December 2018

Welcome to Our Year End Update!

As we come to the end of 2018, I wanted to reflect and share some of the achievements and highlights of our team.

It was just 10 months ago when the vision for WBLT formed...

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Our progress throughout the year has inspired awareness and support for our work and the Regenerative Agriculture movement as a whole. I am so proud to share that for our year-end giving, we have been awarded the following:

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It has been a fantastic year of initiation and growth and we could not be more excited and engaged for 2019. Thank you for growing with us and investing in the deeper impact of Regenerative Agriculture in our region and beyond. 

Steve Finkel
Founder and President

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Regenerative Agriculture

The process of designing a farm that is in support of healthy soils, water resources and biodiversity is at the core of our organization. Sourcing from that foundation, we are guided by the core values of promoting perennial tree crops as the keystones of our system, integrating animals to support nutrient flows and decrease pest pressure, and increase native plants and wildlife habitats. 

Through our design process we have been focused on our initial phase of property development through the lens of soil stabilization, water retention and biomass production. Some of the outcomes of this design process include a plan to install micro earthworks for water infiltration, increasing orchard diversity by adding fast growing nitrogen fixing leguminous trees, and propagating vetiver grass for steep slope planting in the spring.

The inherited water reticulation design of our property removes water from the land as quickly and efficiently as possible. Like many avocado orchards in the region, each of our access roads has a drain that links to a concrete pipe which funnels the water to the bottom of our property and into the nearest waterway. There are many negative impacts that this method of water management creates, including: potential downstream water contamination from fertilizer or pesticide application (we do not use either), sedimentation of our waterways due to excess overland flow, and erosion of our streams and rivers due to high flow rates in large rain events. 

Many of these effects are externalities that are not (usually) factored into the cost of running an agricultural business, but the shear loss of that water from the agricultural system should cause any land steward to think twice about each drain that lets water escape from their property. Our intention is to allow water to leave our farm after first passing through a biological system such as soil, plant or animals.

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Education & Engagement

Education and Curriculum at Santa Barbara Middle School
Our first Friday Elective, Living Santa Barbara, at Santa Barbara Middle School is drawing to a close. Students had the chance to interact with and evaluate successful, local, ecological and regenerative landscapes and businesses in Santa Barbara. Our goal was to have the students understand the different ways in which ecologically oriented businesses and organizations can thrive and support the regeneration of local ecosystems, communities, and economies.

Two highlights from this elective series included a trip to the harbor and the Monarch Restaurant in Montecito. The excursion to the harbor and the watershed resource center gave students the chance to understand more about marine ecosystems and, more specifically, how urchins consume kelp and why that is an important issue. We learned about harvesting Urchins for Uni and discovered that because people harvest the urchins for human consumption, the environmental pressures the urchins put on the kelp forests diminished.

Our second to last class was an afternoon visit to the Monarch Restaurant in Montecito. This was a culminating event that allowed students to experience all of the ecological models that we visited throughout the elective and connect it back to an economic model that brings all these elements together, a restaurant. At the end of this adventure, one student felt called to make a toast:

“I would like to make a toast to this elective. It has been very fun, I learned a lot and made many new friends. I don’t want it to end!” 

Land Steward Training Program Underway
We had the opportunity to host Spencer Smith, of Jefferson Center for Holistic Management, for two courses in Holistic Management- Holistic Financial Planning and Holistic Grazing. We had over 25 participants come through Santa Barbara this last month to participate, including the WBLT team. 

The Holistic Financial Planning course is important to us, not only for accreditation through Savory, but because farmers historically havestruggled to make a profit through agricultural production. We believe we can change this and it starts with having a holistically designed financial plan to guide our work. We covered a lot during the Holistic Financial Planning course and one key outcome was how to make our farming systems more efficient. This meant diving into each area of the business to discover the places where we can cut certain costs and identify where profit is possible, ending with a cost benefit and profit analysis. 

The Holistic Grazing course allowed us the time, space, and direction to look deeper into the animal systems we are planning to incorporate at the farm. This included determining key needs such as the cover crops we will be using and how animals should be moved through the landscape to shepherd the process of regeneration on the land. 

These two courses are part of the process to become accredited Savory professionals and to continue to develop WBLT as a Savory Hub. Both have helped inform the decisions we are making for our flagship farm in Summerland and have guided us in how we look toward the future. Stay tuned for the further development of the Land Steward Training Program.  

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Scientific Research

Our ongoing soil research that started this year, in collaboration with Jessica Chiartas and Garett Long, from UC Davis working under the organization, Soil Life, has led to the preparation of a set of performance indicators that will allow us to track the progress of our regenerative practices and their impact on the landscape. As we continue to develop the landscape, we will keep you apprised of our progress in building healthy soil via these indicators:

Infiltration is the velocity at which water enters the soil and is an indicator of how freely water is able to move through a soil profile.  It is crucial to soil health because when infiltration is compromised, more water runs off the field and less is available for root uptake, plant growth, and the activity of microbes and other organisms. 

Aggregate Stability
Aggregate stability is the ability of aggregated soil particles to resist disintegration when exposed to water, wind, or mechanical disturbance.  This ability to maintain structure has a major impact on porosity and thus, water, air, nutrient, and biota movement in soils. Changes in aggregate stability are one of few early indicators of soil degradation with a decrease in stability often indicating a greater occurrence of clogged pores and surface crusts that reduce infiltration and can lead to increased erosion.  

Surface Hardness
Subsurface and surface hardness are indicators of soil compaction, measured in pounds per square inch of field penetration resistance using a penetrometer.  Surface compaction results in increased runoff and erosion and decreased infiltration and water storage.  Subsurface compaction contributes to poor drainage, aeration and water storage, as well as limited rooting depths (especially at 300+ psi) and mobility of soil organisms (including mycorrhizal fungi).  This can lead to reduced plant uptake of water and nutrients, declines in yield and crop quality, and increased weed pressure.

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Speaker Series in the Community

We are very grateful to Brittany Cole Bush (BCB) for being our first guest in the WBLT Speaker Series hosted at the Impact Hub in the Funk Zone (location of our office), and co-sponsored by the Community Environmental Council, the Land Trust for Santa Barbara and the Santa Barbara Botanic Gardens. We would also like to thank our food and beverage sponsors, Buena Onda who provided amazing empanadas, and Rincon Brewery that stocked the cooler with some refreshing beverages. 

BCB brought the conversation that is on the tip of everyone’s tongue into the limelight of action, “How do we actively take part in the reduction of fuel to prevent devastating perennial wildfires in CA?”. What is being proposed is a system of prescribed grazing to impact the standing grasses, create defensible space, increase soil health, create jobs, and produce food and fiber in the process. Brittany is in the process of launching the Grazing School of the West to create a career pathway for the next-generation of graziers in the American West.

BCB has been managing this system effectively in the bay area for years, and co-authored a white paper on Prescribed Herbivory for Vegetation Treatment Projects in conjunction with CAL Fire. Our community has the opportunity to support this work that is integral to the safety of our homes, the resiliency of our ecosystem, and health of our foodshed and fibershed

The private land holders, such as Cate School, that are managing their properties using goats, and our local fire fighting agencies support the practice. What is currently needed is a more integrated approach to effect more public, private and conserved land, that will allow for contiguous grazing opportunities, and compensate graziers for their service.

We’re excited to have just received an influx of 420+ sheep that entered our county this year thanks to Jack & Jenya of Cuyama Lamb, and we’re asking our community to support their operation by opening a conversation for grazing contracts for the upcoming 2019 season. 

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Terra Genesis International and BRASA

We are very grateful to Russell Wallack from Terra Genesis International for joining us for an evening to discuss their process of exploring watershed regeneration through agroforestry. TGI has been working for the last decade in the field of Regenerative Agriculture and has focused primarily on the natural products industry and systems of supply. 

Through conversation with companies, non-profits, farmers and interested investors, it has become clear that a deeper understanding of where production oriented tree systems should be introduced into a landscape is of the utmost importance. Using publicly available data and geo-referenced imaging software, their team has been able to ask the question “Where in this watershed is the most appropriate place to grow this tree?”, and get a fairly accurate map that shows the suitability of land rated and color coded down to a parcel by parcel level. 

Through this process they call BRASA (Bio-Regional Agroforestry Suitability Analysis) they hope to support the movement towards a more perennially minded system of food production, while increasing the carbon drawdown potential of our agricultural landscapes. Our team at White Buffalo Land Trust and the sponsors of this event are excited about the possibilities that Terra Genesis International and this process offers our community and we hope to see a pilot project in our region take off in 2019. Please EMAIL us if you’d like to support this work or would like to find out more information.

Thank you for joining us on our journey in 2018! We look forward to sharing with you what is in store for 2019 next month.

Happy Holidays from Our Team to You!