Life as a regenerative ag producer is a mindset

Hello, Grainews readers. My name is Stuart Chutter and I am a new addition to the columnists at Grainews. I am a Saskatchewan farmer and an agriculture junkie with a passion for risk management, soil health and fitness.  

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Stuart Chutter is joining Grainews as one of its columnists. Stuart is passionate about regenerative agriculture and the elements that build a solid foundation for a healthy farm and healthy farmer.

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Earlier this winter, I spent time with two of my favourite communities — the regenerative agriculture community and the ultra-running community.

On a Monday morning last November, I began the week in Brandon, Man., amongst some of the Prairies’ most progressive regenerative producers. And by Friday, I was in North Carolina, ready for the final Spartan Ultra 50-kilometre obstacle race amongst athletes who’ve trained strong bodies and minds.

The regenerative agriculture world and ultra-running world are very different passions and purposes for me, but I’m struck by their similarities in mindset.

Regenerative conversations often struggle with a definition. What is regenerative? When do you become regenerative? With more than 60 per cent of Canadian agriculture acres already under no-till production and even more under responsible, diverse crop rotations, isn’t conventional agriculture already on its own regenerative path? 

I left Brandon convinced that for me life as a regenerative producer is a mindset — there are no practices or farm operations that are themselves regenerative, but rather it’s the constantly changing and tested paradigms of the producer around nature’s systems and obstacles that are regenerative.

One of the keynote speakers referenced the growth mindset in regenerative agriculture — trying new things, embracing the opportunities in failure, continual learning, the doors that open in choosing hard things and appreciating the inspiration from watching others succeed.

For me, the regenerative mindset is very similar to that of an athlete with goals, dreams and a continual evaluation of incremental improvement. The longer I run, the more I realize there are so many parallels between a farmer approaching a growing season and an athlete entering a training block.

Later that week, the North Carolina Spartan Ultra 50-kilometre obstacle race was the first one I’ve started with a results goal — I wanted on the podium. 

Merging sport and farming allows me the freedom to explore nutrition and fuel for performance, health, recovery and resiliency. Building those elements into my farm and soil feel like a foundation for building them within me.

Stuart Chutter

Competitive ultra runners started the three-lap course at 6 a.m. and the shorter-distance runners started later in the day. By the first few miles of the last lap, I was running through recreational groups — people who may be walking or hiking and embracing a non-competitive, social event. 

These people are amazing. Many are not regular athletes and some are clearly struggling while others are surprising themselves … but all are showing up and choosing to do hard, challenging things and embracing a mindset of growth.

However, for those in competitive race mode, sometimes they’re an added obstacle — trying to dodge through walkers on a single track trail or getting through a busy obstacle apparatus with them in the way.

But not in Carolina. Here, the recreational racers were a highlight. They were cheerleaders, social runners and loud, expansive team groups, and they treated ultra racers on the course like gold.

They’d clear paths, step aside, free up obstacles and yell ahead up the path to make room for “ultra coming through.” A few early miles in the second lap I had to focus on controlled breathing because I was using so much airway with “thank you” and “you too” as hikers stepped aside and willed me forward.

There was one hill I was planning to hike and eat a few bars to refuel, but several military units hiking the hill together all stepped to the side shouting, “Go, Ultra! Ultra coming through! Holy cow! Ultra is gonna run the whole hill!”

I couldn’t stop. I had to run the hill and save my bars for later in the race. My legs were on fire but I had to be the “ultra runner coming through” they kept yelling ahead for!

I finished the race third. My first podium finish in the last race of the season. The fourth-place runner crossed the line only about two minutes later, which is nothing over a 50-kilometre course.

I ran my heart out but I achieved my podium goal because of those open division hikers. Their comments and support over 50 kilometres shifted my mindset that I could keep going and had more to give.

The longer I run, the more I realize there are so many parallels between a farmer approaching a growing season and an athlete entering a training block.

Stuart Chutter

When I look at the mindset parallels to agriculture though, I do wonder if regenerative agriculture communities adequately cheer and encourage other farmers with that same intention. Is the support and encouragement to producers operating with different systems the same as that encouragement of runners with different goals?

Big goals, whether in a race or on the farm, require the work, the obsession, the preparation, the mindset and the focus, but the real magic is when you surround yourself with other people on their own journeys and who believe in you on yours.

Those open hikers who fanned my flames when their own legs burned are exactly the type of people I want in my life and the energy I want to intentionally share — whether on my farm, in the race or in building an intentional life. 

The agriculture world and ultra-running world, and anyone else embracing a mindset of growth and embracing challenges and fuelled by the passion of solving big problems — whether it’s running mountains or strategizing nitrogen use efficiency — are the type I seek out in building a life. Those who are actively chasing potential — whether in boots or in runners — I want to run mine down with them. 

Builders, creators, dreamers and those on a journey to create the world they want to live in, I want to know them. And the best way to find them is to go on a journey myself. 

For me, 2023 is for running some of the most challenging races I’ve ever done and meeting the local farmers who are embracing change, challenges and performance. This column will highlight those farmers, their obstacles, their strategies and their mindsets for solutions.


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