Our Story

From Climate Concerns to Regenerative Agriculture: The Birth of Russon Family Farms.

As I alluded to above, I was a Senior Evaluation Officer for a small, specialized agency of the United Nations, based in Geneva, Switzerland. In this capacity, reports about climate change came across my desk quite frequently. These reports alarmed me to the extent that Karen and I decided that, upon our impending retirement, we would relocate somewhere safe and create a sanctuary from climate change for our family and friends.

craig and karen

We conducted research and found out that many scientists thought that our home state of Michigan, in the US, would be one of the best places to survive climate change. This was because Michigan is a peninsula, surrounded by the Great Lakes, which would act as a buffer.

Therefore, in 2019, right before the pandemic began, we made a whirlwind trip of the state and ended up buying a 56-acre Amish farm outside of Clare, Michigan. Clare is smack-dab in the middle of the state. Its moniker is “Gateway to the North”.

The pandemic began and I received permission from my agency to telework from outside my duty station. For two years, I teleworked from 6:30 to 14:30. Then, I would go out and work on the farm until dark.

Because of the pandemic, many people were laid off from their jobs. Food insecurity was, and will continue to be, a big problem. Since we had an outside source of revenue to support the farm, we donated our surplus production to the Community Compassion Network, a food bank in nearby Mt Pleasant.

We slowly came to the realization that, even if we created a sanctuary, if climate change rendered the planet uninhabitable, we would perish with everyone else. Therefore, we resolved to join the larger fight against climate change.

We did more research and found that at that time about 25 per cent of the greenhouse gases that were emitted came from agriculture. However, if we transformed our agricultural system, it could not only avoid emissions, but also actually sequester large amounts of carbon, thus helping to mitigate climate change.

We concluded that the best way to transform our agricultural system might have been through a system of ecological design called permaculture. Permaculture’s design principles, based on whole-systems thinking, seemed to us to be ideally suited to the task.

We set out to learn more about permaculture and, in the process, Russon Family Farms received permaganic authentication, at the pioneer level, from the Great Rivers and Lakes Permaculture Institute. It was kind of like the USDA’s organic certification—only better. We were only the second farm in Michigan to receive this honor.

Our commitment to fight climate change led us to form a private operating foundation called the Climate Change Permaculture Project (CCPP). The purpose of the foundation was to help create a critical mass of farmers who would adopt regenerative farming practices, embodied in the principles of permaculture, to begin to reverse the effects of climate change and, at the same time, help to address food insecurity.

Russon Family Farms bought a four-bedroom house sitting on 2.5 acres of prime farmland where CCPP could implement its Incubator Programme (PIP). The plan was to lodge four incubator programme trainees in the house and to subdivide the two acres, into four, half-acre plots which would be assigned to the trainees. The trainees would receive instruction in regenerative agriculture from a world-class permaculture expert (Peter Bane) and would put what they learned in the classroom into practice on their plots.

The trainees would sell their produce in the local Farmers Market. They were encouraged to share their abundance with the local foodbank. The Soil Inventory Project, the same organisation that was working with Al Gore, would help us to measure the amount of carbon that we were able to sequester. The acquisition of the property means that CCPP was on target to launch the incubator program in 2024, as was originally planned. We would start recruiting trainees in the fall of 2023.