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The Importance of Land Walks

Updated: Jun 9, 2022

September started out fast and furious in the soil health world of Mendocino County Resource Conservation District. The California Department of Food and Agriculture was on the cusp of launching the 2021 round of funding for its Healthy Soils Program and State Water Efficiency and Enhancement Program, and I was desperately trying to absorb all the information so I could turn around and teach someone else. We spent months doing the outreach, the application workshops, and finally helping farmers ready their applications. It was a gratifying start to my GrizzlyCorps experience but, as one might imagine, the fall and winter of 2021-2022 was a world of zoom meetings.

The return of field visits began with an impossibly beautiful January afternoon in the Anderson Valley at Navarro Vineyards. Even then, it was as if summer had come early but, the last rain being only a couple of weeks in the past, it felt like a treat rather than something scary. That day was the first of Fibershed’s Mendocino Cohort land walks. For those unfamiliar, my advice is- go look up Fibershed. Their website is a beautiful mix of textiles, pastoral landscapes, and slow fashion info and the folks drawn to the Mendocino Cohort are no less inspiring. We got the full tour of their operation from Sophia Bates, the flock manager for Navarro Vineyards & Pennyroyal, while learning about non-lethal predator management strategies from Gowan of Fortunate farms, dye plants from Peggy of Red Creek Farm, and countless other tidbits from farmers and planners in attendance. Heading home from the event, fellow GrizzlyCorps member, Mona and I were about ready to quit this professional life and go start our own flock.

A view of Navarro Vineyards, in Philo, CA on our February land walk.

Not two weeks later I was back at Navarro Vineyards, this time in my Carbon Farm Planner-in-training capacity. We met with veteran planners from the Carbon Cycle Institute and got another tour of the property, this time looking through the lens of carbon storage. Again, I left fired up, ready to get back on the computer and start mapping all the possibilities for hedgerows, silvopasture, and riparian restoration. Slowly but surely, my calendar started to fill up with days like this- days where passionate professionals showed up for each other, ready to learn and teach and connect over our shared love of the land.

Carbon Farm Planning Site visit to Pepperwood Creek Farm in Booneville, CA.

The importance of land walks really hit home on a day in March- more than 60 days from our last big rain- when I participated in a tour of the Upper Russian River watershed. We started the day in the Eel watershed, where Eel river water is funneled through the literal mountainside via a hydroelectric tunnel and dumped into Potter Valley and the east fork of the Russian River. From there it makes its way into Lake Mendocino, a flood control feature recently operating primarily as water supply storage for Sonoma and parts of Mendocino County. Below the Coyote Dam, the east and west forks of the Russian join forces in the Ukiah Valley. Each was a stop on our watershed tour. We heard from folks with the flood control district, the Farm Bureau, a UC ANR Professor of Water Resources, advocates for the Potter Valley Project, and farmers that have relied on the river water (and associated groundwater recharge) for generations. When you hear the story of the Potter Valley Project and the water insecurity so many are facing in the county, especially against the backdrop of climate change drying the inland valleys of the North Coast, it's hard not to feel this seed of profound dread. But there that day, listening to so many people dedicating their energy to find solutions to this problem, I found that dread start to dissipate a little bit.

Glen McGourty discussing riparian restoration on the Upper Russian River Watershed Tour

I find that quite often, sitting alone with the huge, landscape-level issues we are facing in this line of work, I can feel that seed of dread as a real, tangible feeling in my chest.

It is on days like those when I get to walk the land, listen to and talk with the people fighting the good fight, that the feeling is replaced with some small amount of hope. I need land walks because they remind me why I’m showing up to this impossibly hard field of work- where the problems are so much larger than anything I can fix with my one life.

I go home on those days feeling absolutely blessed to have a seat at this table and knowing that I’m in the right place. So with summer coming and more in-person events on the horizon, I invite you to schedule yourself some land walks, get out and observe the land, talk passionately with someone who cares, and find comfort that we are not alone in these issues.

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