Imagine an entire week without your phone, computer, or even a television. Now imagine that week being in a place with dry creek beds, cactus spines sticking in your legs, sage blowing up your nose, blowing sand that cuts through your eyes, and the sun beating down all day long. A place so dry the only water sources are man made tanks where water is piped in. Sounds pretty rough, huh… Now take into account that this range land surrounds you with nothing more to suggest human existence than rusted fence lines in the distance, pastures so large you have to trot out two hours just to see cattle, the peaks of the Rocky Mountains in the faded distance, and the stars come out in masses as the nights cool off before each new day.

All last week I found myself in such a place looking West at Pike’s Peak and East into the rolling plains. I saw more sand than any beachfront could contain. But yet there’s still something to this kind of place that draws me in. The kind of place where you have to strain your eyes just to see the deer trailing up a far ridge or while your trying to decide if that dark spot in the distance is a stray cow or simply cholla cactus. On the Chico Basin Ranch just outside of Colorado Springs, you’ll find all of these things and more.

I have to give a big thanks to the crew for letting me come out and work with them for a week. We did everything from gathering strays, fixing stock tanks, laying pipe for new water lines, building braces for new fence lines, and even moving a few herds of cattle to fresh pasture. Getting up at 4 in the morning isn’t that hard when you’ll get to see the sunrise two hours out on horseback. But it sure makes sunset a welcome sight after a long day.

The Chico Basin has quite the storied history. What is now several sections of land owned by the Colorado State Land Board was once open country settled by the first homesteaders. The first settlers to the country staked claim on springs and sparse water sources, leaving the high, dry ground for the late comers who later found it difficult to make a living without water. Several grazing outfits have passed over the land through the years, but the current tenants have the future in mind with sustainable, holistic management practices in place. The Phillips not only look for a sustainable future in grazing, but work toward community outreach in their efforts as well. Events like school field days, art shows, bird watching, and outdoor concerts invite the public to be part of learn about ranching.

There are so many farms and ranches out there practicing holistic, sustainable management; taking care of their land in hopes of a long future in production. Holistic Management can best be described as making decisions based on their effects to the whole system rather than trying to manage pieces individually. Holistic Management International gives some good information on holistic management in an agricultural setting.

Sustainable Agriculture has been defined by lawmakers in the 1990 Farm Bill as “an integrated system of plant and animal production practices having a site-specific application that will, over the long term:

  • satisfy human food and fiber needs
  • enhance environmental quality and the natural resource base upon which the agricultural economy depends
  • make the most efficient use of nonrenewable resources and on-farm resources and integrate, where appropriate, natural biological cycles and controls
  • sustain the economic viability of farm operations
  • enhance the quality of life for farmers and society as a whole.”

How would you define holistic and sustainable? How do you see these practices as a part of the future of agriculture?

Be sure to check back tomorrow for more photos from the trip!