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Savory Institute Conference 2014: Putting Grasslands to Work Recap

The conference is over as of this evening and we are headed to Zimbabwe via Johannesburg, South Africa tomorrow (after going to a farmer’s market in London in the morning). Here are highlights from the conference. It was amazing!

  • Each hub gave a short intro to their hub. Spencer and I spoke about our hub and why we are doing this. It was amazing to be speaking to people we admired so much: Joel Salatin, Allan Savory, Elaine Ingham, Dr. Campbell-McBride, all the Savory Institute leaders, and many others. It was so much fun!
  • We got good advice on how to communicate with people. A farmer turned educator (and farmer still) said that facts don’t change people’s mind. If they have a concept already in their minds (say livestock for example), when you say that word, it will pull up their existing understanding of the word no matter how you use the word. Only answer questions that you have been asked. Create a new space for a new concept to form. That is the only way to truly connect.
  • Joel Salatin was, as always, inspiring. He spoke of how farms are filled with endless possibilities if you can create complimentary enterprises. You just have to get creative. His 100 acres supports three generations and more. Amazing concept compared to traditional thinking that to be a multi-generational operation requires acquiring more and more land.
  • Dr. Daphne Miller and Dr. Campbell-McBride (founder of the GAPS diet) explained the link between soil health and our health: a lack of biodiversity creates disease. We are only as healthy as our gut flora. Anyone with autoimmune conditions should look at Dr. Campbell-McBride’s book. She argues that through many lifestyle factors including antibiotics, synthetic hormones, etc. we are damaging our gut flora and then passing this compromised gut flora on to our children (gut flora is passed from mother to child through the birth canal) which starts a viscous cycle that results in many conditions from ADHD to epilepsy to heart disease. Most disease–they are finding now–has an autoimmune component. She was so humble and quiet. A Russian now living in England on 27 acres (which is quite a lot here!) with her bearded and suspender-clad husband (he looked like a young Santa Claus dressed as a farmer) learning to raise pigs, chickens, bees and a big garden. She looked like someone you might meet at the Genesee Store or at a little cafe in Chico. I just adored her!
  • Dr. Elaine Ingham (Spencer’s hero) explained why we never need any soil additives at all; we only need the right bacteria and fungi in the soil–and proper oxygen so the soil doesn’t be come anaerobic–to release all the minerals in the soil. This was an eye opener for me because I always thought Nevada had such poor soil–that it was lacking something. It isn’t. We just need to know how to release what is locked in the dirt.
  • The main point: soil matters. It really matters.
  • Must see short video clips from the presentation:
  • A video on the Savory Hub in Patagonia: http://youtu.be/Jt3O4v-v3tU
  • The producer of the Carbon Cowboys spoke. Here is a trailer for the film: http://vimeo.com/80518559
  • Polyfaces, a documentary on Joel Salatin: This one made me tearful because it is always my dream to have many families and people living together happily on healthy land (and I am sleep deprived and missing my daughter terribly): http://vimeo.com/81468461
  • Amazing restoration stories in China, Ethiopia and Rwanda (this speaker was originally anti-grazing, but Savory changed that):
  • Part I: Loess Plateau, China – http://youtu.be/sK8JNXHcBMA
  • Part II: Ethiopia – http://youtu.be/mbEM6DCTK3Y
  • Part III: Rwanda – http://youtu.be/BVxVC7PuEL8

The conference ended with a lesson on successful optimism where we learned the key to happiness is finding something bigger than yourself and dedicating your life to it. And remembering to mind your own cynicism (ironic that this message was delivered in London, which is not lacking in dry humor, verging on cynicism). Alan Savory closed with an argument that in order to–well in his words–save humanity we need “holistic policy formation” meaning that our policies are formed with a holistic context.

Before that, though, we got to see so many examples of holistic management tools in action. My favorite was delivered by the tall Australian farmer (and philosopher). They are doing amazing work in a very brittle environment. Here is a video of them moving cattle, it is really beautiful (warning: it was very hard to understand him even in person!): http://youtu.be/D52qggDoyqM

Here is an example of a holistic grazing plan. They run 4,000 + head of cattle along with some camels to eat the tree leaves that the cattle can't reach. Biodiversity!
Here is an example of a holistic grazing plan. They run 4,000 + head of cattle along with some camels to eat the tree leaves that the cattle can’t reach. Biodiversity!
Allan Savory preparing his speech. Such a humble person.
Allan Savory preparing his speech. Such a humble person.
Beginning our daily commute on the tube from West Norwood. Taylor, "the Epic guy" lost his luggage so he had to wear a suit with flip flops the whole time.
Beginning our daily commute on the tube from West Norwood. Taylor, “the Epic guy” lost his luggage so he had to wear a suit with flip flops the whole time.
The whole crew from our house here. Such fun!
The whole crew from our house here. Such fun!
Tower Bridge in London. We ate dinner by the River Thames tonight with our friends from Ethiopia. We watched the lights come on the bridge as the sun set. It opens to let ships through--amazing to see.
Tower Bridge in London. We ate dinner by the River Thames tonight with our friends from Ethiopia. We watched the lights come on the bridge as the sun set. It opens to let ships through–amazing to see.
With no mountains here to guide us, the Shard is our landmark so we can find our way in the city.
With no mountains here to guide us, the Shard is our landmark so we can find our way in the city.