THE NUSS FAMILY
It takes courage to challenge the status quo in conventional production agriculture. It may take even more courage to allow your sons to help significantly change the direction of your farm.
Questioning the status quo led the Nuss family to a fork in the road late last year. Either continue using the conventional methods that were diminishing the value of the farm or unravel the conventional philosophy and inputs to begin a new pattern to make a viable future possible.
This is a story about taking a leap and embracing the real journey.
Meet the Nuss brothers, Tim, Tyler, and Derek, who now run Nuss Farms, a fifth-generation family farming operation in California’s Central Valley, located in the San Joaquin Valley alongside their father, Dave.
Derek works full time on the farm, hand-in-hand with their Dad and has been the foundation and driving force of operations on the farm. Both Tim and Tyler left the family farm to pursue education and careers in other industries, but every time they would come back home to the farm they could see the opportunity and necessity to create a more sustainable model that would allow the farm to thrive. They were convinced regenerative strategy and practices would accomplish this and decided to bring their expertise out of silicon valley and into the dirt…
of nutrient rich,
Everything came to a head in the summer of 2018 when Dave was in an accident on the farm that left him in critical condition with every rib broken. Even though he went on to make a full recovery, it became clear that there needed to be a strategy, vision, and plan for the farm moving forward.
We always want to know what sparks the moment of realization for farmers – the catalyst that shifted a thought pattern, and caused pause to consider something new and different, and this was it for the Nuss family.
To our Dad’s credit, he knew we couldn’t keep operating the same way we had and needed to innovate by focusing not only on profitability but sustainability as well, “While many of his contemporaries would not even consider some of these ideas, he recognized the need to innovate the business to survive and thrive.”
And so, the transition began.
They started with the goal of building the soil and knew they couldn’t just scrap everything they had in place, so they started taking small steps to change their operation.
We know over the next 5-10 years, it’s going to be a process and it’s going to be an evolution of how we build our soil health.”
Cover crops, reducing tillage, and livestock integration would be first.
To the surprise of his brothers and father, Tyler jumped on the tractor to plant the first cover crop seeds. His brothers often joke saying he is “afraid of dirt” and rarely seen out in the field, but on this day, he planted mustard mix in the winter but now leaves cover crop selection to the experts, namely Dave working with Ray Archuleta’s consultation.”
Next they started experimenting with integrating poultry into their operations by teaming up with Pasturbird, a company that raises wholesale pasture-raised poultry.
“While we are at the beginning of our transition to regenerative agriculture, we are already pioneering in the space. In addition to incorporating cover crops and reducing tillage, we are also integrating livestock into the operation. This approach has not been executed at this scale and alongside vegetable production.”
“Similar to how we rotate garlic, tomatoes, and cucumbers, we’re inserting pasture raised-poultry into that rotation,” Tyler said. “And the idea there is it’s livestock integration, but at scale. So as we systematically move the chicks through moveable coops, through the field, they’re invigorating and restoring the health of the soil.”
All of these practices are tangible ways the Nuss brothers are creating a new chapter in the life of their farm not only for their generation but all the generations to follow.
“As a result of building the soil, the hope and the goal is that we can over time reduce our reliance on inputs,” Tyler explained.
The neverending pursuit of knowledge
“We wanted to develop a space where people our age, the next generation, could learn from each other and see what people were doing in the space. And as a result of that, we got connected to a lot of smart people and had a way to access different leaders in the industry.”
Every conversation kept highlighting a void of how to apply regenerative practices at scale on vegetable farms. With 1,000 acres of a wide range of primarily specialty crops, including garlic, tomatoes, cucumbers, corn, sunflowers, and wheat, they began putting and resources on regenerative agriculture to focus more on the end consumer, soil health, and environmental impact.”
Amidst this steep learning curve, the Nuss brothers have managed to build a network and set the table for conversations for this generation to learn, find inspiration and success in the transition from conventional to regenerative.
When we asked the Nuss brothers what they would say to a farmer who is interested in regenerative practices but currently managing their farm with conventional methods, here’s what they said…
“We were those farmers. Our decision to move down this path was based on two factors that were completely self-serving: higher profitability through reduced input use and better premiums marketed as ‘regeneratively grown.’ Those factors got us in the door to what regenerative can accomplish, but over time we have educated ourselves on the whole host of ecological, environmental, and financial advantages. Conventional farmers need to be open to change, open to innovation, and open to hear a different perspective.”
Tyler shared, “The impact of COVID-19 has highlighted the existing problems with the food supply chain. Our crops currently support a combination of food service and retail channels and thankfully we have not seen a dramatic decline in our current agreements. That being said, we recognize the need and importance to diversify the business through more direct-to-consumer channels and local/regional distribution and are working on developing this alongside our regenerative transition.”
We will continue to follow the Nuss Farm. They are relatively early in their transition to regenerative yet they are pioneering new strategies at scale that have never been done before. The goal of Nuss Farms is to be a proving ground for scaling regenerative agriculture and producing nutrient-dense vegetables that restores the soil and planet in the process.
We will support the Nuss family and their goals until the cows come home.