Permaculture and Restoration Agriculture with Mark Shepard

Mark Shepard on Restoration Agriculture,

Restoration Agriculture

Mark Shepard

Permaculture and making a living from farming.


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Transcription Summary

Hey, everyone. Chris Stelzer here with Agricultural Insights. Got another update for you. If you’re new to this video series, what I do at my website,, is I interview real farmers and ranchers, and you can learn from them. They lay it out on the table. They’re very helpful. I’m just summarizing an interview that I did with Mark Shepard, who has written a book called “Restoration Agriculture.” It’s permaculture, as well. He’s kind of within the farming and permaculture world. He kind of walks those two lines, I guess you will, and brings a lot of people together.So I had him on my podcast, the Agricultural Insights podcast. What he’s doing in Wisconsin is pretty amazing. He’s using permaculture techniques in growing food in a really sustainable manner of using swales. There’s just so many other techniques, multi-species grazing, polyculture, just a diversity of [guilds], canopy layers, and everything he’s doing. But then, on the flip side of that, he’s actually using the systems in place right now to distribute his food. He sells a lot of his food wholesale, or most of it. A big truck just comes, he loads up all his apples, or whatever it may be, and then he sends them on his way.Kind of what his deal is, from my understanding through our interview, is that we need to be able to compete with big agriculture as people that produce food using sustainable agriculture. That’s kind of his whole deal, and he’s on a mission to show that it works, and obviously does work well for him. He puts on schools every year. He’s written a book. He’s a speaker. It’s really a fantastic interview, one of the highest commented interviews over at Agricultural Insights. Yeah, I mean, if you want to learn more from Mark Shepard, he really goes in depth about some things, so, I’d encourage you to just follow the link below this video and check it out.

I’ll also put another link below this video, and that’s the free ebook. I wrote an ebook about mob grazing. You’ll get the free mob grazing ebook if you follow the link below the link to the interview with Mark Shepard. All you do is put in your email, and then the book is shot over to you via email, so it’s really easy. Yeah, Mark Shepard, Restoration Agriculture and permaculture, really great interview. Head over to You can type his name in the search box, or you could just follow the link below. Thanks. See you next time.


Mark’s Website Restoration Agriculture

Mark’s Book (please buy it directly from him at this link!) –

Mark’s other Website

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  • Greg Schwab

    Another great podcast . Need to learn more about this stuff and how to make it work in Colorado’s dry climate. One thing nobody talks about is how much you have increased the value of your place when and if you sell it. Thanks Chris . Greg

  • Richard Frame

    Great podcast Chris,
    I attended the second day of the Savory Institute Conference in Boulder last weekend. It was quite inspiring to hear all the hub leaders from so many different countries share their stories.
    Also, my wife and I just completed a 7-day restoration agriculture permaculture course at Mark Shepard’s New Forest Farm in Wisconsin. We are planning to use his strategies and techniques in addition to silvopasture practices using what we’ve learned from you, Judy, Salatin, Mitchell-Innes and many others. Thanks as always and keep up the good work!

    • jacob

      so good

      • Thanks, glad you liked it, Mark is awesome!

    • Richard,

      Sounds like a great experience you had at the Savory Conference and at Mark Shepard’s school. Keep us all posted on what you do in the future, I’m excited to hear about it.

  • Eric

    Especially appreciate what Mark had to say about being “big ag”, even as an organic producer. Organic ag has to compete with big ag at the market place to instill some of the changes you and your viewers talk about. Otherwise things look dire. As an organic beef producer it is surely a long term goal of mine, as well, to be able to compete with “big ag”. Ultimately that means selling to, say Walmart, while maintaing strict organic land management practices. Perhaps ultimately feeding people organically and they not even realizing it. Dig the podcasts.

    • Eric,

      I think you bring up good points, as well as Mark Shepard does. BUT, and this is a big BUT, are cheetos good for you? NO. They are terrible. So creating bad quality food from raw materials harvested and grown in the way Mark does is a step in the right direction. BUT, that food is not healthy (cheetos and other processed crap). I do think there is a lot of great things about Mark’s operation, don’t get me wrong.

      However, if we were concerned with the health of the people and the land the only things we’d need to grow are grass-fed meats and high quality organic produce.

      • Rich

        Does that mean that YOU only sell YOUR calves as grass-finished beef?

        And, that you don’t sell any cattle at the stockyards where they might end up in a feed lot being fed a grain-based ration, to eventually end up as beef at a fast food restaurant?

        If selling chestnut flour and making it into Cheetos is unacceptable due to what it means for the health of people and the land, I would think that selling cattle that might end up as a fast-food hamburger would also be unacceptable.

        • Ill answer that. The stockers are all ideally sold harvested and sold in Montana. Currently our production exceeds demand meaning the ranch carries over a lot of “open” cattle…or authentic aged grass finished beef. If supply exceeds demand, this rookie rancher, done, at our ranch, “organically”, says “Why not sell to Walmart?”.

          As far as chestnuts for Cheetos….perhaps not ideal but a step in the right direction? I would say. What cool land management practices.

          • I agree Eric, not ideal but a step in the right direction and working within the system. Thanks for pointing that out

        • Rich, you bring up a great point. Of course selling only grassfed beef would be ideal. However, we all have to pay the bills and selling to the commodity market is a great option for many people. Can’t argue with that. Ideals and reality are oftentimes very different. I think what Mark is doing is fantastic. No one has done what he’s doing and it takes a lot of balls to do it.

      • Richard

        This discussion is, in my view, a very valuable one. There are so many variables. For one, we don’t know what the future will look like in terms of our ability as a society to even maintain large distribution systems such as those that Mark Shepard hopes to use. I believe his vision is that we will be able, in large part, to sustain these systems using biofuels of some sort, such as sustainably grown vegetable oils. But perhaps our economy in the future will not be able to fund the infrastructure to support an intricate global or national distribution system. It’s all a big unknown (at least to me).
        Chris, I agree with you about Cheetos or high-fructose chestnut syrup, etc. Growing chestnuts may help restore degraded land but might, if overly processed, destroy people’s health. However, chestnuts and hazelnuts are not, in themselves, harmful products. It is only extreme processing (or over-indulging) that could make them so. I would hope that there would be a way to maintain the purity and simplicity of products from those nuts. Of course, it would always be an option to feed the nuts to livestock as a nearly perpetual and cost-free input (aside from initial establishment costs and minimal maintenance). (Using nuts as fodder for livestock would certainly solve the distribution problem.)
        Chris, I also agree that all we really need for healthy land and healthy people would be grass-fed meats and organic produce. I think we could get all our proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals from just those products. Oddly enough, I think Mark Shepard would agree with you. I think, but am not certain, that he would say that nevertheless, products such as chestnuts and hazelnuts could still be consumed for variety and supplementation, and also processed into other useful non-food products. If minimally processed, most of us enjoy some bread, cookies, pie crust, crackers, nut butter, etc. once in a while. Hazelnut oil is also valuable for many uses. Hazelnut shells are very valuable for burning. Chestnuts can be made into many non-food products.
        I agree with another comment here about the dangers of the drift to “get big or get out.” I think Mark Shepard envisions a system modeled on the co-op “Organic Valley,” which is owned by individual farmers who govern and vote on policy. They pool their resources but, I believe, the size of any one farmer would not jeopardize the others. I think the economies of scale with such a co-op would work to the benefit of the co-op as a whole since they could share the cost of marketing, processing, distribution, etc. Just as with any commodity, if there is a glut of supply, prices would drop, but because all the farmer-members of the co-op would be getting the same price for their product, they would still be better off than if trying to compete in the market individually.
        Chris, we are seriously considering using some of Mark Shepard’s strategies so, of course, this discussion is very valuable to us. I am not trying to defend any one approach, point of view, or person. Rather, I am trying, as I suspect most of your readers are, to make the best decisions I can to maximize the chances for a healthy, happy, productive, and profitable life for me and my family. Thanks again for your valuable work.

  • Mark Kolb

    I always like listening to Mr. Shepard and his passion is indeed catchy. I also think that his battle, totally shifting the big ag paradigm to polyculture, is a bigger challenge than getting a group of people to buy into your farm (CSA). I agree that for the big change producers will have to get into the distribution chain, BUT note what he talks about and uses as examples…cider. That’s a VALUE ADDED product. The law of economics comes into play and that’s one of the pitfalls in the thinking of Shapard in my opinion. Eventually, the “get big or go home” style of farming will kick in…economies of scale. Already, Shapard states that he can’t SOURCE enough apples. When I heard that I thought Thundering Hooves (if you don’t know what I’m talking about here you need to research it!). Again, Shepard’s fire is contagious, but I’m not bought and sold on ultimate wholesale model. One thing that does help his “Restoration Agriculture” case though is that fact there are intrinsic input cost controls simply by using the system. That is a big benefit to thinking this way and certainly gives an edge that helps him compete on that wholesale level.

    • Mark,

      Thank you for that excellent response, lots of things for people to think about. No system of farming or marketing is perfect but it’s great to see Mark doing something different while working within the current system. Long term, it may be a fantastic move or not work out. Sounds like Mark is willing to adapt either way.