More than 200 biologists, land managers, ranchers and farmers from around the world gathered this week at Paicines Ranch for the annual Holistic Management International (HMI) conference. Sallie Calhoun, owner of the Paicines Ranch and former HMI board member, hosted the event.
“The idea of holistic management is what inspired me to get into ranching,” Calhoun said. “I was trained by HMI, and this has had a profound influence on my work and thinking. I can’t imagine managing land without using the principles of HM. This community has also been my support and inspiration throughout the last 15 years.”
She and her husband, Matt Christiano, bought the 7,000-acre ranch, just south of Hollister on Highway 25, in 2001 and have been leaders in the community ever since. They have invested in the Community Foundation for San Benito County, BenitoLink, many local agricultural businesses, and created jobs on the ranch. As a result, Paicines has become a well-known and respected place in the regenerative agriculture community. The ranch — and Calhoun’s work there – has also brought jobs, world-wide recognition, and tourism to San Benito County. Delicious, locally-sourced meals were provided by Hollister’s Fisher’s Restaurant & Catering throughout the weekend.
“We have been bringing holistic management educators to the ranch for workshops and field days for the last six years,” Calhoun said. “Our goal is to create a community of people around California who are supporting and learning from each other. We try to use the ranch as a catalyst for the creation and growth of this community and to include a diversity of people. We have consistently reached out to residents of the county.”
“I was very happy with the turnout, both in numbers and the people who attended. There were educators from around country, as well as from Australia, South Africa, and Mexico, along with long-time practitioners. There were also people who are new to holistic management and HMI. It was a great cross-section of the community and very welcoming to newcomers.”
HMI, founded in 1984 by wildlife biologist Allan Savory, is based in New Mexico and helps ranchers and farmers develop a sustainable businesses by using a decision-making process based on their own goals. For many ranching families, the process has saved the family ranch from bankruptcy by forcing them to plan for financial, social, and ecological success.
“Our vision is a world where lands and communities flourish through the practice of Holistic Management, an internationally recognized regenerative agricultural practice,” the organization’s website states. Advocates of the HMI model credit the process with:
- helping them become more prosperous;
- strengthening local economies;
- improving local food quality;
- healing damaged landscapes;
- improving wildlife habitats, and
- fostering community ties that preserve and grow local agriculture.
Dozens of speakers presented on topics ranging from nutrition, niche marketing, ecology and community building.
One speaker at the conference was Joel Salatin, a Virginia farmer and author who runs Polyface Farms. Salatin is well known among foodies and ranchers for his direct approach to marketing and criticism of burdensome federal regulations that stand in the way of thriving family farms. His talk on Saturday was standing-room only in the Main Barn.
“You can’t Google experience,” Salatin told the crowd. “Most successful businesses require teams and collaboration since all the gifts and talents necessary don’t grow on one pair of legs. From equipment sharing to talent leveraging, multi-person farm clusters beat the lone wolf mentality every time,” he said.
His talk on building a successful apprentice program focused on finding and mentoring the right young people.
“For emotional, economic, and environmental enhancement, functional relationships make one plus one equal three. Developing memorandums of understanding, clearly defined expectations, and compensation choices are all part of informal, synergistic partnerships,” Salatin said.
Attendees also took several ranch tours to see holistic land management practices up close and in the field. Paicines Ranch Manager Kelly Mulville is developing an innovative, no-till vineyard using livestock on the ranch. He hopes to produce outstanding wines using considerably less water than traditional California vineyards. Rancher Joe Morris (husband of this article’s author) is working with Mulville using cattle on the rangelands to generate new perennial grasses and build soil health. Collaboration with third-party monitoring groups and each other create a lively, learning environment on the ranch.
Conference attendee and speaker Mel Preston, a scientist with Point Blue Conservation, has monitored bird populations on the Paicines Ranch for the past two years.
“It’s been great to connect with people like owner Sallie Calhoun and farm manager Kelly Mulville of Paicines Ranch, north of Pinnacles National Park. And with rancher Joe Morris, whose cattle graze at one of the few state parks to allow grazing, Hollister Hills. We all share a strong interest in agricultural practices that improve the land’s health and ranching success,” Preston said in a recent Point Blue Conservation newsletter.
The four-day conference wraps up this week with an intensive grazing workshop aimed at teaching ranchers how to use planned grazing on their own properties. For more information on HMI, visit their website: https://holisticmanagement.org. To learn more about the Paicines Ranch and its events center, visit them on the web: http://paicinesranch.com.