Julie Davenson, executive director of Stonewall Farm, a non-profit working dairy farm in Keene, NH, was researching regenerative ways to improve Stonewall’s overgrazed pastures when she happened upon the book The Soil Will Save Us, by Kirsten Ohlsen. There she learned about holistic, planned grazing, the method pioneered by Allan Savory for regenerating soil using large groups of livestock. Savory believes that widespread adoption of his techniques is key to sequestering large amounts of carbon in the soil and reversing climate change.
At around the same time, Stonewall Farm began selling milk to Stonyfield Organic. A specialist there suggested that the farm become a Savory Hub. Hubs are Holistic Management training and demonstration sites. The fit was good. Stonewall Farm’s mission is to educate people of all ages about farm ecology and promote economic justice for small farmers.
Stonewall Farm began using holistic planned grazing this year and progress is encouraging. The farm had practiced rotational grazing for many years, but as Davenson notes, rotational grazing is not planned grazing. Planned grazing focuses on recovery periods for paddocks, with the goal of building root and soil health. Rotational grazing simply involves shifting animals from paddock to paddock on a fixed schedule. Over the years, the poorly managed rotational grazing resulted in overgrazed pastures, extensive weed pressure, and poor forage quality.
Using the plan they created, herd managers at Stonewall divided paddocks into smaller units, determined appropriate cow stocking rates, allowed them to graze a certain period of time based on available forage and stocking rates, then moved them on and did not come back until regrowth was at the right stage. Sometimes that meant keeping the cows on a dry lot and feeding them hay for a few days.
Despite a difficult growing season, overgrazing damage is starting to correct itself. Plant diversity has increased, without fertilizing or reseeding, and without cost, other than a few reels of electric fence. The pastures produced twice as much forage on the same amount of land, and the nutritional quality also improved. Analysis of the soil to measure carbon sequestration has not yet been done, but increased fertility goes hand in hand with increased soil carbon.
Stonewall Farm held its first conference as a Hub on September 21, 2018. Close to 250 people attended, including farmers, researchers, professors, policymakers and business leaders. Presenters included Britt Lundgren from Stonyfield Organic, Rebecca Hamilton from W.S. Badger Co., Ridge Shinn of Big Picture Beef, Seth Itzkhan and Karl Thideman, co-founders of the Vermont-based organization Soil4Climate, and Allen Savory himself. The conference focused on the benefits of regenerative agriculture and on expanding markets for farmers using regenerative practices. Attention to farm profits and farmers’ quality of life is an important aspect of the healthy soils movement, especially for Allen Savory. His method is called ‘holistic,’ and he is very clear that the whole must include the farmer.
Stonewall will begin offering training and consulting services for New England farmers in 2019, starting with an Introduction to Holistic Management workshop in February. As a Hub, Stonewall will offer training and consultation for farmers who want to learn holistic land management and planned grazing—including everything from creating a grazing plan to financial management. In the future, they plan to offer Ecological Outcome Verification services to livestock producers wishing to be certified through the Land to Market program. Another project of Savory International, Land to Market is the world’s first regenerative sourced supply chain, connecting manufacturers, retailers, and consumers to food and fiber grown in a way that regenerates soil. This allows consumers to vote with their dollars. By creating demand, consumers can encourage farmers to adopt regenerative practices, which benefit the climate, the land, and the farmer’s bottom line.
Stonewall Farm is already educating others about holistic planned grazing through local schools. Students from Keene High School’s Advanced Placement environmental science class conducted ecological land monitoring in pastures this fall.
People can get involved by enrolling in workshops, joining the citizen scientist group to assist with ecological monitoring, or donating to the Farmer Scholarship Fund to help train more New England farmers and homesteaders.
Stonewall Farm was founded when the last private owner, Norman Chase, retired without heirs. The Kidder family preserved his farm and incorporated it as a non-profit educational organization. While events such as weddings form an important part of Stonewall’s cash flow, farming remains central. Stonewall offers programs for kids of all ages on gardening, wildlife ecology, and farming. The dairy sells milk to Stonyfield Organic. Thanks to holistic planned grazing, the dairy is on track to become sustainable. Production is up, the herd is growing, milk quality remains exceptionally high, and the pastures are improving rapidly, without added expense.
Davenson says, “Given all the recent news about climate change, this work is critically important and we don’t have any time to waste . . . (w)e have an opportunity to teach both farmers and landowners how to manage their fields and pastures in a manner that increases the health of their ecosystems, builds soil health while sequestering carbon, and increases farm viability.”
Jessie Haas has written 40 books, mainly for children, and has lived in an off-grid cabin in Westminster West, VT since 1984, www.jessiehaas.com.
Many thanks to our sponsor:
Stonewall Farm https://stonewallfarm.org/
Savory Global https://www.savory.global/
The Soil Will Save Us http://www.kristinohlson.com/books/soil-will-save-us
Stonyfield Organic https://www.stonyfield.com/
Big Picture Beef https://www.bigpicturebeef.com/