Mad Agriculture’s Omar de Kock Mercado sees a revolution in the prairies | Food, drink

The way Omar de Kock Mercado met his wife sounds like it was straight out of a romantic comedy.

“We met on a farm, where we pollinated mushrooms,” said Dee Cook Mercado, a soil scientist, grazing manager and artist at Spring Green. “I think pastoralism will save the world,” I said. “I believe pastoralism will save the world,” she said.

“I invited her to dinner, and we got married a year later.”

Dee Cook Mercado, 35, his wife, Megan Philbert, and their 2-year-old son moved to Wisconsin’s Driftless region from a permaculture farm in tiny Boone County, Iowa, earlier this year.

Philbert, a zoologist, works for Nofence, which keeps animals within a designated area using GPS collars and an app. De Kok-Mercado now uses Nofence at Jeremy Lynch’s Enos Farms, where he works with pigs and goats.

“I miss our place in Iowa, because it was really quiet,” De Kock Mercado said. “But that has been compensated for – we have access to all this great food and clean water now, springs and waterfalls. But it comes with the hustle and bustle.

De Kok-Mercado earned a master’s degree in soil science from Iowa State University. He recently became the Midwest Regional Director for Mad Agriculture, a 5-year-old farm-focused nonprofit based in Boulder, Colorado. He joins Jonnah Mellenthin Perkins, a media producer, as Mad Agriculture’s two-person Spring Green team.

De Kok-Mercado spoke with Cap Times about Mad Agriculture’s mission, why he’s passionate about sustainable agriculture and what city residents can grow in their backyards.

First, tell us a little about Crazy Farming. What do you do, or what do you do?

Our main mission is to stimulate a revolution in agriculture. The key word there is “catalyst” – we are not trying to recreate or create a revolution.

Specifically in the Midwest, we’re already seeing a lot of pieces here. The Savannah Institute is really moving and shaking in the regenerative space. They’re a major partner, they have a 100-acre complex here in Spring Green.

What we hope to do with our presence is build partnerships and tap into some of the energy that’s already here, and fill in the missing gaps.

Omar De Cock Mercado is the new Midwest Regional Director for Mad Agriculture, a sustainable non-profit.

What does it mean to “stimulate revolution” in your daily agricultural work?

A lot of what we do in my position is take the time to listen and understand the land and the people who work the land.

We have two sister companies that help us at the intersection between land and business, because we want to help farmers not only improve their quality of life, but also have viable farms. A big part of that is capital and market access.

Mad Markets helps farmers get a premium for organic grains. Mad Capital helps with the costs of transitioning to organic products and also provides financing for labor and infrastructure.

I do a lot of technical evaluation of websites. I go from farm to farm and help farmers figure out how to incorporate perennials, such as prairie and savannah, and how to make them profitable. They are also transitioning their farms to systems that are lower input, more diverse and more flexible than traditional chemical agriculture.

As a soil scientist, how did you get into the world of pastoralism?

Mostly my wife, really. But I’ve always been obsessed with the wilderness. …Prairies did not develop solely because of grasses, they developed with grazing by bison and ungulates (hoofed mammals). I look at the prairie as the original farmland.


Mad Agriculture helps farmers figure out how to incorporate perennials like prairie and savannah and how to make them profitable.

I’m sure others would argue that savannas and prairies are not human-derived farms, but that’s the way I understand it. So it’s interesting to me that now, nowadays, we’re farming the soil that the indigenous people were also farming but the land practices are completely different. It used to be renewable, now it’s extracted.

I’m interested in how you integrate perennials, grazing and fire (on farms) – allowing that natural ecosystem to inform the way you manage land.

Your CV refers to the “generations of farmers” who came before you. How do you see your current work as an extension of this legacy?

I have to step back from who I am as a person and talk about us, as a human race. I think we’re kind of out of context now.

What we thrive on doing as a species is solving problems, thriving, playing and having fun. How we produce food and how we manage the land are actually part of that. Regardless of coming from a farming background, I believe it is genetically ingrained in all of us.


Omar De Cook Mercado works on building a goat barn in Spring Green. De Kok-Mercado is Mad Agriculture’s new Midwest regional director.

When we eat nutrient-dense food and have a communal experience with people, we develop community – I think that’s inherent in our species. Monocultures versus high-diversity systems are a direct reflection of the health of our bodies. If we are healthy, we will be happy, we will do creative things and solve problems as a society. This legacy is in all of us.

Part of what I do here at Mad is help people see that legacy in themselves.

Do you have any advice for sustainably minded people living in the city?

Anything you can do to incorporate diversity into your plot of land will have a positive environmental benefit. If you incorporate perennials strategically, such as in catchment areas (low places where water collects) and filter water, it will reduce the load on your municipal wastewater treatment center.

Incorporating flowering trees and fruit trees… You can have a shade tree, but can that shade tree also produce fruit and nuts and contribute to community food forests, or provide food for underserved populations, or something like that? There are endless possibilities for incorporating perennials into your city landscape. It’s just, you have to be strategic about where, how and at what scale.

    (tags for translation) Madison Food

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