How our process helped this alumni see his property in a whole new light

 In Alumni, Farming

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My name is Ian Griebel, and I operate a 2,300 acre ranch with my wife Dana Blume and my two wild little boys Cohen and Fynn. I’m the third generation farming this land, but have only been doing it for the past six years. Previously I lived in Edmonton and pursued a carpentry career.

Some details about Redtail Farms: We’re located just outside of Castor, Alberta. We currently have 200 heads of cattle, 20% of which are grass-finished and direct-marketed to families, butchers, and restaurants. We also raise 30 Berkshire pigs a year, which are rotated through our forests, our self-harvest cover crops, and are fed homegrown chemical-free grain. This pork is direct-marketed, too. We’re committed to produce nutrient-dense foods while healing our soils, retaining water on-site, increasing drought resistance, supporting diverse ecosystems, and creating a living model for what the future of agriculture can be.

Due to annual moisture levels, the farm is situated at a transition point between parkland and grassland. This is dryland country but also grass country, which makes it ideal to finish and run cattle. We’re fortunate to be surrounded by many smaller, unique ecosystems such as lakes, sloughs, wetlands, and other uncultivated landscapes as well, which means we cohabit the space with a lot of wildlife. It’s a beautiful place to raise a family, but also poses some significant challenges.

Main Challenges

Our chief struggles revolve around issues of drought, marketing, and having a clear idea and direction for the farm going forward. It’s hard to convey the constant background stress when your livelihood is dependent on factors you can’t control, like rain. It’s also difficult to put the tremendous resources into producing a quality product and still muster up the energy to market it effectively.

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I’m sure most farmers can relate to working long hours, getting little pay, all the while being dependent on the weather and volatile markets. While the Adaptive Habitat program doesn’t help us completely overcome these issues, it does give us the direction and a path to work towards mitigating or even overcoming some of these problems.

Jumping In With Adaptive Habitat

The initial design took around 20 hours to complete, but this is definitely an ongoing process. As I better observe and understand my landscape, the design will change, and I’ll continue to adjust and adapt.

This is not something that you do and then you’re done; it takes time to truly see your operation, examine your landscape, and understand the principles.”

Taking the Adaptive Habitat program is like doing anything new; it can be overwhelming at first. There is a lot of information to deal with, and new thought processes to take in. This is not something that you do and then you’re done; it takes time to truly see your operation, examine your landscape, and understand the principles.

For us, context was key. We needed to figure out what our context was, what this ecosystem wants to be, and then work towards that. Our goal is to create a well-designed, diverse, and functional system that self-regenerates, so that we can free up more time and increase profits. We focused on looking at properly scaled models, in the right placement, for the right time. This goes against the standard North American culture of bigger and bigger: Less is more.

New Takes on Land and Life

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The Adaptive Habitat program pushed us to examine what wealth truly is, and how much we already have.”

We look at both land and life completely differently now. My latest big insight was how wealthy we already are. The Adaptive Habitat program pushed us to examine what wealth truly is, and how much we already have. Wealth is much more than simple finances: It’s your family, your friends, the diversity of wildlife around you, your spirituality and self-knowledge, your innate capabilities.

With respect to the land, I can’t help but notice every contour change now. I find myself constantly examining the space for potential water holding or moving capacity. I look at every animal and plant species through the lens of the roles they play on our landscape. One of the coolest breakthroughs for me was to look at this place as it would have looked 150 years ago, and try to figure out what this lands wants to be and where it wants to go.

Adaptive Habitat Program Takeaways

I now have a good sense of what the next thirty years of my property will look like.”

The program has altered my design process 100%—I feel like I now have the tools and knowledge to look at the whole picture. As we start to understand our contour and water developments, those elements begin to dictate our access, which also helps us understand the surrounding flora and fauna. We now know where our fencing should go. We can build good soil and in turn grow our business. The thing is, I had a vague intuition of where we wanted to go before taking the program, but now I know the steps we need to get there, and the order in which we need to take those steps.

I now have a good sense of what the next thirty years of my property will look like. Again, this course is not a one-off thing, a year of work, and then you’re done. This is a lifetime project of creating something greater that will grow and change and hopefully benefit generations to come. As I mentioned earlier, the more we understand, learn, and observe, the more things will change, and the more we will need to adjust. The tools I gained from the program will be useful year-round and for years to come.

Interested in learning more about Ian’s farm? 

 

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