Point Blue Conservation Science and Quivira Coalition Partner Together For Fellows Program

One of two partnerships in this year’s OpenTEAM Fellows Program, a Fellow will share an appointment with both Point Blue Conservation Science and Quivira Coalition who have joined forces to work closely with ranchers in California and New Mexico to support soil health stewardship through technology development and assistance. Using OpenTEAM tools, the Fellow will help to advance the organizations’ collaborative and complementary initiatives around data collection and management.

“We are so excited to explore how we promote monitoring to build and normalize evaluation and iterative improvement through this Fellows Program,” says Eva Sticker, Carbon Ranch Director at Quivira Coalition.

Quivira Coalition, based in Santa Fe, New Mexico, supports farmers and ranchers by fostering ecological, economic, and social health through education, innovation, and collaboration. They interact with hundreds of producers through their Education Programs and Carbon Ranch Initiative and more broadly across the Intermountain West through their Regenerate Conference and New Agrarian Program. Building soil health, biodiversity, and resilience on western working landscapes for over 25 years, they are excited to partner with Point Blue Conservation Science on implementing their Range-C Pilot Program in New Mexico.

Point Blue Conservation Science, often referred to as Point Blue, conducts science and research on both natural and working lands (farms and ranches). . A growing and internationally renowned nonprofit with over 160 staff and scientists, Point Blue has been working from California to Antarctica to increase the pace, scale, and impact of climate-smart conservation since 1965. Their Working Lands Group staff and scientists conduct and translate rigorous science and work with land stewards and other partners to ensure agricultural landscapes provide ecosystem services that support the needs of people and wildlife, such as through their Range-C pilot program. 

This new Range-C pilot program will be facilitating carbon monitoring using protocols that were created collaboratively last year with dozens of scientists and practitioners, including OpenTEAM’s Field Methods Working Group. Using OpenTEAM tools and related technology, Point Blue will work with Quivira Coalition’s Carbon Ranch Initiative to onboard farms and ranches in California and New Mexico to test these protocols while onboarding land stewards to the OpenTEAM technology ecosystem. By partnering with Quivira Coalition, Point Blue can expand their reach to explore different ecological, cultural, and agricultural circumstances through the Carbon Ranch Initiative. 

“If the protocols can work in these two completely different places, it’s probably a pretty robust system,” says Stricker.

The Carbon Ranch Initiative at Quivira Coalition is working with farms and ranches across New Mexico to prioritize management aligned with healthy soil principles and find support to implement these priorities using OpenTEAM tools and platforms, making it the perfect place to implement and test these new carbon monitoring protocols.

“We are building a culture of using information to iteratively improve and make better decisions. That information needs to account for social, cultural and economic complications and complexities and, more specifically, building trust with producers in this work. The onus is always on us to build that trust,” said Stricker, “The fellowship is a cool way to bring Point Blue, Quivira Coalition, and all of the OpenTEAM Hubs together on that,” she continued.

Additionally, through Quivira Coalition’s in-field research, An OpenTEAM fellow will be able to make more efficient and robust data collection of soil health characteristics using OpenTEAM tools and platforms. Not only will the Fellow train land stewards in using these tools, but they will train staff to implement these tools and share their learnings with the farmers they work with.

The Fellow will also learn how they fit into the agricultural landscape through various trainings and professional development opportunities.

“We love that this fellowship is investing in these Fellows. They’re not just there to crank out a job. They’re getting really important training at the beginning and then they’re getting support throughout their fellowship,” says Stricker.

They are especially excited to be working with OpenTEAM to catalyze this partnership to strengthen collaborations between agricultural and technology communities, cultivate trust, support data sovereignty, and open new markets and opportunities for all farmers, ranchers and land stewards.

“Particularly for producers, building trust between technical support folks and producers, including traditionally underserved folks, is the burden we have. And we can lose trust for generations, if we do something wrong,” says Stricker.

“We need to be training people in information management, from the technical support side and we also need to be educating producers about how their information is used and how they can control it,” continued Stricker. Through OpenTEAM, collaborators can develop dialogue and tools to make sure legal standards, ethical standards, and other standards or principles are being met.

At OpenTEAM, we are thrilled to see organizations within our community partnering together to implement new protocols and establish feedback systems using OpenTEAM tools, which can connect land stewards in their networks with additional opportunities and technologies. By taking the extra step to ensure access to opportunities for land stewards without compromising control over the data, Point Blue and Quivira Coalition are equipping the next generation of food system leaders with the skills necessary to implement regenerative agriculture and transition technology in favor of land stewards’ needs.

Introducing: California Association of Resource Conservation Districts

The California Association of Resource Conservation Districts (CARCD) joins OpenTEAM as a Pilot Hub for the OpenTEAM Fellows Program. This program will provide training, community support, and technical facilitation to support Hubs while simultaneously refining tools in the technology ecosystem. Fellows will be directly embedded within producer networks, acting as community and technical facilitators alongside Hub staff to launch and implement technical tools which can provide farmers, ranchers, and others with the knowledge needed to enable regenerative agricultural management practices.

CARCD provides legislative representation, capacity-building, networking, project/program management, and funding support for over 80 active RCDs (Resource Conservation Districts) across California. After the Dust Bowl decimated more than 100 million acres of land in the 1930s, President Franklin D. Roosevelt proposed the Standard State Soil Conservation Districts Act be signed into law by all state governors. This would build the foundation for conservation districts to provide support to protect soil and water resources across the United States. By supplying federal and state funding and technical assistance to farmers and ranchers with the help of a local and neutral partner, such as a RCD, producers could voluntarily conserve water, soil, and wildlife habitat on their land.

Since then, RCDs in California have become quasi-public, quasi non-profit entities that do not receive any government funding, instead applying for grants and other opportunities to gather funding needed to do their work. RCDs’ primary role in agriculture are to provide on-farm technical assistance and facilitate access to financial assistance to support adoption of conservation agriculture, habitat restoration, and smart water use among local producers. Most of these RCDs often operate with limited funding though they might serve their entire counties or special districts within an especially large county.

Although it can be challenging to take on new projects, no matter how valuable, “There is huge potential for these OpenTEAM tools to help RCDs feel more connected and advance shared goals without expending their limited resources,” said Jennifer Wood, Soil Health Specialist for NRCS/CARCD.

CARCD expressed how thrilled they are to be working in partnership with East Stanislaus RCD, East Merced RCD, Madera-Chowchilla RCD, Sierra RCD, and their fantastic Watershed Coordinator, Jeff Borum, who is known and respected within the CARCD and producer community and serving as the OpenTEAM Fellow for the 2022-2023 service year. This broad partnership between CARCD and some of the San Joaquin Valley RCDs will ensure that OpenTEAM’s tools receive input from the diversity of producers and technical assistance professionals in “The Breadbasket of The World.”

“Since the 1930s RCDs have survived, somehow, some way. In the 80 or so areas of the state where we are still present, RCDs act as a trusted partner to land owners, producers, and farmers themselves. It is crucial to include publicly-accessible, historically under-resourced, yet very locally valued organizations like RCDs in the larger regenerative movement. We’ve been here and have been focusing on these principles since the beginning,” said Hannah Tikalsky, Program Manager of Agriculture & Watersheds at CARCD.

“We want to make sure that RCDs are a part of this, because we are often it, for support, in most communities,” she later mentioned.

CARCD also serves as a founding partner of the California Farm Demonstration Network (CFDN) which is a collaboration among California farmers, ranchers, agricultural technical assistance providers, and statewide agriculture organizations working together to scale the adoption of conservation practices toward a shared goal of resilient and thriving farms and ranches. Those in their network include growers connected to CA Resource Conservation Districts, producers enrolled in USDA-NRCS programs, recipients of the CA Department of Food and Agriculture Healthy Soils Program grants, demonstration farms and producer partners in the University of California Cooperative Extension network, and farmer members of the California Farm Bureau.

During the Fellows Program, CARCD will test the technology toolkit and Ag Data Wallet for their farm data integration needs, further experimenting with its use to onboard farmers to CFDN.
Through this, they hope to create a space where producers can share their conservation activities, learn how to use tools in the technology ecosystem, and connect with other farmers, technical assistance providers, and other relevant organizations.

“The CFDN is building a website to foster shared learning and connections that are meaningful for RCDs, farmers and other partner organizations. And we want to participate in the shared technology that OpenTEAM offers – we want to be a part of the rest of the tech ecosystem,” said Tikalsky.

“It’s critical to have this Fellow who’s going to do the work to really understand the SurveyStack process and common onboarding form to help us connect what we hope CFDN can be in its most basic form to the larger tech ecosystem that includes the data, market opportunities, and networking capabilities provided by Hylo and other OpenTEAM integrations,” added Wood.

By the end of the program, the Fellow will have received crucial insights from a more conventional grower base to ensure that the tech toolkit meets the needs of their broad base of growers in California and beyond.

Through this program, Tikalsky and Wood hope to further establish the relevance and visibility of RCDs and the producers that they support in this work with the recognition, inclusion, and collaboration that will come from being an OpenTEAM Pilot Hub. They seek to elevate the visibility of RCDs within this iteration of the conservation ag movement and provide a proof of concept for this kind of collaborative framework to accomplish shared goals in the pursuit of adopting climate-smart agricultural practices.

At OpenTEAM, we are excited to welcome their perspective to this work and better refine tools to their needs and those of conservation districts across the United States.

Introducing: Pasa Sustainable Agriculture and the OpenTEAM Fellowship

Pasa Sustainable Agriculture, a Pennsylvania-based sustainable agriculture association, started out as a small group of Pennsylvania farmers interested in collecting and sharing their own resources and experiences around sustainable farming in the early 1990s. Since then, Pasa has become a network of more than 5,000 farmers representing every production and scale, mostly from the Mid-Atlantic region, with a united goal of advancing regenerative and equitable agriculture at home and in their communities. They have invested in farm-based research, farmer training, and events and conferences about sustainable agricultural practices––engaging thousands of farmers and supporting them in bettering their communities and the environment.

But, Pasa’s current research team does not have the capacity to provide the required one-on-one support to help farmers digitize their records and support their onboarding to different initiatives, such as their Soil Health Benchmarking Study which now includes over 100 farms.

Two people kneel on the ground in a field with masks on while taking water filtration samples.
Taking water infiltration measurements in established clover strips in the vegetable fields at Rodale Institute.

“Having an OpenTEAM Fellow focused on training, onboarding, and data collection would greatly increase our ability to bring farmers into the OpenTEAM ecosystem of services, free up existing staff time to provide research analysis and feedback to farmers, and increase the digital literacy of regional farmers,” says Christina Kostelecky, Operations Director at Pasa.

Through the Fellows Program, OpenTEAM will provide training, community support, and technical facilitation that will equip land stewards such as farmers and ranchers with the best possible agricultural knowledge and tools needed to achieve landscape level regenerative outcomes.

With their soil health benchmarking study beginning its seventh year as they expand into other states through partnerships with peer organizations, such as the Maine Soil Health Network, they realized that they need to be able to scale their operations. Through the Fellows Program, they can continue to make their processes both more efficient and more beneficial with increased automation, connectivity, and digitization, allowing them to scale and empower farmers to understand their data more thoroughly.

At Pasa, the Fellow will lead their farmer data collection efforts for ongoing research projects, among other needs, and address digital access barriers through on-the-ground technical assistance to farmers. Furthermore, the Fellow will support the implementation and use of these technologies, supporting their ability to scale and expand this work both regionally and nationally. By participating in the Fellows Program, Pasa hopes to ensure that farmers feel like the tools are helping them and connecting them to not only more information and analysis, but other peers in their network.

“The fact that OpenTEAM is farmer-centric and taking data accessibility and privacy seriously is important. We work with OpenTEAM because we work with farmers and want to see farmers succeed. We know that technology and data can help drive better decisions for farmers,” says Kostelecky.

They are also excited to use what they learn from this program and the data they collect as a part of their storytelling. “Here at Pasa, we are so farmer-centric and love telling farmers’ stories. We can use data to help tell those stories,” says Kostelecky.

As the Fellow is onboarded in July, Pasa looks forward to their increased engagement with OpenTEAM and the larger community. OpenTEAM continues to act as a convener, facilitating relationships among organizations, farmers and ranchers, and now directly between land stewards and Fellows.

A farmer kneels on the ground to measure water infiltration on their farm. The farmer is smiling.
Measuring water infiltration at Chatham's Eden Hall Farm in Richland Township, PA with farm manager Indira Alcantara.