Inside USD

Muno: Permaculture Farming is Better Food for Life

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

When Kevin Muno wanted to be the best baseball player he possibly could be during championship seasons at the University of San Diego, it wasn’t enough to simply hit, throw and catch a ball. The Torero outfielder (2007-11) knew proper nutrition was essential.

“As an athlete, I was looking to fuel my performance with some of the best nutrition possible,” Muno recalled. “Coach (Rich) Hill did a great job of instilling in us that it wasn’t just about working out, but the nutrition you put into your body made a big impact on how you played on the field.”

He researched different diets, worked with USD’s strength and conditioning staff and learned about the Paleo movement. Muno was educated on grass-fed beef, vegetables, perennial food sources and highly nutritious foods. But what he also gained through this research was a career path for his post-baseball life — farming.

“While I was learning about where the food was coming from, I began to realize that a lot of our food comes from farms very detrimental to our environment,” Muno said. “That’s what led me to farming. This way, I’m combining my passion for nutrition and my longtime love of nature and the outdoors. It just felt right.”

He earned a business administration degree with an emphasis in real estate development in 2011. Although he initially got a job in software sales after graduation, a year later, he was able to put the money he’d saved to begin learning about permaculture farming.

Muno achieved certification in permaculture, defined as the development of agricultural ecosystems that are sustainable and self-sufficient, through the San Diego Sustainable Living Institute. He earned a permaculture diploma through Mark Shepard and Savanna Gardens. He studied the work of “big-time thought leaders” Bill Mollison and Allan Savory. Muno has worked at a few permaculture companies and part-time with a local farmer.

Muno, 25, is now the founder and CEO of Montado Farms, Inc., a farm business company, and CEO of Savanna Agriculture Enterprises, a consulting company, that aim to broaden awareness for permaculture and get others involved.

“I think for sustainability reasons, we need more young people to go into farming and being more passionate about where their food comes from and to know more about what their food is actually doing to the planet — and to themselves.”

His vision is to install and to promote restoration agriculture systems locally and, eventually, beyond California.

“As I’ve gotten more into it, I realize the food system structure and see how a few large companies control about 70 percent of where our beef comes from and about 40 percent of corn crops go toward feeding cattle. I’ve learned that cattle aren’t supposed to eat grains, but they are pumped full of grains and we eat it, which is very detrimental to our health. The corn crop is seriously the worst thing that’s happened to our country in terms of agriculture. It’s destroying our soils and destroying our local economies. It’s moving small farmers out of their rural areas, which are very important to the fabric of what a city is. We wouldn’t have cities if not for agriculture. As all of these big issues were popping into my head, I knew I had to do something. If I don’t, who will do it?”

Muno and his companies are active on social media — Deena, Kevin’s wife and a 2010 USD Communication Studies alumna, is vice president of sales and marketing — to promote permaculture farming. Kevin is doing public speaking events and he networks with other farmers through Southern California Slow Money, which is part of a national movement. Muno is also preparing for a March 3 Kickstarter campaign launch to make this vision a reality.

“I want to farm full-time, set up a farm site in San Diego County as a new model of agriculture,” he said. “It uses 75 percent less water in the landscape, integrates livestock in a very natural way into the environment, where they are rotationally grazed into the system, mimicking nature and how they used to be protected from predators. This is very beneficial for grasslands, which are a huge part of reversing desertification.”

The mindset Muno has for permaculture is in tune with the USD Changemaker Challenge video competition theme of “Food for Life.” The challenge asks everyone to think about the role that food plays in daily life and encourages new ideas addressing food production and consumption issues.

Muno said business courses he took at USD focused on solving larger problems within the economic system. Knowledge he gained in classes taught by USD Professors Patricia Marquez and Jaime Alonzo Gomez — examining solutions for those at the bottom of the pyramid and through innovative disruptive models, respectively — have their roots in his business model.

“Putting that [education] together with the training I’ve received, I’ve come up with something that’s my passion,” Muno said. “I feel this is an innovative, interesting model that can have a large impact for socio-economic reasons, solve issues such as poverty, food justice and can bring rural people back into the landscape where they want to be. There’s great work to be done here. People can be trained in a new model of agriculture. It is a real area of opportunity to innovate.”

Muno wants his eventual farm to be an incubator for young people with a passion for food and farming. Since access to land is at a premium, he wants to help students gain experience as farm business entrepreneurs, mentor them, and give them skills going forward.

“This is a call to action for people to go into service for our environment. It’s about being concerned where our food comes from and to create a community surrounding that,” he said. “We need more people, people who want to work hard, get their hands dirty and do good service, whether it’s the food system, national parks or rivers. There are so many opportunities to improve depredated areas. For me, food is the foundation of civilization … The more we can reconnect our long-lasting heritage of working with the land, having a direct connection to where food comes from, the better. If you don’t grow it yourself, you’ll at least know the farmer and the farm it comes from.”

— Ryan T. Blystone

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