Groundwork – A Pilot Virtual Summer Learning Opportunity

By: Kevin Alexander Watt

Kevin Watt - TomKat RanchEarlier this year as COVID-19 grew from a concern into a pandemic, our team had to make the difficult choice to cancel our TomKat Ranch Summer Internship Program for 2020. This was a hard decision not only because interns bring energy and fresh thinking to the ranch, but also because our internship program is an important part of our strategic mission to grow a regenerative food system.   

The TomKat Ranch Internship Program welcomes people from a wide variety of educational, professional, and social backgrounds into the world of regenerative agriculture. Over the course of a summer, interns are exposed to all parts of our work from science and grazing to Farmers Markets and food access. Our intention is to give interns a chance to discover how they best combine their skills, perspectives, and passions into a career that will help build a regenerative food system.  

As someone who first entered regenerative agriculture with zero experience in agriculture and thanks to the generosity of farms and ranches that hosted interns, I take great pride in our internship; this made the decision to cancel this year’s internship all the harder. I could vividly imagine the amazing talent and enthusiasm that might go to waste when individuals poised to jump into this critical work were told they wouldn’t have a chance to connect with the land. 

Fortunately, in the spirit of holistic and adaptive management, our team immediately began looking for how to achieve our goal of providing regenerative educational opportunities during COVID-19. Just two months later, and thanks to wonderful partners and some late-night brainstorming, TomKat Ranch, The No Regrets Initiative, and Armonia launched Groundwork a summer pilot program to provide a guided virtual learning opportunity.

Groundwork’s pilot launched in July as a 2-week online intensive course introducing the practices and principles of regenerative agriculture to a diverse audience of people calling in. The program featured interactive lectures from experts on the fundamentals of regenerative agriculture and highlighted potential career paths available to those entering the field. Our initial concern that an online program wouldn’t allow for enough connection to land or people, was quickly dispelled thanks to the amazing facilitation of Elaine Patarini of Paicines Ranch and Darel Scott of Earth in Color and the Stanford D-School who created a space where participants and presenters could have frank and far-reaching conversations.  

Overall, the program was an inspiring success. Presenters and students alike provided glowing feedback, and many correspondence and collaborations have happened since the program ended. Excitingly, this outcome suggests that even when in-person, on-farm educational opportunities are not possible, online educational programs can help broaden access to meaningful and transformative educational opportunities to welcome and support the next generation of professionals into the regenerative food system.

For more information on the course, please visit the Groundwork website.

For additional information about online educational resources, check out the amazing resources cataloged by our friends at Soil Centric.