Bridging the Gap Between Soil Health and Human Nutrition

We build support for regenerative agriculture by bringing regenerative agriculture and soil microbiomes into the health and wellness dialog.

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Eligibility Criteria

  • I confirm that I am fully aware of the eligibility criteria and terms of the Act for Biodiversity Challenge and that I am eligible to apply.
  • I am 18 years old or older.

Initiative's representative name

Mary Lucero

Initiative's representative date of birth

04/04/1964

Initiative's representative gender

  • Woman

Headquarters location: country

  • United States

Headquarters location: city

Las Cruces, NM We are in the process of relocating to support expansion.

Where are you making a difference?

We work on the ground with farmers and health advocates throughout New Mexico. Our virtual conferences reach audiences across the US. Online classes now reach participants in 59 countries.

Website or social media url(s)

endofite.com https://agrihealthculture.com/ https://www.linkedin.com/in/marylucero/

Date Started

12/2012

Project Stage

  • Growth (have moved past the very first activities; working toward the next level of expansion)

Yearly Budget : What is your current yearly budget for the initiative?

  • €1k - €10k

Organization Type

  • For-profit

1. Founding story: Share a story about the "Aha!" moment that led the founder(s) to get started or the story of how you saw the potential for this project to succeed.

Working in agricultural research (Mary Lucero) and marketing (David Lucero), we recognized the potential of microbes to simultaneously address agricultural production, climate, environmental, and human nutrition demands. We also saw potential for microbial technologies to stimulate local economies. Mary was writing a manuscript on the benefits of microbial biodiversity in agriculture (attached) when a top government official advised her that her agency would "not support any project that did not support the agrochemical companies." This insight into the motivations behind public efforts inspired the Lucero's to combine their experiences in agricultural production, marketing, biotechnology, research, and education and create an impact.

2. The problem: What problem are you helping to solve?

Diverse microbial communities that recycle nutrients and detoxify wastes are associated with every other life form on the planet, so the loss of microbial diversity threatens all biodiversity. Industrial practices are thought to reduce diversity in the human microbiome alone by 30%. Comparable reductions are observed in crops and soils. We strive to restore this biodiversity with effective demonstrations and training in agricultural and dietary practices that restore microbial diversity.

3. Your solution: How are you working to solve this problem? Share your specific approach.

Our organization provides one-on-one training, workshops, and virtual classes in fundamentals of microbial restoration. 1-We teach farmers and gardeners to restore the soil biodiversity that improves crop productivity and stress resistance. 2-We teach consumers and health and wellness providers to restore the human microbiome using organically grown whole foods and natural supplements and cosmetics that support biodiverity within. We use diverse educational platforms, including workshops, regional networking, online conferencing (agrihealthculture.com), podcasts (https://endofite.com/podcast/) and online classes (https://endofite.com/online-courses/). Our classes have been accessed by participants in 59 countries. Our regional efforts were recognized by the NM Organic Conference Farming Conference, where annual participation ranges from 400-800 participants. We are in the process of purchasing farmland so that we can also offer effective field demonstrations. We have trained 12 nutritional consultants in New Mexico, Colorado, and Texas who are using gardens and "microbiome friendly" methods to help people enjoy better

4. Innovation: How are you innovating or using unique approaches to solve the problem?

Innovations we have initiated (I) or expanded on (E) include: 1-The use of native plants as sources of locally adapted, plant growth promoting endophytes (microbes that live inside plants) and soil microbes to increase the stress resistance and adaptation of crop plants in changing climates (I). The idea came largely from research we conducted between 1997 and 2012. 2-The use of online education platforms (E) such as Udemy, and online communities such as WeCreate to expand the reach of our educational content. 3-The utilization of nutrition marketing networks (E) to promote regenerative practices by fostering a culture of teaching, storytelling, entrepreneurship, and networking to achieve success.

5. Collaboration: How does your initiative seek to bring key players together to preserve biodiversity?

Our initial goal has been to engage a diverse network of citizens who span a broad spectrum of influence. We focus primarily on farmers, gardeners, and health educators. This focus has allowed us to connect with people from many walks of life. Today our nutrition network alone spans 5 states in the US, and includes both farmers, gardeners, nutritionists, health coaches, and business developers. We have maintained collaborations with university scientists in the US and Mexico. Recently, we invited a microbiologist from Mexico to join us in New Mexico, where she will isolate and characterize indigenous microbes that promote plant growth and stress resistance, and translate our online courses. Our recent AgriHealth Culture Conference expanded our dialog with leaders in health and wellness and regenerative ag. Our planned demonstration farm will facilitate collaborations with these and other leaders who are working to diversify our crops and improve human nutrition.

6. Impact: how has your project made a difference so far — in terms of both business outputs and social impact? How do you plan on measuring progress?

To date, we have: -Sold 4 online courses to 533 participants in 59 countries. -Helped 200 clients in 10 states and 4 countries improve chronic health conditions with more "microbiome friendly" diet and lifestyle practices. -Influenced decisions of produce farms totalling more than 6000 acres to convert to organic production. -Earned the New Mexico Organic Farming Conference Educator of the Year award (2019) for illustrating the value of soil biology to organic farmers and ag professionals from 2014-2019. In 2019 we established collaborations with 2 non-profits that specifically target food insecurity in tribal lands. We will continue to measure progress in terms of classes and workshops sold, biodiversity assessments we carry out on our land, and testimonials we receive from clients who use our products. As we build our farm and move it into production, produce sold will add new metrics.

7. Growth strategies: what are your main strategies for scaling your impact?

We are purchasing a farm in New Mexico where we will grow diverse produce crops and conduct long-term monitoring of plant and soil nutrients, microbial biodiversity, insect populations, and plant phytochemistry to better demonstrate the correlation between soil health and plant nutrition. There, we will develop new courses in pest management, fruit and vegetable production, and utilizing native plants in cover crops. We plan to translate exisiting courses into Spanish and Navajo to better serve surrounding communities. Spanish translations have potential to reach a larger global audience than current English courses. We are seeking an intern with expertise in digital marketing to expand the reach of our courses online.

8. Creating shared value: How does your initiative create value for society? Or different stakeholders?

Our courses help crop consultants communicate to their clients the value of preserving soil biodiversity. Our nutrition clients report better overall health, including reduced symptoms of chronic ailments. Our workshop participants are growing food regeneratively at home, increasing biodiversity in farm and garden soils We have trained Master Gardeners who work with extension agencies to teach others. By pairing regenerative agriculture, and regenerative health we are supporting biodiversity in both rural and urban communities. We are also creating a regional economic multiplier as people in our networks buy from farmers and health consultants that they have met through our events.

9. Financial sustainability plan: can you tell us about your plan to fund your project and how that plan will be sustainable in the short, medium, and long term?

Outside jobs and personal savings are currently sustaining growth. Proceeds from online courses, supplement sales, workshops, and speaking engagements are increasing. We are seeking an intern with digital marketing expertise to expand our online presence. Our new location will improve access to resources like irrigation water, labor, and internet access that have limited our growth in the past. We expect to see growth and profits accellerate as a result of the move. We have pre-planting (verbal) agreements already in place with produce buyers, so we anticipate sales from the farm will also be profitable.

10. Team: what is the current composition of your current team (types of roles, qualifications, full-time vs. part-time, board members, etc.), and how do you plan to evolve the team’s composition as the project grows?

CEO and Systems Biologist - Mary Lucero. 50% time committment since 2012. 34 yrs experience in agriscience research, education, and extension. Develop training programs, monitor biodiversity, guide long term planning. Online marketing. CFO and farm manager -David Lucero. 100% committment as of January, 2020. Manage farm, market produce, manage accounts. 44 yrs experience in ag production, marketing. Planned: Digital marketing intern, Summer 2020, Visiting microbiologist, Fall 2020.

11. How did you hear about this challenge?

  • Recommended by others
  • Personal communication by Joyce Skeet, Covenant Pathways.

12. Connection to Biodiversity: How does your project directly contributes to preserving and/or restoring biodiversity? Please share data to support your answer.

Habitat distruction is widely recognized as the leading global cause for biodiversity loss. In microbial ecosystems, habitat is routinely destroyed with chemicals, environmental toxins, and even pharmaceuticals. We show growers and consumers how to protect microbial diversity by managing nutrients, providing habitat, and monitoring biodiversity. We have helped 6 farms (estimated > 4000 acres) in Southern New Mexico increase biodiversity in their soil. We have provided specialized training to 30 master gardeners, who now include soil biodiversity in their training to home gardeners. We have mentored 34 health and nutrition consultants who are helping clients diversify their diet and reduce household chemical use to diversify their own microbiomes. We have spoken to hundreds of growers at conferences, and have developed online courses that reach more than 600 students in 59 nations.

13. Example: Please walk us through one or two concrete examples that show how your solution will solve the problem you’re trying to address.

One workshop we offer allows growers to examine the biodiversity in their soil under the microscope. As they compare growing techniques, and see the visible difference in soil that supports biodiversity, and soil that does not, they are more open to practices that build habitat for microbes. This often creates multiple benefits. To increase biota, they increase soil organic matter and diversify cropping strategies. Many of our growers are now planting mixed species cover crops, increasing plant diversity on their farms by 2 or 3 fold. As our consumers learn why nutrional complexity in their diets support a healthy microbiome, they begin seeking locally grown organic foods and supplements made from whole foods. 10% have begun growing gardens at home. Others begin shopping at local farms. All of this increases demand for food products that are grown using methods that support biodiversity in the soil.

14. Marketplace: Who else is addressing this problem in your environment? How does your proposed project differ from these other approaches?

There are several groups who are focusing on soil microbiology. For example, one Changemaker project is emphasizing EM microbes. Our project differs in two key ways. 1-Farming to build biodiversity can be uniquely challenging in the initial stages, particularly for the small farmers who are most able to introduce biodiversity. This is because these farmers must compete for markets with industrial farmers who have economies of scale working in their favor. By building a consumer network that values locally grown, natural foods, we help build a culture and a community that supports farmers through their transition. 2-The general public has a tendency to consider biodiversity loss (including the loss of farmers and farmland) as a sad consequence of development that is hurting wild animals somewhere. When we relate biodiversity losses in agriculture to their personal pain and suffering, we move them from apathy to advocacy.

15. Awards & Recognitions: What awards or recognitions, if any, has the project received so far?

As noted above, Mary Lucero was recognized as Educator of the Year in 2019 by the New Mexico Organic Farming Conference.

16. Financial Sustainability – funding breakdown: Please list a quick breakdown of your funding, indicating an estimated percentage that comes from each source.

At present, 55% of our revenue comes from online course sales and conferences. 20% comes from speaking engagements and live workshops. 10% comes from grower consultations. 15% comes from affiliate product sales. Funding for growth, such as land for the farm will come from owners equity.

17. How do you plan to influence your field of work if you are a winner of the Act for Biodiversity Challenge? How would you invest the prize money to leverage your work?

We are already expanding our training efforts with an on-site demonstration farm where people can see, feel, and taste difference between regeneratively grown whole foods and the foods that now dominate markets. Our workshops and tours will inspire generations of new farmers, health, and nutrition consultants to build and/or support farms and gardens that support biodiversity for health and nutrition. Prize money will accellerate this process by supporting workshop infrastructure, including furnishing a meeting room at the farm with tables and seating and with equipment for filming demonstrations, both on our farm and on farms within our network. This network includes the growers, support industries, and health leaders featured at our recent conference (agrihealthculture.com). Any remaining funds will go to organic soil amendments for the farm. Selection will be guided by laboratory testing and by on site assessments of microbial diversity (see endofite.com/mag).

Evaluation results

4 evaluations so far

1. 1) OVERALL EVALUATION

Yes, absolutely! - 0%

Yes/maybe - 100%

Maybe - 0%

Maybe/no - 0%

No - 0%

2. 2) CONNECTION TO BIODIVERSITY

5 —Absolutely! It’s crystal clear how the solution is directly contributing to preserving and/or restoring biodiversity. - 25%

4—Yes, it establishes a clear connection to biodiversity. - 75%

3—Somewhat, the entry speaks to biodiversity but the direct impact is not well established and/or it is focused on a single species without considering its impact on the broader ecosystem - 0%

2—Not really, the connection to biodiversity is weak - 0%

1—No. The entry does not reference the solution’s impact on biodiversity. - 0%

3. 3) Is this entry IMPACTFUL?

5 -Yes, absolutely! - 25%

4- Yes, I think so. - 25%

3- Maybe. - 50%

2- Probably not. - 0%

1- No. - 0%

4. 4) Is this entry INNOVATIVE?

5 -Yes, absolutely! - 50%

4- Yes, I think so. - 25%

3- Maybe. - 25%

2- Probably not. - 0%

1- No. - 0%

5. 5) Is this entry VIABLE financially and operationally?

5 -Yes, absolutely! - 0%

4- Yes, I think so. - 50%

3- Maybe. - 50%

2- Probably not. - 0%

1- No. - 0%

6. 6) Is this entry ACTIVATING CHANGEMAKING?

5 -Yes, absolutely! - 25%

4- Yes, I think so. - 50%

3- Maybe. - 25%

2- Probably not. - 0%

1- No. - 0%

7. 7) Does this entry value COLLABORATION WITH OTHER STAKEHOLDERS in its approach?

5- Yes, absolutely! - 75%

4- Yes, I think ko. - 0%

3- Maybe. - 0%

2- Probably not. - 25%

1- No. - 0%

8. 8) FEEDBACK – Highlights

INNOVATION: You have a great understanding of the problem, have researched existing solutions, and have developed unique, thoughtful new solutions - 0%

IMPACT: You use specific numbers and evidence to describe what your project has achieved so far (or plan to achieve in the future) and you have a plan for measuring impact - 33.3%

GROWTH & LEADERSHIP POTENTIAL: You have a thoughtful plan for growth and your founding team has a strong combination of leadership and knowledge-based skills - 33.3%

VIABIBLITY: You have given a great deal of thought to not just the idea itself but how to make it work from a financial perspective in the present and future - 66.7%

CHANGEMAKING ACTIVATION: You value thinking around how to activate changemakers and empower them to innovate through your product or programming - 66.7%

POTENTIAL TO CREATE SHARED VALUE: You have a clearly defined plan on how to maximize shared value across multiple sectors and stakeholders - 100%

WRITING STYLE: Your writing style is concise, descriptive, clear, and specific - 66.7%

Other option - 0%

9. 9) FEEDBACK - Areas for Improvement

INNOVATION: Be more specific in your description of the research you have done into the past solutions to this problem and focus on how your solution is unique and innovative - 100%

IMPACT: Provide specific instances of your social impact and how you plan to measure impact – it may be helpful to describe the beneficiaries, products and programming, and provide evidence of (or plan for) how to measure impact - 33.3%

GROWTH & LEADERSHIP POTENTIAL: Your plan for growing the organization can benefit from more specifics. How can you round out the various skills of your current leadership team to make the project a long-term success? - 33.3%

VIABILITY: Make sure you have provided descriptive information about your financial sustainability plan. Where do the funds come from now and do you have a concrete plan for future sustainability? - 33.3%

POTENTIAL TO CREATE SHARED VALUE: your plan can benefit from more thought on how to create value for all stakeholders, not just immediate beneficiaries - 0%

WRITING STYLE: Try to be more concise, descriptive, clear, and specific. Avoid jargon. - 0%

Nothing – I thought everything was great! - 0%

CHANGEMAKING ACTIVATION: Try to provide more insights into how you are activating changemakers and empowering them to innovate through your product or programming - 0%

Other option - 0%

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Attachments (2)

Using Microbial Interactions Within Plant Microbiomes to Advance an Evergreen Revolution.pdf

This chapter from Sustainable Agroecosystems in Climate Change Mitigation was written by Mary Lucero and collegues prior to leaving her career as a USDA scientist. The ideas expressed within illustrate her convictions that the biggest threats facing humanity today can be resolved by simply restoring microbial biodiversity that improves crop and soil health, environmental health, and human nutrition.

New Mexico Organic Farming Conference announces 2019 award recipients - New Mexico Department of Agriculture.pdf

Press release from the New Mexico Department of Agriculture, acknowledging Mary Lucero as recipient of the 2019 Educator of the Year Award by the NM Organic Farming Conference.

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