The Kaisers increased their soil organic matter at a mind-blowing rate, from 2.4% in 2007 to an optimal 8% (and above) in just six years. Now, if you remember that soil organic matter is 57% carbon… and that that is what makes soils fertile… and that we’re losing that soil fertility at an alarming rate globally… and that increasing the carbon content in our soils is one of the most important things we can be doing, not the least because it helps to slow down climate change… you realize that these are some impressive, and important, results. This is carbon sequestration in action. And let’s not forget that that very same soil produces the amazing food that was love at first bite for me. Let’s also not forget that this soil-building has brought with it all kinds of other benefits to Singing Frogs Farm, such as a radical reduction in their need to irrigate. In drought-prone California, that is no minor detail.

How do they achieve all this? The Kaisers boil their farming method down to three core principles:

  1. Disturb the soil as little as possible,
  2. Keep a diversity of living plants in the ground as often as possible, and
  3. Keep the soil covered and protected as often as possible.

Most importantly, Singing Frogs Farm is a no-till farm. Whereas most people think of farming and tilling the soil as synonymous, farming without tilling is not only possible, but the smarter way to farm. Tilling and plowing destroys the soil’s structure, compacts it, and destroys the very thing that gives it fertility — the organic matter.

As Paul Kaiser says, “As a farmer, the two things you need most in your soil are carbon for soil structure, and nitrogen for plant growth. So the very act of tillage takes out the two things you need in your soil, removing them, and creating greenhouse gas emissions.” Tillage also kills the soil-building earthworms and microbes and reduces the soil’s ability to hold water.

But the reverse is also true. Because conventional farming is a major greenhouse gas contributor, farming differently can put the carbon back into the soil. Farming has the greatest capacity of any industry to mitigate greenhouse gases, at the cheapest rate – simply through better soil management.

This is what the Kaisers practice and teach. Instead of tilling, they initially used a broadfork to aerate the soil. Now they haven’t used one in 5 years. Instead, they improve the soil with much greater quantities of compost than is the norm in organic farming. Keeping the soil covered at all times with mulches, and and keeping a living plant in the soil at all times also help to keep to keep the nutrients in the soil. Singing Frogs Farm relies heavily on transplants, rather than planting seeds directly into the soil. When one crop is harvested, new transplants are planted in that bed the very same day or the next day. This means that the soil is never left bare. It also prevents crop losses because during their most vulnerable stage, vegetable seedlings are in a protected nursery. This method allows Singing Frogs Farm to produce 3-8 sequential crops in 1 bed per year.

In addition, the farm has integrated perennials such as hedgerows for beneficial insects, windbreak, frost and heat reduction — and added carbon sequestration.

These practices are good for the earth, yes. But they have also made Singing Frogs Farm remarkably productive and profitable: the farm produces roughly $100,000 in vegetable sales per crop acre per year. That is multiple times the revenue of an average U.S. farm, even an organic farm. So one thing is clear: we don’t need to make a choice between the ecological and the economical. And as I and the many other devoted customers of Singing Frogs Farm can attest, there doesn’t need to a be a choice between the what’s good for the earth and what’s good for our palates and bodies. Farming well means eating well.

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