When was the Savory Network first created and what was the spark that brought it to life?
The Savory Network was started by the Savory Institute which is a global organization. Their headquarters are in Colorado and the Savory Network consists of the Savory Institute plus its many affiliates. There are several kinds of affiliates. We start with the hub level – the Savory Global
Network is a distributed network of regional learning hubs. Each independently owned and independently operated, supporting farmers ranches, and pastoralist communities with the tools and knowledge to regenerate grasslands in a localised context. In the UK the Savoury Network hub is 3LM and there are hubs all over the world. When Allan Savory set up the Savory Institute, which was in 2010, the aim was to have one hub per region or country so that there would be about 100 hubs around the world. That was the aim. And now the Savory Institute has 52 hubs in its network.
Another key element of the Savory Network are the Savory Accredited Professionals who support it, and these are our trainers and verifiers.
The spark that brought all of this together was simply,Allan Savory. What he recognised when he had the Africa Centre for Holistic Management was that lots of people would visit there from all over the world, but a common reaction was, ‘it looks great here, but this will never work on my farm’. And you know, rightly so, because each habitat is different. But that's why Holistic Management is so important. And that's what people don't realise, Holistic Management enables you to adapt your practice to your habitat. Allan decided we need hubs all over the world, called ‘learning sites’.
Allan wanted people from all over the world not to have to travel too far to see a good example of Holistic Management.
What is your role within the network and what has been your career highlight so far with the team?
I'm the hub leader of 3LM, which is Land and Livestock Management for Life. I do also play a small role in mentoring and educating other hubs and I found that really interesting because then I get to learn about what's happening in other parts of the world and how other hubs are approaching their region, which gives me lots of inspiration.
Another role I've been playing is with my husband, Christopher Cooke, we have been spending the last four years developing technology for Ecological Outcome Verification (EOV). As for a highlight of my career, in this hub leadership role, it could be just last month! It was my third year speaking at the 10th Future Fabric Expo in London and I got to be on a panel with Savory Institute, with a farmer from Oregon and with HD® Wool’s Simon Whitmarsh-Knight. What’s so wonderful about it is they've gathered up these brands, fashion brands, and fashion designers from all over the world and they come together to learn about what kind of fabrics they should be using and what kind of dyes they should be using and this is because there's a recognition now that textiles and fashion are among the heaviest polluters of all industries in multiple ways. And so, they're looking at how they reduce their footprint on Planet Earth. I actually had several people at that conference this year recognise me from two years ago, they said, ‘Oh, I remember everything you said’, and then a person came up to me and said, ‘Oh, I'm writing a book on the future of fashion.’ and she interviewed me for that, which was really exciting. So sure, that would be a wonderful highlight of my career so far!
Can you give us a brief overview of what Holistic Management offers producers and how it is revolutionising regenerative business?
Holistic Management is a framework created by Allan Savory and this framework really came to be in full use around the world from about 1985.
A metaphor that we use for Holistic Management is that it’s like a bookcase and all the many aspects of regenerative agriculture are like books on the bookshelves. So, you'd have a permaculture book, you'd have a biodynamic book, you might have an organic book on the bookshelf, or one on agro-forestry. The time we spend learning is an investment. Holistic Management informs you where to invest in learning for the best return.
Holistic Management is revolutionising regenerative business because it's taking people way further than if you just think it's something that you can learn by copying other people, which can be the standard practice in agriculture.
People think they can just copy each other, but they can't. Why? Because we're dealing with nature. And nature is complex. It's not a factory, a factory is rather simple compared to nature. Nature is a living organism; our farms are living organisms. It's a different farm every year, it’s a different farm every day. That means we need to be able to learn how to observe what's happening on our farm and interpret it and use it for our learnings to interact with it as a living entity, from a financial
point of view and from a social point of view, from an ecological point of view. That's what Holistic Management is, we're looking at all of it.
What advice would you give to farmers thinking of taking on more regenerative practices?
I wouldn't give any advice. That would be my starting place. I'd ask them questions instead. And the purpose of my questions might be twofold. One is so that I understand how ready they are for stepping into Holistic Management. I'd be looking for a clear purpose and I'd been looking for curiosity. If they don't show signs of readiness, the advice I give to other people who are educators of Holistic Management, in other words they're trying to sell Holistic Management, is don't push it. Because that person is not ready and if you push them, it's either going to frighten them or it's going to turn them off and repel them, which would delay further their change process and we don't want to do that. We want to help pave the way for everyone to make this transition. Because, the sooner we make this transition the sooner we can regenerate nature, the sooner we can mitigate climate change, flood and drought, the sooner we can have healthy soil, healthy plants, healthy animals, healthy humans.
We just simply don't give advice within Holistic Management. The reason we don't give advice is because Holistic Management is more about mentoring. If you know anything at all about conventional or industrial agriculture, you know it's 100% about advice. In Holistic Management, we make our own decisions. We need to get our own information. That's what that whole framework is about. That’s why it’s important to have a full bookcase. It's about how do I get the information I need so I can make the best decision for me, for my business, for my family, for my farm, for my future, for my future generations. You can see it's a very different stance. It’s empowering people, by making people responsible.
What is Regenerative Agriculture’s role in the protection of our planet and how does it compare to other sustainable supply practices?
Regenerative Agriculture is a recovery role, it’s not about protection. So, the reason regenerative agriculture is here right now is to recover our planet. We need to recover nature's function.
The key difference from other sustainable practices for me, is we're going after the underlying root cause and the problem. We’re starting by defining the problem we're working on because so often people go down the solution track without properly understanding, what's the problem that they’re trying to solve. So, once we get a good understanding of the problem then we need to ask the second question, what's causing that problem? Because I can tell you virtually all of industrial agriculture is treating symptoms. But this doesn’t treat the underlying root cause of the problem.
How was your Ecological Outcome Verification™ (EOV™) programme developed and how does is it different to other sustainable verification programmes?
Because we're dealing with nature, which is very complex, we need to find something to monitor so we can monitor the earliest signs of change. So, if my action is wrong, I can determine quickly that I made a
mistake and I need to take some corrective action. And so, we learn through Holistic Management how to do the monitoring. The EOV is a step beyond this.
It's taking that to a level that has been accepted scientifically. And the reason we want to do that is because we want to be able to score a farm on its regeneration of land.
Pablo Borrelli is a scientist. He was an academic. And he really wanted to be able to demonstrate to farmers and landowners that in fact their land was improving. And he wanted to be able to
give those farmers and landowners insight into what needed to change in their practice
to regenerate land. So, he took ecological monitoring a giant step further to
create the Ecological Outcome Verification. And so, what he did here was, about three decades ago, he divided Argentina up into eco regions; areas that have similar habitats. I think in Argentina, there's around 14 or 16 ecoregions, so there's quite a few. And then he developed a scorecard with 15 parameters.
So, nowadays we take a similar scorecard, literally walk onto the land and through the power of observation, you observe plants and soil at the soil surface. It's non-invasive, it requires no laboratory work. We don't dig any holes. And it can be done quickly. And this idea is all coming
from Allan Savory, who grew up in Africa and was a terribly practical man. And when you are in Africa your resources can be solimited, you don’t even have laboratories. He had to find out what are ways
that he could quickly assess the function of his land. And that's what we do. And I think that's so beautiful because any farmer could learn how to do this themselves.
So, how is it different from other certifications? Well, this is a verification, not a certification . A certification is a tick box exercise where they think if you're doing these things and not doing
these things, you must be regenerating land, okay? But that's not necessarily true.
And we see that particularly in the organic world, where you've got loads and loads of farmers that are certified organic, but you have a broad spectrum of success, from actually degrading land to really fully
regenerating land, and everything in between. And that's because those who are degrading land are doing the bare minimum to be able to get a certification. And those who are actually regenerating land are going way beyond what's required and they're actually studying soil and they're learning how to
It takes time to learn how to manage holistically because it's a mindset shift. It's a completely
different thing to what people are taught within the agricultural industry as it exists today.
*Photo credit: 3LM