Reginaldo (Regi) Haslett-Marroquin
Reginaldo (Regi) Haslett-Marroquin is the Chief Strategy Officer at Main Street Project, a nonprofit working to create pathways out of poverty for the growing numbers of rural Latino immigrants. Main Street Project’s Agripreneurs Incubator was SMIF’s first One Big Thing Grantee.
What was your path between Guatemala and Minnesota? How did you end up in Northfield?
I was born in the southeast region of Guatemala. I grew up in the northern rainforest, and then I traveled and lived almost everywhere before moving to the States.
I moved to Minnesota in 1992, and Northfield was the first place I moved. I met my wife in Guatemala and she wanted to go to a program in Minnesota. I went to Augsburg to finish university. We lived in Minneapolis, then moved back to Guatemala, then to Belle Plaine, and now here in Northfield again.
What were some of the sources/inspirations that led you to the development of the poultry-centered regenerative agriculture model?
We started not with a focus on poultry, but on the regenerative agriculture system. Our objective was to move the organization to become a fully agriculture-based institution. But there was no money, so it was hard to come into an organization doing other work and change it. However, after doing some scanning in 2005 and 2006, I realized that the market had really shifted dramatically. For a long time, the alternative to local, natural foods wasn’t there.
A system change is a different ballgame, and that was what I was interest in. My background is in agriculture. I was born into it and have a degree in agriculture and business management. I had wanted to get back into it, but I wasn’t interested in traditional corn and soybean farming, nor could I afford that. Too many barriers, too exploitative, and too destructive for the environment.
I could never see where the logic is in corn and soybeans; I wasn’t interested it in. But, I also wasn’t interested in going back and picking up a hoe. I was interested in a system that requires the least amount of investment and effort and produces the most.
How are you measuring this model for success? Any unexpected or surprising outcomes?
The first thing when it comes to measuring is knowing exactly where you want to be 10, even 20, 30, 40 years from now. That significantly changed what we measure. Let’s look at 20 years from now. Imagine 150 farms in southeast Minnesota, another 150 in south central, southwest, and so forth, each one grossing around $75 million per cluster. That’s where we see things going.
From there, you break it down and focus on one of those clusters, the one with the highest likelihood of success. From there, you need a large scale support system, support for farmer training, to learn about the system, and access to land, access to capital to deploy their operations, physical infrastructure that needs to be built. Then we did a lot of research and decided to focus this regenerative model on poultry from social and economical research.
Everything we’re measuring is being measured against our 20-year goal. To most people, it didn’t look like we were accomplishing much, because we were laying the groundwork. However, by the time we came to SMIF, we were measuring farmers trained and we were in a place where we had curriculum, a market base, farmers trained, and we were ready to go to the next level.
We also measured where people are vulnerable. Access to land is an issue. You typically either marry into or inherit land, or you have to buy it, which requires that you’re wealthy. So, we had to set up programming around land access.
Right now, our business plan is trying to deploy the first 150 farms cluster. We have one farm that’s being deployed right now, still very much operating with our oversight, although it’s independently owned. One year from now, we’ll be training regional farmers at a scale.
What do you feel has made the model – and Main Street Project – successful?
The one big mistake the conventional industry has made, and which will be its undoing once we’re successful – because it can’t compete with what we’re doing: its costs are always going to be higher than ours. Right now it has the advantage and privilege of being able to shift that cost to taxpayers and to future generations by polluting the environment and all that and by charging the market pretty high prices for pretty shitty products. People won’t keep putting up with that if they have an alternative.
Now we are, right now, the first in the poultry sector I would gather – there are those in the grass-fed cattle realm that have reached the place we will in the poultry sector – to be doing this. The nice thing about poultry is it’s universal. We’re being called out to speak everywhere, including the Climate Summit in Morocco, because we’re leading the way with poultry.
How do you feel SMIF has helped support the mission of Main Street Project?
Most funders will look at you and think “how can we get people involved?” If you can say “we can train 1,000 people,” you’ll get grants, no problem. They don’t really care if those 1,000 people are successful after you train them. They will invest in things that give them something to report. Every year, every cycle they start over again.
Organizations like SMIF, they are thinking about permanent, sustainable development. We know that to do that, you have to invest in physical stuff. This is where the One Big Thing grant was so critical to us. Even now, all other coops we’ve built, I’ve had to personally borrow the money because no big funders would finance the building of stuff that changes lives and changes the system. That is fundamental to understand. SMIF understood that.
Now, when we go to other funders, we have something to show. However, that would not be there if SMIF had doubted us at a pivotal point. You were the only ones who put the real money into this. Even $50,000 would not have demonstrated the system the way we needed to.
What keeps you up at night?
The only that is frustrating and sometimes keeps me awake is that there isn’t a widespread awareness of how bad things are, really. We don’t actually connect stomach cancer with chemicals in the food. We always want to hear they aren’t connected. That worries me, that we’ll never be the system we were designed to be.
As you look to the future, what do you feel we need to be focusing on in Greater Minnesota to ensure our communities remain not only sustainable places to live, but vibrant ones for all people?
Number one, we have to stop the drain. The reason quality of life goes down is that we focus on brining in extractive industries. Look at all the rural communities that have problems when the main employer leaves town. Well, who brought it in in the first place? Who brought in all these Walmarts? It was people who live here, in a way. We let them suck up from our well and expect it not to dry up.
There is no place better to start than food. One thing our region has an abundance of is land and water. That is the foundation of the future. That is our petroleum. If we squander our land and water, we squander our future. If we enhance and preserve these resources, we’ll be here for ages. We can’t expect good quality of life if we let others come in and suck up our resources.