Mark demonstrates to workshop participants
how to use the leveling tools


Determining the Keyline


The bulldozer arrives

Creating the swales and berms

Debra setting up the laser level to check the level of the swales,
to be sure the water will flow through them


Ann marking the corresponding swales off the keyline

Mark Shepard

Swales, berms and pocket ponds


It feels like a new day
at Turtle Rock Farm—
like the sun has dawned,
like there’s hope on the horizon.
And it’s not because everything
is suddenly
though the spring’s greening,
just begun,
is beautiful
and welcomed deeply.
It feels like a new day
at Turtle Rock Farm
because we have begun
a new way of farming.
It’s just a start,
but we feel like we have turned
a corner,
taken a big step,
a plunge.
Come what may,
it is a grand experiment
that will teach us
about another way
to grow food.

restoration agriculture specialist
Mark Shepard,
of Forestry Agriculture Enterprises
in Wisconsin,
was here for three days.
We learned
a great deal
about water management
for agriculture
and we’ve begun to learn
a great deal
about increasing grass production
and transitioning
to a deeply diverse,
perennial ecological, biological system
on the prairie.
As Mark says,
if they’re doing this
on the savannah in Kenya
we should be able
to design and create this system
here on the savannah in Oklahoma.
We’ve started.
On the hillside below our prairie labyrinth,
we marked the contours,
built swales and berms
on the contour,
and pocket ponds at the end of the contours,
to help hold the water in the berms and ponds
and allow it to spread slowly beneath
the prairie grass
and soak into the berms
rather than run in sheets atop the grass
and down gullies.
Nut and fruit trees
and bushes
will be planted on the berms,
come fall.
Rain water will flow
into the swales and small ponds,
soaking into the soil,
and dispersing slowly across the terrain.
It’s the beginning of a long-range
program that we hope to build
and expand
during the next few years—
even during a drought.
There’s a great deal
of work ahead,
and a vision that holds
a great deal of promise.
Thanks Mark
and all those who have gone before
and alongside.
We are happy to become a part
of a great network
of people around the globe
learning to build systems
that imitate nature.

(Thanks to Jim Horne,
of the Kerr Center for Sustainable Agriculture,
for his presence and support.
Thanks to Rusty Peterson
of the Noble County NRCS
for his help in setting up
Mark’s public presentation
in Perry on Friday evening.)