We accept that our effort to demonstrate the viability of permaculture and micronutrient-rich foods requires evidence that markets exist for the end-products. Therefore, a key component of advancing our mission is shaping markets for micronutrient-rich foods grown on permaculture-managed lands.
As part of our investment strategy, we are launching complementary land-centered businesses. Through our Foundation’s research on emerging market food and beverage commodities, we are analyzing opportunities for market entry and growth. Our businesses are primarily intended to support the micronutrient-rich crops we select to grow on our lands -- GBOMBS, Greens-Beans-Onions-Mushrooms-Berries-Seeds+Nuts -- as well as the wild edibles that can be harvested without sacrificing their natural regenerative patterns.
Sanctuary at SHO | Sanctuary at SHO (SAS) is our 501(c)(3) non-profit farm and animal sanctuary hybrid founded in 2018. Our mission is to model a food system that protects animals, climate, habitat, and human health. We are a little different from other farm animal sanctuaries because in addition to providing live-long compassionate care for 100-plus rescued ducks, we are stewarding our property as a wildlife preserve, and researching, designing and installing a food system that harmonizes with our wildlife residents. Before we rescued the ducklings from a rice growing operation, SHO Farm was deeply immersed in its rewilding, agroecological farm work. The focus was how to design and install food systems that, among other things, invited wildlife in, provided high quality food year-round for them, and benefited from their presence in the form of manure, foot fall which often carries beneficial fungi and seeds, soil disturbance, and natural predator-prey ecosystem balancing. The ducks added a whole new dimension to our work, forcing us to look hard at how to partner with traditional livestock on a working farm in ways that celebrated, protected and placed high value on their life simply for what they had to offer in "being ducks", not what profit they could bring at the market. Sanctuary at SHO, first and foremost, cares about the health, safety and wellbeing of the ducks, and we have no expectations of them, just like traditional farm animal sanctuaries -- we are here to care for them for their lifetime. In given the freedom to "just be ducks" our flock has become invaluable farm partners, and when the weather allows they head to work in the food system for the day -- managing insects, aerating our soils with their incessant bill drilling in search of soil-bound food, stomping weeds, and fertilizing-fertilizing-fertilizing without compacting the soil! At the end of a "hard" day in the orchards foraging, swimming, and sleeping, the flock returns to the predator-proof, insulated safety and comfort of the barn where fresh organic straw bedding, trays of organic food, and bowls of cold water await them. In a short time we saw the many benefits the ducks bestow on our food system, and how much joy and laughter they bring to our lives. Our experience purchasing the "duck" rice from a local Vermont farmer left us feeling duped, and we realized that anyone seeking to support sustainable agriculture can easily be duped by the right marketing. The rice farmer was promoting his rice as organically, sustainably grown because he was using an ancient Japanese technique that "integrated" ducks into the rice growing operation. On some level that's true. The hidden cost was that he was using 400-600 ducklings to manage weeds and insects in the paddy, and after seven weeks he killed almost all of them to sell for meat. As vegans who rely on rice as a staple, we were horrified to know that we were supporting this kind of farming - it is animal agriculture. When we adopted the ducklings they were too young to sex, and in the end we had roughly fifty-fifty male-female ratio. Young male ducks with raging hormones and so much competition can become agressive, causing serious injury or death to females and other males. When this began to happen in our flock we had to figure out how to keep the ducks safe from each other, never mind the daunting task of keeping them safe during the day when they are outside in the food system. Balancing a wildlife preserve and a duck sanctuary is challenging, but gratifying. We've come to appreciate that caring for life is far more expensive than using and taking it.
Foundation For A Sustainable Future | The Foundation For A Sustainable Future (FSF) is our family's private operating 501(c)(3) non-profit dedicated to progressive land conservation, stewardship practices and ecological innovation. The Foundation’s mission is to mobilize human genius toward the design of a future that is physically, culturally, and perpetually conducive to life. Melissa, Founder, Director, and President, established the Foundation in 2003. The overarching term used to describe FSF's work is 'living systems design.' It is an approach that strives to mimic natural processes and evolutionary dynamics in the re-design of physical and cultural infrastructures so that they become perpetually life-enhancing and foster creative, adaptive communities at local and global scales. The Foundation supports Earth Asset’s real estate counseling and land stewardship work by conducting research and sharing the important practices on which advice to clients, as well as our own land investment and stewardship decisions, are based. Some examples of FSF’s research include agriculture-superfood potentials for the northeastern united states, new applications of forest and permaculture cropping systems that incorporate wildlife browsing patterns and habitat needs; revisionary gastronomy that integrates modern culinary techniques to maximize nutrient density, flavor, and human health-enhancement.
Vermont Seaberry, LLC | We launched the Vermont Seaberry, LLC in 2013 to bring our much loved crop, the seaberry, to market. The seaberry shrub was selected for inclusion in phase 1 crop plantings at SHO Farm because of its soil-building qualities, climate hardiness, exceptional nutritional benefits and flavor, and its service as superb wildlife habitat. Intentionally small, we are about quality, not quantity. Our seaberries are hand-harvested and immediately converted to nectar or vacuumed-sealed and put into cold-storage.
Earth Asset Trust | The long-term protection of land is an important element in our work. Working landscapes can and should be protected from undesirable and destructive use transformation. We believe, however, that protection of working landscapes needs to be far more future-thinking, allowing, for example, permaculture design impact -- such as water harvesting earthworks excavation and installation -- to be as ecologically enhancing and economically viable as possible. Our experience suggests that a considerable amount of land conserved over the past three decades is encumbered by easements that overly limit, possibly even prohibit, permaculture practices as well as needed onsite housing.
Though we are heartened by the work accomplished by local land trusts over the past thirty years, we see significant problems with how these lands can and will be used and stewarded over time. Because of the highly restrictive language in these easements, neither Earth Asset or our Foundation would be able to acquire traditionally conserved lands because we could not carry-out permaculture practices on most of them. If, as we hope, our land use strategies become more mainstream, and as investors are searching for land to acquire on which to implement elements of our bespoke land investment toolkit, they will unable to purchase many of the conserved lands out there. In short, a lot of land is taken out of circulation for innovative agricultural land use. The consequence is unfortunate to buyers and sellers.
Earth Asset has tremendous experience in traditional conservation projects gained from all project participants’ perspectives -- land trust, landowner, appraiser, land planner, legal, tax, and wealth advisors, neighbors/abutters, local community members, and governmental entities.
Earth Asset Trust aims to demonstrate the future of working landscape conservation, and to establish models of high-performing, ecologically and biologically healthy food systems designed and managed in accordance with intelligent, innovative and future-thinking practices.
An interesting sidenote is the recent and growing trend of conserved lands coming to market, largely the result of an aging population of original owners/easement grantors who need to sell. We are on the precipice of a massive wave of conserved land transactions. The success of selling and buying conserved land will be directly tied to the confidence of the agents involved in marketing and representing them. Too often both buyers and sellers need to be educated about these oftentimes misunderstood property encumbrances. Earth Asset believes that a property’s conserved status should add value, where many in the real estate brokerage industry are unfamiliar with this important family planning tool, and mis-perceive conservation easements as value-limiters and marketing obstacles.