It started with a “maybe someday” wish that I mumbled to myself as I closed an email from Integrity Soils about the new four month “CREATE” program on soil health coaching approaches hosted by Nicole Masters. This 22-week program was designed to train and empower agricultural consultants and coaches in the theory, principles and practices behind healthy, regenerative agricultural systems. I had studied soils extensively in my master’s degree in Land Resources and Environmental Science but felt like there was still a lot to learn to do the kind of work I dreamed of. In my position as the Education & Outreach Coordinator for the Winnett ACES, I planned educational events that ranchers were interested in and I wanted to bring a new level of accessible soil health knowledge to producers but did not know how. I felt that the information from the myriad of experts and academic studies were either overwhelming or not applicable to our context in central Montana. CREATE seemed like the kind of opportunity that I had been in search of for a long time, but now I had a full-time job and other priorities, so I put that dream away… for about 10 minutes. Then an email popped up from Laura Nowlin, the Winnett ACES operations Coordinator, that said “This is a really cool opportunity and ACES should help you fundraise to attend it”. Fast forward a month and we had raised all the money for me to attend the CREATE course with the help of many generous organizations such as the Northern Great Plains Joint Venture.
When Nicole Masters designed the CREATE program, she wanted to make a bigger impact in the regenerative agriculture world by starting to educate the educators. While one-time workshops are a great way to bring new information to a community, often attendees are left feeling overwhelmed by the amount of information they just learned and are unsure of where to start. ACES and NGPJV saw the value in having a full-time staff person with the knowledge and ability to support a rancher through an endeavor as big and complex as improving soil health.
Through site visits, soil and plant testing, and repeated in depth discussions, I am able to act as a partner to a rancher and help them peel away the layers and find their “why”, what values drive them, and how that fits into addressing land health and profitability. As we work through this, I can outline an array of practices that benefit ecosystem health on many levels as well as the rancher’s quality of life. This journey won’t be the same for everyone, even neighbors will find different practices that work for their particular needs and goals. One of the most beneficial aspects of this partnership is the long term support and ability to monitor changes on the landscape, within the rancher, and make adjustments as necessary. I am so grateful I was able to attend CREATE and can honestly say it fundamentally changed the way I approach my work and I see both people and landscapes in a more holistic light. I am looking forward to having a positive impact on multiple ranches this summer and continuing that work into the future.