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Families working together: how regeneration really happens

The following Letter to the Editor was sent to the Eating Well magazine editorial team in response to an article by Barry Estabrook about regenerative agriculture. Allan Savory and our family’s ranch, Springs Ranch is featured in the article.  The editor, Shaun Dreishbach, provided a thoughtful response. He also shared reader comments, which are listed below. 

We wrote:

Dear Editor,
Thank you very much for publishing the thorough and well-done article titled This Man Wants You To Eat More Meat. As practitioners of regenerative agriculture, it is very exciting for us to see this concept enter a national conversation through Eating Well. We believe that creating soil health, using agricultural lands and grasslands as carbon sinks is the solution to the complex and enormous challenges facing humanity.
Our family and our family ranch is featured in this article. We enjoyed our time with Barry Estabrook very much when he came to the ranch, walked the fields, shared conversation and coffee with us at the dining room table.
We understand that the published article attempts to explain the impact of regenerative agriculture on the land in ways that most people can comprehend. However, in this effort to simplify the story, we feel that important facts were glossed over or re-framed in a way that portrays an inaccurate picture of our family and our land.
A part of our story that humbles Spencer and I each day, is the fact that his parents, Steve and Pati Smith, were open and generous enough to set out on this Holistic Management adventure with us. We manage the ranch together. They invited us to work with them on their ranch. We created a Holistic Context together as a family. Through this framework, and everyone’s willingness to embrace it, we have found creative and collaborative solutions to challenges most ranching families in the Western US face—challenges that I am sorry to say break apart many families and lead to land leaving agriculture.  The fact that the article identified the ranch as unprofitable in the beginning of the story (or indicated that it was profitable after moving to Holistic Management) is simply not true. Steve and Pati are excellent managers who we learn from each day. Instead of making us do things as “they have always been done,” which is the case far too often in ranching families, they challenged us to take the land to the next level, building upon their work instead of simply maintaining the status quo. This is so rare. It needs to be celebrated.
Fence line comparisons of pasture between neighbors is an obvious way to literally see the differing impact of management choices on the land. However, it simply isn’t fair or often times accurate. We prefer to focus on our own before and after photos of our own land. The change over time while the land is under Holistic Management is incredible. The problem with fence lines is that the context of the neighbor is not understood. What if that is their sacrifice lot? What if they just took ownership of the land and even though it isn’t looking abundant, it is incredibly better than what was before? We believe in collaboration, inclusion, community and working together. Our intent is never to fracture relationships with our neighbors. We seek to meet people where they are and grow together. Surprise Valley is a wonderful, beautiful place. We choose this valley to raise our family due to the lifestyle and sense of community it affords. We are grateful for our friends and neighbors.
Thank you for your time and consideration. Thank you for the important work you do. We are truly grateful to be part of this conversation.
Abbey & Spencer Smith
January 25, 2018

Shaun wrote:

Dear Abbey,

Barry passed on your email and we wanted to be sure to get back to you. Let me start by saying that we are truly grateful to you and Spencer for all of your help with this story—welcoming Barry to the ranch, sharing your story with us, and allowing us to print your beautiful photograph. It has gotten more positive feedback from readers than any feature we’ve done in the past two years. (I’m pasting in some of the comments, below.)

I’m sorry that you felt certain aspects of the story were misrepresented. Sometimes in the interest of space and clarity we can’t go into the level of detail that we’d like to, but please know that it was not our intention to slight Spencer’s parents in any way. They clearly mean a lot to the two of you and I respect you not wanting to cause any hurt feelings. In highlighting your ranch, our purpose was to show the huge difference Holistic Management has made, not to imply that it hadn’t been successful before you got involved. We also didn’t realize that the four of you were running the ranch together. It wasn’t made clear in the copy and I’m sorry about that oversight.

The fence line comparison was Barry’s observation and I think was an important part of the story, in the sense that it helps readers visualize the results Holistic Management can have over conventional ranching. But I understand that fence lines aren’t always the best measure of the health of one piece of land versus another, and even more importantly, that the relationship with your neighbors is very important to you. We were mindful of that when editing the copy and did not intend to paint them in a negative light. Again, the point was to highlight your ranch, not in any way disparage someone else’s.

Please don’t hesitate to reach out if you’d like to discuss this further. We are so proud of this piece and hope that despite your valid concerns you are pleased with the way it came out over all. Holistic Management is an incredible practice and we hope that by sharing your story we can inspire others to follow your lead. It certainly seems to have resonated with our readers.

All the best,

Shaun

January 31, 2018

Reader comments:

I cannot thank you enough for Eating Well’s article in the January/February 2018 issue regarding regenerative agriculture and ranching.  Allan Savory, the Savory Institute, Joel Salatin and Will Harris are all heroes.  Their courage in opposing current scientific beliefs and corporate farming practices gives me hope that with their holistic methods we can reverse the damage being done to our earth and our health.

The proof is in the pictures and the “jet-black cottage cheese.”   Well done!

Kathy Hill

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Hi, just wanted to thank you for publishing such thought-provoking articles. I really enjoyed reading the articles about plastics, beef and Amanda Saab. The beef article in particular was especially interesting. It’s worth noting that even if Mr. Savory’s theory about carbon sequestration is wrong, his ranch-land management is doing wonders for habitat, pollution and animal husbandry. Have you ever been to a feedlot? It’s disgusting! Look at the “after” photos that Savory presented. How can those pastures not provide better habitat and soil erosion?

Karen Twisler

Jessie, I just received my first issue of Eating Well. I ordered a subscription that my niece requested, and decided to add one for myself. I was expecting a magazine with recipes, some nutrition tips and maybe some articles on health. I am tremendously pleased to find that your magazine is much more. I was very curious about the article with Allan Savory, and am wondering about possible tie-ins for land conservancies, particularly in the more arid parts of the country to improve the soil on their lands. I also read about the special laundry bags to help contain the plastic fibers from fleece in my recent Sierra Club issue, and now to see it in your magazine with the article on plastics was a great surprise.

I am looking forward to the upcoming issues, and I will spread the word on Eating Well magazine!

Thank you, Mary Blanchard

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 And we received this one of our own:

Good morning,
I just wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed the article written in Eating Well magazine  “This Man Wants You to Eat More Meat”.  We have lived here in Cedarville for many years now and I have followed the progress you have made using  regenerative agriculture.  Our hats are off to you for taking the chance and reaping the rewards.  Keep up the good work.
Cathy Carlock