Breathe Deep Farm supplies regenerative organic grains to Happy Family Organics and Alter Eco, while helping to revive grain production in New York’s Hudson Valley
It didn’t take long for food brands to learn that Breathe Deep Farm, based in New York’s Hudson Valley, was producing regenerative organic certified grains. Organic baby food manufacturer Happy Family Organics had been looking for Regenerative Organic certified oats for their Organic & Regenerative product line. They contacted Breathe Deep Farm through the farm’s website after learning about them from the Regenerative Organic Certification (ROC) pilot program.
“I was surprised when Happy Family came along, and said ‘we want 25 tons of hulless oats,’” says Chris Cashen, Breathe Deep Farm’s manager.
That was the beginning of partnerships between Happy Family Organic—along with organic and fair trade chocolate manufacturer Alter Eco—and Breath Deep Farm. In the process, the brands support farms like Breathe Deep while advancing regenerative organic agriculture.
Revive tradition of grain production in Hudson Valley
Breathe Deep Farm was founded in 2015 thanks to a collaboration between several farms, conservation groups, and Armonia, a group that has been making long-term investments in projects that promote regenerative agriculture for the past decade. The groups saved an old dairy farm from being developed as a real estate project.
“Armonia was looking for a farm in the Hudson Valley to practice regenerative agriculture on,” says Rosie Kissel, who works for Armonia and serves as the farm’s business manager.
The aim was to regenerate the land, connect with other farmers in the Hudson Valley, and build a regenerative grain market in Claverack County. The Hudson Valley had been the bread basket of colonial America, and leaders of Breathe Deep Farm wanted to help revitalize local grain production.
Armonia owns the farm, and operates it in partnership with The Farm at Miller’s Crossing, an organic farm owned by Cashen and his wife and business partner, Katie Smith.
Breathe Deep Farm encompasses about 1000 acres, with 400 to 600 acres planted with crops each year; the rest is forest and wetlands.
Cashen says the soils in the region are fertile. “This isn’t the grain belt of the United States, but there are beautiful soils in the area, and lots of people are growing wonderful crops.”
Organic crops grown on the farm include corn and soybeans, as well as small grains such as barley, oats, rye, and buckwheat.
The farm began transitioning to organic in 2016 with the help of Stone House Grain, a local organic grower and feed mill. Cashen, who has 25 years of experience with his own organic farm, knew the transition process. The entire farm was certified organic in 2019.
Breathe Deep has found local markets to sell their organic grains. “We sell a majority of our crops into the local organic feed market,” Kissel says. “Another big portion is the malting space, and we’re just starting to enter the baking market.”
They sell small grains such as barley to Valley Malt, in Hadley, Massachusetts, which processes them into malts for breweries. The farm recently connected with Mi Tierra, a tortilla manufacturer also in Hadley, which buys the farm’s organic corn.
ROC: “North Star to guide our work”
As part of its commitment to regenerative agriculture, Armonia encouraged Cashen to seek Regenerative Organic Certification.
ROC was launched in 2017 as a joint project by the Rodale Institute, Patagonia, and Dr. Bronner’s. The aim was to add standards that the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Organic Program (NOP) wasn’t addressing, particularly around soil health, animal welfare, and social fairness.
“We’ve been big fans of Rodale’s work for a long time, and when we saw them introducing the ROC, we got really interested in what that would mean in terms of bringing regenerative agriculture forward,” Kissel says.
Cashen initially was skeptical thinking ROC was “more paperwork” but he soon came to see the program’s value.
“It’s another level that is a natural progression,” Cashen says. “It has encouraged us to expand our crop rotation and look at all of our systems critically.”
Breathe Deep Farm joined ROC’s pilot program in 2019. “We wanted to have a north star to guide our work and to make sure we were being rigorous in developing our regenerative approach,” Kissel says.
Breathe Deep Farm was the first farm in the U.S. audited for Regenerative Organic Certification and received certification in 2020 at the silver level. ROC awards certification at gold, silver, and bronze levels depending on different production practices.
Wanted product with ROC certified ingredients
Breath Deep Farm’s Regenerative Organic Certification paid immediate dividends when Happy Family Organic contacted them about buying ROC oats.
“It was a relationship that was based on their desire to immediately have a product in their line that was ROC certified,” Cashen says.
Happy Family Organics needed hulless oats, which Breathe Deep Farm was growing. Most varieties of oats have a hull covering the germ that must be removed through processing. But with hulless oats, the hull falls off during harvest, making it easier for processing into flour.
“Rosie was so willing to work with us to make sure the oats they were growing for us would meet our ingredient specifications,” says Katie Clark, Happy Family Organics’ director of sustainability.
Breathe Deep Farm harvested the oats and sent them to Everspring Farms in Seaforth, Ontario, which milled them into flour for Happy Family Organics.
Kissel says Everspring was “incredible.” “Having someone in the middle who was really dedicated to working with us was very helpful because otherwise it would’ve been near impossible for us to sell to someone like Happy Family,” Kissel says.
The oats are used in three of Happy Family’s Happy Baby® Organic & Regenerative products—Pear, Raspberry & Oats; Apples, Kale & Oats; and Pears, Squash & Oats.
Clark says Happy Family Organics was so pleased with their experience working with Breathe Deep Farm that they would refer them to other companies looking for ROC grains.
Alter Eco purchased oats for granola product
One of the companies they referred to the farm was Alter Eco. Antoine Ambert, the company’s senior director of innovation and sustainability, learned about Breathe Deep Farm’s oats through his purchase of Happy Family Organics’ products for his twin babies.
“I was purchasing their baby pouch that is made with regenerative oats and when I saw that, I reached out to Happy Family and said, ‘Where do you source those?’”
Alter Eco contacted Breathe Deep Farm, and Ambert and his marketing team visited the farm in July 2021.
“We met Chris and Rosie, and we were really amazed by what they’ve done, and their principles and understanding,” Ambert says.
Alter Eco purchased oats from Breathe Deep Farm in August 2021 for new no-added sugar organic granola products that launched this past January in stores nationwide.
According to Ambert, it was the first time Alter Eco had purchased an ingredient in North America; they source cocoa from Ecuador.
“They were one of those companies that were really looking forward to
getting in this regenerative organic marketplace and supporting it from the get-go,” Cashen says.
Ambert values the relationship with Breathe Deep Farm. “I think that direct relationship is the best way to serve farmers from an economic point of view to put the most money in their pocket. One of the beauties of regenerative is that it really supports that principle.”
Kissel and Cashen are both happy about the interest from food brands in their ROC-certified grains, and telling the story about Breathe Deep Farm.
“It’s really exciting, and both brands have put time and energy into helping tell the story, which we really appreciate,” Kissel says.
“People are looking for a story behind the food, and this is certainly a compelling story,” Cashen says.