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Finding her heart in soil

Chris Aiken, Pioneer Staff Writer

“Everything is soil,” Kate Indreland says. 

It’s the heart of the farm, and maybe the heart of society. She has pegged her life on the idea: nutritious soils make fortified plants, which make healthy consumers — both two-legged and four.

Indreland, 19,  is one of five national finalists vying for the General Mills Feeding Better Futures scholarship. The award recognizes young individuals, age 13 to 21, who are making strides to improve the quality, volume and accessibility of the world’s food supply. In June, one of the finalists will receive a $50,000 prize as well as a chance to speak at the Aspen Ideas Festival.

Kate’s entry is the culmination of work that began four years ago, when the Indrelands undertook what a “paradigm shift” at the family ranch. At that time, the Indrelands hired an agro-ecologist, Nicole Masters. Studying the health of their soil and forage, Masters recommended a methodology known as regenerative agriculture – a holistic approach to farming emphasizing soil nutrition as the key to long-term productivity.

Of course, in itself the importance of quality soil does not come as a revelation to many people. 

“It’s not new science at all,” as Kate says. “It’s just new management.”

The Indreland’s regenerative program focuses on two aspects: input and usage.

According to Kate’s father, Roger, the family has always run a “low input” ranch, following in the footsteps Roger’s father, Quentin, who didn’t believe in using chemical fertilizers.

That tradition made the switch to natural soil stimulants like vermicast and fish hydrolysate more palatable. “It fell right in line with our philosophy,” Roger says.

As for usage, the Indrelands avoid overgrazing by constantly rotating their cattle, keeping the herd in smaller pastures but moving it more frequently, giving the soil respite from foraging and hoof action – “allowing the land to rest,” Kate says.

The combination of biological input and careful herd rotation has already had a notable impact on the farm. The grasses’ root systems are stronger; water penetrates the soil much faster. Earthworms have returned, aerating the ground and attracting huns and cranes, and with them foxes. Forage samples have shown a 30% increase in protein content.

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