Cattle grazing near a farmhouse

Back-Porch Revelation

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Things were not going well.

A few days before my first real speaking engagement (one where the audience was not filled with classmates required to clap), I was lost like a Boy Scout troop without a compass. The talk was a mess of random thoughts. The words were pudding in my mouth. The result was destined to be utter humiliation and social mockery.

An emergency call to grandmother yielded an invitation to her back porch. “Just come out to the farm,” she said. “We’ll sit on the back porch. You can give me the presentation, and we can talk it through.”

The next day I was standing on the porch in the warm evening air. My grandmother was a Norman Rockwell painting. Silver hair. Bright smile. Sitting cross-legged in a lawn chair. She embodied patience and understanding.

The setting sun cast long shadows that wrapped around the porch. Cicadas buzzed like mini-lumberjacks in the nearby fruit trees. It was a perfect country evening, for everyone but me.

My notecards were already moist from my sweaty hands as I launched into my talk. For the next 15 minutes, my grandmother endured a presentation so painful I might as well have been trying to sell her a timeshare in Boca Raton. Exhausted and frustrated, I finished, tripping over the last few lines in an utter heap. My talk was the oratory equivalent of a dumpster fire.

My grandmother was unfazed. Though she had no college education, Colleen Carson had taught Bible studies for decades, and she moved seamlessly through her gentle critique, making the quick tweaks of a skilled lecturer. She helped clarify the message and organize my thoughts, then she hit on the fundamental problem: “You believe you are going to fail.”

There it was. The issue wasn’t remembering words or perfecting the timing. It was a mindset issue.

“Adam, be bold,” she said. “Boldness is not pride or hubris. Boldness is the determination to stand up and try — no matter the outcome. Boldness is the willingness to put yourself out there despite the judgment. Boldness is the courage to meet your fears head on.”

My grandmother spoke truth that day, and that back-porch revelation — Be bold — became my life’s mantra. A few days later, I summoned my boldness and delivered my speech. It was far from perfect, but what I lacked in technique, I made up for with gusto. If I was going to run into a wall, I was going to do it at full speed.

Countless times in the last 25 years, I have found myself in a moment that required me to stand up and try — no matter the outcome, or face the inevitable regret of a missed opportunity. It’s true what grandmothers say: Life is about mindset.

Our mindset determines our outcomes. We either believe we can overcome our challenges, or we don’t. If we walk into a situation thinking we will fail, we will live up to those expectations every time. American author Louise Hay once wrote, “I do not fix problems. I fix my thinking. Then problems fix themselves.”

Jeremy Westfall counts cattle in the early morning sun at Oswalt Ranch.
Jeremy Westfall is up with the sunrise on a cool autumn morning at Noble Research Institute’s Oswalt Ranch near Marietta, Oklahoma. Westfall counts cattle as he moves them to a fresh paddock for grazing.

As Noble ventures down the regenerative ranching path, we have already learned one indisputable truth — our mindset must change. Everything we have practiced and preached in the past is now up for examination and redesign. Our values are the same, but our minds are open to envisioning new approaches to old problems.

For the past two years, Noble’s team has become the student: willing to learn, reassess and pursue a path that makes a difference. The entire Noble catalog of programming is under renovation, from how we run our ranches to how we assist producers. It’s a humbling and necessary task for a 75-year-old organization.

We hope to exemplify the regenerative mindset in all we do. This way of thinking blends a desire to work with nature and a constant pursuit of learning with a tenacity that is not afraid to fail or to ask for help. As an organization, this is our moment to be bold.

Cattle grazing in a pecan grove.
Cattle graze in the pecan grove at the Red River Ranch of Noble Research Institute.

By the end of 2022, Noble will relaunch our educational offerings to ranchers. We will build our outreach around the simple goal of helping you gain understanding and confidence in applying regenerative principles. This means providing knowledge, supporting you when you encounter the unforeseen or new, and using our dynamic research to answer critical producer-guided questions. All of which begins with the right mindset — for us and you.

Some of you are already on the journey. For others, you may be curious about this regenerative ranching journey and wonder if you should take your initial steps. Odds are you’re already making strides to rehabbing degraded soil. But if you want to challenge your mindset, ask yourself these questions:

Are you ready to look at your ranch as one interconnected operation of soil, plant, water, land, animal and producer?

Are you ready to apply soil health principles instead of implementing one-size-fits-all practices?

Are you ready to build a profitable operation that sets and fulfills long-term goals?

We believe that everything you desire as a rancher — a profitable operation, healthy soil and land, and a legacy for your children and society — is on the other side of a renewed mindset. As my grandmother would say: Be bold, stand up and try, put yourself out there despite the judgment, and have courage.

This is your back-porch revelation.

Adam Calaway

J. Adam Calaway formerly served as Director of Communications and Public Relations for Noble Research Institute. He received a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Cameron University and a master’s degree in communications from the University of Oklahoma.

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