I had the absolute pleasure of connecting with Nate Belcher a little over a year ago and Del Ficke shortly after at a Healthy Farms conference. I now have the honor to work with and learn from them as well as help promote the incredible efforts and fruits of their labor. When you sit down with either of these guys, you know you’re in good company. Their drive to educate and share their work, and make a lasting impact in agriculture and the experience of food is infectious. Below is an introduction to their collaboration and the story of what drew Nate to the partnership. You can find Del’s story in Pt. 2, and be sure this won’t be the last you’ll hear from them.
Excerpts from “Two Families”
Two families partner to change the world for the better.
“It’s all God – that’s it, there’s no other way to explain it,” Del Ficke said. “I met Nate Belcher, the visionary behind Green Acres Cover Crops at a cover crops event in Nemaha County and God connected two like-minds. Yes, that’s the day the urban farmer met the cattleman and the rest is history.”
With cover crops, cattle and other forms of livestock at the center of our mission, Ficke Cattle Company Graze Master Genetics™ and Green Acres Cover Crops is coming together to change agriculture and our world for the better.
Nate, his wife Rebecca and their son Rye, who is very suitably named with a father so passionate about cover crops and seeds in general.
Nate’s story . . .
“Ten years ago, I could have only dreamt of being involved with food production. What I did know for sure was that God was setting me down a path that would allow me, with his love and guidance, to have the opportunity to help people live healthy, productive lives through agricultural systems that align with His design.
Growing up as a ‘city dweller’ in Omaha, I was somewhat removed from the farming operations that surrounded me. I knew about the importance of farming here in Nebraska and what it means for our economy and lifestyle, but I was not fully aware of what it took to produce those commodity products. As I began to dig into how our food is produced, I began to realize that we have been heading down a path of unsustainable consumption with an increasingly ‘use it and lose it’ attitude towards our natural resources.
That brings me to a decade ago when I purchased a house with a small garden area from the prior owners. I really didn’t have an interest in gardening but thought I would plant a couple tomatoes and peppers for the heck of it that first spring. I didn’t know it at the time, but planting those first seedlings would change the direction of my life forever. It is hard to describe what happened over the course of that growing season, but God had placed this overwhelming, joyful burden upon my heart that I was to dedicate my life to healthy, sustainable food production.
Needless to say, I was very reluctant at first because that was not ‘my’ plan, but I quickly realized this was my calling and I let go of the controls and said, ‘Okay, God, I’m all in.’ I had no clue what that meant or looked like because I knew very little about growing food in the first place, but I was always reassured that God had a plan and that my job was to follow and do, and God would take care of the rest.
The next year, with help from friends, we turned over the entire backyard to growing food and learning as much as possible with hands-on experience. Right at that time, through God’s grace, I met John Doran, a retired UNL agronomy and horticulture professor (and a really incredible person) at a church community garden two blocks from my house who would become a pivotal mentor as I started on my journey. John knew that productive agricultural systems could be healthy and sustainable all while benefiting everyone involved.
Not only did he believe in it, John lived it and was always involved in projects around the world focused on these very issues which really brought to my attention the fact that we do not need to lean on conventional crutches to produce food for a growing population. Instead, we need dedicated farmers that are good stewards of the land. John knew from experience that when you give back to the land entrusted to you, it will provide in abundance, and I have kept this knowledge close to my heart from the very start.
After many years trying different growing methods and techniques, I was first exposed to cover crops while studying bio-intensive farming techniques practiced and taught by John Jeavons. I visited his farm on a steep hillside in Willits, Calif. and was amazed at the level of production they had achieved with minimal inputs on what was once marginal land. I was there in the fall and much of their growing area was seeded to cover crops.
John Jeavons emphasized how important it was to have living roots in the ground feeding the soil biology and providing the benefits of growing more carbon to feed soil microbes and increase soil organic matter as well as carbon levels. I brought this knowledge and ideas of cover crops back home with me and immediately began to implement them into my growing practices. It took me quite a few seasons using different cover crops at different times of year, but I quickly realized the benefits the covers were having on soil structure and productivity. The better I got at managing cover crops, the better my cash crops did and all the while I was decreasing my inputs.
After years of utilizing cover crops and practicing other growing techniques, I had the realization that farmers both big and small could really benefit from cover crops given access to the right knowledge and seeds. Then it hit me like a ton of bricks, this is what God had been teaching and guiding me towards for the past decade!
That leads me to Green Acres Cover Crops and Ficke Cattle Co. This partnership is important because it only enhances our ability to help farmers and livestock producers succeed ecologically and financially. The land, plants and animals that provide for us, are completely interconnected and work in a symbiotic relationship with one another which is why we cannot try to manage them separately. Del and I both recognize this and know that by working together we are better equipped to provide our neighboring agriculturists with a more comprehensive guide to growing crops and raising animals that is both profitable and environmentally sound.
With Del’s extensive knowledge and experience in cattle genetics and forage-based grazing systems, along with our focus on soil health, nutrient cycling and forage production through the use of cover crops, we have the ability to offer a complete and holistic approach to healthy, productive, and profitable farming. It just makes sense!
As I look back connecting the dots of resources, information and people God has put in my life, it all makes sense in that regard as well. Everything happened in the order and timeframe that it needed to so that I would have the privilege that I have today to help farmers increase the health and productivity of their land and animals.”
Learn more at www.greenacrescovercrops.com