On October 12, 2019 twenty-seven people from Albuquerque to Farmington braved the cold to learn about the importance of soil health and holistic goal setting at the Rio Fernando Park Open Gate Field Day.
The Rio Fernando Park, owned by the Taos Land Trust, was prepared to host their annual matanza (the traditional Spanish multi-day festival to cure pork and prepare sausages to ensure food throughout the Winter) so the “Fairy Forrest” was setup beautifully with white chairs and lights. Stephanie von Ancken, Program Manager with Holistic Management International, lead the morning introductions and oriented the group for the day. Ben Wright, land manager with the Taos Land Trust, told the story of Rio Fernando Park and gave an overview of what experiments they have tried in restoring and regenerating the property. The park came to be managed by the Taos Land Trust in 2015 when they received a grant from the LOR Foundation to purchase it with the goal of restoring and conserving valuable wetlands and riparian habitat in an increasingly developed and impacted area. Since then, Ben along with several crews of volunteers, youth corps and school groups have engaged in mapping and biological monitoring to gain baseline information, as well as work in planting, trail building, and various other restoration projects. They even uncovered an old secondary acequia (a community-operated watercourse used in Spain and former Spanish colonies in the Americas for irrigation) that runs through the site. Ben and his team were able to get water running in the acequia for the first time in 60 years.
George Whitten, manager/operator of the San Juan Ranch outside Saguache, CO, co-founder of the Sweet Grass Cooperative, and holistic grazer extraordinaire, introduced the group to the three components of holistic goal setting: quality of life statements, behaviors and systems to attain that quality of life, and a vision statement of what you’re working towards and trying to create. He lead the group through a hands-on decision test using the Holistic Decision Testing Matrix and the group discussed the advantages and disadvantages of incorporating livestock into the restoration plan for the Rio Fernando Park property.
Shawn Howard presented next. Four years ago he dove into a regeneration project of 250 acres near Angel Fire, NM. He has been incorporating Holistic Management practices since 2016 when Professional Certified Educator & Program Director Kathy Harris worked with him to create a grazing plan for the season. His long-term focus is: to regenerate the bare ground, bringing back the native grasses, and to increase the productivity of the land. He says he is constantly amazed at the resiliency and fertility of the land and encourages everyone to focus on the health of the soil first. Since beginning this project he has read over 20 books on regenerative agriculture and invited anyone who would like to speak more to come visit him at the coffee shop (Elevation Coffee Shoppe) he manages in Taos, NM. Shawn will be hosting an Open Gate field day at his property in Angel Fire in 2020. Stay tuned for more information!
Don Peters, Executive Director of Not Forgotten Outreach (NFO), presented on their current projects and how they are working to motivate military families to engage in regenerative farming as a means to heal. They are in the beginning stages of La Finca Militar, 28 acres where they will plant year-round gardens for a farm-to-school program. This space will also house the Taos Veterans Farming Project, a veterans memorial, affordable military housing, public walking trails, and the training center for the NFO Veterans Corps.
Lunch was served at noon featuring delicious rye bread made of the rye harvested from Rio Fernando Park by Wild Leaven Bakery. Andre Kempton, owner and baker at Wild Leaven joined us for the day and shared his insight into the benefits of incorporating cover crops that can be harvested for bread making.
After lunch the group headed out to tour the park. George discussed ecosystem processes including the mineral cycle, water cycle, energy flow, and biological community and how they all tie in to soil health. Ben led the group to the rye fields, water catchment projects, mulching experiments, areas with plans for a pollinator garden, and the Johnson/Su bioreactors. During the tour George talked about the importance of organic matter in the soil and demonstrated a plug test where he dug out a plug of soil and observed it for mycorrhizae etc.
At the end of the tour the group participated in a biological monitoring exercise led by George. The group observed (in a 1×1 yard area) the following indicators to assess the health of the soil: percentage of bare ground, litter, manure, insects, perennial grass species, legumes, annuals, forbs/broadleaves, water infiltration, diversity of species and age of plants, growing season dominance of plants, and patterns of use.
Stephanie then led a short Q & A session with all the presenters. Andre explained the rye bread making process from harvesting to baking, Micah Roseberry shared her projects with A.I.R.E and their farm-to-school program getting nutrient rich foods into school cafeterias and Stephanie encouraged folks to reach out to Mark Schuetz, formerly of the Forest Service, if they are interested in incorporating livestock on their properties locally. The day ended with promises of keeping in contact and creating more dialog around soil health in Taos, NM and beyond.
Thank you to the Taos Land Trust for hosting this event, to the Thornburg Foundation for funding it, and to all the speakers for giving their time and sharing their incredible projects, insights, humor and knowledge with the attendees. And thank you to all those who attended and shared their perspectives and experiences.