Reno couple train for land management hub

Abbey and Spencer Smith’s business is just beginning, but its seeds were planted long ago.

“My father went to an event in the 80s where Allan Savory was speaking,” says Abbey Smith. “It profoundly affected my father. He didn’t get into holistic management, but it affected key decisions he made with the business. And I grew up knowing the term.”

The business was ranching and holistic management is a concept to manage and restore grasslands while still grazing it, promoted by Savory, a Rhodesian rancher, research biologist and onetime Member of Parliament in Zimbabwe.

Abbey Smith encountered Savory herself when as a student at California Polytechnic State University she interviewed him for the school newspaper after he spoke at the college.

“That interview changed my life, it really did,” says Smith. “I grew up on a working ranch and studied agriculture and when I spoke with Savory it was the first time anyone had spoken of ranching in a hopeful way.”

Ten years later Smith was living in Reno, married and working as a digital manager with Swift Communications, the publisher of more than two dozen newspapers and magazines, including Northern Nevada Business Weekly. One day, her mother called and said Savory would be speaking in Chico.

“I was driving to Chico with my three-and-a-half year-old daughter. It was the day Nelson Mandela died and I had this feeling I’m going back to Africa,” says Smith, who spent two months interning in South Africa after graduating college. “I heard Savory’s pitch on the hubs and I just thought this is our chance.”

Savory is now president of the Savory Institute, an organization to promote holistic management through franchise-like regional centers and demonstration ranches called Savory hubs.

The couple applied, interviewed, drafted a detailed business plan and was one of 10 chosen from 90 applicants this year to establish a new hub.

Now, the Smiths are trying to raise $10,000 through Kickstarter, the crowdfunding Web site, to pay for training classes in Boulder, Colo., and boot camp in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe later this summer.

Smith says holistic management provides a method for making ecological, social and financial decisions about a business.

“From big decisions like how to structure a family business to the type of fertilizer to use,” says Smith. “It won’t tell you what to do or not do. It gives you a framework to make the decisions.”

If all goes to plan, the couple will set up a demonstration ranch on Spencer Smith’s family ranch on 1,600 acres in Surprise Valley, Calif., about 200 miles north of Reno.

The ranch is diverse, containing both uplands and meadows of grass, brush and trees as well as both private and public lands, which are representative of the region in northern California, southern Oregon and western Nevada that their demonstration ranch will serve.

Once the couple return from boot camp, they’ll work to raise about $50,000, which will be matched by the Savory Institute, to begin operations. They’ll collect data on the ranch and create a schedule of classes and workshops, both at the ranch and locally where there is interest in the program.

As part of their value-added, the couple plan to launch a label. When ranchers complete their course, they can certify that their products helped restore not diminish the land.

“Organic is OK, but that could be from anywhere,” says Smith. “The label will say production of this product had a positive effect on the land. I think that will be the next big thing.”


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