Investing in Regenerative Agriculture and Food

250 Growing Regenerative Opportunities - Koen van Seijen interviewed by John Kempf

September 29, 2023 Koen van Seijen Episode 250
Investing in Regenerative Agriculture and Food
250 Growing Regenerative Opportunities - Koen van Seijen interviewed by John Kempf
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

A very special episode: Koen van Seijen, author and host of the Investing in Regenerative Agriculture and Food podcast, is interviewed by John Kempf, the founder of Advancing Eco Agriculture (AEA) and top expert in biological and regenerative farming. 

In this conversation, John and Koen discuss:

  • Current investment activity in agriculture
  • The role of capital in regenerative adoption
  • Regenerative practices and topics attractive to investors
  • Regenerating the water cycle at a local ecosystem level
  • The benefits of nutrient absorption through foliage
  • The need for education in the finance world
  • Areas of opportunities for growers today
  • Increasing consumer interest through nutrient density

Additional Resources

About John Kempf
John Kempf is the founder of Advancing Eco Agriculture (AEA). A top expert in biological and regenerative farming, John founded AEA in 2006 to help fellow farmers by providing the education, tools, and strategies that will have a global effect on the food supply and those who grow it. Through intense study and the knowledge gleaned from many industry leaders, John is building a comprehensive systems-based approach to plant nutrition – a system solidly based on the sciences of plant physiology, mineral nutrition, and soil microbiology.

About Koen van Seijen
He has interviewed over 250 investors, investment fund managers, opinion leaders, farmers, and scientists to find out how money can best be used to regenerate soil, people, local communities, and ecosystems. He is currently a member engagement manager of Toniic, the global community of dynamic and active impact investors. Previously Koen supported Aqua-Spark, an impact investing fund focused on sustainable aquaculture companies.

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Koen van Seijen:

Join me for a very, very special episode where I get interviewed by the one and only John Kempf. Before all that, you will listen to a short interview by me where I ask John a few questions about his recently launched crowd-investing campaign, the reasoning behind why he chose to go that less traveled route and how he feels about it, about 24 hours into it. After that, you get a deep dive with me and John about all things regeneration and finance, which is also released on his podcast channel, so you might have already seen or heard it there. So in that case, enjoy.

John Kempf:

Hi friends, I'm back with Koen again. We are having a follow-up conversation that is being recorded several weeks after we had our initial conversation. I can't I think you're really going to enjoy listening to the discussion that we had on the impacts of capital agriculture, but we're back to talk about our crowdfund raising around that we are doing at Advancing Eco-Agriculture. I'm quite excited about it. It's really an opportunity for us to participate with the community. Koen, really glad to have you back here to have this conversation. You know, as I grew up in an Amish community and as I've developed more of a perspective on how society at large works as compared to what I grew up with, I've come to gain a deep appreciation for the power of community and what it really means to be a community, to contribute to each other's work and to participate with each other's work. And many people around the world or at least here in North America that I see don't get to experience that anymore. They don't get to really really deeply appreciate and understand what it means to have symbiotic and collaborative relationships with the people around them. So this is really beautiful.

Koen van Seijen:

Absolutely, and it's interesting. We opened the follow-up conversation recently and we don't talk about the current campaign because it wasn't live yet. But now we get to frame it a bit before you go into that, before we go and we take you listeners into that. But I would love to, in this short piece before, flip the conversation a bit and ask you a few questions. And I think the first one is why take the not saying difficult route, but definitely open and transparent route? Because in this campaign you can see everything, you can see the data, you can look behind the scenes of your company. And why did you take that route? Because I don't think you had a shortage of people knocking on the door wanting to invest, quote unquote and doing equity, traditionally throwing money at you. I think that's the case. But why did you choose to involve literally the community to such an extent? And it goes through quite you need to go through quite a few steps to raise from community and though the technology now makes it possible on the platforms, et cetera, but still it's not an easy, an easy step and it's quite an open and humble and potentially quite transparent.

John Kempf:

Yeah, it's, the process has been intriguing, that's for sure. I think we certainly we have something at AEA that many companies wish they would have, and that is we have the benefit and the credibility of having a track record of a decade and a half of in depth experience in the region X space. Like you, look around and like who else is in that category, who else has that depth of experience? And there's not very many, and so, to your point, we've had to it still doesn't mean you should be vulnerable and open yourself up like that, like you could also just take a few funds that you took to you and then say, oh, we raised 10 million, or we raised X, and then continue to grow. Yeah, I'm just reflecting on the point that you made of lots of people having approaches Over the years, which certainly has happened. But I think, look, I've often made the point that regeneration is fundamentally about regenerating relationships. Whether you're regenerating relationships between soils, microbes and plants, between livestock and the landscape, between people in the landscape and the food supply webs, whatever it is, regeneration is fundamentally about regenerating relationships. And so you have to ask well, if you're regenerating relationships, what is? What's the degenerative version of a relationship? And that's a relationship that is very transactional and very extractive, that you're not looking for the other, you're not looking out for the other participants in other parties in that relationship. You're really seeking your own benefit and to optimize your own gains as much as possible. And this is in direct contrast to these biological systems where we have what we call symbiosis and symbiotic relationships, synergistic relationships, where organisms support each other and help each other out, and it's not strictly transactional relationship. And so I've always, for the last several years, I've been thinking deeply about what does it mean and what does it look like for us as an organization at AEA, to not just do regeneration but to be regenerative and to have regeneration just hardwired into our DNA, and a part of that means having these symbiotic and synergistic relationships with our customers and with our employees and with the people that we participate in and work with, and it's like a typical employee relationship could be considered very transactional and very extractive you exchange time for money and talent for money or whatever it is. Yeah, and the same is true of a customer-supplier relationship. It's very transactional I give you productX and you give me money. But we've wanted to develop much deeper, more authentic relationships with that, and this crowdfunding campaign was the most administratively easy way for us to accomplish that and to give the people we care about the opportunity to participate with AEAs Grow in the future, and how does?

Koen van Seijen:

it manifest. This is a very deep rabbit hole Beyond the funding piece. Actually, the funding piece is fascinating because I've been long amazed by people with a large network or a large no, not large network large community around them of customers or clients that all have been in a symbiotic relationship and they never asked this question Do you maybe also, if you have the means, want to financially get involved in the future of our company or not? That question somehow never gets asked. Now we have the chance to do it because their platforms do to support and, of course, money is always at risk. But that be able to ask that question is amazing. But I actually want to ask a small follow up question. How does it manifest itself? How do you think this is different than raising from a few impact funds or a few family officers or whatever approach you before and maybe putting in a significant amount? This could be significant also for people putting in a few thousand, of course. But how is this different, this crowd round, compared to maybe another scenario where you would have raised from the quote, unquote traditional finance world? How do you see this different?

John Kempf:

Well, it is interesting to reflect on an earlier point that you made. It is interesting that we now have this opportunity for a crowdfunding campaign of bosses. This didn't exist, even what is it five years ago. For years and years. It wasn't even legal. You couldn't raise money from non-accredited investors. So if you have employees or customers who are not accredited investors but this is the most of us it is the best way to participate. That wasn't even a legal possibility half a dozen years ago. So it is quite interesting that we now live in a climate where this possibility exists. But I think there are a few answers that come to mind to the question that you asked us. What are the differences? The first is we have the opportunity now to be deeply aligned with people who care about our values, who care about the things that we care about and who want to participate in creating change in the world, and that can also happen with investors, with VCs and so forth. But even the VCs and the investors who care about making an impact and making a difference still have a fiduciary responsibility to generate returns with the investments that they make, and so there is still this inherent bias towards the need to have that be a transactional and an extractive relationship. So, just like we want to avoid having extractive relationships between our growers and our employees and have symbiotic relationships there, we also want to have symbiosis with investors and with stakeholders in the enterprise, and so I think this has been an interesting pathway for us to think about how we can accomplish that outcome.

Koen van Seijen:

And then you're a day in or less, probably no more or less, a day in. How do you feel? Well, it's been tender.

John Kempf:

Go on again from.

Koen van Seijen:

Denver, ready to go to RFSI. But how do you feel?

John Kempf:

I'll be on the stage at RFSI here in just a little bit, but it's quite exhilarating. So, for all of our listeners who are listening in, we are launching this campaign on a platform called WeFundr and it will include the link in the show notes where you can access that. That is a platform that facilitates these types of transactions, but WeFundr is not publicly releasing what we are doing to their investor audience just quite yet. We're giving them a week, I think we have, until October 5th or 6th or somewhere in there, where they're intending to release that to that audience, because we preferentially and specifically want to first give exposure to people in the region of agriculture space. And so, yeah, yesterday morning, roughly 26 hours ago or something like that, we announced it for the first time and gave our team and our customers access to it, and we're targeting 2.5 million. We're open to over subscriptions, but our target is 2.5 and we did 860,000 the first day and that feels a bit like taking off like a rocket. It's pretty exhilarating, congrats.

Koen van Seijen:

I know we want to keep this relatively short you have a whole other hour with us after this, so don't worry listeners and I want to wish you a lot of luck with the campaign and, of course, a lot of fun at RfSI.

John Kempf:

Thank you, Koen and thanks to everyone listening in. I really want to invite you check out our page on WeFundr, check out what we're up to. I really care about engaging with all of you. Many of you have listened to our work, you know about our work, and so I really am excited to have you participate with us in a much more substantial way. So thanks for all for you do, and now we're going to switch over to the fun conversation that I had with Koen three weeks ago on the function and role of Capital and Facilitating Regenerate. Thank you, Koen, have an awesome day. Thank you, enjoy. Hi friends, this is John and this is the Regenerative Agriculture Podcast. Welcome back. Here's where we talk about regenerative agriculture in all of its many facets. Part with a particular focus on agronomy, but we talk about water and plant nutrition and biologicals. You've enjoyed many of our conversations, but you've recently. In our most recent episode, I had a conversation with Anthony Corsaro about the roles of supply webs and what is needed to really create an off-take significant off-take in demand for regeneratively grown products, and Anthony made a very important comment that I didn't want to lose sight of is that the elephant in the room is that we don't have enough capital moving into this space to support the transition of regenerative agriculture, not just in farmland, but particularly in these small CPG companies and so forth. And so for a conversation today. I'm really excited to have Kon Vensayan from the Investing in Regenerative Agriculture podcast. Cohen has been a good friend and deserves tremendous amount of credit for really shaping this conversation and shaping the narrative of all the investment activity that is happening in the region of agriculture space over the last four or five years. So, cohen, welcome to the podcast. I'm really excited to have you here. I'd love to have you. Just tell us a little bit about your story and the work that you, the scope of the work that you're doing. You're doing so much and you've done so much for the last four or five years. Tell us what's been going on.

Koen van Seijen:

Thank you so much. And thank you first of all for inviting me here. We've had you twice on the podcast and for sure it will be other occasions, but it's been a great pleasure listening to the many episodes you've done. I remember very recently the one with Charles Eisenstein, who really hit home with me, and so thank you so much for having us here and, of course, for being a friend in the space and I think I would say the same I would bounce it back to you in terms of shaping this space. We've had I think, both of us the great pleasure to have so many amazing people on air for such a long time. So just a bit about me. I'm not a farmer, so I'm gonna really emphasize that Immediately. Was born in the city center of Rotterdam, which is a tiny city or tiny, it's a medium city in the Netherlands and I was always interested in food and not necessarily in agriculture, but definitely in good food and over the years started to look more into it and, I would say, stayed more on the slow food side of things. So if we just all would buy slightly better food than everything, would be fine. But I still vividly remember reading an article now 12-13 years ago about holistic plant grazing in Australia. This was before Alan Savery was famous, before the TED talk and all of that, and it talked about two people, bruce Wade and Tony Lovell, who was both an account. One account in, tony and Bruce was a trainer on holistic plant grazing and they both, unfortunately, are no longer with us. But they talked about soil, they talked about grass, they talked about grazing and they talked about carbon and I really got hooked by that little. It was part, it was a chapter in a book, it wasn't even a full article and I like the numbers they were showing in the fact that food and agriculture could be part of the solution, instead of just a smaller, less dirty part, let's say, of the problem around climate change, biodiversity and all of that. That really triggered me and I reached out to Tony and he one day passed through Amsterdam because he was on his way to Denmark to raise a lot of money, because this is where the money part comes in as well. At the end of the article or the end of the chapter, they mentioned somehow that they weren't just want to be consultants to farmers in transition, but they actually wanted to raise money to buy land, regenerate it and make a profit, and Tony was on his way to Denmark to meet some pension funds and basically, from that moment on, I started following the space. The space wasn't really existing, but let's say the space and what's the role of money in this, in this transition. And I got really, really interested in that and got very surprised why the financial sector and this means family offices which manage money for large families, which people that just recently sold companies, even people that won lotteries, etc. Weren't really considering food and agriculture that much. And so I am not a big investor myself, as I'm not a farmer, but I wondered what could be my role in the space and what can I add here, and basically started recording interviews around that, or conversations around that, I would say now six years ago, and I've got, I think, safe to say, a bit out of hand now 250 episodes, 260s already episodes in, and we still have, I think, another 500 to go.

John Kempf:

So, yeah, that's, that's a bit of the journey well, I think a 500 to go is just a euphemism for there's no visible end in sight.

Koen van Seijen:

No, just wanted to make like a 2x on top of that like 250 sounds. Yeah, I would have never imagined that, of course. I mean we had a conversation on that. I never imagined would be in this space, and we have the extreme luck that we get people that are doing stuff around regeneration, regenerative agriculture and food and on our quote-unquote sofa where we can ask them everything and why, how, what they're doing, what are the barriers, what are the challenges, the opportunities and all of that. So that's been, of course, exactly the right moment, the right wave and, but extremely fortunate.

John Kempf:

I think you deserve tremendous credit for your continuous curiosity and learning and sharing those conversations online. Because when I look at how this is still a very early stage space, but when I look at how the space has evolved, when you and I met at the RFSI conference a year or two ago, I made the comment that, from my observation, from what I can tell, I would say, your, your work and your podcast has brought groups like the RFSI conference together, probably three to five years earlier than what would have happened without your presence in the space. But I think you've, you've been successful in accelerating the conversation that much, and so the entire farming community, the entire space, owes a tremendous debt of gratitude to you. So thank you for all that you've done. Thank you.

Koen van Seijen:

I would never take that, that kind of credit, but of course, if somebody tells you that, it's very nice to hear. But I I think we've been extremely lucky at the right timing. Of course we kept going, we kept interviewing, but at the same time you see the world waking up to the potential. I think you're absolutely right. We're super, super, super early, but at the same time I could have never imagined some serious family offices, some serious foundation, some serious institutional investors meaning banks, pension funds, insurance companies that manage the real large amount of money talking about regeneration and talking about gender agriculture. Is it the level we would like to? Absolutely not. Is it a start? Yes, because five to I remember ten years ago and I talked to investors about soil and you sort of saw their, their eyes look away like okay, there must be some more interesting person to talk to at a conference. And that has changed, not because I became more interesting, but because the whole movement has changed and we finally understand still very, very premature, but finally understand the importance, like probably the most if you're interested in health, if you're interested in inequality, if you're interested in the big questions around land ownership, if you're interested in biodiversity, interested in chemical, in fossil fuel climate, like you all, end up in on soil at some point and and start taking that more seriously like we haven't really done. So we cut the right wave.

John Kempf:

That's timing is everything your comment reminds me of the signature that gale fuller has on his email. Soil is the answer. What was the question?

Koen van Seijen:

yeah, and that's been tremendous, tremendously interesting to play in this arena and to be at places like RFSI and to and to be there without having to build a big fund, having to represent, having to farm and play the role of connector, interviewer and following the space, and it gives a huge amount of responsibility obviously as well, but it's has been an amazing ride and get me to places like this well, it is a tremendous responsibility, but also it gives you a very I don't really like the word privileged in this context, but to some degree a privileged position in that you have the opportunity to have all these conversations and to be kind of the the brain. That is the nexus of all this information coming together you just keep going with these, with this let's, let's load a pressure pit for this conversation, all right, but no, we do get the chance to, because we're not running a farm or a company like you are. We get the chance and responsibility because we have time to to talk to a lot of people and to try to connect the brains and I like more even the hands, doing stuff with with each other, which surprisingly often are not connected like we've introduced people to each other in this movement in Australia and coming from very far. That just doesn't make sense. But at the same time, I understand when you're deep in quote-unquote the weeds and working really hard on your farm, on your fund, on your, your company, your factory, then you don't have time and so we, we try to be that connector role, that tissue, then mycelium or whatever we want to call it so as, as you've been on this journey and have learned about the various leverage points to facilitating change, I'd love to just get your take from a big picture perspective.

John Kempf:

What is the role that capital can play in facilitating adoption of region, of agriculture on scale? Where do we need capital and there's so many conversations around money in agriculture that you alluded to. So for us, particularly for our audience many of us are farmers and agronomists what are the things that we should be thinking about and the impact that money can have in the landscape?

Koen van Seijen:

it's a really good question. I would say the first thing to realize for for your audience or in general, that there's a lot more types of capital out there than you would imagine. I met I've had the privilege to meet many, many farmers and for many the only relationship to capital is relatively extractive and usually called a bank. And let's say there's a world of capital around there doesn't mean you should take it, but there is. There is a growing amount of different types of capital available for people that are in transition available, meaning that you're taking a huge responsibility. You're thinking someone else, someone else's money, put it to work and it ideally goes back plus a return, and that's I think. The second point is you should really wonder how dependent you want to be on outside capital, like there is a. Of course, many farmers are dependent on yearly loans and operating capital etc. But that's a risk and many have unfortunately experienced the negative side of that as well. Like money is an extremely capital, as you say, an extremely powerful tool. We've mostly used it we meaning general society as a very extractive one. It has potential of being regenerative when handled with care or, let's say, when handled with certain boundaries. But it's very, very powerful. So we should definitely see it as a tool that could be destructive and could be regenerative. It could be creating more life and I think, if we approach it from that, assuming that most of the capital you will find on your way will be on the extractive side so be careful. There are definitely, and there is a growing number of pools which could be flexible loans, which could be interesting, equity options which could be I see them popping up every day or almost every day in terms of how to enable farmers to to transition faster, and I think the faster piece here is is fundamental. It's an accelerator. It's not gonna enable you to start like if there's there's a very big transition needed between your ears, which of course, you help with with the podcast and in the market sites like where are you gonna sell the input side, the advisory, etc. But capital is one of those tools that can help accelerate, but I would be wary of saying it is the most important or if there was only more capital we would go faster, because it is quote-unquote, just a tool to accelerate something that hopefully should already be going. But it can definitely help. It can definitely help you can bring forward things. You can build larger compost facilities. Many things cost money in this world and planting trees is one of them. So if you want to go faster, money could be and I'm not saying it's the only, but it could be an option to accelerate. It's a few.

John Kempf:

It's a few of a process when you think about money as a tool to accelerate and many, many farmers speak about the need to have a team around them. Their team includes their financial support, their agronomist support, their technical advisors what their veterinarian, for example? So you have a team of support around the farm and finance and money is usually a part of that. You mentioned that money that has certain boundaries around it, its use and the way that is deployed, can not feel or not have an extractive relationship to the same degree, but a truly regenerative relationship. Tell us a little bit about what that might look like. What, what types of boundaries this capital have around it to transfer, to transition from extractive capital to a more relationship, collaborative relationship type scenario.

Koen van Seijen:

Yeah sure I mean it could start with very simple things like flexibility. If you have certain loan agreements that are flexible in terms of if it's a really objectively badly year, let's say there might be not immediately a penalty or immediately a need for a renegotiation, let's say light adjustments. We've had examples on the podcast. Of course, we've talked with the people, mad agriculture, the people behind the Perennial Fund, which really started with a profit sharing or revenue share. So that's really to sit on the side of the farmer and share the revenue in good and bad, which means if it's bad, there's not much to share. Obviously, profit sharing could be interesting there as well, but they noticed that many farmers don't want to. They were more interested at the end of the day, which is interesting because we as investors and people coming from finance in the city really imagine, oh, this would be amazing for XYZ. And then, of course, at the end of the day, the reality is different. So that was very interesting to see that they adjusted back and basically pivoted to a relatively straightforward but still very flexible loan agreement with a fixed payment instead of the profit sharing, where, from almost like a value perspective, we could say, okay, it's better to sit on the side of the with the farmer. If there's a lot of profit, we share. If there's none, we don't. Of course you have to model it well, et cetera. But actually many farmers just wanted the security or wanted to know what they would be paying. So you have those kind of models and then we interviewed a farmer in Australia that bought the neighbor's land and basically this is more on the extreme side. They wrote a holistic context together with the investor, which is a large family in our large wealthy family could be a small family in Australia and they decided that a single interest rate point wasn't really going to work for them. Because what if it was a really bad year and they had to destock? This was a livestock operation or is a livestock operation? They were incentivized if they still had to pay 5678, whatever the percentage was, then they would not completely destock, would hurt the land in a very dry year, which of course Australia has been having, and basically hurt the underlying asset. So they decided to make a formula based on two things based on the rain, so the presentation every year, and the ground cover. So one thing they could control partly, which was ground cover, and one thing they couldn't, which of course was the weather and based on that it, like an interest rate or an rate came out of that in really good years would be pretty high and really bad years would be zero. And meaning that the farmer said I'm incentivized to completely destock and take care of our shared asset, which is the land. Of course, he also said ask me again in 10 years to see how this works. We're working with him to see if we can share the terms of this or that formula. So hopefully that there will be able to share soon, because it's one of the first I've heard to really align investor with farmer and immediately have to warn all the listeners it's very rare you find an investor that is able, also mentally and education wise, to go that far but already writing a list of context together already. But that's what we need. We need more experimentation on this side and we need more farmers that wanted. We need more investors that want to take a step in that direction and see, okay, how can we move beyond the very standard agreements that we just haven't really been working, let's say, to speed up the transition.

John Kempf:

When you think back on your journey over the last half a dozen years and the many conversations you've had, what are some of the really memorable stories and experiences that stand out to you that you recall very clearly?

Koen van Seijen:

I mean still remember vividly, of course, getting into the space on the carbon side, but then more recently over the last years, seeing that carbon is only a very small part of the story. Of course there's all the excitement around selling the soil, carbon credits and all of that, but if you notice our latest interviews and the last year or two, we have rarely paid attention to that, simply not because I don't think it's going to be a part of the story in the toolbox. But I just see more hype than substance there and instead being getting much more interested in the water side of things. So the water cycle and I definitely have to shout out to the D Swartz who wrote, I think, water in Plain Sight and, of course, a book on cows Cows to Save the Planet I'm pushing the titles here, but both of them amazing, really learned a lot and really put me on the path, especially the water one, to dive deeper into that. We're now making a full series if water is more important than carbon, and it's been an absolute pleasure to see how the climate science has been mainly focused on carbon. But actually, if you go back not so long ago, it was focused on land use and carbon. We sort of lost that first bit of land use and now the work is happening to get it back into the climate science piece and the cooling effect on water, landscape scale regeneration all those kind of magical things. I'm very interested in that. That's been amazing to do this series with Dr Mian Mian, who has been advocating for this I think he's 85 now and finally getting some recognition now, which is better late than never, but still a bit sad and also Practitioners in the Space Neils Spachmann, if you don't know his work, google Permaculture and Saudi Arabia and you get a video which has been remarkable. And Tis van der Hoeven, who's working on the Sinae restoration and things like that. That's really been a very hopeful scale potential impact piece and something that I see very much neglected in any media and also in the regenerative space. Honestly.

John Kempf:

I think you used a very appropriate adjective the magic, the magical potential that exists from regenerating the small water cycle at an ecosystem level. It's also a topic I've been interested in for a long time. Have you come across Peter Andrews' work? He wrote a really interesting book.

Koen van Seijen:

I heard his name.

John Kempf:

Yeah, he's a rancher from Australia who has understood water cycles in groundwater and water hydrological landscapes perhaps better than anyone I've ever read. He wrote a fascinating book titled Back from the Brink.

Koen van Seijen:

I think one of our guests I'm blanking on the name mentioned. We should absolutely interview him as well.

John Kempf:

We should yeah, and then there's also Peter Wolleben, who he wrote several different books Of the book of the trees. Yeah, yeah, the tree, the tree.

Koen van Seijen:

Twisperer perhaps doesn't seem quite right yeah or the social network of trees, something like that, if trees could talk or trees can talk something. Anyway, that's been an amazing one as well.

John Kempf:

Yeah, it's really remarkable to all of a sudden, this phenomena that we have of the rain shadow east of the Rockies, and it makes you realize in the history we read how in Greek and Roman times the Sahara Desert was a rainforest. Where you could, the story is that you could cross all of northern Africa On foot without ever coming out from underneath the shade of a tree. And today that's the Sahara Desert. That's only a few thousand years ago, couple thousand years ago. And so it makes you realize that, in fact, if you interrupt that small water cycle and those first couple hundred miles from the eastern seaboard, you've effectively turned to the rest of the continent into a desert. And when you look at how that desert is just continuing to grow and continuing to spread and migrate. And the same is true in the American Southwest where we have desertification we damaged or disrupted our small water cycle on the southwestern coast in California and northern Mexico, and now that desert is just moving up through the American Southwest and continuing to constantly expand because of the way that we're mismanaging those landscapes.

Koen van Seijen:

Yeah, that triggers with me. It triggers one piece of hope, like we are the keystone species that did that. We might be able to turn it around. It also gives me a piece of almost not scaredness, but something like okay, let's say you're farming there or you're investing in a farm, or you're very and like, whatever you do, unless you restore the water cycle in the full landscape enough, you'll be sort of fighting against a war you cannot win, because the size of your landscape like if your watershed is moving towards desertification, like whatever you do on your piece of land will have a lot of impact, but still you're dealing with less rain, less color, like, unless you're enormous. So there's also the piece of your force too, which is very helpful but also very difficult to think beyond your farm gate and to think beyond your piece of land, even if it's enormous. In New York, australia, you own 100,000 hectares. Still it's probably not enough to affect it.

John Kempf:

I don't know, Cohen. I've had this question of what is the minimal scale that is necessary to really be effective, and the one example that's widely known is Alex Carrillo, from the Chihuahua Desert in Mexico, who is, I forget, now 13,000 acres, who has, without question, significantly altered the local ecosystem. At a scale of 13,000 acres. I mean, yes, it's still big, but in a desert environment that's really not that big.

Koen van Seijen:

Yeah, that's true, that's true, and I think we're going to see now. And that's where I'm excited and I keep asking this question as well to people like or have we seen our quote, unquote iPhone moment? Not that that's the best thing to compare to, but like, is it different now? And I think investors often should ask that question and are asking okay, great, we've known this for a long time. Another one is nutrient density. We can get to a bit as well, but we've known this for a while now and actually some of the science goes back a long time. Some of it is indigenous knowledge which is going back forever. So what is different now? Why should I invest now in this space and not just wait until the moment is right or until more things are in place? And maybe now is the moment? Because we have some pieces of technology, because we're, we have modeling power and this rear computer power to figure out okay, where's the 13,000 acres that are the most important one to do? First, because we have limited resources. There's a lot of money but still very limited resources. So where do you go first? In a full landscape or a watershed, like, what are the, the first notes we have to, or the levers. We have to plant first and change first and then move around to start to kickstart that process. And I think there's a huge knowledge piece missing, like because we all think about, okay, this is a piece of soil, this is a field, this is the hectare, et cetera, but not think, okay, what does this mean in a full watershed and why? Or should I focus my attention first, and then I'm not saying, let's not do the rest, but where to go first with limited resources, limited time to kickstart the system? Is it closer to the water body? Is it a bit further? Is it closer to the mountain range? I have no idea what species? What is the fastest trigger? Because we're running out of time. But those questions, I think, are going to be solved by entrepreneurs and going to be solved by companies more than NGOs, governments, et cetera, and I would love to be able to interview them, follow them. However magical they might sound like, a few of them are going to be very, very right and we, like we all, deserve to pay attention to them. No, we, they deserve to be paid attention to them and back them with whatever resources we have.

John Kempf:

Yeah, Do you have any other? You mentioned Neil Spachman's work and others like that. Do you have any other examples of the magical possibilities that people should be paying attention to?

Koen van Seijen:

Yeah, I would say the work of Mila me and me on mainly around the Mediterranean. Mediterranean Sea is a very specific water body and he's been documenting it's a scientist from Valencia, but it was a work in Canada for a long time why the rains have been missing the afternoon rains, the summer rains that always basically fell onto especially the Spanish side of things and then and he basically documented because of the huge tourism development at the coast, the wetlands disappeared and then everything else was cleared until up to the mountain range. And I think now he's getting attention. He's also the one that really pushed the story on why the water cooling effect is so important and not only carbon. He's no longer going to do it. I think he's 86 or 85, like I mentioned before, but I see I can imagine in Spain people are going to figure out. Okay, in this watershed or this mountain range, from the coast up to the mountain, there's very cheap land available, mostly being abandoned up close to the hill where the clouds go up. If I can convince some people in down with the hotels and all the development, to take out some of the concrete or to somehow make it not a wetland again but enough to help the clouds recharge. I can imagine people are going to make a business out of that and wait for five, six, seven years until the water cycle, the small water cycle, is restored and your trees that you planted at that time or seven years ago will be rainfed again. You basically created your own irrigation. You can plant rain, which is where you can plant water, which is such a powerful, crazy, magical statement to make, but I think people are going to take that. So Spain, definitely the CNI is super interesting with these and the weathermakers, and definitely Google that If you're interested in that. There's a fascinating article in the Guardian about them.

John Kempf:

I'm sorry, let's go back the weathermakers.

Koen van Seijen:

Yeah, the weathermakers are working on basically re-greening the CNI desert, which is between Egypt and Israel, and basically triggering a whole that used to be the Garden of Eden and triggering a whole set of effects on that whole region, which have, of course, been suffering from extreme mismanagement of landscapes. Let's say it's very ambitious. It's not an easy place, but if anybody deserves support to try and let's see if it works because it is desert, mostly desert now let's back them. And they had a long piece in the Guardian newspaper from the UK basically saying maybe what we missed is not necessarily money but imagination that this could work. And I think we missed that in many places, like Newspac, when we had a long interview with him like why is it not easy to raise money for these kind of things? Because we sort of cannot even imagine that desert could turn green or that it used to be like you said the Sahara used to be not so long ago this is really not long ago in our time frame Like that fact that we missed that. It's very difficult then to wire money into something like that because you just cannot imagine that could even work, because we're so used to seeing the great landscapes.

John Kempf:

Yeah, I think this in my mind, this really is the work Like in our work that we're doing at Advancing Eco Agriculture and helping to support farmers.

Koen van Seijen:

it's actually this is a conversation that has come up with a couple of our team members repeatedly, they will probably think it's magical what you do, Like that sounds too good to be true and then you lost them. You're like how do you do that then? How do you make sure you're sort of downplay the effect and make sure they try?

John Kempf:

Yeah, we have incredible stories and successes with our team, but our team internally there's a few members that keep coming back and saying John, yeah, we're having so much fun, we're doing amazing work, but when are we going to start regenerating whole landscapes and whole at an ecosystem level? It's like this is really the work. This is the work of this century really, and the next couple of decades. This is the place where we need to be focusing.

Koen van Seijen:

And what do you think then is the strategy to work farmer by farmer until you get a critical mass in a landscape and critical mass also of consciousness and of probably also financial let's say financial profitability or at least calmness that you can think about these things. Of course, if you live in paycheck by paycheck, it's not going to think about my amazing watershed restoration, but what do you see there? Have you seen some landscapes going into that mode of like? What happens if we think about the whole landscape? Or are we still too early?

John Kempf:

We very seldom have the. We very seldom have a nexus of enough scale to produce ecosystem benefits that we're observing. Yeah, the density is not there at this point. There's a few local regions where I think that is, we're right on that threshold and it's interesting to see what is happening in this. Actually, going back to a point that you made about carbon, it's we really need to regenerate water cycles and not just focus on carbon, but from an agronomic or an agricultural perspective, I think Walter Yanin says it well. He says, yes, we do need to sequester carbon, but not to get the carbon out of the air, but to regenerate the water cycle.

Koen van Seijen:

Yeah, no, Walter, we had him is one of the other, but I was already in the journey with Judith, but I think he was one of the ones that kickstarted that or accelerated sorry, it's a better word accelerated a process, with us at least. What an amazing communicator and storyteller, and scientists as well. They've endlessly pushes on the water cycle restoration, even though the rest of the world is still on the carbon funnel.

John Kempf:

I very serendipitously happen to live at a home where we have a small river about a half a mile to both the east and the west of us, and we're surrounded by this eastern hardwood forest, so we're in a very water-rich environment and this this summer we have had the most beautiful, incredible weather, like these consistent, beautiful rainstorms and thunderstorms every four to five days. It's like you couldn't benefit from irrigation in this environment and and also one of the phenomena that we've had had. We've lived here for three years now and at first I was surprised and I'm now only now starting to get used to it. We have this very heavy fog almost every night. I'd say six nights out of seven, pretty easily. We have this very heavy fog that lasts. It's low to the soil surface, doesn't even go up to the treetops, but it just in the open cleared areas. It's maybe 15 to 20 feet tall and it stays there the entire night. It comes up in the evening and disappears again at sunrise. And that's given me a lot to think about, because I'm thinking about okay, how do we, how do we develop this property? I'd like to eventually perhaps start a berry farm, perhaps do some grapes and some raspberries and various crops. The conventional thought process is that that constant humidity, that constant moisture represents a threat, because it creates an environment that is conducive to disease. But, as I was thinking about this, you know what if we? What if we change that narrative? What if we need to begin thinking about that this differently? Because one of the things that we know is that the absorption of nutrients through foliage happens extraordinarily efficiently and rapidly when the leaves are moist, and so you have the opportunity for lots of absorption of nutrients through the foliage, and I'm just I'm observing the plants, I'm watching the plants grow, and it's like an eastern rainforest, like you could. You could legitimately call this an eastern rainforest, and so it's really given me a lot to think about. Just to your point of inspiring the imagination, like we need to begin imagining what could these ecosystems look like if they were functioning differently, and so, yeah, I I've got a lot of dreams about how this might evolve in the next three to five years and how we might begin farming this, but perhaps, perhaps we develop a system to spoon feed nutrients through foliage a couple nights a week anyway. I could go on and on, but I'll pause there, though. The point I wanted to make, though, is that many of us to just echo the point you made earlier many of us have a difficult time imagining what these water rich ecosystems and environments and landscapes might look like, because we haven't experienced them and we don't. It's hard to imagine something you've never observed.

Koen van Seijen:

Yeah, and then imagine if you're not living on the land, not farming every day, and you're managing wealth, and we can have a whole discussion of if that's fair or not to have so much concentrated wealth in the hands of a few. But the truth is that the current system or that's at least what we have to deal with now like if you live in the city or even if you live on in the countryside but you're not farming every day, then to have that, to take the step and really understand what a landscape could look like, is even further away from you compared to if you're. You're deep into the subject, etc. So we should. Another point to make about the financial world is there's a lot of education needed. There's a lot of education needed both on the farming side and the farmers, for what and finance would look like, but also in the finance world, what is even possible and what is normal and what is not normal. And so we are really at the beginning of of this journey of landscapes and agriculture and food production could look like.

John Kempf:

And and I'm not saying we should go into La La Land and just imagine and dream only, but it would help, because we are really stuck in many very, very reductionist approaches, both on finance and science and on farming, and just doesn't help us very much well, the this conversation we've just been having is about looking at, looking at the water cycle and looking at the, the interaction between the water cycle and the landscape, from a holistic context, and the scientific method doesn't lend itself very well to agriculture generally because it wants to obsess with generally, with single-factor analysis and only looking at single-factor changes in isolation, which just doesn't work in biological systems, nor does the financial world, which only wants to look at one number usually, which is the return, maybe a bit on the risk side, but we're not very good at that.

Koen van Seijen:

Imagine we had a third, which is impact, and just things get very, very complicated and yet. But that's where we need it, but that's where we need. We need, I mean, and I'm very convinced and I see it happening every day, we see a wave of people actually that have experience elsewhere, meaning that build companies that might sold companies, they've experienced with getting stuff done and they're getting super excited about food and agriculture. I think that's what we really need. Our podcast helps them to get up to speed or what's happening, who to reach out to, what's missing, where to work or what to start building in terms of companies, etc. And we really need that because we miss just more people in the space, more people that obsess over watershed restoration and what kind of financial tools we can build around that, etc. Because I am very convinced that in the near future, many more the financial world or other people will wake up to the potential of regeneration as a whole. So there will be a lot of attention for the sector. It will be a lot of interest to put money to work and we always ask the question on the podcast what would you do? You probably had the best prepared answer, actually with a billion dollars, but I asking it because it's not a joke, like I get people reaching out with which managing significantly more than that, and they want to get involved and they just don't know where to start. They don't know what to do and unless we and I'm saying generally we as a sector, give them the infrastructure, the tools to put that money to work, to put some of it really to make significant change, they will go somewhere else because money needs to work and we'll go to another sector and we'll go to some fancy power points and we need to and the attention is not so strong yet, but we need, when it comes and it starts to build up, when significant players start to want to deploy, we need to be ready. We need to be ready to ride 100 million, to accept 100 million plus checks and to put it to work in a way that makes significant change in the soil, significant change for farmers and local communities, and that's going to be a very tense tension, like intense. But we need to be ready for those questions because they're going to come and the pressure and tension and resources will flow to the sector because there's simply no other way.

John Kempf:

We can get health outcomes, we can get climate outcomes, we can get water outcomes, we can get biodiversity outcomes when you think about the, the tension that that will create, and and the, the need to be prepared to accept those hundred million dollar checks, where do you see the areas of opportunity for growers today? How do we as an industry, how do we move, how do we evolve to be prepared to accept those hundred million dollar checks and bigger?

Koen van Seijen:

it's a good question. I don't think individual growth, I mean, depending on your size, what we'll deal with that kind of numbers. Maybe luckily, because it brings enormous pressure as well. But I think you mentioned Anthony Coursera already before there's a layer above or beyond that in terms of CPG brands, in terms of people that are are gonna process and sell these kind of the materials and the supplies coming from your farms. There there's a lot of opportunity for growth and a lot of shortage of money right now because it's very difficult to build a CPG brand, obviously with a lot of risks. So I think there's a lot of space there to invest in a way that then flows back to the farm, meaning much better offtake agreements. We've talked about it before as well. But we can endlessly talk about the financials of a farm, but if you don't somehow capture some of the value you create for the outside world through carbon, through water, through premiums, through quality, through flavor I'm just naming five, but it must be more it's gonna be very, very, very difficult. Just with input costs alone going lower, like just with reducing your input costs, it's gonna be very difficult to become financeable for individual farms not impossible at all, but difficult, and so I think we, for those amounts, we should look more upstream or downstream, whatever you want to look at it beyond the farm gate. That's not to say that there might be investment ways to bundle 5-10 farms into somehow pay for water outcomes with this. Those kind of mechanisms could be outcome-based payments, schemes, could be many, many things. But I'm not saying here let's put a hundred million into one farm because it usually goes wrong and so much concentration. But I think we should start to think about what if an insurance company, they don't move with less than a hundred million, and so do we want to engage with that? And if we want to, what does it look like? And how do we make sure we don't repeat the same extractive tensions and concentration that the sector, the financial sector, usually pushes towards. But it goes to be processing. But maybe my main answer to that would be make sure you organize, make sure it's not individual farmers will be played out by the system very, very easily. So it could be cooperative, could be co-owned facilities, could be processing, could be, because all of that is very, very needed. Could be machinery. But make sure you organize yourselves because you don't want to be a single one to deal. Maybe you're never gonna deal with a large investor if you're just between brackets, one farmer.

John Kempf:

So I think organization and making sure more money comes back to the farm is the single, is the big driver there, and it could be through other machinery processing, setting up brands together whatever is needed in your context to to make sure you have more freedom and more independence and more agency yeah, it's such an important point, cohen, and I completely agree with you in that we have the narrative that has really inspired many people to begin farming regeneratively over the last four or five years is that of reducing inputs, increasing profitability, reducing inputs and even in our work at AEA, we have a fairly very consistent tracker of being able to help increase yields while reducing input costs at the same time, and so if that pattern continues for the foreseeable future and I have no reason to expect otherwise then that means the regenerative producers are very rapidly become the low-cost producers, but that is not the pathway to long-term success in healing relationships you want that yeah yeah, it's well. It's healthy on one side of the ledger, but we also need to to decommod ties ourselves and we need to make sure that we are not just producing commodity foods, because if, as long as we are producing commodities, even if we become the low-cost let's let's just imagine for a moment that we're 15 years down the road and we have now 80% of farmers producing a given crop have adopted these regenerative agriculture management practices. Now you've again balanced out and everyone is now equally a lower-cost producer, but you're still competing for the same commodity price point. Who's gonna take that? lower cost it's not you don't worry yeah yeah, it's not the farmer, and so the the point that you're making is, I think, extremely important, in that we need to collectively work together and figure out how to decommod our ties ourselves by whatever mechanism and means that might be for our given farming operation enterprise, and its ownership and its, its control and its agency and it's getting out of the.

Koen van Seijen:

Because that gets to the nutrition piece as well, which for sure will cover. But like, if you're amazingly grown regenerative practices, all of it high quality, flavor and nutrient density through the roof goes into an extremely processed ready-to-eat meal. Are you gonna be very happy with that? Apart from that, you're probably not gonna get paid very well for that. But like, what's the? Are you growing food? Like there's a very fundamental piece there to wrestle with. Like it's not easy to decommodify, obviously, otherwise we've done it and but it doesn't mean we shouldn't really engage, because what you said really restoring relationships start there and starts with not being a commodity, because you can read be replaced by whoever day and I'm using day very deliberately here can find wherever else cheaper for by ascent, and you'll be replaced in a second. And yeah, that's that's not an easy message and not an easy path, because it means getting into all kinds of other sectors that you're probably not used to in terms of processing, ownership, all of that. But I think it's a fundamental one if we want to have also rural prosperity and local jobs, all of that.

John Kempf:

We need to really wrestle with this elephant so several times in this conversation you've mentioned nutrient density in the context of decommoditizing and of a pathway forward.

Koen van Seijen:

It's another series we're very happy with. Yeah no it's, it's. I was a maybe slightly less exciting than the magic of water cycle restoration. To be honest, the small water cycle, but at the same time, that connection healthy soil, healthy produce, healthy gut system, healthy people and, of course, healthy ecosystems. Could that be, and that's the big question we try to answer could that be the key to unlock larger consumer demands than just the soil? Carbon geeks that we are and that question is still out there we don't know what gets you excited about nutrient density, I mean listening to conversations you had with with Dan Kedridge of the Bionutrient Food Association, and that really got me on this path as well. I mean the potential again of decommodification and the potential of health, not only for me personally, for my family, obviously, but also, I think, the potential of many more people being interested in eventually soil because they're interested in health, because they're interested in their health and their, their family's health. I think the potential of reaching more people that are willing to pay or even to certain, not not paying even a premium, but to search for something specific because they know that tomato has x times the amount of phytonutrients you need, or x times, or this tomato is not that tomato. I think that's another one of those imagination or visions or consciousness we need to get to like. This potato is different from that potato depending on the way it was grown depending on where, etc. This tomato is different, this piece of beef is different. This like that decommodification piece. There I'm excited about it, not only because of my health and because it shows that flavors connected to taste and of course it's connected taste to nutrient density, to soil, but also because of the potential that I'm imagining that most people, he would ask, are at least more interested in health than they are interested in in water cycles by diversity and soil carbon.

John Kempf:

Well, when you think about it, you use the word imagining quite a few times in that answer, which is, I think, very appropriate, because obviously we have to imagine the better world that our hearts know is possible, as Charles would say. So when I imagine, what could a future possibility if we fully invested and I don't mean invested money, but if we as a society collectively invested emotionally in the concept of nutrient density, what might that future look like? Imagine a space where, at the governmental level, we had the USDA and FDA and NIH all coordinating to produce and to incentivize the production of food that had medicinal value and would prevent us from becoming ill and reduce our dependency on drugs. And there's a lot of motivations for this from a collective productivity perspective, from a reduced healthcare cost perspective. There are benefits here for insurance companies, medical insurance and life insurance and so forth, and so there's so many incentives. But of course there are a few industries that would be left completely outside of that economic benefit, at least as it currently exists, and principally agribusiness and pharmaceuticals are the two obvious ones that come to mind.

Koen van Seijen:

They're often the same as well, interestingly enough. No, no, I think that's why I get excited, because this is such a big shift economically, which will have such benefits for us, like our planetary health, our personal health and our farm health, and so it deserves all the attention and all the investments and all the grants it can get into to see how can we unlock that consciousness, that interest, and that on the institutional level, the farming level, but also the consumer level and, of course, the companies level. I think there's a big piece there that we're going to see food as medicine companies and we're going to see a lot of BS as well, unfortunately. I'm sorry, but it's also going to be very interesting to see if the consumers are more interested in that than another certification, for instance.

John Kempf:

I have to wonder, if I take this one step further, like how would our society look different, how would our culture be different, if people were vibrantly healthy and mentally focused and sharp and clear as a society? And I have this interesting perspective in that I grew up and I'm still a part of an Amish community the fourth largest Amish community in the world where certainly the food culture is not what it once was, but it is still generally true that it is a much cleaner and healthier and higher quality food culture than society at large. And I look at this particular group of people that I'm surrounded with and also the, to some degree, you could almost call it an echo chamber, the echo chamber of regenerative farmers that I'm surrounded with and that I get to interact with every day. And here is a group of people who are generally very concerned about health, who are very mentally sharp, focused, alert. They prioritize building valuable, healthy relationships with each other, with their family, with their community, and I contrast that with society at large, which is drugged up, eating crap and increasingly has a dysfunctional yeah, feeling crap and it's I think you could call it a failure of culture, a dysfunctional culture, where people are fighting with each other more than they are building community, and I mostly I'm speaking in very broad, sweeping generalities, and none of these things are universally true.

Koen van Seijen:

I don't start sending emails, please.

John Kempf:

No, do, do.

Koen van Seijen:

No, I think it's fascinating. I think there's an underlying like how can we be happy culturally as well and have deep work done, if we're not healthy and well fed? And not well fed in terms of calories, because for the most part, we figured it out and now the question is how to go beyond that. So that's what I'm excited about because of it's like there are two sides of the same coin, because we cannot imagine what a healthy ecosystem looks like, probably unless we walk in a jungle somewhere and we think, oh, this is interesting. But we can also almost not imagine what a healthy except for a few pockets here and there what a healthy human population or human ecosystem looks like, because for the most part, I think we're just not.

John Kempf:

Yeah, exactly, you know it's interesting. I've never thought of it quite in the way that you framed it, but it's very true. One of the comments I've made many times is that many of us, as farmers, don't really know what healthy plants look like anymore. We've never gotten the opportunity to experience them. Yeah, You're saying that's true for a human population as well and for ecosystems. And yeah, it's absolutely the case.

Koen van Seijen:

So I don't know how to unlock that, of course, but I do know with the podcast, and we want to follow the pioneers, follow the people that are building things in this space, and they will fail as well and they will hit walls, etc. But we want to be able to follow that because I think we owe it to them and owe it to all of us to really double down on that piece of health.

John Kempf:

One thing that's interesting, cohen, about all of our journeys as individuals is that when we're paying attention and we're alert, we all develop our own unique perspectives and our own unique points of view. I believe that, generally, almost everyone knows multiple things that I don't know that I would probably benefit from knowing that they have different points of view on than I do, so I'd like to ask you this question what do you believe to be true about agriculture that is different from the mainstream point of view? Where do you have a perspective that is very different from those you commonly encounter?

Koen van Seijen:

I guess of course you've got to ask this. I usually put your question as well and use it in a slightly different way on the podcast, but I always quote you my mainstream. Do you mean mainstream food and egg like really main mainstream or within region?

John Kempf:

Both you can answer the question twice as far as I'm concerned.

Koen van Seijen:

Let's start with mainstream. I think there's, and in the finance, well, there's an interesting piece as well, and we somehow it's not the most imaginary answer, probably, but that farming could be profitable and of course, many of your listeners will be very profitable and I'm happy for them. But I think in mainstream finance and somehow also, the story we've been telling ourselves is that farming is struggling and money is not there. Definitely it's in the land maybe, but not elsewhere. And if we keep repeating that story we meaning the general we then it's going to be very difficult to convince people that farming could be profitable. We see these examples of some and we always like, think it's magic or they got something for free, or not saying it's easy and you definitely have to invest a lot in ownership, processing, marketing, sales channels, value webs and all of that. But it's definitely possible, let's say, to make money with farming, and I think that I'm going to call it a myth, let's say, is holding us back, even though we have an enormous depth to pay to the soil, to the climate. There's a Sally Cowhoun with a famous investor in the space and a grand maker we've had on the podcast and said, yeah, we've been extracting so much that, yes, there's a depth to pay. But I'm absolutely convinced that over time, after a transition period, however long that might take, interesting returns are there and I think we should repeat that because otherwise we always people look at agriculture and food of like, oh yeah, these are. This is something I should do, but I'm not really interested from a financial perspective. But it also should be part of my portfolio and we want people to be excited about it because there are opportunities to make good money. I'm not saying crazy money, never trust crazy money. Crazy returns like always delete the deck where you get a very crazy return, but there's good money to be made in the sectors. I would definitely take that as an answer for the mainstream and if I've been going to the VGN part, I think single solutions is tricky. I get so many emails and we've been ignoring them, not ignoring our always answer, but like a single input that's going to change the world biochar is going to change everything, or just technology or software is going to make everything different. I think the single thing that's going to change everything and mentality in startups in general and companies in general, but also in the regenerative food and agriculture space is just not true and dangerous. And yeah, I lost like patience a bit with that.

John Kempf:

I think, like it's like there's going to be a suite of tools.

Koen van Seijen:

And even if there was one thing, we wouldn't be smart enough to pick, it probably.

John Kempf:

In biological systems there is very seldom one thing, and when there is one thing that has an outsized impact or influence, quite frequently it ends up being a synthetic material that is manmade, that has a negative outsized influence rather than a positive one.

Koen van Seijen:

You see, yeah no, I'm not deep enough in the plant science, you know, but there might be one thing that's blocking it. It could be that after that's removed or after that's adjusted, then there will be another thing blocking. So there's, yeah, we need a holistic view, which is what we've been using way too much, but the amount of times I get an investor or a company coming like this will change everything. It's just yeah, just hard to believe.

John Kempf:

Well, it also just makes you question how well they understand the ecosystem and how well they understand the landscape, makes you question the rest, the rest of the things they say yeah that's true, yeah, yeah, just like when you see crazy hockey sticks.

Koen van Seijen:

I always see crazy hockey sticks in presentation story to drop. But do you see, like after year three, everything goes to the moon. I'm like, yeah, I understand the function in Excel works like that, but doesn't mean you should put it in a presentation. Just makes me question everything else you said as well, like be better. But maybe that's also the humble like, I don't know. In Europe and in the Netherlands people don't like when you shout too much, so I would say, oh, underpromise and overdeliver. But I also understand you have to be overpromised to raise money. There's a dance there as well and attention. But when I see these hockey stick curves I was like, yeah, yeah, I don't think that's going to happen. There's going to be a lot of challenges with building anything, and I'm deeply respect anybody that builds anything from scratch ever.

John Kempf:

You know, there's this interesting phenomena in biological systems, where it's my understanding that most biological systems develop along the Fibonacci series of numbers. The variable for different systems is the time factor. Do you go from one to one to two, three, five, eight, 13 in a matter of 20 minutes In the case of bacterial populations, or 20 years in the case of a tree cycle, or something like that? So there's this progression, but I've observed this interesting phenomena that organizations, human organizations, which are also really successful and really impactful take the savory institute, or there's a number of different platforms or groups that have had consistent staying power for decades, and they all share this principle that they start slowly and they do reach a threshold where it appears as if, though, the growth is faster on the surface, but in fact there's a tremendous amount of history and depth and background behind it that took to get to that place.

Koen van Seijen:

Yeah, I mean it's an incredibly powerful force. We have that, the company, maybe the most, the strongest organizational form we have. Maybe, apart from a revolution and once they exist for a while, it's very likely it will exist for a bit longer and I hope that we see the birth of many regeneratively focused or even regenerative businesses, which is a difficult term, but something that that's definitely possible. Like, how do we use that organizational form that can attract people and can really literally move mountains, attract a lot of capital, a lot of resources to do things, to shoot stuff to space, etc. How can we use that to regenerate at scale? Because if it's individual farmers by themselves, it's just not just. The forces are too strong, it's just not going to go. So how do we focus on these regenerative businesses? How do we make sure they're well capitalized, with the right type of money and well resource, of course, in terms of people that are in this for the long run, I think we can literally move mountains and or probably not and we regenerate and we force them, but you get what I mean yeah, this is perfect.

John Kempf:

This leads me exactly to the next question that I was preparing to ask, which is we.

Koen van Seijen:

I knew you were going to ask that.

John Kempf:

We've been circling around, this conversation of I've just been calling it and decommoditizing yourself. You've been describing the need to take ownership over processing and marketing and sales channels and all these, these various pieces, and now you've brought in the very important piece of doing it as a group, as a community, whether that's as a company or whatever, by whatever mechanism, and so, within, within that context, the need to decommoditize, the need to develop processing and develop pathways to market that aren't dependent on the mainstream supply chains that presently exist. What is something that you wish, or what is something that you think farmers would benefit from knowing and understanding about the pathway? What, how do we approach that in a not in a holistic manner, but in a? What are the characteristics of those who have done so with success? That's the question I'm trying to ask.

Koen van Seijen:

That's a really good question. I think I would bounce it to people that have been doing that successfully, like there are quite a few examples. You might not they don't get into fast companies, top 50, fast agro companies or into lists like that but there are quite a few successful examples of producers getting together or of processors getting very close to producers and build a really long term, very symbiotic relationship with each other all the way down to the market or not, of course, depending on the crops, etc. So I would go there and learn, but you probably have to ask around quite a bit to find those that are successful, that are probably don't have a massive website or media presence, and not because they're underground it's part of some kind of conspiracy but simply because they don't need it and it doesn't serve them. So I would say, in your crops, try to find examples. I think a big lesson there is stuff takes time, and make sure you set up the governance in a way that it is for the long haul. Make sure you get the right type of money involved. Try to be as far away from extractive, short-term stuff as possible. It's not always possible, but when you do know you're dancing with the devil, let's say. It's really like extractive capital comes knocking on the door on the wrong moments always, and it doesn't have to be super profitable as well. I think there's another misconception, like processing as long as it's farmer owned, or even if it's owned by a non-profit or owned by a cooperative or whatever structure you choose. As long as it brings more money to you and your colleague farmers and it pays the bills, that's also fine, like there's no need to build another extractive vehicle on top of you and your friend's farm just because it's nice to have a profit and there's quite a bit of public money available. So go and look there as well. There's quite a bit of interest. There's always a shortage of these kind of deals. There's always a shortage of how do you package this well. I mean, I was making fun of fancy PowerPoint slides before, but it does help to have somebody involved that is able to speak the language of finance and able to make things look nice. Make Excel sheets look nice, because you can have the best plan with the best margins and you know you're going to do it. You know where you're going to get the processing technology, all of that. If you present it in a horrible way. It's going to be very, very difficult to raise anything, so I think that would be my advice Go to people that have done this in the past. They for sure made many mistakes you don't want to repeat. Find the right kind of people around you, of course, and the right type of money, because otherwise it's going to be very challenging. The amount of people companies as well that took the first money that was on the table and regretted later is an endless list.

John Kempf:

Kuhn. I've really enjoyed our conversation. We've touched on many really fun topics. What are important topics that we haven't yet touched on, that we should talk about?

Koen van Seijen:

I think the input space, I mean we've talked about it when you were on our podcast, but it's something we somehow don't really cover a lot. Of course we talked about the markets and how to make sure you can sell against a good price and make sure some of that gets back to the farm, but we often underestimate. Maybe there's also a piece there, for on the input. If you get together with enough farmers, could you make a high-end compost tea extractor or what things make sense in groups and not by themselves. Of course you could also negotiate a better contract with you for inputs. But I think there's an input discussion there as well. We always magically think that we were going to be without inputs very soon if we go on this journey. I don't think that's the case. But the question is how do we get off the very, very dangerous ones? Which ones are absolutely necessary to buy? Which ones can I do myself? Which can I do in a group? What are your thoughts there? I'm just going to bounce the question back. Of course you don't want to be out of business anytime soon, but I don't think you will.

John Kempf:

Well, actually, when you started answering that question I don't want to avoid the question because it is an important conversation but you triggered another thought that took me in a completely different direction. Oh, please share. There is this narrative, this shared experience that entirely too many farmers have of being regenerative pioneers and being rejected by their community, being rejected by their neighbors and by the people in their immediate social network to say, oh, you've really left the cacoo's nest and you're doing something really crazy.

Koen van Seijen:

We can laugh about it, but it's horrible yeah it is horrible.

John Kempf:

But all of a sudden, just something about the way you made your comment about cooperatives and sharing inputs was like oh my goodness, if we could actually get immediate social networks in the local regions to work together, you could rapidly reach a scale to regenerate the small water cycles. You know, ryan Holiday wrote this fascinating little book that is titled the Obstacle is the Way, and I like the title. It's really fascinating reading. But the point is simply that it is the things which appear most difficult, that if you face them, you work your way through them, you conquer them in a word and I don't particularly like conquer in this sentence, but you overcome those obstacles. It is the very process of overcoming those obstacles that has the ability to completely revolutionize your life, the outcomes, everything around you. And it just occurs to me that you know we have this frequent experience of people not being their new approach to farming and agriculture not being accepted. But in fact, first we need to have, if we're in this position, we need to have our own support network. We need to have people that can be there to encourage us and support us and help us through this process, mentally, emotionally and so forth, from a community perspective. But then if we were successful in being not if, but when we are successful in being ambassadors and communicating the message and the opportunities and getting buy-in from our local community, that really is the pathway to regenerating local ecosystems and watersheds.

Koen van Seijen:

Absolutely, and I've heard oh where which interview and the great simplification amazing podcast, if you're interested in energy dependence and all of that. There was a region focused farmer on and the interviewer asked the question, nate Hagan, of what if five other people were doing what you were doing nearby and nearby, of course, is a flexible term he said I would change everything because we're the weirdos, the different ones, we have to constantly explain. We still looked upon the local soccer, whatever sport we play club, and if a few around you are also in transition, and that changes everything, not only from the local barbecue conversations but everything else as well. And for sure, if you get to scale, it will trigger that water cycle, the small water cycle restoration we're looking for, and probably many more things are possible if you're slightly bigger. Scale with three or four or five in terms of local production of certain inputs that don't need to be far away because they might not have a delivery date in time where they might go back too soon or whatever you can do, and then you're tied in together and I think there's a massive, just like we used to put the barn up together and did all of that. Why not on the input and output size as well?

John Kempf:

Yeah, so bringing this back to the question you asked me about inputs, and I see a whole network of decentralized ones.

Koen van Seijen:

now, yeah, I see a future.

John Kempf:

Yeah, it might appear like a significant logic leap, but it wasn't. This is what my, my natural thought progression was that well, when you engage in regenerating landscapes, then you rapidly reach a point at which the only inputs that you need are inputs that are defined by your geological context and geological landscape. So there are some landscapes where the foundational apparent bedrock material doesn't contain enough selenium or it doesn't contain enough moron, and so it doesn't matter what you do from a from a regeneration, carbon sequestration, watershed, regeneration perspective, there will always be certain susceptibilities to disease and insect pressure as a result of those nutritional imbalances that are a result of the parent bedrock material. And so in these local groups, there would be tremendous synergy in collaborating on some of those key inputs that are needed. And I'm with you and your comment that you made a bit ago that it is entirely possible to get to a place where we are not on this treadmill of needing to apply inputs just to grow a crop and purchased input specifically. And I believe that in this geological context, this geological setting, there are many regions of the world where we will constantly need to spoon feed small amounts of very specific things to just address deficiencies that exist in the ecosystem. I don't know if that was the answer to your question that you were looking for, but it was. It was.

Koen van Seijen:

I mean, it wasn't I wasn't looking for that specific one, but of course I didn't know what you were going to say.

John Kempf:

My progression of thought was that, well, the biggest input that most people are many farmers are most dependent on is water. It's like that is the fundamental. What if you could grow that one? Yourself with your neighbors. Exactly what if you could grow water collectively with a group of neighbors? Absolutely.

Koen van Seijen:

It sounds like a magic title again. Yeah.

John Kempf:

And it's not a question of what. If you can, you can like. We now know that is possible. It's been demonstrated multiple times around the world. On that note, that's a wonderful ending. We'll just leave it there to inspire all of your imagination, inspire the possibilities that you can grow your own water, and not only can you grow your own water, you can ensure that you have water when you need it, consistently throughout the growing season, not sporadically, not occasionally, not not to these extreme vagaries of the weather. I think you know perhaps the entire bottom line of this water ecosystems conversation is that for us as farmers, over the last 20 or 30 years in particular, we've experienced increasing vagaries of the weather, extreme floods followed by extreme droughts in the same growing season, sometimes back and forth, yo-yoing back and forth multiple times per season. And what we are now coming to understand, and some people have understood for decades, is that this is, in fact, a function of ecosystem management watershed management is the term that you've used, cohen and that the way you manage plants in this ecosystem have the ability to regenerate and produce a much more stable water cycle where you get consistent rainfalls, as many of us older farmers remember from 40, 50, 60 years ago and in fact in some regions none of us living might remember, but it's still possible for those landscapes. So that's exciting and that's something to inspire your imagination with.

Koen van Seijen:

Yeah, I'm just adding there how can you as an investor, as somebody in finance, not be excited about that? Like there must be a way to help accelerate that with money.

John Kempf:

Yeah, cohen, thank you for being here, for sharing your thoughts and wisdom and experience. I've really enjoyed this conversation and I look forward to checking in with you in another 500 episodes and see how the world is different then.

Koen van Seijen:

Thank you so much for this invite, for the great conversation, and keep up the amazing work you're doing.

John Kempf:

Cohen, tell us, tell our audience a bit, where can they find you working to learn more about you?

Koen van Seijen:

Sure, it's investing in regenerative agriculturecom, like we call the podcast, exactly what we discuss, which is investing in regent of agriculture. I think if you search Regen, regen of Agriculture, you get yours and our podcast pretty much, and on all the socials as well LinkedIn we're quite big. We have quite a bit on YouTube as well, but if you search investing in regenerative agriculture, you will find on all the podcast players YouTube, instagram, et cetera.

John Kempf:

Thank you, Cohen. Thanks for all the work that you do. I look forward to more conversations in the future. Thank you so much. The team at AEA and I are dedicated to bringing this show to you because we believe that knowledge and information is the foundation of successful regenerative systems. At AEA, we believe that growing better quality food and making more money from your crops is possible, and since 2006, we've worked with leading professional growers to help them do just that. At AEA, we don't guess. We test, we analyze and we provide recommendations based on scientific data, knowledge and experience. We've developed products that are uniquely positioned to help growers make more money with regenerative agriculture. If you are a professional grower who believes in testing instead of guessing, someone who believes in a better, more regenerative way to grow, visit advancingecoagcom and contact us to see if AEA is right for you. Thank you for listening and we look forward to working with you.

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