Written by Annie Beall

Greetings from Gunnison Colorado, sitting at a high altitude of 7,703 ft. in the Gunnison Basin Watershed, original lands of the Ute people, within the sagebrush steppe ecosystem that holds rangelands, wildlife corridors, headwater tributaries, and mountain people. Our community fabric includes agrarians, recreationalists, land stewards and advocates, families, university students, tourists, and all the people who make up the facets of an enlivened rural community of 7,000 some folks that call the Gunnison Valley home. Our agricultural group, the Colorado Regenerative Network, holds a small niche in the state of Colorado, and yet we have a big vision for our Rocky Mountain region -the possibilities of holistic management land practices. 

Our goal in sharing this newsletter update with the audience of 350Colorado is to highlight some examples of how regenerative agriculture and holistic management is active in our state, and invite you to continue the conversation in our upcoming October 21 webinar with 350Colorado – RSVP for the webinar here! 

“Holistic Management restores grasslands. Healthy grasslands lead to carbon sequestration, drought resilience, food security, and financially viable communities. At Savory, we believe the solution to these pressing world issues is that management of our land, livestock, and people must be holistic” (Savory.global).

The Colorado Regenerative Network (CRN) started with two ranching families coming together, inspired by their learning from the Savory Institute, and wanting to integrate more regenerative practices into their operations. In 2017, MJ Pickett, owner of Calder Farm and executive director of Coldharbour Institute, and Kelli and Bill Parker of Parker Pastures formed the Colorado Regenerative Network as an accredited Savory Hub for the Colorado region, based in Gunnison Colorado. Hubs are regional sites based all around the world which focus on holistic management training, learning, and demonstration. 

“Together, [hubs] are a global network of entrepreneurial people who are driven to create abundance for the people and places of their region and in their ecological and social contexts. It is through Savory Global hubs that Holistic Management education, training, events, special projects, consulting, research, and experiences are conducted in a region” (Savory.global). 

Our hub, the Colorado Regenerative Network (CRN), aims to regenerate both people (individuals, relationships, and communities) and the land (water cycles, mineral cycles, ecosystem dynamics, and energy flow) through facilitating holistic management demonstration, education, and resource-sharing with Colorado agrarians, land agencies, and our communities. Our network has unique foundations created by ranchers and supported by the non-profit agencies of Coldharbour Institute and the Savory Institute, and is also connected with students and faculty of Western Colorado University. These unique partnerships allow us to engage in land management, organize as a network, conduct research with university researchers, and engage as an educational hub team of caring, holistic practitioners. 

In reflecting on our work of 2020, we were inspired together at the Western Colorado Farm and Food Forum in Montrose, Colorado in January; facilitated a three-day workshop on Grazing for Profit in Longmont Colorado in February; and have spent the growing season under the veil of COVID working on our individual operations, adjusting to consumer demands, engaging in working groups, and keeping the long-term vision of land regeneration in practice. Upcoming, on Wednesday, October 21, 2020, the Colorado Regenerative Network is partnering with 350Colorado’s Regenerative Agriculture and Local Food Committee to host a one-hour webinar learning session: Land Regeneration through Holistic Planned Grazing. Our panelists include MJ Pickett, CRN hub leader and owner of Calder Farm; Bill, Kelli, and Chloe Parker of Parker Pastures; and Sarah Gleason of Gleason Bison. We’ll hear about why they’re motivated by their work, current topics in their work and regions, and the next steps of bringing the tools of holistic management to more land practitioners in the hub region. 

A Reflection from Below & Above: How Earthworms & Birds Relate in the Soil Health Web

Starting back at the beginning of 2020, our CRN team was deeply inspired and refreshed by learning from Nicole Masters, keynote speaker of the Western Colorado Farm and Food Forum. Nicole’s lifelong focus on soil health sparked excitement at the forum to the varying array of ranchers and farmers. Our hub leaders all went home with Nicole’s new book, For the Love of Soil, and are repeating to ourselves in our practices her four-M mantra: Mindset, Microbes, Minerals, and Management. We recommend giving a listen to the Down to Earth Podcast, featuring Nicole, to hear directly from the famed agroecologist herself. 

A snippet from Nicole’s book outlines how she defines soil health principles: Maintain soil groundcover and protection. [Support] living roots for as long as possible. Incorporate livestock and/or their manures (where feasible). [Support] diversity, diversity, diversity. Optimize plant photosynthesis. Reduce disturbance – minimize killing your underground livestock. Manage for what you want, not what you don’t want. The actions which arise from these principles are influenced by your specific climate and circumstance (p.33, For the Love of Soil). 

“A regenerative approach is a complex learning system, not an add-on approach” (Nicole Masters, Western Colorado Farm and Food Forum, 2020).

A major learning from Nicole’s teachings that we consider in our land management this season is the seed stock in the ground. When practitioners set up the right conditions for optimal soil health, the underground micro and macro invertebrates, or “underground livestock” as Nicole frames it, work to create the best conditions for plants, microbes, fungi, root systems, soil structure, water systems and so forth, igniting the growth of a healthy biodiverse ecosystem. The bountiful harvest of true soil health opens exponential possibilities of new understandings, and we really do begin to manage for what we want, not what we don’t want. This mindset shift propels possibilities and softens mental traps, as we witness the biological world doing the work of building soil and producing healthy plant life, nourishing cattle, sheep, hogs, bison, and wildlife alike in the process. 

Parker Pastures–a CRN partner–built a new relationship this season as an official Audubon-Certified Ranch and the newest member of the Audubon Conservation Ranching Initiative. The Parkers took on this certification as a part of their holistic management approach to stewarding an entire ecosystem, from bugs to birds. 

“Across the United States, birds that rely on grasslands, prairies, and meadows have been disappearing at an alarming rate, but on Audubon-certified ranches, species are not only surviving—they are thriving” (Parker Pastures, 2020). 

From the Parkers’ August 20, 2020 blog, they detail that “the Audubon certification is centered on habitat conservation, and the program protocols ensure that certified ranches are managed to provide benefits to grassland birds. To become certified, a ranch must meet a set of Habitat Management protocols, some of which are developed specifically for each region.” 

2020 has really allowed us to connect back to the underground and the above ground, the relationship between soil microbes and rain; the earthworm and the avian species, one practitioner to another. We hope these reflections of our network provide inspiration for future learning, insight into our management perspectives and practices, and our next conversations together push us further into the next cycle of regeneration. We hope you can join us for our October 21 webinar. We look forward to connecting. 

Don’t forget to RSVP for the Oct. 21 webinar here! 

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Links related to the Colorado Regenerative Network:

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