PDC Grad Interview Series – Mandy Krause of Parker Creek Ranch

Earth Repair Corps is publishing a series of interviews with Permaculture Design Course graduates who have used the education & resources they gained from the course to further their careers in the world of sustainability.

Our hope is to convey what a life-changing opportunity the Permaculture Design Course can be, while learning more about what first attracted these former students to sustainable design and how they have applied those principles since taking a PDC.

Learn More about the Permaculture Design Course and Register Today for our next class in 2019.

We’re continuing this series with Mandy Krause of Parker Creek Ranch – read more below.

1) How did you become interested in sustainable design/sustainable farming and ranching? Please describe to us any moments in your life that piqued your interest in sustainable, regenerative, and holistic systems.  

I always wanted to work in the field of natural resource conservation. I love the outdoors, wildlife, and people. I first became interested in sustainable design in college when I was taking ecological restoration courses. Seeing the positive and measurable impact on the land and communities as a result of good design and conservation efforts was exciting and captured my attention.

I come from a long line of farmers but never thought it would be my life. I wanted to spend my life trekking through the wilderness as a wildlife biologist. In 2010 I was working as a conservation education coordinator when I received a phone call from my then boyfriend (now husband) Travis. He had spent a year working in India studying parasitic protozoans and wanted to return to his family land to build a pastured poultry business (thanks to Joel Salatin’s Pastured Poultry Profits). That one phone call and one book changed our lives forever. I agreed to move to the ranch with him and we started this journey together in 2010.

As I slowly began learning concepts of permaculture and regenerative agriculture, I realized they were the bridge between my dream of a career in nature teaching people about wild things and wild places and my new life as a farmer. I realized they could be one in the same. And that our business could be a model to help our local communities connect with where and how their food is produced and how our decisions as producers and consumers effect the ecosystem. Still apprehensive about leaving my planned and safe path, I was so excited for this challenging new opportunity.

2) What were you looking to learn when you signed up for a permaculture design course?

Travis and I started our pastured poultry business in 2010 with an open canvas and nearly empty pocket book. The little money I had in savings was spent on building a Texas licensed poultry processing facility – that is what I call love! The challenge of working towards our vision kept us motivated to move forward. Those early years of chaos on the farm with my mother in law working by our side were some of my favorite memories and most transformative moments. I grew up as a farm girl in the Rio Grande Valley but didn’t understand the reality until I worked on this ranch. I learned so much about being a woman on the ranch from my mother in law. We lost her almost two years ago to cancer, but I am forever grateful for the lessons she taught me.

All Images © Woody Welch 2018

Our vision was and still is to:

  • Create a business where we generated the majority of our income from the land that has been in Travis’ family for generations. This is where we wanted to live and raise a family. Our focus would be quality of life, but we wanted to make a financially viable farm business as well.
  • Work to find creative and effective ways to improve the land – including the soil, water, and habitat – for the benefit of wildlife, livestock, and people.
  • Grow relationships and community. Teach and learn always. Help people love and feel connected to the land.

I had a lot to learn about permaculture and believed a PDC would help me work towards our vision. I was excited to be a student and learn as much as possible from experienced designers and educators.

3) Who taught your permaculture design course and when?  What did you appreciate about that course, and what would you have liked to have learned more about?   

Kirby Fry, Caroline Riley, and Taelor Monroe were our instructors and it began on June 2, 2014. (I will always remember the date because I found out we were expecting our first baby the day before it began. A PDC is a wonderful way to begin a pregnancy!)

Our instructors were extremely knowledgeable, and I love that they each brought unique skills and wisdom to the course. I was so grateful for their hard work preparing such an awesome experience for us. They made the program what it was.

What I appreciated most about the course was the time dedicated for learning – especially now. Two weeks set aside for personal and professional growth and development was such a treasure!

The only thing I wish I could have done differently was spend time creating a design for our operation, so I could have had their feedback during the course. Just not enough time for everything.

“Poultry shelters: The egg-mobiles are a knock-off of the Polyface Farms design with a South Texas twist. They are all steel construction with mostly salvaged materials. The major difference is 1.5” expanded steel floors and the nest boxes are on the outside of the shelter. These shelters are designed for mobility, air flow and low labor. We rotate the hens across about 60 acres throughout the year.”

4) What other courses, if any, have you participated in that have helped you to learn more about and implement sustainable design systems?

I continue my education in many ways but the only formal course I’ve participated in since the PDC is Holistic Management International’s Financial Planning Course. Participating in that course has totally transformed our business. A strong financial management strategy is key to long term success of sustainable design systems. Designing and implementing design systems are exciting and fun, but the maintenance is the tricky part. It all has to be financially viable or no one will be able to maintain it for the long term. We want to encourage our children to work and love the land if they choose to do so and we certainly won’t be able to do that if our business and farm is a financial burden.

“This daikon radish is one of the plants in our winter cover crop mix and helps to loosen soils and builds organic matter. It also serves as a food source for poultry, cattle, and people.”

5) Have you been able to apply what you learned from a permaculture design course to your life, and business endeavors?  If so, please elaborate. 

Yes, I have applied what I learned from the course in many ways. The most valuable was the understanding of systems, stacking functions, and zones. I have created so many designs, but the hard part is compromising on design with my husband! Nothing we do out here happens quickly and we will work the rest of our lives working to improve our system. The opportunity for creative design is so fun! Most of our down time includes discussion about these topics.

“By this spring the 100 acre field that was plowed and planted in annuals for 150 years will be all be planted in a native grass and forb mix. The field on the right is the only 25 acres remaining that is planted in annuals for winter grazing and will be planted in natives in February 2019. We pay for all our restoration projects out of pocket so they happen slowly – careful to not acquire any debt. The field on the left was planted in natives in 2018 (note: plants are dormant). Our goal for planting the native mix is to improve wildlife habitat, create diversity, and improve grazing.”

6) Have you had the opportunity to teach, mentor, and or pass on information about sustainable design to friends, family, or employees?

Most definitely! While my niche is research and Travis’ is production (the only way our husband/wife team can stay civil and thrive is to divide and conquer), we both come together as a team on education efforts.  

We offer farm tours, youth and adult education programs, speak at conferences, use the farmers market as an opportunity for education, and use social media to increase awareness about what we do. We demonstrate what has worked and what hasn’t worked for us. Some of the most notable programs we’ve participated in were the “Armed to Farm” training through NCAT, Extension’s “Generative Next” online course, TOFGA, and the Women’s Land Studentship Conference.

We have worked with 6 WWOOFERS and several interns who have moved forward to create their own operations. We hired a new manager this spring who has been an incredible blessing to our operation. He will soon start raising his own herd of goats and sheep on this land.

“Cattle genetics: The cattle are derived from Longhorn cows and Red Devon or South Poll Bulls. The select for 100% Iberico Longhorns, meaning they are direct descendants from the the Spanish Longhorns brought here 400 years ago. Red Devon and South Poll cattle are well-known for their grass-fed genetics. We specifically select for bulls derived from grass-fed breeders. The combination of the two breeds makes for a hardy, thrifty animal that is able to finish on grass in our harsh South Texas environment.”

I had the opportunity to partner with my good friend and colleague Dr. Megan Clayton with Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service. She is the Extension Range Specialist and I value her knowledge and expertise greatly.

We partnered on a Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) Professional Development Program (PDP) grant called “Farming for the Future”.

Between 2014 and 2017 we designed and conducted 4 sustainable agriculture professional development trainings for producers, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Agents and Family Consumer Science Specialists, and Natural Resource Conservation Service Personnel. Our first training in 2014 consisted of a 4-day farm tour including a raw milk dairy, pasture raised poultry operation, grass fed beef operation, pastured pork and lamb operation, and bee operation.

We offered a “Farm & Ranch to Table Field Day” in spring 2016 where we highlighted food labeling and terminology, cooking and nutrition, production practices, and sustainable land management. We partnered with Cibolo Nature Center to offer our 3rd training where Mark Shepard led an “Introduction to Restoration Agriculture” in the fall of 2016. We were able to participate in his intensive workshop the following two days.

Our 4th and final training “Business Basics for Alternative Agriculture” took place in spring 2017 at the San Antonio Botanical Gardens where we covered topics such as business planning, financial planning, and marketing. All together we reached approximately 200 educators through the “Farming for the Future” PDP and are confident our reach has been much greater. It was very exciting to reach an audience unfamiliar with these ideas and opportunities.

I believe we have showed naysayers that what we do has real worth and merit by proving it’s economically viable. We know the real value of the ecosystem services this type of farming and ranching provide and we do our best to share that message as often as possible.

Scientific research helps to strengthen that message. I have been blessed with some unique opportunities to fulfill my passion for research. I received Southern SARE’s Producer Grant this spring to conduct research on the effect of sub-soiling (deep soiling ripping) on our landscape. We are measuring infiltration, compaction, vegetation and biomass on an improved pasture and native pasture. We are excited about some of our early data and plan to continue research efforts in the years to come.

7) Are there any other ways your PDC has influenced your life beyond applying the knowledge on your farm/ranch? 

My experience during the PDC reached far beyond the content taught and the experiences we had. It taught me to step out of my comfort zone and see things in a fresh new light. I learned how to find real balance between food production and ecological function and exciting ways to incorporate it in our own lives. I went into the course hoping to find ways to improve our business design and left with a great reminder of how to live simply and be healthy.

Now as parents of two, our priority is our boys. Permaculture concepts and a deep-rooted understanding of natural systems is so important to their upbringing. We want them to be healthy and strong physically, mentally and spiritually. We do our best to raise/grow all our own food and barter what we can’t produce. The best feeling is to hear my 3 year old say “Mom, I’m going outside to eat something!”.  So grateful for that connection and opportunity.

About Mandy Krause

Mandy is co-owner of Parker Creek Ranch and manages the education and research programs. She has over 10 years of experience designing and directing conservation-based programs for youth and adults across the state and works as a consultant for the Welder Wildlife Foundation and Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service.  Mandy is trained as a wildlife biologist and is very involved in the Texas Chapter of The Wildlife Society which serves and represents wildlife professionals in all areas of conservation and resource management with the goal of promoting excellence in wildlife stewardship through science and education. She loves sharing her passion for nature and the outdoors with others – especially her husband Travis and two boys Jack and Max.

About Parker Creek Ranch

Family owned and operated since 1846, Parker Creek Ranch is a working ranch located 50 miles west of San Antonio. We are committed to regenerative agriculture production and creating healthy habitats for livestock, wildlife, and people. As stewards of the land, our goal is to produce nutritious products for our community while designing and managing systems that will benefit the environment and future generations.

The most effective land management tools we use include holistic management grazing (a mix of frequent rotations and mob grazing between 27 pastures), cover cropping, and sub-soiling (deep ripping). We have planted 75 acres in a native grass/forb mix, fenced off the creek from grazing, and increased soil organic matter substantially across the landscape. We strongly believe that regenerative, holistic agriculture practices have a large-scale impact on the conservation of our natural resources. We have seen our systems and efforts greatly improve the soil and forage quality, water catchment and infiltration, and wildlife habitat.

We focused on producing broilers and laying hens in the early years but have now expanded to turkeys and grass-fed beef.  We are a direct farm-to-market producer committed to the idea that local is better. All of our products are sold within a 150 miles radius to farmers markets, restaurants, and individuals/families. The relationships with the people of our local communities are of great importance to us. We are energized by sustainable agriculture design and love to teach others about what we do. We enjoy harvesting wild game, spend lots of time in our garden, plant an incredible amount of native and edible trees, all the while constantly brainstorming and implementing regenerative practices.

Parker Creek Ranch’s business and production models are always evolving. Our farm has overcome enormous obstacles by staying committed, focusing on our goals and the overall bigger picture. There is nowhere else we would rather be and nothing we want to do more.

© Mandy Krause 2018

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