A model farm restores land to health

By Ranae Hanson

A farm-scale, poultry-centered, regenerative agroforestry project has brought 100 degraded acres near Northfield back to life in two short years.

Julie Ristau, executive director of the nonprofit Main Street Project, will be in St. Anthony Park on Sept. 18 to explain how it was done and how the process can be replicated elsewhere.

In 2017, the land—alternately dried-out and rain-soaked—had been growing corn year after year. Now, just two years later, the farm has clean streams, restored wetlands, wildflower-topped hills, healthy vegetable patches, and hazelnut bushes with contented chickens running among them. During the 2018 season, the project produced 7,300 pounds of organic vegetables and fruit for the cuisines of its diverse community. Meat and eggs from the poultry add to the bounty.

A farm-scale permaculture effort in the Upper Midwest, the Main Street Project Farm is modeling an agriculture system that is profitable to farmers, fair to workers, beneficial to consumer health, restorative for rural communities, and regenerative for the land. It’s called poultry-centered regenerative agroforestry because it combines annual crops, perennial crops like nuts and fruits, and the soil-restoring magic of free-range chickens.

Permaculture, as well as the project’s poultry and perennial models, are all based on indigenous wisdom and culture.

Work on the farm is being co-created with the Northfield-area community, especially with its Latinx and East African immigrants. As the renewed farm takes shape, the staff and community members are planning its bushes, trees, paths and ponds. When the trees are ready to plant and the paths are to be laid, teamwork gets the work done.

The Main Street Project welcomes new Americans, values their farming expertise, and provides them with land access and help as they negotiate the existing U.S. farming system. Its training program for vegetable production draws on the wisdom held by community members, some of whom grow food on the farm for their families and to sell.

Offering bilingual training in poultry- and perennial-­centered regenerative agriculture, the project runs a meat CSA—a community-supported agriculture program—to help market the chickens. It also coordinates equipment-sharing and works with individual farmers to secure land and financing.

Creators of the Main Street Project welcome replication and adaptation of their vision: Last year, 1,200 people visited the farm. It’s building urban-rural partnerships with a focus on equity by working with Twin Cities area groups including Appetite for Change and Urban Ventures. With Dakota County, the project is documenting the water quality and climate benefits of land restoration. A pilot easement program will help establish perennial crops on marginal lands, the buffer zones around farm fields.

The Main Street Project shows how a regenerative agriculture system can help equip farmers to solve our global food crisis by producing food in a way that also restores the landscape. Learn more at MainStreetProject.org, and by joining us for the Sept. 18 event.

Free-range hens are part of the ecosystem at the Main Street Project Farm in Northfield, Minnesota. Photo by Main Street Project.
Main Street Project staff

Regenerative farming: Learn more Sept. 18
Learn how permaculture can revitalize land and communities when Julie Ristau visits the next monthly meeting of Transition Your Money, the subgroup of Transition Town ASAP that is exploring ways to invest in a more local, sustainable economy. All are welcome.

When: Wednesday, Sept. 18, from 7–8:30 pm
Where: CoCreatz, 2388 W. University Ave., First Floor, St. Paul
Info: TransitionTownASAP/TransitionYourMoney

Ranae Hanson teaches at Minneapolis College. She lives in St. Anthony Park.

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