episode 2:

Fred Kirschenmann – President of Stone Barns Board

On our second episode of Sourcing Matters podcast we welcome a founding father of American Organics, Fred Kirschenmann.  A true legend known for promoting regenerative agriculture and food system reform through commitment to soil health, Fred Kirschenmann is a Distinguished Fellow for the Leopold Center at Iowa State, and is President of the board at Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture in Tarrytown, NY.

QUICK GUIDE – this episode covers the following subjects:

  • regenerative agriculture is proper on-farm natural resource management
  • soil health harmonizes with gut health: microflora not too much different than soil
  • investing in soil health results in positive human & public health, planetary stability
  • a review of Organic standards – then and now
  • the future of hydroponics; should USDA Organic include growing in water?
  • urban agriculture has arrived, and is here to stay
  • the future farming workforce wants to grow food for each other, and not commodities

Sourcing Matters.show episode 2 recap:

Closing out 2017 we take a step back to evaluate the current state of Agriculture and regenerative natural resource management with a true expert in the field of future food, Fred Kirschenmann.   Hosts Aaron Niederhelman and Nathan Roman engage Professor Kirschenmann in a conversation of grave importance:  how do we feed ourselves on a shrinking planet?  And, how do we (re)establish food as our baseline for keeping ourselves and our planet in good standings.  ⇓

Throughout the 30 minute chat Fred offers unique insight earned from decades of fighting for a stable future. His most poignant description of Regenerative Agriculture may be the best ever captured.  Citing Sir Albert Howard’s law of return, Kirschenmann concisely describes regenerative as a process where “everything is renewed in the process of using it.”  Kirschenmann goes on to explain that “there are more microbes in a tablespoon of soil than there are humans on the planet!”  We learn that the impact of this has yet to be levered in modern food systems.  In fact, the vast majority of production in the developed world is based on an input-based approach where we’re not properly using this (free) microbial army to cycle nutrients for our benefit.  Instead, for purpose of creating empty cheap energy for more consumers to nosh, we’ve perpetuated an extractive approach in agriculture that is based on cheap petrochemicals, unlimited access to minerals and unlimited water which cannot be sustained.  


“As we look at our future, and we don’t have cheap energy to transport and grow food from thousands of miles a way – we’ll see more food grown within bio-regions.”


Kirschenmann eloquently describes that for purposes of financial expense, or true cost of externalities, or even capacity to maintain nevermind scale a production model past a ceiling fast approaching – feeding a growing population on a shrinking planet will come only from better understanding and engagement of regenerative natural resources.

To reduce the potential of continuing an industry food fight – Kirschenmann is nothing but pragmatic.  Through a process of diplomacy leaders in DC should evaluate – Fred describes how he empowers even the most staunch conventional producers to see the light of investing in soil vitality.  By justifying his argument with numbers that back increased demand for alternatively produced crops; and on the other side of the ledger – the increased costs and commitment requirements for maintaining status quo of conventional production; and even further, the realization of externalities and true costs associated to modern agriculture on human & environmental health – he makes it clear the only future of food production is regenerative.   


Digging deeper – investing in soil health does not only benefits the bottomline, it directly benefits your health and enjoyment of food.  Hear how Kirschenmann describes the diverse benefits of whole food from health soil.  From the cause & effect of changing diets and improving health in inner city communities – to supercharging the plates of the world famous chef Dan Barber – we must come out this half hour enlightened, and asking how revolutionary this could be in stabilizing our shared planet.  Maybe it’s us, the consumer, that can move the needle.  What if this approach was to be exercised through proper channels?  Could well sourced food from healthy soil be the silver bullet diet that a marketplace desperately seeks with billions of dollars every year?   

Hear what Fred has to say about this…

As the man who wrote the original rules on Organics, Fred Kirschenmann shares his thoughts on the recent ruling by the National Organics Standards Board to allow hydroponics to don a USDA Organics Certification. Fred offer a masterful description the benefits of food grown in water, and the vast market opportunities that will arise with further commitment.  But, after hearing the original intent pennded for Organics – it’s obvious there’s only one proper step forward here, and we may have just gone backwards.


In this chat Kirschenmann describes some of his recent experiences with the future workforce that’s more interested in “growing food for people, than corn or soy in Iowa”. Through his work at Stone Barns in Tarrytown, NY, and the Leopold Center at the Iowa State University, Kirschenmann is front and center in negotiating our shared future with the realities of planetary boundaries and evolving consumer interests.

The time is now for us to act, to innovate and to listen to what consumers and the future workforce seek from their food. 






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