From Grass-fed Beef to Beneficial Banking

By Malaika Maphalala

I recently had the pleasure of meeting Kat Taylor, co-founder of One PacificCoast Bank, a “beneficial bank” newly arrived in Portland.  A fan of banks with strong community-service visions, I was interested to hear about their work, but what really caught my attention was that Kat has spent half her time involved in Regenerative Agriculture.   Here was a woman after my own heart: combining high impact work in social finance with trailblazing work in building sustainable food systems in her community and beyond.

When we got together, Kat explained that she thinks of things in terms of systems.  She believes that our current extractive models of food production, finance, and energy must be replaced with systems that support life. And clearly, she has stepped up as a driver of these changes.

MM TomKatGrazing

Kat and her husband Tom Steyer originally purchased 2000 acres in Pescadero, California as a conservation project aimed at saving a critical watershed from development.  The land, a former dairy farm, was a depleted landscape of coastal scrub and grasslands, interspersed with Douglas Fir.  The couple soon realized that this watershed was in the midst of a vital food network connecting rural agricultural land to the suburbs. Drawing on that systems-oriented way of looking at the world,

they became interested in re-enlivening the land as a sustainably managed ranch that would both rehabilitate the land and provide food locally.  Kat went about getting a fast education in food systems, drawing from the work of several pioneers: Joel Salatin of Polyface Farms, Alan Savory, who pretty much wrote the bible on Holistic Resource Management, and Julius Ruechel, a Yukon cattle rancher who, like Savory, advocates ranching using grazing patterns that mimic the migrating herds of the Serengeti and Great Plains.

MM TomKat overview

Today, the Pescadero ranch, known as TomKat Ranch, produces triple certified grass-fed beef, sold locally under the name LeftCoast GrassFed, and implements rotational grazing and stacked functions whereby cattle, chickens, turkeys, pigs, and rabbits move in tandem across the land. Mimicking patterns of nature allows the animals to play their natural and vital role in the ecosystem, helping to spread nutrients, build topsoil, and support an increase in biodiversity of native species.

In a natural extension of this work, the TomKat Ranch Educational Foundation has played a huge role in changing the school lunch program in their community.  The entire La Honda-Pescadero Unified School District now cooks all school lunches from scratch using minimal processing, organic ingredients, whole grains, minimally refined sugar, and as many locally-sourced organic ingredients as possible.  Amazingly, they’ve gotten their food costs down below conventional costs.  The one sticking point is the higher cost of food preparation, which is currently mitigated by grant money and volunteers.  However, Kat noted they’ve achieved additional cost reductions in areas standard cost assessments don’t track: reduced landfill costs, far less cost in packaging, and less food waste.

Her partnership with the Center for Ecoliteracy resulted in training programs for schools chefs from throughout the state, a feasibility study for improving school food in Oakland, the development of a cookbook for school food managers with scalable recipes reflecting seasonal foods of varying regions, and an ongoing tracking study following the pathways of twelve important California crops that could be featured in school meals. The tracking project is especially groundbreaking, revealing ways that the entire school food system can be retooled toward sustainability.  Kat wants to see a food system where demand actually helps to create and broaden a beneficial local supply chain, supporting good labor practices and a healthier natural environment.

Another agricultural project the Foundation helps spearhead is InKa Biospheric Systems, an advanced aquaponic technology in which raising fish is combined with growing produce. InKa hopes to demonstrate how aquaponic systems, which maximize food production while minimizing natural resource depletion, can offer tremendous value in regions around the world where there is limited fresh water and arable land. But wait, there’s more.  TomKat Ranch is developing new land ownership models to address the prohibitive land costs that make it so hard for new farmers to access agricultural land.  They’re developing an association model where farmers, who will ideally live on the land, can buy membership in a landowning association that maintains ownership of the land.  Membership provides the right to use the land for sustainable farming, and through an association lending system, allow farmers to use the land to access financing for working capital which can be repaid thorough a percentage of future profits.  As they continue to work out the details of this model, they’re exploring ways to incentivize building topsoil so that members who quantifiably improve topsoil on their land could be rewarded by being allowed to resell their membership rights at a higher price. TomKat Ranch has begun to make land available under a pilot model, with Early Bird Ranch, a pasture-raised poultry producer, now on-site as the first association partner.

And then of course, there’s the bank.  Modeled after community banking pioneers like Triodos Bank and Self Help Credit Union, One PacificCoast Bank is a Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) that uses the term beneficial banking to describe its lending practices, which focus on low and moderate income communities. Loans to small business and non-profits support clean technology solutions, regenerative agriculture, critical community institutions, job growth, and a living wage. And, affirming the bank’s commitment to an equitable relationship with its community, 100% of the economic interest in the bank belongs to the non-profit One PacificCoast Foundation.

This is a fascinating group of projects and I appreciate Kat Taylor’s passion and devotion to addressing these critical issues.  She says that as a mother and a person who can’t stop seeing everything as connected, she’s felt compelled to be part of creating beneficial systems within a new development paradigm that can help build an economy of justice.

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Malaika Maphalala

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