Bella Gluten-Free Partners with Regenerative Farmer to Eliminate Glyphosate
Grounded Growth Network Announces a New Farmer-to-Brand Partnership
Bringing Regenerative, Glyphosate-Free Crops to Consumers
RICHMOND, VA, June 24, 2020 — Consumer food brands are scrambling to capitalize on the trending “glyphosate-free” bandwagon. Most brands do that by buying glyphosate residue-free tested ingredients and slapping a label on their packaging. But this approach puts all the burden on the farmer and fails to protect against farmers being pushed to use even more problematic chemicals that are just less known.
For Bella Gluten-Free owner Cecilia Ciarlo that wasn’t nearly enough. Instead, she is putting her money where the Bella Gluten-Free marketing is, supporting farmer Lucas Criswell of Pennsylvania as he grows one of her future ingredients using regenerative principles, and without glyphosate, an herbicide used to control weeds.
Grounded Growth — an educational, networking and business-development platform focused on fixing our food system through regenerative agriculture — is pleased to announce a partnership agreement between two of their members: Bella Gluten-Free and Criswell Farms, that will bring regenerative crops to consumers without the use of glyphosate. The partnership will provide funding to the farmer who has built up his soil health through regenerative farming including the use of no-till planting practices and planting crops into living cover crops — to support him in taking the leap of going without a widely-used, but unpopular tool to manage weeds. The partnership could serve as a template for other brands to allow their consumers to make real change on the ground.
“There is no perfect system for growing food on a commercial scale. Many organic farmers use significant amounts of tillage — turning over the soil to plant new crops, to control weeds.
But over the years we have learned that this practice not only releases carbon into the atmosphere, it also physically tears up the tiny world of micro-organisms working together underground to create healthy food.
Conventional farmers use chemicals to control weeds. This too has a negative impact on the microbiome.
Lucas has built up the health of his soil so much so that he has been able to reduce his use of chemicals significantly — while maintaining a no-tillage system. He has done this through years of carefully adding numerous regenerative practices to his farm: not tilling up the soil, adding more biodiversity to the microbiome by planting cover crops and keeping a living root year round by planting a new crop into a live cover crop.
“Regenerative farmers like Lucas have spent years building up their soil health with no support or financial reward to get within striking distance of going glyphosate-free. The power of the relationship with Bella Gluten-Free is that Lucas is both paid back for all that work he’s put in as well as provided some protection against potential income loss on the project field. It gives him a chance to experiment without taking on all the risk himself,” says Harper.
Texas-based Bella Gluten-Free has pledged a percentage of their 2019 profit to Pennsylvania farmer Lucas Criswell. This allows Criswell to take the financially risky move to eliminate glyphosate from 100 acres of production. Two acres of those have been planted with non-GMO white corn specifically for a future Bella Gluten-Free product.
Grounded Growth is facilitating the partnership and will hold the pledged funds in trust until the project is complete.
The Criswell farm was selected for this project for its 30-year commitment to regenerative practices, including no-till farming, planting green (or planting crops into a living cover crop) and keeping living roots in the ground year-round. The grain from the farm will be tested for glyphosate residue after harvest to assure full transparency.
“This unique ‘direct-to-farm’ relationship raises the bar for CPG brands marketing to consumers based on the sustainability of their supply chain — but without making direct investments in the farms that grow their ingredients or rewarding farmers when they do so in environmentally-friendly ways,” says Harper.
It Takes Brand Commitment to Expand Glyphosate-Free Growing
The Criswell’s family-owned, 1,500 acre no-till farm has significantly reduced their glyphosate use over the years. But taking that final step toward glyphosate-free growing is a big one. With financial support from a brand partner, Criswell is able to take a risk on one field, learn from it and expand the practice if the experiment works.
Concerns over potential detrimental effects of glyphosate on human and environmental health have led to increasing consumer awareness and sparked a ‘glyphosate-free’ food movement.
For many farmers, including regenerative farmers, giving up glyphosate completely means their crops may be overtaken by weeds, and they end up losing money. This prevents farms, already struggling to make ends meet, from giving up glyphosate. Many farmers using the very positive practice of cover-cropping, also rely on glyphosate to kill the cover crop before planting the next cash crop. Using glyphosate in this way does not apply the herbicide to the food crop itself.
While regenerative farmers often reduce their use of chemicals by as much as 60%, it is hard for them to completely eliminate chemicals since they do not till the land when they farm as organic farmers do — which both releases carbon to the atmosphere and disturbs the soil microbiome critical for creating healthy food.
That’s where the partnership with Bella Gluten-Free makes all the difference. This pledge helps the farm offset the financial risk of yield loss. The hope is that the learning curve from this year will lead to even more glyphosate-free acreage in the future.
Criswell said he has never experienced this sort of direct support from the end buyer. Selling into the traditional commodities market, he has no control over his final prices and is at the mercy of the supply chain.
It also means more return on the dollar for the farm’s bottom line.
“Farmers are normally price-takers, we’re not price-makers. It’s frustrating seeing the middle-man take all the profit. This is just a small piece of our farm land, but it flips the switch. We can be price setters,” Criswell said.
Elevating the Regenerative Story
For Ciarlo, the project has benefits beyond helping Criswell go glyphosate-free. She wants to elevate regenerative farmer’s stories to her customers and educate3 them about Earth-friendly farming practices.
This is the second farmer partnership project Ciarlo’s Bella Gluten-Free has funded through the Grounded Growth platform. In her first project, she and fellow Grounded Growth brand partner Around the World Gourmet pledged profits to help Kansas farmer Justin Knopf. With that money, Knopf was able to plant 72 acres of mixed-species cover crop. Learning from the project led to an expansion of the practice across thousands of other acres.
After the corn is harvested, Ciarlo will incorporate the approximate 300 bushels of non-GMO white corn into her ingredient mix. Bella Gluten-Free sells a wide variety of baking mixes including scones, cookies and biscuits. They are gluten-free, allergen-free and non-GMO. Consumers wanting to support the good work being done by Bella can purchase their products from the company’s website or on Amazon.
While they wait for harvest, Bella Gluten-Free will be introducing and sharing Criswell’s farming story with her customers through a social media marketing campaign. Her product packaging includes a link for consumers to learn more about the project on Grounded Growth’s website.
To follow the Bella Gluten-Free / Criswell Farm journey, follow Grounded Growth on Instagram, Facebook or LinkedIn — and visit our website: OurGroundedGrowth.com where project updates will be posted.
Grounded Growth is a unique, membership network dedicated to fixing our food system by expanding regenerative agriculture. Our members are farmers, food-makers, chefs, businesses, soil scientists and consumers. Grounded Growth educates, connects, champions and creates business-enhancing opportunities for members across the supply chain.