Just outside of Yellow Springs is a former farm that has been turned into Ohio’s first center for regenerative practice. It’s a new project by the Arthur Morgan Institute, which serves as an educational and research center to explore the direct relationship between healthy environments and healthy communities.
“The Arthur Morgan Institute for Community Solutions was founded in 1940 by Arther Morgan who was a president of Antioch College, to study, as he called it, the possibility of the small community. Which he saw as the seedbed of society and a really important part of democracy,“ says Susan Jennings, the Executive Director of Community Solutions. "The organization is now 80 years old, and it’s gone through several iterations. Most recently we’ve been focused on community resilience - specifically community resilience in the face of climate change and economic disruptions."
Three years ago a large farm on the edge of Yellow Springs came up for sale. Community Solutions was able to purchase two parcels which included the original farmhouse and barns, along with 128 acres of woods and farmland.
Called Agraria, this repurposed farm is used as a land laboratory, educational center and environmental stewardship program.
“There are a lot of words out there that are thrown around for practices like what we are doing. There’s restoration, there’s regeneration, there’s rewilding,” says Gabby Loomis-Amrhein, the land manager and one of the naturalists at Agraria. "I like to think of it as regenerative. Specifically because I think restoration, or this idea of going back to, well first of all it denies damaging being done, and I think has this underlying intent to abdicate us of our role in the process.”
“Regeneration implies kind of this vivaciousness, acknowledging what has been done but also saying we can make things healthy. Not, we can go back to how things were,” Loomis-Amrhein continues. “I also think restoration implies almost this romantic idea of the pristine myth. You know, native peoples have been tending native woodlands and prairies in this area for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. And I think white land managers like myself do a grave injustice not to acknowledge that humans have been on this land for a very long time, cultivating it in a very healthy way.”
As one part of the regenerative process, Gabby has been leading a small crew in clearing out non-native plants like honeysuckle, from the wooded areas. Native species are introduced and encouraged where the non-native species have been removed.
“So here we are looking at an early successional woodland is what people would generally call this,” says Loomis-Amrhein gesturing to the woods around us. “What we’re doing by trying to control the honeysuckle populations and other non-native populations around here is allowing for more ecological diversity, allowing for more dynamic equilibrium to kinda come back into play.”
Out in Agraria’s woods, Gabby and I wade across a rain swollen creek. Here a path is being cleared for a paved multi-use trail that is funded by a grant from the Clean Trail Fund. The trail is named Mary’s Way after a land donor, and will provide a link between the Yellow Springs community and the farm.
“We have camps out here, you sign up for those on our website, and we also do research, so area universities, high schools, and middle schools will come out,” Loomis-Amrhein tells me. “And actually we have third graders coming out in a couple weeks here from Mills Lawn Elementary and they do some soil science stuff that’s really exciting.”
“You know, we’re a really young farm, and we’re a fairly young staff, and we’re all quite new to land management. I don’t think we want to claim to be experts, but I think we want to claim to be a network where ideas can be shared. People can come in and share novel things that they are doing. So yeah, I think that’s how I view Agraria, not as a beacon of expertise, but as one node in a network.”
I leave Gabby out in the woods, where she is using a machete and a chainsaw to create new connections between communities and ecosystems.