by Johanna Mercedes Van Schie-Copol
Photos were taken by Ellie from Walker Farms
Prime agricultural Land, the essence of what attracted masses to today’s urban centers in the first place, is now lost to urban development, aggregate extraction, transportation corridors, and recreational land uses by thousands of acres each year within Ontario. This further translates to biodiversity loss, degraded soils, and dysfunctional ecosystems. Environmental sustainability efforts are transitioning to focus on restoration approaches with the goal of regenerating healthy soils and increasing carbon sequestration.
We ventured outside of the city to see what farmers still managing the original landscapes are doing to maintain what is left of fertile agricultural Land. Walker Farms manages a 100-acre parcel of Land home to livestock animals and a Tree plantation. They are located in North Eastern Ontario and are owned and operated by Ellie and Javid. Following traditional principles and cultures, these two farmers have brought to life the on-site reality of regenerative farming.
Ellie was taught farming skills by her Oma and Opa who started from scratch in Canada after immigrating from a small village in Germany. Her grandparents taught her sustainable farming practices that sourced from instinctual and traditional farming knowledge. Sustainable farming was the foundation of their large scale croplands and livestock herd operations. What Ellie valued most in this education was the basic and harmonious way of life this brought her family and she continues to naturally promote such a lifestyle on her farm today.
Javid’s introduction to farming was years ago when he spent two years farming in Maasai Africa. He worked alongside local farmers who taught him to care for livestock animals including goats, sheep, and cattle. The daily routine would revolve around modeling a symbiotic relationship with Mother Nature. Each day the livestock herd’s were monitored closely most often following them by foot to learn and make sense of their migratory patterns. Using these observations the farmers and Javid gained an understanding of the animal’s instinctual behaviors and they could provide for them accordingly.
Javid was motivated and inspired to return to Canada and eventually own a farm where he could implement this style of farming that was so fulfilling and interactive.
This style of farming today is being recognized as “regenerative farming” but in actuality, Javid explains:
“This is not a new-age farming technique, it is a method of encouraging the return to original forms of farming that have been practiced by farmers around the world for time immemorial.”
The Savory Institute is a thriving global community working to advance regenerative agriculture on the World’s grasslands through holistic management. Nick Jeffries author of the article on Medium.com entitled Regenerative Agriculture: How it Works on the Ground explains that
“Regenerative agriculture recognizes that farms are part of a larger ecosystem and that agricultural activities must not just make withdrawals from this larger system, but also pay into it. The overall ambition shifts from extractive, linear thinking that prioritizes high yields above all else, to establishing cycles of regeneration.”
The holistic management approach that the Savory Institutes models are based on a revolution to restore the environment in a way that social/cultural, environmental and economic complexities are all managed to surround the context of Natural Resources. Founder and president of the Savory Institute Allan Savory explain this is where ordinary people such as farmers and ranchers, people within universities or environmental and government organizations are collaborating in a growing global network of locally-led and managed holistic management practices.
Walker Farms illustrates the on the ground potential of the Savory Institutes ambitions and Javid and Ellie regularly source education and inspiration from the Savory’s vast online resources especially, when it comes to holistic management. Walker Farms’ holistic management and regenerative farming strategies surround two primary areas: regenerative grazing and regenerative Tree farming.
To manage their herd of rescue horses they mimic the effects of predator/prey and innate migratory behaviors on their farmlands. This involves cycling the Horses between pastures and allowing the grasslands to restore and regenerate in between rotations.
Ellie and Javid also collaborate with neighbors to encourage regenerative farming within their community. This includes supporting neighbors to manage and restore health to unused wild Lands. Many farmers these days have Land but no longer actively work the Land which leaves it to become over-grown and overwhelming for the Landowner. For the Land itself, this means it loses its natural regenerative growth cycles and its nutrients and Soil health become saturated and stagnant.
Working collaboratively a mutually beneficial exchange is realized where Javid and Ellie’s Horses receive new pastures to add to their migratory patterns and simultaneously the Landowners have their Land naturally managed through grazing and organic fertilizer. This partnership allows for cycles of regeneration to be re-introduced which supports the return of soil health. Additionally, it fosters the essence of farming country success: community and support from neighbors.
At Walker Farms, the regenerative livestock grazing and regenerative tree farm go hand in hand. The grazing pastures for the Horses primarily cycle throughout the various tree farm pastures. Strategically, the horses graze and fertilize the tree operation and this adds to the tree health, quality, and overall life-cycle.
The regenerative tree farming element of there operation includes harvesting on property seeds and planting crops of native tree species present in the properties surrounding forest.
This includes balsam fir, Fraser fir, white pine, scotch pine, blue and white spruce. The benefits of regenerative tree farming include drawing down CO2 from the atmosphere, releasing oxygen, and transferring carbon into the tree roots and soil.
This operation remains profitable as they seasonally participate in the local economy by providing seasonal Christmas trees to the market. They offer a sustainable tree business and are constantly looking for ways to improve their overall efficiency including starting to sell Christmas trees in take-home pots which allow for the tree to continue its growth cycles.
For the owners of Walker Farm, this endeavor is about returning to the simplicity of modeling Mother Nature’s techniques and participating in a symbiotic relationship. Javid explains that regenerative farming is something anyone with a parcel of land or access to land can participate in, it is the opportunity to return desolate soils to fertile prosperous grounds.
So with this, whether you are in a rural country or in the city the opportunities open for more people to participate in regenerative farming. Reaching out to farmers or neighbors who have livestock animals and seeing if your land could be included in their herd’s grazing cycles is a great first step to get involved. Planting crops natural to your location and asking farmers if they can share manure to fertilize your crops or plantations is another way to get involved. Manure is often considered the key to a prosperous yield and an insider tip is many farmers’ often have an overload of manure and are happy to share!
There are many organizations out there encouraging those interested in regenerative farming to spread the message of regeneration as widely as possible and to organize and inspire core groups, coalitions, pilot projects and policy reforms, the more people involved the better. The Organic Consumer Organization wrote an article on how to start a regenerative agriculture movement in your community some of their tips include: educating yourself on the basics of regenerative farming, forming a small group this can include local climate, political or farm activist, concerned parents, teachers, gardeners, artists, church groups, etc., and registering within an institution such as the Savory Institute to develop a plan of action! Some ideas within the urban centers could include garden crops in yards, parks, school fields, golf courses, railway edges and vacant lots or having livestock animals such as sheep graze on sports fields!
For more information on Walker Farm visit:https://www.facebook.com/walkersfarmfreshtrees/