"Most of our farm soils are dead," explains Kevin Maxwell sitting next to his wife Stephanie in their wine room at Stone Trough Winery in Cleburne. The Maxwells own and operate several businesses, growing up in the same hometown before finding their way into the construction world; a realm Stephanie still works in. The couple's background in construction makes sense because the Maxwells are builders. In 2016, Kevin acquired Fingerprint Farms, 325 acres of ranch land behind Stone Trough. With zero background in farming, he saw endless possibilities. "We focused on the soil," says Kevin. "Most farmers put the glyphosate and fertilizers on the soil, and it kills it."
The Maxwells, along with their children: Cole, Hayden, and Kendall, believe their lack of farming knowledge allowed them to think outside of the box, an ingenuity bred from a desire to farm in a safe, chemical-free way. "In the regenerative system we don't put herbicides, fungicides, or any 'cides' on the farm," says Kevin. "We encourage diversity of species on the farm. From the soil to the pasture and with the animals we run on the farm."
The regenerative venture started in Ruidoso when the Maxwells went skiing. Stephanie's aunt wanted the couple to come down to Tularosa for dinner. "We got to talking with Stephanie's uncle Randy," says Kevin. "He's a water guy and he got an idea about our new farm. He said there was somebody he'd like to arrange for us to meet named David Johnson."
Johnson travels all over the world teaching composting as a way to jump-start the regeneration of soil.
Randy called up Johnson and invited him to another dinner. They talked for hours. Johnson is a Ph.D. in Molecular Biology with a deep understanding of agricultural systems and was surprisingly a former home builder like the Maxwells. "During dinner, we got to talking about 'leaky gut,'" says Stephanie, an affliction affecting their family, particularly their youngest daughter. "She was always sick and had trouble eating. David said it was the junk that she was eating. The glyphosate they spray our food with eats us away from the inside." Johnson opened the Maxwells up to the concept of living soil versus dirt. He explained how the soil microbiome operates, and Kevin couldn't help but see the similarities between the micro functions of the soil and his daughter's gut biome. "Johnson said 'they're exactly the same'," reveals Kevin. "It's the circle of life. And that's what regenerative farming is. It's about embracing life."
The Maxwells had already bought some cows from their neighbor when they originally acquired their land from him in 2016. "So we just started piddling and playing with it," says Stephanie. "And it really evolved from there." And Kevin passionately pursued information on safe, sustainable farming; ravenously putting pieces together from online sources, movies, and books, some suggested to him by Johnson. "We started rotating the grazing of our cows and stopped using all fertilizers and chemicals. And we did some cover-cropping," says Kevin, explaining that cover-cropping is the process of planting a mixture of native grasses, what most people would call weeds, in the middle of their hay fields. The different root systems of the plants naturally pump nutrients like nitrogen into the ground through the plant's photosynthetic process. "It's ridiculous that we add nitrogen fertilizer to the soil when it makes up 78% of our air," laughs Kevin. He explains that nitrogen fertilizer was added to farming during World War II, the beginning of the end for American soil. "We don't have these natural cycles anymore unless we rebuild them."
The Maxwells found that their water cycles reactivated as they rebuilt their soil, strengthening their resistance to drought, a serious issue for any Texas farmer. The roots of the native plants aggregate the soil; breaking up the rock-hard pan it has become. Today, the infiltration system in Kevin's soil recharges his natural aquifers, absorbing 10 inches of water in a single minute. "And that's what we experienced in only four years of doing this, during the worst drought most people can remember," says Kevin, explaining his cows continued to graze green grass throughout the drought while other farmers struggled with dried-up pastures. "The farmers who have been doing regenerative farming longer than I believe most of our droughts are man-made, a direct result of the destruction of the natural water cycle."
Despite the Maxwell family's journey into regenerative farming, they harbor no ill will towards their more traditional neighbors. "If I'm a generational dairy farmer and I've lasted this long using the practices my family passed down to me, why would I change how I'm doing things?" Empathizes Kevin. He continues to humbly assert that he's 'no expert,' but still, he wishes to spread the word about what he and his family are building. "A lot of times when you tell people a new way of doing things, they think you're saying that they're doing something wrong," says Kevin. "But it's not a new way of doing things, it is the oldest way there is. And we call our farm 'Fingerprint Farms' because we believe we are looking at the fingerprints of God." The longer the family practiced gentle farming, the more it became a symbol of accepting God's will. A return to the natural order.
"At the end of the day, people need to know their farmers," concludes Kevin. "Ours is a different kind of product. It's up to people to decide if we have what they need."
"At the end of the day, people need to know their farmers," concludes Kevin.
"But it's not a new way of doing things, it is the oldest way there is. And we call our farm 'Fingerprint Farms' because we believe we are looking at the fingerprints of God."