Over the weekend of April 22-24, Angus attended a three-day conference hosted by Mountain River customer 'Force of Nature' at their 'Roam Ranch' in Fredericksburg, about an hour West of Austin in Texas hill country.
Roam Ranch is a formerly conventionally farmed property that had been depleted by persistent tilling of the soil, planting of monoculture row crops, and overgrazing. The Force of Nature founders purchased the property in 2017 and restored the land under regenerative farming practices with a stated goal to produce the highest quality, sustainably raised meats while increasing the overall health of the land.
The Ranch is a multispecies operation raising grass-fed and free-range bison, beef, pork, chicken, and turkey year-round.
The conference brought together ranchers, farmers, researchers/teachers, media, consumers, and other industry stakeholders for 3 days of education, networking, planning, and action around regenerative agriculture.
The overall intent was to accelerate the growth of what Force Of Nature calls a 'global regenerative revolution' through an idea-sharing forum. This allows attendees to take away a reaffirmed collective purpose to advance regen Ag for the good of the land, livestock, and human health.
Friday and Saturday featured a series of speakers and discussion panels beneath a canopy next to the beautiful Pedernales River that borders the Ranch. BBQ lunches both days featured a range of Force of Nature meats - including plenty of Mountain River Venison!
The speakers were all highly respected leaders in their fields. The topics ranged from soil science to the relationship between food production systems and human health.
This included operating larger regenerative farming practices and commercializing regeneratively raised meat & produce.
Speakers that I found to be particularly interesting included:
Zach Bush, MD
Zach Bush is a triple board-certified physician specializing in internal medicine, endocrinology, and hospice care. As an internationally recognized educator and thought leader on the microbiome related to health, disease, and food systems - his talks at the conference focused on the role of soil and water ecosystems in human genomics, immunity, and gut/brain health.
He advocates the need for a radical departure from chemical farming and pharmacy. This would require consumers, farmers, and mega-industries to work together to improve the quality of food the planet produces to slow the deterioration of human health.
Will Harris is a fourth-generation cattleman whose property "White Oak Pastures" in Bluffton, Georgia, is a family ranch settled in 1866. White Oak was farmed with intensive conventional industrial farming methods until 1995. Then, Will moved to return to his great-grandfather's farming methods 130 years before, based on regenerative principles. He is now recognized as an industry leader in humane animal husbandry and environmental sustainability.
Ray is a Certified Professional Soil Scientist with the Soil Science Society of America and has over 30 years of experience as a Soil Conservationist, Water Quality Specialist, and Conservation Agronomist.
He also holds an Agri-science degree in Livestock Science & now runs a business called 'Understanding Ag, LLC, and the Soil Health Academy.' These teach Biomimicry strategies and Agroecology principles for improving soil function on a national scale.
During the conference, Ray ran a practical demonstration illustrating the various levels of rainfall retention in soils of different qualities [(refer to photo)]. This clearly showed the superior performance of regeneratively farmed pasture with a diverse cover crop in retaining moisture.
Bob is the grass-fed sales coordinator for Turner Ranches (owned by Ted Turner), the single largest Bison ranching company in the USA.
Turner Ranches has a mission to manage their land in an economically sustainable and environmentally sensitive manner, while promoting the conservation of native species and habitats. This is done regeneratively with bison across nearly 2 million acres.
Matt is an ACF-certified executive chef with extensive experience owning and operating restaurants across North America.
He now oversees all menu innovation, product development, and supply chain management at 'Hopdoddy.' Founded in Austin in 2010, Hopdoddy is a specialty Burger Bar with 32 locations in Texas, Arizona, California, Colorado, and Tennessee. They are known for setting trends in the 'fast-casual' menu space. They are now incorporating regeneratively farmed meats into their menu. A venison offering is possibly in the works!
On Sunday, the attendees were given the opportunity to take a guided tour of two properties: The 'home' property (Roam ranch) and the 'Bamberger Ranch Preserve,' a 5,500-acre ranch in nearby Salah, restored to its original habitat.
Bamberger is a 'teaching ranch that guides landowners interested in ethical land stewardship and serves as a research lab for botanists, zoologists, and other scientists.
In addition, the Ranch provides hands-on science classes and nature camps for 2,000 school children in a typical year.
In summary, the conference gave attendees an intensive holistic overview of the operations of leaders in the USA Regen-Ag space, from the science and principles of farming to the commercialization of the produce of those farming operations.
The three days provided a fantastic opportunity to strengthen our personal relationships with key colleagues at Force of Nature.
We could also discuss future plans with this very dynamic and exciting company, which has been a huge supporter of the Mountain River Venison program!