San Miguel County stuns the onlooker with sweeping snow-capped mountain ranges, high altitude lakes, and wistfully winding rivers and streams. When gazing at the beauty of the land, the idea of farming seems nearly impossible. But where there is a will there's a way. Numerous small farms can be found nestled into the crags and mesas of the county. Many of them have tapped into modern regenerative farming practices in order to produce flourishing gardens, healthy livestock and nutrient-dense soil — enigmas dotting a hardscrabble landscape.
Farmers have experienced first-hand the environmental destruction that accompanies climate change. Growing cycles and soil and water health are in alarming condition. However, it is the farmer’s most defining quality of persistence that has spurred many on in the fight to save the land on which they have toiled for generations.
Climate scientist and local Pinhead Institute volunteer Adam Chambers said that there are two sectors that can pull carbon out of the air: forestry and farming. Regenerative practices that help to rebuild the organic matter of the soil by increasing its biodiversity also increases the soil’s holding capacity for carbon, he explained. Through photosynthesis, carbon is drawn out of the air and stored in the increasingly accommodating soil. What’s more, this healthier soil is also able to store water, increasing resiliency in the face of droughts or atmospheric warming.
Kris Holstrom of Tomten Farm in Placerville has a unique position as both a practitioner of regenerative farming and a county commissioner. She has been working to create a system of incentivization to encourage farmers who are fostering regenerative health on their ranches through carbon sequestration and water conservation. For many struggling farmers, soil health is the key to boosting their incomes via farm system resilience. While talking with the Daily Planet, Holstrom paused while weeding to say, “following these practices is crucial. We are so privileged to live in such a beautiful place, but with privilege comes responsibility.”
For Holstrom this means pushing the envelope of what can be grown at 9,000 feet. It also means considering the health of the soil as well as the people around her as she works to educate new farmers on proper stewardship of the land.
At Indian Ridge Farm in Norwood, Barclay and Tony Daranyi are also practicing regenerative agriculture. They take what Barclay refers to as the multi-species approach as they organize livestock, produce and grasses. The couple has learned to look holistically at their farm, taking into account the happiness of the animals, vegetables and even the people who are caring for them. Great attention is given to working in accordance with the push and pull of nature. Because their farm relies wholly on snowmelt from Lone Cone for irrigation, the Daranyis redirected water on their property, slowing its course to maximize storage and use.
After watching the drought-induced die-out of the region’s anchor trees, piñon and juniper, the Daranyis are working to rebuild their forests by planting a diversity of trees and shrubs. Their livestock remain unfenced and grass-fed under the belief that animals are happiest and healthiest when living closest to their wild nature. All of this is to build resiliency so that when Mother Nature throws curveballs such as drought or an onslaught of vegetable eating insects, the farm system can remain robust.
Barclay finds parallels to the immune system of the body, “when we are stronger, we are less likely to become ill when the flu hits town,” she said. “When my farm has strength in all of its systems — social and environmental — it is stronger in the face of hardships.”
Moving forward, Chambers said people must be increasingly aware of carbon inputs and outputs. To add perspective, the Town of Telluride has almost twice the carbon footprint as that of the rest of the United States. Purchasing third party-verified, agriculture-based carbon offsets from Pinhead Institute is one way to minimize the footprint. Purchasing produce from farmers who are practicing regenerative agriculture is another way. Local governments moving towards more renewable energy options and away from a carbon-based electrical grid may have the largest impact.