Connecting Farmers with Tools and Information through the OpenTEAM Fellows Program

This past July, our OpenTEAM Fellows Program ended its inaugural year. Through this program, we connected skilled individuals with seven farm network organizations to support their goals, meet ground-level needs of producers, and refine digital tools in OpenTEAM’s Technology Ecosystem.

Open Technology Ecosystem for Agricultural Management (OpenTEAM) is a community of farmers, ranchers, businesses and developers working to increase food system resiliency in the face of climate change. Together, we are equipping food system leaders with shared knowledge, collaborative frameworks, and open-source, connected technologies to build climate change resiliency and thriving communities.

Fellows onboarded producers to open-source digital tools, collected feedback, connected with developers, and supported other host-specific projects. Below, Fellows share their learnings and reflections from the past year!

Sara Legg, General Mills

What path brought you to this Fellowship?
I have always been drawn to working directly with people, as is evident from my education in anthropology and passion for field work. Most of my career had been spent in the service design and innovation sector, and for a long while I felt like I was contributing meaningfully to others. Over time, however, I saw how the work I was making in the world wasn’t having my intended impact, and this, coupled with a personal affection and political enthusiasm around agriculture’s ability to heal (in so many ways) led me to OpenTEAM.

What was the most important thing you learned over the course of the program?
That Friendship is magic. Just kidding — I learned that from My Little Pony. I can’t say there was a singular most important ‘thing’ I learned over the last year. There are things which I had very minimal knowledge of coming into the fellowship, that I will now rely on to continue to grow in my professional role and add value to my work and the lives of those around me. Two things that stand out are: 1. Agricultural management knowledge, especially large commercial management that includes practice informed by soil health principles and 2. The intricacies of how federal, state, and local government partnerships with private companies can either support or hinder a community’s ability to be good stewards of the land.

How will you take what you have learned and experienced in this role into your personal and professional life?
I hope to continue to work in the agricultural sector and bring my service design and field work expertise to that work. I am always striving to be a better steward, both of community and land, and more practiced in being with others to co-create a future that prioritizes the thriving of all living things. My ambitions are broad and loose, as I like them, as they should be.

Jeanne Lurvey, Pasa Sustainable Agriculture

What path brought you to this Fellowship?
Researching regenerative agriculture and soil health during my graduate school work led me to OpenTEAM. In creating soil health recommendations for a natural foods company value chain, I saw a need for data collection at the field level to capture the management practices farmers are using and the benefits to soil health and co-benefits to the farmers from implementing these practices.

What was the most important thing you learned over the course of the program?
The program fostered so many learnings making it challenging to select one as the most important. So I will share a general key takeaway: the power and freedom of trusting in the process and the people you’re working with allows for great things to unfold, be it unexpected or anticipated.

How will you take what you have learned and experienced in this role into your personal and professional life?
The fellowship has provided an incredible opportunity to grow both professionally and personally. Both OpenTEAM and Pasa are strong, inclusive organizations that work to build community. These environments inspired me to learn not only about digital tools but farmers’ unique experiences, and the groups supporting them. They also provided spaces for me to feel supported in taking risks to learn new skills, share my ideas, and to develop stronger communication and collaboration skills.

The fellowship confirmed my strong interest in working in sustainable agriculture with farmers and provided an essential bridge for me to apply my masters degree and prior work experience to successfully transition my career. Through this experience, I am grateful to have found Pasa, an organization not only doing the work that interests me but to work alongside incredible humans who have met me with grace and continue to share their knowledge. I am excited to continue the work, transitioning from the fellowship into a full time position at Pasa.

Jeff Borum, California Association of Resource Conservation Districts

What path brought you to this Fellowship?
Hannah Tikalsky, then California Association of Resource Conservation Districts Program Manager and now OpenTEAM Director of Network Development – Environmental Markets, encouraged me to apply. And, I found the possibilities of the Ag Data Wallet interesting!

What was the most important thing you learned over the course of the program?
Much deeper understanding of back-end work and developmental processes [of technology]; now able to convey to producers, TAPs, and other community members why certain changes take longer than others and why certain developments are possible or not possible, etc.

How will you take what you have learned and experienced in this role into your personal and professional life?
The fellowship has most definitely provided networking opportunities, first and foremost. Also, I have been able to learn a lot from the different working groups and communicating with folks on Hylo and Slack. I really enjoyed utilizing the toolkit and promoting its use in general. And I think it has influenced me to learn more about the integration of tech into ag spaces, especially for small and medium producers, BIPOC and women producers, and beginning ranchers and farmers.

Genna Fudin, Point Blue Conservation Science and Quivira Coalition

What path brought you to this Fellowship?
My path to this Fellowship began with a passion for working with soil, which I discovered at a young age. The last few years I have been working to identify the specific career path within soil health-related fields that I want to pursue as a young professional. My undergraduate thesis project focused on soil health initiatives and community compost work, which I believe caught the attention of the OpenTEAM Hub site hosts. During the Fellowship, I had the privilege of working with Point Blue Conservation Science and Quivira Coalition on the Range-C Monitoring Program, aligning well with my background. This experience allowed me to expand my knowledge of soil management practices and led to significant personal and professional growth throughout the year. I am incredibly grateful for this enriching opportunity!

What was the most important thing you learned over the course of the program?
During the program, I had the opportunity to attend interesting conferences and work with farmers on diverse management practices at regenerative ranches across seven states (California, New Mexico, Colorado, Nevada, Texas, New York, Maine)! The strong connection between producers and technology fascinated me, as farmers/ranchers/land stewards inextricably shape the agricultural technology toolkit OpenTEAM works to co-create with these community members. This newfound appreciation for technology as a supportive ally in protecting the environment has transformed my perspective on how technology can relate to agriculture and work to conserve our shared natural resources in a more sustainable and less extractive way.

How will you take what you have learned and experienced in this role into your personal and professional life?
I am preparing to start a new role with a conservation district in California through an AmeriCorps program called GrizzlyCorps. I will be based in Mendocino County and will be working on sustainable agriculture and water management projects with the local resource conservation district and their community partners. I am so excited to share the OpenTEAM framework with the resource conservation district I will be working with, and I feel that the combination of both my OpenTEAM Fellowship experience and my upcoming role in an AmeriCorps role will help better inform what specific area of food systems and climate smart agriculture related work I want to pursue as an early career professional.

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

Connecting Farmers to Digital Tools

Jeanne Lurvey, OpenTEAM Fellow at Pasa, shares highlights of her work!

Jeanne Lurvey is an OpenTEAM Fellow based at Pasa Sustainable Agriculture, a Pennsylvania-based sustainable agriculture association with a network of more than 5,000 farmers representing every production and scale with a united goal of advancing regenerative and equitable agriculture at home and in their communities.

Since joining the OpenTEAM community and participating in the pilot year of the Fellows Program, Pasa has been working to expand farmer’s use and awareness of OpenTEAM tools including SurveyStack, farmOS, the Farmer’s Coffeeshop, and Hylo through the Soil Health Benchmarking Study (SHBS). Jeanne, alongside Pasa’s Lead Research Coordinator Sarah Bay Nawa, is spearheading this work!

In 2020, Pasa started using SurveyStack as one method for collecting farm management data for the SHBS. Jeanne has been working to increase the number of farms using SurveyStack through online tutorials, farm visits, SurveyStack’s ‘request for submissions’ feature, email communications, and phone calls to farmers. Through these outreach efforts, Pasa has engaged farmers to use SurveyStack for the first time. ​

Beyond farm record data entry, Pasa is incorporating OpenTEAM digital tools into multiple touchpoints with farmers participating in the SHBS. Pasa’s emails, Farmers SHBS Resource Webpage, and farm visit literature all include SurveyStack as the preferred method for research data collection and a description of the different OpenTEAM tools available.

As a part of her work with the SHBS, Jeanne went out into the field to visit farms to collect research data and to connect with farmers about digital tools.

“While visiting farms, I learned about farmers’ different record keeping tools, their use cases, and strong interest in peer to peer learning,” said Jeanne. In connecting with farmers, she shared OpenTEAM’s mission and her role as a Fellow in supporting farmer’s learnings and collecting their feedback to help inform the digital tools in OpenTEAM’s ecosystem.

Pasa has also been collaborating with developers to prepare the Farmer’s Coffeeshop for piloting in 2023. The Farmer’s Coffeeshop is a visual benchmarking and social networking tool designed to support strategic decision-making on farms, encourage knowledge sharing, and improve the information cycle. 

Jeanne continues to engage in the OpenTEAM community, participate in working groups, join co-working sessions, produce presentations, and share feedback. As she poses questions to developers and shares ideas and feedback for the different digital tools, she builds relationships with developers and meets with other hubs to learn about how they are using tools for their research projects. Taking some of what she has learned, Jeanne put together a farmer panel that spoke to the different digital record keeping tools farmers use for their operation, fostering conversation and learning around the benefits of using digital tools and the value in farmer’s collecting their farm data.

As Jeanne reflects on her Fellows program experience thus far, she found that, “Partaking in different opportunities to learn from the OpenTEAM community has enriched my understanding of the interoperability of the tools and the strong vision and dedication the group has to supporting farmers and regenerative agriculture.”

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

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.

Welcome, OpenTEAM Fellows!

Introducing the OpenTEAM Fellows! To better meet ground-level needs of producers and refine tech tools using a human-centered design approach, OpenTEAM launched a year-long Fellows Program this summer. Fellows are embedded into the local farming and ranching community they serve, working as trained community and technical facilitators alongside local Hub staff as they accomplish their goals and work to implement OpenTEAM tech tools that can provide land stewards with the knowledge needed to enable regenerative agricultural management practices.

Sara Legg (she/her/hers)

General Mills, Kansas and the southern plains

With a background in visual anthropology, Sara has worked as a design researcher and systems thinker in many sectors in diverse locations for the last 7 years. Her expertise includes working at the intersection of design and land-based work, to help create a resilient food system and thriving places. She is committed to more than human-centered design, broadening the scope of her work to include life-centered design. She is also committed to a research approach that is collaborative and participatory, using these approaches to help create an accessible and effective environment for those working in regenerative agriculture. She’s excited to work with OpenTEAM and General Mills because of their commitment to producer-first development, and the opportunity to build both technology platforms and meaningful relationships that will make scaling regenerative agriculture not only possible, but common.

Jeanne Lurvey (she/her/hers)

Pasa Sustainable Agriculture

Jeanne was raised in Massachusetts and has lived in Boulder, CO and Brooklyn, NY and will now be calling Harrisburg, PA home. Previously, she worked as an art director, a visual storyteller working alongside chefs on cooking shows, cookbooks, and branded content. With a passion for sustainable agriculture because it creates a path to build thriving ecosystems, nutrient rich food, and positively influence the lives of many, she joins OpenTEAM after finishing her Master’s degree in Sustainability & Environmental Management. Shifting careers to work on the other end of the food value chain to advance both human & environmental health, creating change from the ground up, her graduate program culminated in a consulting project with a top natural foods company creating soil health initiatives that apply regenerative ag principles throughout the value chain for systems change. The project highlighted the need for soil health field research paired with data to better support farmers and inform policy change. Bringing her expertise in relationship building, project management, and food systems, she will work alongside farmers to advance soil health, build community, and connect equitable & necessary tools to producers, the land stewards on the front lines of climate change providing all of us one of life’s essential needs, healthy food.

Jeff Borum (he/him/his)

California Association of Resource Conservation Districts and California Farm Demonstration Network
Jeff Borum was born in Ventura County, but went to school and worked in several regions of the U.S. He then returned to California and obtained a B.S. in Environmental Science with a minor in Physics from Humboldt State University, and now his work as a Soil Health Coordinator and Ag Programs Manager for East Stanislaus Resource Conservation District takes him across the diverse lands of California. As Jeff travels in his pop-up camper, he engages interested communities desiring assistance with conservation-based practices; he also designs, implements, and coordinates statewide field trials focusing on specific practices, as well as comprehensive trials involving entire management systems. Joining OpenTEAM as a Fellow to support farmers and ranchers across California, Jeff is excited about the potential for concepts like the ag data wallet to save time and money for producers and communities alike. He appreciates the potential of entering data from a rancher, farmer, gardener, and other land stewards one time but utilizing it to their benefit many times. He is also excited about the possibility of connecting other networks and communities together to find beneficial collaborations, including resource-sharing and cultural exchanges between all people.

Genna Fudin (she/her/hers)

Point Blue Conservation Science and Quivira Coalition

As a Jewish American who grew up in Connecticut by way of her great grandparents immigrating from Eastern Europe in the early 1900s, Genna recognizes her positionality and seeks to honor her ancestors in the food systems work she does. Growing up five minutes away from a multigenerational farm, frolicking amongst strawberry fields in the summer and pumpkin picking in the fall was a beloved pastime for her family. Her love for connecting with the land is also her way of connecting to the generations that came before her, and the collective stewardship she hopes to be a part of in the present, as she strives to leave a hopeful and climate-smart legacy for the future. For the past 8 years, she has lived in the San Francisco Bay Area and recently graduated from UC-Berkeley with a Bachelor’s degree in Environmental Sciences with a minor in Food Systems. Based on her previous experiences in food systems work, her studies, and cultural background, she brings a unique and interdisciplinary perspective to the OpenTEAM fellowship to support two complimentary carbon monitoring projects of rangelands, Point Blue’s Range-C Monitoring Framework and Quivira Coaltion’s Carbon Ranch Initiative’s work of carbon monitoring on working rangelands.

Steph Wiley (He/Him/His)

Black Farmer Fund and Northeast Farmers of Color Land Trust
Steph Wiley is New York City born and raised. He has over 20 years of entrepreneurial experience and has been a member of Just Food’s board, the New York City Network of Worker Cooperatives (NYC NoWC) Advocacy Council, and the NYC NoWC Training Collective. Steph co-founded Brooklyn Packers with Shawn Santana in 2016. Along with his work at Brooklyn Packers, Steph is helping to develop a network of cooperative homesteads. A former Black Farmer Fund pilot community member, Steph will be exploring the question of what is a food distribution system that is in the right relationship with farmers, farm operations, and the environment? Steph will be assessing transportation and aggregation connections, opportunities, and needs across the Western MA, Hudson Valley, and NYC corridor– laying the foundation for building interdependent networks of producers. As co-owner and co-founder of Brooklyn Packers and Mumbet’s Freedom Farm, he believes that aligned movements working together in solidarity is the best way to seek justice for all in our lifetimes.
The OpenTEAM Fellows Program operates with significant support from a $730,000 grant by the Walmart Foundation.

Black Farmer Fund and Northeast Farmers of Color Land Trust Join Fellows Program

Black Farmer Fund and Northeast Farmers of Color Land Trust are partnering for this year’s OpenTEAM Fellows Program to support market access and food distribution needs for BIPOC farmers and their communities in New York and the larger Northeast.

Black Farmer Fund (BFF) is a non-profit organization and community led investment fund with a mission to nurture Black community wealth & health by investing in Black agricultural systems in the Northeast. The BFF investment approach provides integrated (mix of grants and loans), patient capital to Black food-related businesses that center economic justice, community wealth building, and managing environmental impact.

“Our organization is built around wanting to shift power and decision making, because we feel a lot of the funding vehicles that exist in our traditional finance system are largely white-led, and also extractive; they don’t actually have funding arrangements that set folks up for success. Instead, they often keep folks in this constant loop of being in scarcity,” says Melanie Allen, Program Director at Black Farmer Fund.

Through relationship building and including the entrepreneur in all stages of the process, they have developed an approach that best meets the needs of the entrepreneur that goes beyond what is typically offered by traditional funding vehicles. This further supports political and financial education for entrepreneurs while eliminating the gap between Black farmers and market accessibility.

“We also recognize that funding is just one of the many gaps that keep Black land stewards from thriving. And for that reason, we work in a collaborative ecosystem model,” says Allen. “The Northeast Farmers of Color Land Trust is one of our partners in that,” she continued.

The Northeast Farmers of Color Land Trust (NEFOC-LT) is a hybrid model land trust, bringing together a community land trust model and a conservation land trust model to reimagine land access as well as conservation and stewardship of communities and ecosystems with the goal of manifesting a community vision that uplifts global Indigenous, Black, and People Of Color relationships with land, skills, and lifeways.

They focus on facilitating access to land through reparations by working with individuals with land who want to redistribute to BIPOC landholders, BIPOC farmers, and BIPOC land stewards. Doing this in an intentional way, they always hold an Indigenous consultation that happens with the original stewards of that land, even if they aren't currently inhabiting that land.

“That Black and Indigenous solidarity is really important for organizations to work in collaboration and builds off of the reality that the agricultural system in this country was built off the backs of Black and Indigenous communities. So, working in separation is not in alignment with our values,” explained Allen.

As emphasized by both BFF and NEFOC, the foundation to their work is relationships. And through building relationships and connecting with farmers both in person and virtually, they found major gaps in food distribution that farmers were facing in their network.

Partnering together to host a Fellow as a part of the OpenTEAM Fellows Program, the Fellow will work with BFF and NEFOC to develop a deeper understanding of the barriers to food distribution and identify where they can facilitate solutions using OpenTEAM tools. They will also work to build and expand interdependent networks of BIPOC farmers across the Northeast that build relationships, increase opportunities for support, and steward community.

“There’s real potential for our folks to support each other, source from each other, uplift each other, and learn from each other when you have these types of interdependent opportunities for folks to connect and build relationships…. As much of that relationship piece we can center and expand, we want to and I think this partnership with OpenTEAM is really helping to facilitate that,” says Allen.

Through the program, OpenTEAM will lay the groundwork to connect all land stewards to OpenTEAM’s open source ecosystem of digital tools and other agricultural support networks. This creates a streamlined process where land stewards can input and share their data on management practices, soil health measures, and other key operations to connect to benefits, opportunities, economic incentives, and markets.

“Working with an organization that is trying to make sure that agricultural tools being developed support BIPOC farmers who are just trying to feed their communities and grow food that is culturally appropriate and culturally relevant… Having us be part of that conversation and be part of that space felt really important,” explained Allen.

To ensure all technology tools and platforms work for land stewards of all sizes, production types, regions, and backgrounds, we must harness the shared innovation that happens every day on every farm and in every backyard.

“By working through an OpenTEAM Fellow with BFF and NEFOC, we have a great opportunity to grow this relationship, learn from real needs on the ground, particularly around food distribution, and ensure that the open technology ecosystem we are building is accessible and usable by all farmers, ranchers, and land stewards,” says Laura Demmel Gilmer, Head of Global Community and Operations at OpenTEAM.

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

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.

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

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.

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

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