46 participants from the Navajo Nation, Flagstaff area, Colorado, Northern New Mexico and California attended HMI’s Rough Stone Ranch Day, on May 18th. The majority of the day was spent discussing the challenges and successes experienced by hosts Ernest and Edwina Diswood on their 7,000 acre ranch south of Farmington, NM. Program funding was provided by FSA.
Ernest and Edwina Diswood were gracious hosts with hot coffee, tea and a gas powered heater awaiting guests as they arrived at the ranch. The day began with a short introduction to Holistic Management International by HMI Programs Assistant, Stephanie von Ancken, along with a big thank you to the FSA funders. HMI Certified Educator Kirk Gadzia asked everyone to give a short introduction, with a lot of great stories shared. Because of the Navajo’s strong connection with nature, a lot of conversation was had about the linking of agriculture and culture. Many of the Navajo attendees shared stories about being raised on a farm, moving away from farming in their late teens/early twenties and then finding themselves taking over their family farms later in life and going back to traditional methods. One man shared an incredible story about growing up fascinated with livestock and knowing from a very young age that he wanted to work in the field, however his community wasn’t supportive and he felt like an outsider until one day a relative did an ancestry DNA test and he found out he was descendant of a tribe in Africa whose livelihood has been agriculture for centuries. Long-time HM practitioner and HMI Certified Educator Cindy Dvergsten talked briefly about her Navajo Churro sheep program outside of Lewis, CO.
After the introductions Ernest Diswood began the homestead tour, leading the group to the side of his home where he has been experimenting with various permaculture projects. Ernest is exploring many different innovative ways to grow plants using PVC pipes with holes to grow watermelon and old tractor tires filled with soil that provide insulation for plants.
When the weather turned windy, with hail falling, participants moved into a big tent Ernest and his family had prepared for the day. Allen McKrain of the Estancia FSA office gave a brief presentation on microloans and financial assistance programs offered by the FSA. He was followed by Mark Bentley from the Aztec office who outlined FSA’s rangeland and drought programs. Before lunch we heard from Melissa May, the San Juan Water and Soil Conservation District coordinator.
During lunch people mingled from table to table discussing their trials and errors and successes in regenerative agriculture. Sandwiches were served and Edwina handed out small bowls of Chiilchin pudding to warm everyone up for the second part of the day, which was spent out on the land.
After lunch, Stephanie and Kirk fed the leftover salad to the Diswood’s sheep and Kendall Hicks, the Assistant State Conservationist for Field Operations with the NRCS presented on the EQIP, CSP & rangelands technical assistance programs currently being offered. He handed out informational DVDs in both Navajo and English.
After Kendall’s talk everyone climbed into a half dozen or so pickup trucks and, with Ernest in the lead, traveled down the bluff to see the French-drain-like gravity fed water holding system. As Ernest led the group on foot up the arroyo to see the top of the water collection system, Kirk helped identify native plant species and field questions. The multi-tiered swale system the Diswoods had finished putting in a few weeks before the field day was partly intact after being partially blown out after two heavy rain/hail systems that had come through the week before. Ernest and Kirk pointed out where water had successfully pooled enough for native grasses to begin coming through. These grasses will eventually fill in the area and their roots will hold the soil together and help to stop erosion during future rain storms. We even encountered a dead baby rattlesnake on our walk.
The group climbed back into the pickup trucks and headed further into the ranch where the Diné College Land Grant Office Team was waiting with the Diswood sons and a handful of their female cows to give a demonstration of their new ultrasound equipment. The crowd watched as the cows were lined up in the queue and the Diné College team checked to see if they were pregnant. They could not find any sign of pregnancy in the first cow but when it was the second cow’s turn the team found a spine and skull, not more than four inches long, on their machine. They took a screen shot and passed the image around for the crowd to see.
After a few more cows were tested the group returned to the homestead, where Kirk answered any last questions and made closing remarks.
HMI extends a big thanks to FSA for providing funding for this program, as well as the Diswoods, who opened up their ranch and their home to program staff and participants.
As a result of the program, participants were more confident in:
- Their ability to capture and store water – 93%
- Their ability to address erosion programs – 93%
- Their ability to improve soil, livestock or wildlife health – 79%
- Intend to change management practices – 97%
- Expanded network – 96%
- Would recommend event to others – 100%
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Holistic Management International’s mission is to educate people in regenerative agriculture for healthy land and thriving communities.
We have helped farmers and ranchers in 130 countries learn and practice Holistic Management for the past 3 decades. You can read some of their Success Stories to learn how Holistic Management has changed their lives and impacted their land.
As a non-profit organization, HMI is always grateful for donations in support of our mission. You can help regenerate land for healthy food and healthy lives with many giving options including scholarships for farmer/rancher training. Learn more here.
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