Interviewed by Clean Currents

Thanks to fellow B-Corp Clean Currents for interviewing me.  It was a pleasure meeting them and other B-Corp leaders recently.  Here’s a cross-post from their blog.

Written by Megan Barrett
Tuesday, 20 November 2012 10:41
Back at the B-Corp Champions Retreat, we met Jason Bradford of Farmland LP. After chatting about sustainable food and the future of US farmland, we were hooked on the mission of Farmland LP. We sat down with Jason to learn more about Farmland LP and their unique model that cultivates farmland sustainability.

Jason Bradford Farmland LP                      Jason Bradford with Mac Stewart of Vitality Farms.
Vitality Farms leases Farmland LP land in Oregon to raise sheep and cattle.

Clean Currents: What does Farmland LP do and why is it important?

Jason Bradford: Farmland LP buys farmland and converts it to certified Organic, sustainably managed farmland as an investment fund, similar to a REIT.  We specialize in sustainable agriculture and integrating crop and pastured livestock rotations.  Our goal is to play a role in the transformation of the food system while benefiting the environment, supporting quality jobs, producing healthy food, and returning a financial profit for our investors.

Organic food sales in the U.S. have been growing between 15-20% per year since 1990 and yet the rate of conversion of U.S. farmland is lagging far behind.  Organic food is therefore more likely to be imported, and yet people also want local food.

Meanwhile, the American Farmland Trust estimates 50% of all U.S. farmland will change ownership over the next 15 years, representing about $75 billion dollars of farmland sales each year.  Now is the opportunity to alter how the land will be managed for the next generation and beyond.   We need to give already established Organic farmers room for expansion, encourage conventional farmers to adopt Organic practices, and we need places to start for a young generation of farmers who haven’t inherited land.

Clean Currents: What motivated you to start this company?

Jason: When I was a research biologist I had the good fortune to travel the world and see first-hand how humans had a fundamentally dysfunctional relationship with the natural world.  Agricultural is intimately connected to the environment in ways people can understand directly.  So if I can help build a healthier system of farming it would go a long way towards promoting a shift in the cultural mindset.  The best civilizations don’t dismiss and dominate nature, but find their place and peace within it.

Having a more synergistic rather than conflictive relationship with nature also translates into better financial performance.  The conventional farming practices of today come from an out-of-date “get rich quick” mindset that doesn’t account for what we have learned over the past fifty years in the fields of ecology, genetics and complexity, and doesn’t reflect the current facts of high input and energy costs and a changing climate.  So when our fund has demonstrated greater profitability due to our practices at scale, the broader agricultural industry will take notice.

Clean Currents: Do you think it’s more important to shop locally or to shop organically?

Jason: The best thing you can do is shop seasonally within your locale, always favoring Organic producers or producers you know first-hand are using good practices.  If it is out of season locally, it gets more complicated.  First, it’s beneficial to purchase unprocessed or only moderately processed and packaged whole foods.  An Organic TV dinner or soft drink is really not much better for you or the environment than a non-organic version.

Health-wise, Organic and ideally pasture-based, is the way to go.  Energy-wise, the shipping of grains and meats is typically only around 10% of the energy cost in life cycle analyses of food.  Yet for off-season fruits and vegetables, local production using greenhouses can be very energy intensive.  In short, good Organic or pasture-based producers are saving a lot on fertilizer inputs ( typically 30% of the energy cost of food production) and should be rewarded no matter where they are.

Clean Currents: What can our readers do to support the development of organic agriculture in the US?

Jason: People most care about sustainable agriculture producing healthy food.  The Organic label is important, but there are other ways of producing great food.  And, in the end, people have to know where their food comes from.  People can work on public policy to remove or reduce the subsidies that promote monocultures of a few annual grains, and support policies that encourage healthy crop rotations and land conservation.  When shopping, chose Organic food, especially when it is in season and local, to help maintain the economic incentives for converting land in your area and elsewhere.  And look at opportunities to make your savings and investments, such as retirement accounts, align with your values by investing in or supporting Organic and sustainable companies.

Clean Currents: What’s your favorite organic fruit or veggie?

Jason: Undoubtedly my favorite veggie is a ripe tomato from my own back yard.  Buying a conventional tomato is a complete waste of money since they are nearly flavorless.  I also buy local, organic, heirloom tomatoes from farmers who have hoop houses and can get their tomatoes to market three months ahead of me!

Clean Currents: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Jason: I want people to be numerically literate and to be able to think at a proper scale when contemplating the unprecedented transition that is going to happen in farmland ownership and management over the next couple of decades.  Hundreds of millions of acres of U.S. farmland will be sold over the next 15 years, representing a present day value of over $1 trillion.

If enough capital is deployed buying farmland with the intention of managing it in perpetuity using agroecological, Organic methods, we will reap a host of other benefits such as cleaning up rivers and estuaries, sequestering carbon dioxide, replenishing topsoil, slowing the evolution of antibiotic resistance, reducing hormone-disrupting pollutants, rebuilding a strong population of bees and other pollinators, and having healthier people in our families and communities.

When evaluating the cost-benefits of systems of production in agriculture it is critical to account for more than just dollars.  Organic farms are generally more profitable, and they tend to externalize benefits, rather than costs, to the broader society.  This is what I am spending the rest of my life working for.