Genna Fudin, OpenTEAM Fellow, Shares Reflections Thus Far

I started working with Quivira’s Carbon Ranch Initiative in August 2022 sharing a joint fellowship appointment with another non-profit organization, Point Blue Conservation Science. The Quivira Coalition and Point Blue Conservation Science are amongst a diverse global collaborative of over 60 organizations who partner with Wolfe’s Neck Center’s OpenTEAM project. OpenTEAM, or Open Technology Ecosystem for Agricultural Management, is a convener of agricultural producers (i.e. farmers, ranchers, land stewards, however someone identifies), researchers, scientists, engineers, farm service providers, policymakers, NGOs, etc., who work together as food systems leaders to help co-create an “equitable, accessible, and interoperable toolkit for universal access to agricultural knowledge and better soil health.”

OpenTEAM, Quivira Coalition, and Point Blue Conservation Science have given me the opportunity to work amongst many amazing minds doing important work in climate smart agriculture and building resilience on working lands. The fellowship has thus far allowed me to attend three incredible conferences: GOAT (Gathering for Open Agricultural Technology), Regenerate, and the IAC (Intertribal Agriculture Council) Conferences. I highly recommend all of these conferences. Please drop me a line if you want to learn more about any of them!

Making Connections

I want to share some insights from my experience at the IAC 2022 Conference with you, as this experience ties to Quivira’s Carbon Ranch Initiative work and what I’m learning in my fellowship.

As I was tabling over the three-day conference, I met wonderful people representing diverse Indigenous communities and their agricultural practices. Quivira asked me to bring some of its resources to share, as well as resources from Point Blue and OpenTEAM. Attending the event not only enhanced my understanding of the depth and breadth of Tribal agriculture, it also inspired me to reflect on some of the partnerships Quivira has developed with tribes in New Mexico and what we’re learning from them.

The Pueblo of Santa Ana is a leader and actively engaged in ecological restoration projects on their lands, empowering both their Department of Natural Resources and their Department of Agriculture to rewild and heal their watershed and native landscapes.

Starting in 2018, Santa Ana Pueblo was one of the first groups in New Mexico to implement compost on rangeland field trials. Two years later, Quivira initiated similar work. In Spring 2021, the Pueblo of Santa Ana and Quivira’s Carbon Ranch Initiative shared their findings about this research at an IAC virtual conference session (32:42 is when the “Resilient Ecosystems: Building and Restoring Soil Health” presentation by the Pueblo of Santa Ana begins.)

The former governor of Santa Ana Pueblo, Glenn Tenorio, currently works with the Pueblo’s Department of Natural Resources. He shared his experience over the years building relationships with working lands practitioners, such as Daniel Ginter, who has helped reintegrate livestock and restore native grasslands throughout Santa Ana Pueblo’s landscape. I highly recommend listening to Tenorio’s and Ginter’s interview on the “Down to Earth” podcast series from Spring 2022.

Land Care and Stewardship

Indigenous communities have been stewarding land in reciprocity with nature since time immemorial. The current Healthy Soil Principles that have become core tenets in regenerative agriculture practices are not new concepts; the wisdom has existed since the beginning of agriculture and has been practiced by Indigenous communities for thousands of years.

The Carbon Ranch Initiative has been working on an exciting project with Mad Agriculture and has co-developed a training workbook for Quivira’s Planning Program. The Soil Health Planning curriculum will be introduced in upcoming webinars, so be on the lookout for exciting opportunities to participate and learn more about the program!

After attending the IAC Conference, I learned more about producer’s needs and interests which offered insights into what is helpful to include in the Soil Health Planning curriculum. Through Quivira’s approach of outreach, education, and research, our organization offers many opportunities to strengthen existing partnerships and engage with a diverse network of planners and producers who want to learn more about creating soil health plans. I am excited to continue building these relationships as I continue working with the Carbon Ranch Initiative in 2023!

This blog post was originally written for Quivira Coalition’s In The Field Newsletter.

The OpenTEAM Fellows Program operates with significant support from a $730,000 grant by the Walmart Foundation.

Equity in Regenerative Agriculture Collabathon Wraps Up

From September through the end of October we ran our Equity in Practice in Regenerative Agriculture Collabathon in partnership with Open Rivers Consulting Associates and Terra Ethics. Over the course of five weeks, the participants worked to build new skills and create the outline of a toolkit for viewing their work through an equity lens. Much of the discussion focused on how a better understanding of ourselves and others can help bring equity into our daily work, projects, and organizations.

Equity, as contextualized by the OpenTEAM Equity Working Group, is defined as a proportional representation (by race, class, gender, etc.) in opportunities. Equity refers to the fact that different people have varying needs of support and assistance and strives to achieve fairness in treatment and outcomes.

The Collabathon covered a variety of topics needed to guide this equity work in the agriculture space. This included discussing concepts of value, understanding principles of equity, sharing historical context, learning various leadership tools, and developing ways to drive change.

Foundational Concepts

The co-leaders from Open Rivers and Terra Ethics began the Collabathon by defining and discussing foundational topics that would guide participants throughout the sessions. These concepts centered on recognizing  inherent and equal value. This opposes a value-gauging perspective where value arises from social constructs, such as status and wealth, and must be acquired. Racism is based on this value-gauging of individuals. 

This session also defined equity in practice as everyday engagement to ensure equity is upheld in our system, recognizing that any project or initiative must have equitable foundations and begin with an equitable perspective to avoid using the label of “equity” only to satisfy societal expectations. Participants further discussed allyship, defining it as an active and consistent practice of using power and privilege to achieve equity, collaboration, and justice while holding ourselves accountable. The conceptualization of  power and privilege was explored through a discussion of positionality, which requires people to identify their own degree of privilege. The goal is to uncover hidden bias and understand behaviors that cause harm. It was important to spend time defining, discussing, and understanding these key concepts to work towards a larger understanding of how to then put these principles into practice.

Providing Historical Context

Co-leaders also shared various resources such as Regenerative Agriculture Needs a Reckoning and a video on the History of Racism in U.S. Agriculture by Dr. Marcus Bernard, originally aired during “Field to Market’s Cross-Sector Dialogue on Racial Justice,” to provide context for why this Collabathon was happening in the first place. This article and video, among many other resources that were provided, tell the bigger picture of issues of racism in agriculture in the United States and the foundations that still hinder progress.

Leadership Tools

The group then learned about and practiced applying a variety of tools to become better leaders. By being a stronger leader, participants can learn how to best lead institutional and organizational change around equity. These tools focused on self-reflection and self-awareness. Understanding your own values, asking the right questions, and connecting with others in a meaningful and productive way are the underpinnings to this work.

For example, the influence model is used as a tool for approaching change and includes conditions for changing mindsets. First, role modeling emphasizes demonstrating the behavior we wish to see. Understanding and commitment then addresses that we must have and share knowledge of the proposed change to understand the ‘why’. Reinforcing mechanisms offer structures and processes that support the desired change, skills required for that change, and ensures that all parties have access to the expertise needed going forward. The group discussed ways to use these conditions to better engage and understand others in order to drive change. This model is currently being used within OpenTEAM to develop new ways of collaborating amongst each other and supporting Hub and Network farms and ranches, ultimately actualizing the change we want to see organization-wide.

Driving Change

Using leadership tools, the group began to build out a toolkit for bringing equity into their daily work. The emphasis of this toolkit is to recognize yourself, identify your motives and values, and evaluate how you interact with others before trying to change an organization or society as a whole. This structure brings together the leadership tools that participants learned to provide a three-level framework of understanding yourself, engaging with others, and finally leading change. This ties into all aspects of the Collabathon by utilizing foundational concepts and history as context for how these leadership tools can be applied to drive equitable change forward on an individual, organizational, and societal level. 

Throughout these five weeks, participants discovered that institutional change starts from within. To recognize your privilege and position in the space you are working in is key to putting equity into practice. Such work takes time, a better approach to change is slowing down rather than rushing to have an output. By prioritizing the need to recognize yourself, engage with others, and ask the right questions instead of jumping straight to trying to lead change, we lessen the risk of perpetuating harm.

All of these learned concepts, principles, and tools will be shared through a toolkit that can be used widely to help other organizations within OpenTEAM and beyond to start centering principles of equity and driving forward positive change throughout their projects and organizations. The toolkit will take this framework and weave together the fundamental concepts, leadership and interpersonal frameworks, project planning, and implementation tenets into a living, applicable document.