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Life is Full

May 23, 2020

Dr. Jonathan Lundgren

This morning broke with the flock of sheep announcing their presence outside of our bedroom window. The sheep are kept out on pasture, enshrouded in an electrified net. For many reasons, this spring they have been breaking out of the fence nearly daily. Seemingly as soon as they break out of the fence, they meander their way into the mall that houses Blue Dasher Farm, Ecdysis Foundation, and our home. They announce their presence with calls that sound distinctly like “Jon!”, as though wanting to explain that they escaped and would like a little guidance on what to do next. I got up, and slipped on my mud boots to chase them into the hard paddock. It is where they feel safest, and feeling safe is pretty important when you are a sheep.

Once the sheep were put away, I heard a distant cry of a lamb from the pasture across the farm where the flock had spent the night. A mother ewe in the flock returned the cry when she realized that her lamb wasn’t with them.

The rat pack of larger ram lambs view themselves as knight errants, and we have watched them boldly dip their heads beneath the lowest wire on the net fence (it doesn’t carry a charge), and slip under the fence. This leads the rest of the flock to follow. But this time, the lamb had gotten stuck in the wires, and I hurried to turn the fencer off to stop the lamb from getting shocked. The lamb was completely ensnared in the wires, and I spent several minutes unwrapping him. Then I grabbed his fore and hind legs and started to carry him back to reunite him with his peers.

At three months of age, these ram lambs are approaching the same size as their parents, and we were both tired after a short trip. His heart was beating loudly from stress and terror as I laid him in the grass. Christina came down the path from the house to investigate why I hadn’t returned. We gently caressed the lamb and tried to calm him down.

As the stress relaxed, the ram stood up, and started to run to the paddock. He anxiously looked to and fro, finally locking on to a familiar sound. The rest of the flock had quietly laid down in the grass, but his mother was anxiously pacing the fenceline.

We have all had those moments when we think we are smarter than the rest of the world. When we push our luck. And the tide turns and things go foul. And in those moments…well, in those moments you just really need your mom. It feels sometimes that life and society diminish the value of motherhood. Trying to make us something that we are not. But living on this farm really underscores how important good moms are. It is who we are.

Summer Research. We are gearing up for an ambitious year of conducting research on cropland, bees, and rangelands. These projects will bring us north, south, east, and west. And they will document some really exciting farms and operations. This element- combining cutting edge science with practice in regenerative agriculture- really separates us from everything else that is out there right now.

Dr. Mike Bredeson is in charge of our cropland project- we are helping to study how conversion to regenerative cash grain production (oats, wheat, canola, peas, soybeans, etc) affects nearly every element of the farm. We are conducting complete bioinventories (counting all of the species) in the soil, and foliage on more than 80 farms from Kansas to Saskatchewan. But more than this, we are also looking at what insects do on these farms. Alex Michels, one of our MSc students leads this aspect of the work. So we are applying new tools for studying things like pollination of croplands by bees, predation of crop pests, how insects eat weed seeds, etc. And we will combine this with all kinds of social and economic data for each farm, as well as the information on soils, birds, plants that our collaborators are working on. Our team is even helping to develop new artificial intelligence techniques for measuring insect communities and identifying them in ways that will advance this field of science. It is a huge project that could really help transform the lion’s share of agriculture’s footprint in North America.

It isn’t easy to wear all of these different hats. In moments going from moving sheep to coordinating a continental-scale research program. Sometimes I feel like it is all so big, and I am completely out of control. That the best I can do is just nudge life in the direction I want it to take, and hope that fate or something bigger takes a hand. And forgive myself when it doesn’t all work out. Shockingly, every day we see new signs that we are sprinting toward attaining our mission of changing our food system.

As the sun was lowering yesterday, I felt overwhelmed. It was a busy day, and there was still more to do. I could feel my tension increase, and decided to check on the sheep where Christina and I had moved them in the morning after their adventure. As I looked at them, their presence almost felt like a reassuring touch. It just suddenly felt like everything going to be okay, and that it was okay for me to just be. I relaxed and walked the shady path, by myself but not alone, back to the house through the orchard, listening to the bees work.

Christina smiled at me in the garage as we finished watering the chicks. “That is a lot of animals!” Dogs and cats and ducks and geese and sheep and bees and turkeys, and hens all running in different directions as the day unwound. Leiana jumped on the trampoline as Gabby tended a campfire and Tia brought hot dogs out for roasting. Ian wasn’t present at the moment, but was felt in everything. We all sat down and chatted and laughed and ate nice food and drank a little wine (or sparkling grape juice).

Life is full sometimes. To the brim of the cup, it is full. Sometimes a little over the brim. But that is okay too.

Dr. Jonathan Lundgren is director of the Ecdysis Foundation that uses science and education to fuel the regenerative agriculture movement. He also runs the regenerative Blue Dasher Farm in Estelline, SD. and


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