Naturalist-turned-environmental activist-turned-permaculture specialist Becky Elder is helping Callicrate Cattle Company re-design the landscape to fit a regenerative agricultural production model.

IMPRESSIONS OF THE RANCH: “Here’s my first thought when I stepped out of my truck: it was like coming home. I could see from horizon to horizon. I saw a killdeer bird; I hadn’t seen one of those in years! I love Kansas. It’s one of the best-kept secrets in the nation. And the town of St. Francis is a gem.” (Becky is a native Kansan who grew up learning to love the natural world while spending time on her family’s 100-year-old Flint Hills ranch, complete with an old stone farmhouse. She fondly recalls a landscape of “bald hills and sycamore-lined valleys.”)

CALLICRATE CATTLE CO DESIGN PROJECT: “I’m really taken with what Mike is doing. He’s parting the waters to show us the way into the future. He’s transforming his conventional farming operation into a virtual ‘poly-face farm,’ meaning one with many facets, all of which are in sync with nature, an approach that will be more sustainable and much more ethical. That is so exciting. It’s something I believe every modern conventional farm will have to do in the next 25 years, and he’s brave enough to step out and lead the way.”

HOW IT WORKS: “Before you plant trees,” Becky explains, “you must create the environment for them. It’s a slow, thoughtful process. First you put in ‘rain gardens’ to capture rainfall runoff and build up soils so they’ll retain water like a sponge.” Part of the process involves planting “food forests,” or “food guilds,” communities of plants each with unique but complimentary roles, such as providing ground cover, attracting pollinators or fixing nitrogen. Another task is carefully selecting native trees and shrubs well-suited to the local environment, many of which will bear edibles such as chokecherries in addition to sheltering land and livestock.

FOOD PHILOSOPHY: “My goal is to never go into a corporate food store. I rely heavily on the Arkansas Valley Organic Growers CSA for produce and the seeds I use (in her landscape design business) are grown locally. I try to adapt myself to where I live. I don’t buy oranges or avocados; I do eat a lot of meat and potatoes. And I try to focus on eating as seasonally as I can. I have my own chickens.”

HOW HAS RANCH FOODS DIRECT CHANGED THE LOCAL FOOD SCENE: “I liked Mike from the moment I met him. He’s a catalyst for positive change; he just has the fire for it. The downtown Colorado Springs Public Market project started at a Green Cities Coalition meeting at his store – and we need it to break the corporate stranglehold on our food system. He also helps sponsor lots of important events like the Pikes Peak Foodshed Forum 2 (held on Feb. 28.) To me, he’s a hero.”