5 Questions with James Rickert, Belcampo Farm Director
Tell us a little about your background—when did you become interested in farming?
It’s in my blood. I come from a long line of agriculturalists. I am a fifth generation farmer/rancher from Northern California. My great grandfather was a cattle buyer, owned a feed mill, and owned a large ranch that I used to run for my family before my time at Belcampo. I grew up on a farm in Shasta County, and started working in the fields in the fourth grade. I helped move irrigation lines in hay fields, helped work with cattle and general ranch work at a very early age. I learned how to fix a barbed wire fence at a very young age! I actually went away to college hoping to do something different than agriculture. But then I realized it was in my blood, and here I am today. I absolutely love my job, and couldn’t imagine doing anything different.
What inspired you to focus on regenerative farming?
I got a degree at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo and my eyes opened up to organic and sustainable agriculture. I was really interested in this and realized that what my family raised was nearly organic–we just needed to be formally certified! I actually called CCOF in the late 1990’s and inquired about getting the beef program certified. Their answer? “We don’t do organic animal agriculture.” I found another certifier that wanted to take this on, and eventually CCOF came back on board and I switched my family’s herd over to it. My senior project at Cal Poly involved growing a big crop of organic wild rice for Lundberg Family Farms and other types of organic cover crop seeds. This eventually led me to also growing the nation’s first commercial certified organic strawberry plant nursery. I guess I’ve always seen that there is a better way, and there are certain consumers that are willing to support farmers who try and do the right thing.
There are a lot of terms out there: biodynamic, regenerative, sustainable —can you shed some light on the differences?
You are correct… there are a ton of terms out there. Us farmers sure know how to confuse a consumer!
Sustainable:Sustainable farming is to create an agricultural model that can be repeated successfully, something that sustains into the future. It is a very broad term and if you asked 100 farmers the definition, you’d get 100 different answers. To me, it’s just agriculture with a conscience.
Regenerative: This model really focuses on practices that help build healthy topsoil, which in turn will help productivity of the fields, increase water infiltration and capture carbon in the soil. We really fall under this category at Belcampo with our cover crops, crop rotations and our managed grazing practices.
Biodynamic: This is a very unique organic style production system that involves a variety of actions that are not only based on the soil, but also timing of the year. It was made popular back in the 1920’s by Rudolph Steiner in Germany. It’s become more of a religion to some, including burying a cow horn filled with soil amendments and digging it up based on cosmic activity. Very interesting concept, I’ve never practiced it personally, however.
What are the top reasons people should support regenerative farmers?
Anything else you would like to add?
I just want to thank everyone who supports us. We wouldn’t be doing this if nobody bought our products. We work really hard to make a difference in agriculture. We want to give consumers a choice to vote with what is right by buying our products. If people don’t like that cattle are confined in feedlots, chickens are raised in cages, or pigs live in big barns that never see the sun, then guess what? Here’s a way you can support farmers who do things right.
Recently, we had a huge snowstorm in Northern CA that brought very low snow levels to places that never see snow. We had a big group of cows and heifers that were right in the middle of calving, and then had a big storm dump 18″ of snow on them. I dropped everything, got a team assembled, and we shuttled out hay to the animals by four wheelers. We brought as much hay as we could to them, as this was a critical time during calving. We worked so hard to save as many animals as we could, working until we couldn’t see anymore. The next day, we went right back at it. It was Valentine’s Day, and I got to take my wife with me and she helped all day (I sure know how to treat a lady!). I fished a calf out of the flooding creek when the snow started to melt, hiked it up a steep hill to the four wheeler, and we took it back to the barn and saved its life. This is just the right thing to do.
There’s a large ranch next to us that had a bunch of yearlings out there, and it broke my heart. They didn’t bother to go feed them, they were just letting them fend for themselves. I just don’t have a ton of respect for ranchers like that. My crew, however, is an amazing team who put the animals above themselves. It’s more expensive, and hard work, but it’s the right thing to do. It’s the Belcampo way.
I will be down visiting Erewhon Santa Monica on March 3rd from 12pm-4pm. If you want to come on by and say hello, please do! I’m available for questions or comments! I can show you pictures of the farm, the pictures from our crazy snowstorm adventure, and even let someone name the bottle calves we saved! Hope to meet all of you soon!