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‘Sound of Us’ tells stories Northeast Ohioans want to tell — in their own voices.

Stark County farmers say regenerative practices are the future of farming

Joe and Jen Lautzenheiser said their Glenview Acres farm is an example of how regenerative agricultural practices lead to numerous benefits for the land, environment, consumers and the farmers themselves.
Ryan Loew
Ideastream Public Media
Joe and Jen Lautzenheiser said their Glenview Acres farm is an example of how regenerative agricultural practices lead to numerous benefits for the land, the environment, consumers and the farmers themselves.

The local farming community is full of hardworking Ohioans who are finding new and creative ways to keep agriculture thriving. This story is part of a “Sound of Us” series featuring farmers in and around Wooster, Ohio.

Joe and Jen Lautzenheiser said their Glenview Acres farm is an example of how regenerative agricultural practices — focusing on conservation and rehabilitation of soil — lead to numerous benefits for the land, environment, consumers and the farmers themselves.

Joe said that regenerative farming is, "really concerned about how do we really improve the soil health? How do we farm without toxins, for people and the environment, and so forth.”

The Lautzenheisers have been farming more than 100 acres in Stark County since 2018, soon after the young couple got married. Their North Lawrence farm produces beef, chicken, lamb, pork and eggs using methods meant to reduce use of synthetic fertilizer. Such products have been shown to release nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas that plays a significant role in climate change.

Jen said they employ rotational grazing management, where livestock periodically move and never graze in one spot for too long. This allows each parcel of land to have 30 to 40 days between grazing, giving time for their cows’ manure to enrich the soil.

Building such organic matter not only leads to richer, more fertile soil, but hardier farmland, Joe said.

“We've definitely seen more resilience in our pastures during dry spells, and that's because we have that organic matter in the soil. There's an armor on the soil that's helping it retain moisture," he said.

Humane treatment for healthier livestock

The Lautzenheisers said regenerative approaches are also more humane and lead to safer foods. For instance, Joe said their cows are 100% grass fed opposed to some other farms where cows are also fed grains. He said avoiding grains reduces the chances of disease.

“What happens when you feed them grain is it turns the pH in (their stomach) more acidic," Joe said. "And that is the reason that you have issues like E coli."

E coli, a bacteria that can be found in beef, has been shown to make people ill.

Jen said they also keep their animals in better conditions than some other farms by providing them with more room, sunlight and drier, cleaner surroundings. This is not only more humane, but reduces stress on the livestock, making them healthier, she said.

“Stress is where you start having things like disease pop up in animals," Jen said. "It definitely affects their immune systems.”

Improved conditions also make farming more attractive to new generations, Joe said.

“Most young people are leaving family farms because who wants to live, work in these conditions?" he said. “You put yourself in a very unwelcoming atmosphere and environment. I mean, if you take one walk and do a conventional hog barn or chicken barn, it lays you flat on your back.”

Jen added regenerative farming is a more fulfilling approach than larger, more industrial farming. She said this is first due to producing higher quality foods.

“The most fulfilling part is knowing that we are providing people with clean food that we know is going to support their health, their bodies," she said.

Farming for the community

Jen said another rewarding aspect of this type of farming is the way she and Joe can directly engage with the community.

“We're able to get to know our customers and form relationships, and that's something that's really special," she added.

This approach includes selling their wares at farmer’s markets in the region, which helps them sell their products while building a loyal customer base.

“A lot of our best customers came from just going to the farmer's market for a few years, and you just meet more people. Having those face-to-face interactions is invaluable," Jen said.

The future of farming

Meanwhile, the Biden administration is ramping up efforts to engage the next generation in regenerative farming practices. The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced its Working Lands Climate Corps Feb. 12. The initiative is meant to provide youth with technical training and career pathways to help farmers and ranchers adopt approaches to agriculture that protect the environment, including by preventing climate change.

Such technical know-how is essential to successfully implementing regenerative practices, said Alyssa Charney, director for Lands and Climate-Smart Agriculture in the White House's Climate Policy Office.

"The boots on the ground, the technical assistance, is really important to ensuring the actual success and the feasibility of the adoption of those practices," Charney said. "The idea here is that they will gain the training, the experiences to really set them on a pathway to be able to be that next generation of conservation leaders."

Charney said recruitment of corps members will be taking place over the next few months. She said she anticipates having people on the ground, supporting farmers and ranchers, as early as this summer.

Stephen Langel is a health reporter with Ideastream Public Media's engaged journalism team.