Regenerative Ranching Day at TomKat Ranch

By: Marianna Zavala

Earlier in the month, TomKat Ranch held a Regenerative Ranching Day hosting more than 40 participants whose experiences in regenerative agriculture spanned the map. As a Fork to Farm intern focused on influencing changes in the food system through grassroots action and community building, I found myself humbled and invigorated by the community represented that day. Some guests were already land managers in their own right, some had never heard of regenerative ranching, many were students, and all had come willing to listen and learn.

The first part of the day was devoted to deconstructing parts of the ranch’s grazing plan, breaking down what seemed like a series of complex calculations and notes into basic land management decisions that could be discussed amongst the group. Apprentice Drake Swezey and Regenerative Ranching Coordinator Hayley Strohm detailed some of those decisions and how it was important to evaluate them on an ecological, economic, and social scale. The group then headed out to a nearby pasture where Hayley shared some of her successes and difficulties in decision-making up to that point, acknowledging that a part of her growth as a land manager involved making mistakes. Her story reminded the group that the evolution of these previously mistreated landscapes is not a linear process and neither is our learning or personal growth.

By lunchtime, discussions spilled over from table to table with each person inspired by what they had learned thus far. Food Advocacy Manager Kathy Webster built upon the stories shared by the regenerative ranching team and spoke on how TomKat’s Fork to Farm Program works to influence and engage consumers on the importance of using agriculture to restore the health of people, animals, and the planet. While some perhaps had been more quiet at the start, unfamiliar with ranching or regenerative practices, confidence and dialogue grew as participants recognized that food was a meeting point for all. This understanding is a central element of Fork to Farm and TomKat’s mission, stemming from the belief that true community development must be a holistic process that integrates all facets of that community.

Scientists Chelsea Carey and Mel Preston from Point Blue Conservation Science took the lead for the remainder of the afternoon, showcasing some of the soil health and biodiversity monitoring points across the ranch. This prompted a spirited conversation regarding the interactions between scientists and ranchers and how those relationships could be strengthened to benefit the ecological and social communities around us. It was inspiring to see the group come to terms with their own differences in education and opinion and to collectively acknowledge that those distinct realms of experience are all the more powerful when woven together and reinforcing one another.

Although the gathering lasted half a day, I feel that the impact of those interactions reminded me of some greater truths. While traversing the ranch and connecting the dots between livestock health, soil biology, and more, I felt the strength and potential of our collective energies and was reinvigorated by the efforts to build bridges to each other. There is no doubt that as we move forward pursuing a regenerative vision our connections to each other will prove to be one of our greatest sources of strength and for that I am grateful.