written by Dana McDaniel Bonham
The Regen Ranch Field Day in Oakwood, Texas, supported by the Dixon Water Foundation, the Texas Grazing Land Coalition, and Tarrant Regional Water District and held in conjunction with the 2021 Regenerate Conference, brought a unique mix of attendees together – from students to agriculture producers to health care professionals. The theme of the day, “Linking Soil Health, Animal Health, and Human Health,” allowed them to explore the connections between them.
The day was grounded by owner Christine Martin and Betsy Ross, who has been a science teacher, rancher, Holistic Management mentor, and Co-Owner/Founder of Betsy Ross Grass-Fed Beef. Betsy is also the CEO and President of Sustainable Growth Texas, LLC, an organization that helps people regenerate their soil and manage for desired plant communities.
“Keeping the life in the soil, that’s what matters,” said Betsy. “If you nurture the soil, it will take care of making health forage, which means healthy cows that don’t need antibiotics, hormones, or steroids,” she added. “You’ve got to be holistic,” Betsy stated.
Ross is a master at being able to diagnose soil mineral deficiencies by observing what plants are growing there. Listening to her it becomes apparent that if an area is experiencing invasive, unwanted plants, the problem relates to land management. If a land manager wants to change the plant population, then s/he needs to change their management.
Wayne Knight, Interim Executive Director for Holistic Management International, built on Betsy’s theme that making good management decisions is key to soil and plant health, as well as animal health. Knight shared an introduction to tools that help ensure animal performance goals are being met. He also shared key indicators for monitoring that provide cues as to the impact management decisions are making on the health of animals and the profitability and sustainability of a farm/ranch, and how to balance those key factors.
“Whole farm/ranch understanding and decision-making that relates to an established Holistic Goal are key,” said Knight. “We have to manage towards what we want to achieve and that includes healthy soil, healthy plants, healthy animals, and balanced, quality lives for ourselves and our families,” he added.
Connecting human health as the next step in the chain, Dr. Fred Provenza introduced the pitfalls of our modern nutritional health paradigm, which assumes that our primary nutritional requirements; starch, proteins, and fats are what nutrition is about. Provenza has a background in ranching and is Professor Emeritus of Behavioral Ecology from Utah State University, founder of BEHAVE, and is an author. He eloquently linked growing conditions and growing media to soil microbiology.
Provenza demonstrated research that shows how healthy foods are produced from healthy soils. In human, animal, and plant health, nutrition is the key to everything. For too long, it has been overlooked that there is more to nutrition than starch, proteins, and fats. A second problem with our current health system is that people are eating the wrong foods. “We need to work with natural systems to grow healthier food,” Provenza said.
According to his presentation, healthy foods are being produced in ways that make them incipit and bland, for example too much water promotes growth versus richness. “Foods do not taste the way food did when our grandparents ate them,” he added. “Meanwhile, unhealthy foods are made to taste good through additives and flavorings, even though they are not good for us,” he stated. “We need to return to real food with real nutrition to attain more healthy lives,” Provenza added.
Dr. Stephan van Vliet added to Provenza’s presentation by explaining how the components of food are designed to heal and reduce inflammation in the body. These healing qualities are absent in industrially produced foods as they require soil health. They require diverse soil microbiology that accompanies biodiverse plant populations. Van Vliet earned his Ph.D. in Kinesiology and Community Health from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and is currently a member of the Duke Molecular Physiology Institute. His research links food production systems to the nutrient density of food and subsequent effects on human health.
“Improved farming practices improve water retention, soil health, and eventually benefits us as well,” Van Vliet said.
Dr. Arland Hill, Clinical Director of Complete Care Wellness Centers, focuses his work on the use of science-based natural therapies, including nutrition, for the management of chronic diseases. His practice works to explain how he sees scores of patients who are chronically ill and whose metabolic diseases reflect what they eat.
With a goal of improving patient nutrition and health beyond clinical boundaries, Hill became a “ranching doctor” as the owner of Harvest Hills Ranch, a regenerative agriculture ranch aimed to create health in those it serves. Much like Ross’s analogy on how plant species indicate the health and deficiencies in soil, Hill’s discussion added a layer to the theme that people’s health reflects the health of what they eat.
The bottom-line confirmation is that “we are what we eat.” For us to be healthy we need to appreciate the effort and dedication it takes to produce a diversity of healthy, nutrient-dense food. Knowing the producer is more valuable than trusting a label. Local food produced with thought and care is what our bodies need. Making the choice to invest in this kind of food will build local food systems, build healthier food production systems, and reduce our risk of contracting metabolic diseases that are so rampant in the modern world. By choosing locally produced food we build community, build ecosystem services, enhance our own health and encourage biodiversity. It’s a win-win-win.
The Regen Ranch is owned and operated by HMI Certified Educator trainee Christine Martin who is passionate about offering the cleanest, most nutrient-dense meats and eggs to her customers, as she has experienced personal healing from health issues by changing the food she eats.
The Field Day was attended by 53 individuals who impact 46,666 acres. They shared lunch featuring grass-fed meats and vegetables from The Regen Ranch and neighboring farms. Brandon Bing, Natural Resources Conservation Service, also presented on soil cover and its importance of holding water in the ground during rainfall.
The Regen Ranch Field Day: Christine Martin
Introduction to Regen Ranch Field Day
The Regen Ranch Field Day: Betsy Ross
Pasture Soil Health
The Regen Ranch Field Day: Brandon Bing
Soil Cover and the Importance of Holding Water
The Regen Ranch Field Day: Wayne Knight
Pasture & Livestock Management
The Regen Ranch Field Day: Lisa Tang
Marketing The Regen Ranch
The Regen Ranch Field Day: Dr. Fred Provenza & Stephan van Vliet
Livestock and Human Nutrition
The Regen Ranch Field Day: Dr. Arland Hill
Nourishing Food for Human Health
The Regen Ranch Field Day: Panel Discussion
How Soil Health, Livestock Health, Human Health Are Interrelated
Special Thanks to our Funder
This event is made possible by a generous contribution from The Dixon Water Foundation.
Thank You to our Sponsors