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Savory Institute Bootcamp: planning for what matters most

I had hoped to get photos in today, but I am still struggling with Internet–or adapting to Internet here. We spent most of the day digging into the hub business model. Tre Cates is leading the hubs and all operations at the Savory Institute. Spencer and I had many early morning conversations with Tre during our business planning and event planning this year. Spending today with him was so valuable. It is truly his vision of the hubs and that of the Savory Institute CEO, Daniela Howell’s that we believe in. He reminded us that the hubs are an entrepreneurial enterprise. We are building independent, lean, flexible and result-oriented businesses. The natural resource and land management space is more accustomed to large organizations such as NGOs and government. Imagine what an structure like the hubs could do–a global network of independent entrepreneurs connected by their practical dedication to regenerating land. So exciting. Another big take-away for me (I won’t drag everyone through the technical aspects of our business planning) is that “planning is sacred.” Tre said that in his broad experience with start ups (from creating businesses to investing in them) that the difference between businesses that succeed and those that fail is planning–the willingness to define what is truly important, set goals to work toward that and measure performance while always taking in feedback, re-planning, improving, etc. And this is what is so magical about holistic management. It is a process of uncovering what you really truly want–what really matters–and planning for it.

I spent some time at breakfast with Susie Ward. A wonderful Australian woman who is a holistic management pioneer. I am so thankful to her and others who paved the way for this generation of holistic management leaders. She is lovely, elegant and soft-spoken. A person who always remembers her manners and chooses the right words, who is effortlessly kind. People who have practiced holistic management for a long time have this certain presence–a peace about them. They have thought deeply about what is important and crafted their lives to bring this out through holistic planning. They’ve had to decide what to let-go of and what to hold.  It is a flexibility, a freedom and a complete control at the same time.

There is talk of establishing a hub exchange program where students and others could travel throughout the global network of hubs and experience holistic management in so many contexts. Tre’s son is doing this informally. He will go to South Africa for four months, the to New Zealand to the Grasslands managed ranches there, then to Argentina and Chile to the hubs there. What an amazing opportunity. Brings back memories of my own time in South Africa after college.

The afternoon we spent touring the operation–the cattle processing pens (which were made from tree branches and wire found on the ranch) and the staff village and offices. Given that I grew up in a little mountain valley that resembles the Swiss Alps (which is probably why my Swiss ancestors chose to live there), I must remember that holistically managed lands does not mean (always) a quaint little valley where everything is green and lush, with fresh running snow-melt streams and white capped mountain peaks. Holistically managed does not mean perfect. It is a process. And it is not a recipe. The results of decisions will be different depending on the context. It was educational to have Andy, the ranch manager, walk us through their decisions given their context in an arid African environment. Their staff have a sturdy village, but a permaculture design with crop fields and vegetable gardens is still in the works. The 500 head cattle herd is a mix of ranch cattle and communal livestock. The conditions are hard on the cattle. The goal of the ranch team is to build a well-adapted herd, but today they use wormer and vaccines to keep the cattle healthy. They are building the hospitality business because it will provide a quicker return (which is what they need now). These are decisions that any ranch would make. Practical decisions. Not perfect, but clear goals to work toward. And happy people.

Allan Savory and his wife Jody Butterfield just arrived. We are all, as usual, in the dining hall talking and laughing. I am at the studious table, while my  husband is at the center of the social table with Tarquin, Jeff, the Arizona hub guys, the South African couple and others. The table explodes in laughter about every 15 minutes. And just as frequently someone from the table gets up to refresh everyone with cold beers. Allan is in a tattered Carhartt jacket, “farmer boots” and coveralls. He looks around the room and a broad smile spreads over his face.