“There is no wealth other than that which comes from sunlight and the green growing plants that grow from it on regenerating soils,” quoted Phyllis van Amburgh of Dharma Lea Farm, Sharon Springs, NY.
Van Amburgh was quoting Allan Savory. “Everyone should have this on their wall!” van Amburgh said.
Van Amburgh was leading a farm tour of Dharma Lea, a 100 percent grass-fed, organic beef and dairy farm, for a group of Norwegian farmers and agricultural dignitaries, including several from soil and water conservation agencies, who were touring several farms in the United States.
“I’m working on a project in Norway called Soil Carbon,” said Hege Sundet, editor of a Norwegian agricultural magazine. “The main goal for the project is to investigate agricultural practices that possibly can sequester carbon from the atmosphere to the soil. We are interested in Holistic management as a tool to put the carbon back to the soil and in the same time build soil health, structure and so on.”
Holistic management is key at Dharma Lea, where van Amburgh says the ‘four key insights’ of Holistic management are “universal principles.”
“Start with pasture management,” said van Amburgh. “Management skills create farm profit.”
Van Amburgh began her tour with the barn and dairy cows. She explained the deplorable condition of the herd, barn and pastures when she and her husband had first moved to the property and how they had improved the soil and pastures, which in turn improved the health and condition of their herd.
“For farmers, all ecosystems processes must be highly functioning in order to achieve high mineral cycling.”
Van Amburgh reported that high functioning mineral cycling results in optimum “flavor and depth” in produce and healthier animals.
“In order to achieve high ecosystem functioning we must fully understand the key insights, because they inform the use of tools. The effective application of tools leads us to effectively addressing the root cause and getting our best marginal reaction.”
Van Amburgh pointed out that carbon and water benefits of healthy soils continually improve mineral cycling. “We can monitor carbon cycling by observing the rate of plant decay, and we can monitor mineral cycling through health traits and performance markers in livestock. Water cycling is monitored through forage and soil surface analysis — moss, goldenrod and visible signs of runoff or capping.”
Van Amburgh said when roots fully develop and support high functioning soil, plants will form fats. “When fat reaches 6 percent in forages, cows will prefer them to grains.”
These forages will support grass-fed dairy and beef cattle.
Feeding hay on the ground provides both organic matter and allows cattle to trample it into the ground. Higher stock density provides better trampling and reduces selective feeding. Rotating pastures in a timely manner increases recovery time and keeps mineral rich forage in front of the cattle at all times.
“Managing the whole” is an important concept to understand and incorporate in farm management.
“Observation is the best tool you have to get your stock ‘where you want them, when you want them there, and providing the impact you want’,” says van Amburgh. “This is certainly a mouth full, as each of these parameters requires that you understand your own place, tools, and resources.”
van Amburgh teaches these practices through her Agrarian Learning Center.
“This group was visiting regenerative ag farms in our region and came to see us in particular to learn and see about Holistic Management and our regenerative outcomes,” commented van Amburgh. “They were a pleasure to host, and I truly appreciated sharing thoughts and insights with them. It is also very heartening to be connected to other producers that are so concerned with soils, water cycles, regenerative food production, and farming as the basis for all wealth. It was a great day!”
“It was really interesting to see that Dharma Lea Farm has experienced improvements for their soil and, at the same time, do well with their grass fed milk products,” remarked Sundet. “I can assure you that everybody enjoyed the tour to the U.S.”
Other farms visited by the group included Rodale Institute, PA; Spiral Path Farm, Loysville, PA; Blue Hill At Stone Barns, Tarrytown, NY; Little Seed Gardens, Chatham, NY; and Worm Power, Avon, NY.