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Reflections on Regenerative Agriculture Workshop

Written Jan 14, 2014

Back in October (whew time flies!) I attended a workshop on Regenerative Agriculture. What’s that? Read the guest post that I wrote for Ecological Farmers Association of Ontario, below:


“We are happy to publish this guest post from Paul Wartman of Many Rivers Permaculture. Paul attended the Regrarian Open Consultancy 3 Day Practicum offered for the first time in Ontario in October 2013. Here he shares his experiences and reflections from the dynamic session. Thanks Paul!”

The morning of Oct 25th greeted the international crowd of farmers, consultants, teachers, academics, and many others, with wet snow and blustery winds. Luckily the homestead of Paul and Ingrid, at the Red Mill Farm in St. Mary, ON, was open and accepting of our eager group. Once piled in and settled down with home-baked goodies, we were introduced to the activities for the 3-day practicum in Regrarian practices. Steve Timmerman, a local nut (grower) and land manager with an academic background in ecology, introduced the issues that were literally bursting open our environment—erosion, lack of diversity in crops, GMOs, chemical fertilizers and pesticides—and in desperate need for a solution. He then introduced Darren Doherty, who is a Regrarian—Regenerative Agrarian—consultant who practices and speaks of the amazing potential to restore our planet’s capacity to heal itself while also creating resilient agricultural systems.

After sharing his stories of growing up on his Grandfather’s farm in Australia, with a good aussie accent mind you, Darren stated that the “primary client is the planet”. As a consultant and practitioner, Darren had his ethics firmly set in place—our current generation may not necessarily benefit from the actions that we take in our life time, but by enhancing the biosphere processes that contribute to a rich planet, all organisms, including our next generations, will be able to flourish. With that set in place and the audience beginning to understand our context in this work, the attention re-focused to the landowners. The purpose of this exercise was to hold a regrarian open consultancy, which helps to distribute financial costs and accesses a deep pool of experience from the attendees. Darren introduced the Regrarian Platform, which was used as a guide to determine what fits with the holistic views of this land and family. It consisted of 10 points along a scale of permanence adjusted from P. Yeoman, including, from most permanent to most workable: 1) Climate, 2) Geography, 3) Water, 4) Access, 5) Forestry, 6) Buildings, 7) Fencing, 8) Soil, 9) Polymarketing, and, 10) Energy. The whole gamet is explained in his video here ( but I will just touch on a few things in this article. The climate was separated into two sections: that which surrounds us and determines many aspects of our environment, and that within us, which determines many of our actions—both of which are hard to change. The scope of geography needs to change, more specifically it needs to become smaller with regards to amount of land managed and value chain distance. Darren then asked Paul and Ingrid what their water needs were on this land—what enterprises will they be developing and what are the water requirements—which was followed up with where and how much flows across the land every season. As he dipped into number 4, Access, he held out his fist for a visual tool to see what contours, valleys, and ridges looked like and explained the benefits that accompany building roads along high ridges. For example, they may allow for all season access, water harvesting and moving, vehicular and livestock transport, etc. Once the first four sections were observed and understood, the remaining sections can be guided within the region’s specific context. He puts a strong emphasis on number 9 and 10, the need to market your ideas, successes, and trials, and to make the most efficient use of our main energy source the sun, respectively.

The weekend was a great opportunity to meet practitioners from so many backgrounds and to come together to design one family’s homestead, which not only impacts their lives but also the lives for generations to come on this planet. —— Paul Wartman is a first year Masters Student at the University of Guelph studying Edible Forest Gardening in the Plant Agriculture Department. Paul’s understory consists of being a board member and vo-livin-teer with Transition Guelph, a grass roots community organization working and playing towards a thriving resilient community. His character is built from experiences in organic farming, permaculture design, appropriate technology development, eco-camp counseling, and many potlucks! Check out another piece written about this course by Kearney Coupland, First Year Masters Student in Landscape Architecture at the University of Guelph. Kearney’s reflection was published in the January/February 2014 edition of ‘Ecological Farming in Ontario’.

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