This past week, we were blessed with another opportunity to visit the Mount Rushmore State and pick the brains of several leading farmers in East River.
Unlike trips of the past, this go around we paid less attention to the isolated nuts and bolts of farming. These oft-discussed “nuts and bolts” include individual topics like infiltration, residue, soil temperatures, conventional till vs no-till, and the list goes on. Of course, these are all very relevant topics and we encourage everyone to soak in as much information as they can about them. Let us be clear, however: none of these practices exist in isolation. An agroecosystem (that includes soils) is complex and interconnected and it simply will not submit to being compartmentalized. In reality, to truly see the full benefits of soil health, one needs to view the agroecosystem as, well, a system. Some people may call this a “systems approach”, others may even refer to it as holistic thinking – nothing magic about that term, it’s just that we are looking and thinking about everything as part of the whole.
SOUTH DAKOTA SOILS
We were fortunate to meet with several farmers who are well-known for their systems approaches as well as holding reputations as “citizen scientists”. Their wisdom and insights shine a light on the reality that, when it comes to farming, healthy soils are the biggest contributor to healthy crops. This reality is increasingly familiar in the ag community, although the methods through which one gains “healthy soils” vary. Here’s what we do know:
All of the farms we were fortunate enough to visit this past week are part of the regenerative ag. movement. All boast rich, dark, healthy soils.
These soils are reminiscent of the Midwest soils of old, before America’s westward expansion and the decades of farming that would follow.
After driving around South Dakota for several days, it was clear that the dark soils of the farms we visited were in stark contrast to many of the barren and/or eroded soils that can be seen from the highways. These dark soils were teeming with life! And it’s no surprise after spending time with the farmers and their families that call these soils home.
SOUTH DAKOTA FAMILIES
We’ve deepened our understanding of healthy South Dakota soils and healthy crops. We’ve also grown in our understanding of an equally important field: that of family.
Maybe the only thing as deep and rich as the soils we witnessed were the farmers and their families that work them. Wives and husbands shouldering equal workloads, sons and fathers that each light up when the other enters the room, and even the bond between farmer and cattle that is less reminiscent of “owner” and “owned” and more akin to devoted fellow coworkers.
A big “thank you” to all of the families, district conservationists, and citizens of South Dakota that continue to make trips like this possible. Just like healthy soils that work together to produce healthy crops, we’re all stronger when we learn and grow in communion.
It is largely this communion that is leading us down the road to regenerative farming on a large scale. It is also this communion within households that makes each individual operation possible and that provides a foundation where the deepest insights into farm, family, and life are realized. The most important insight of which couldn’t be overlooked this past week. As Brian and Jamie Johnson of Frankfort, SD both said, “Take care of the land and the land will take care of you.”
Join the revolution,