Investing in good food

New collaborative program funds regenerative farming in Boulder County from proceeds of local purchases


You can’t talk to a Boulder County farmer for more than five minutes without ending up talking about soil. There’s a reason for that: Soil’s important. Simply put, healthy soil leads to healthy crops and a healthy planet and, ultimately, healthy people.

So for years, as regenerative farmers built and grew agricultural operations throughout the county, one major focus has been on repairing the soil. As Marcus McCauley of Longmont’s McCauley Family Farms implies, this simple emphasis represents a sea change from the way farming has been done in the U.S. for decades.

“Healthy soil grows the most nutrient-dense and delicious food possible. It also happens to sequester carbon and have a major impact on climate change,” he says. “The current food system incentivizes a race for yield. And yield doesn’t capture nutrient density. Nutrient density comes from healthy soil practices, so this program is a way for a consumer to vote for healthy soil practices.”

The program McCauley’s referring to is Restore Colorado, a new collaborative endeavor to fund regenerative farming enterprises throughout Colorado directly from Boulder County consumers. In the program, participating local restaurants reserve 1% of sales to be given to a fund that regenerative farmers can use for projects. McCauley Family Farm, which employs carbon farming tactics like keyline plowing, compost applications and other methodologies to restore soil health and sequester carbon, is one of the first two recipients of funds (the other is Esoterra Culinary Garden). Models predict the McCauley project will remove 300 tons of carbon from the atmosphere.

“I mean, we’re talking about a consumer revolution. We’re talking about putting the power in the hands of consumers to choose what kind of food system they want,” McCauley says.

The program is a collaboration between Zero Foodprint, Mad Agriculture, Boulder County, the City of Boulder and Denver’s Office of Climate Action, Sustainability, and Resiliency. The funds gathered will help farmers like McCauley introduce or expand regenerative agriculture practices like compost application, perennial and cover crop planting, reduced tillage and grazing management.

The initial list of 17 participating restaurants includes Boulder County spots like GB Culinary, Nude Foods Market, River and Woods, Whistling Boar and five Boulder Subway locations. (Hey, good for Subway.)

The program helps meet the financial demands of transitioning to regenerative farming. Most farm equipment was designed with simplified industrial practices in mind; for instance, massive tractors that compact soil and serve only one purpose. Regenerative farmers need specialized equipment like no-till planters and cover stop seeders; not to mention the labor costs for hand-weeding since typical herbicides and pesticides aren’t used.

It’s a program that has the potential to be modeled in other communities, and thus change the food system in the U.S. incrementally.

“Citizens want to take climate action and now they can directly fund climate beneficial farming in their own food system, which directly benefits local communities and creates tastier and more nutritious food,” said Anthony Myint, Zero Foodprint co-founder and director of partnerships, in a press release. “Restore Colorado is a chance to create a new normal that tackles climate change with healthy soil on local farms. This program is all about optimism and action.”

There’s also climate action in local agriculture outside of Restore Colorado; Longmont’s Ollin Farms recently announced the launch of Project 95, a collaborative project to restore 135 acres of land the farm leased from Boulder County Parks and Open Space. The land will be used this year for projects that include planting 2,000 perennial shrubs, 300 fruit trees, on-farm compost trials, partnering with young farmers on rotational grazing and experimenting with more pollinator-friendly cover crops.