Tyler Carlson, is a board member of the Sauk River Watershed District and an environmentally restorative cattle rancher. In late July, the MPCA’s North Central Watershed Unit toured the Early Boots Farm, located six miles north of Sauk Centre, Minn. Some of the staff had seen Tyler’s presentation at the Forage Basin Council’s recent agroforestry workshop, and supervisor Laurel Mezner organized the tour of his operation as a learning opportunity for her unit.
According to the “Early Boots Farm” website http://www.earlyboots.com, Tyler Carlson was born and raised in Sauk Centre, and returned to his hometown area to farm. He has a degree in Sustainable Agriculture and Restoration Ecology from the University of Minnesota. After graduating, Tyler spent a year reading everything on pasture-based agriculture he could get his hands on, interning at a number of different cattle farms and learning about holistic farm management through the Land Stewardship Project’s “Farm Beginnings” program before launching Early Boots Farm. His wife, Kate was “a longtime vegetarian when she fell in love with a beef farmer, and then became one herself.” She brings a “long-held interest in the environment and the ethical treatment of animals to this grass-based beef farm operation, where we work directly at implementing sustainable and humane agricultural practices.”
Tyler says it was his interest in water quality that brought him back to his family’s farm, which was his grandfather’s. A self-described “plant nerd,” he believed that with hard work and research he could restart his family’s farming operation in a way that allowed him to protect water quality while rebuilding the soil health that had been lost due to decades of poor farming practices of the past. His wife, Kate, Dean of a French Immersion program at Concordia Language Villages, also believes that humane treatment of the livestock is important, and Tyler has taken this to heart as well. The result is a diversity of environments on his farm that contribute to a high quality of life for their “lowline angus” cattle and research data that may someday contribute to better farming practices throughout Minnesota.
Tyler has planted over 5,000 trees on his farm to support his silvopasturing practices, and has over 25 different plant species in what he calls his “foraging cocktail,” which he is using to restore a large grazing pasture on his farm. The mix includes everything from turnips to corn to chicory to alfalfa. It is his hope to rebuild the organic content of his pasture soil from its current 1.5%, to 3% within 10 years, although he understands the process is a slow one, and that he is trying to repair damage done over decades of non-sustainable practices. Tyler is also considering adding crop trees such as apple or juneberry to enhance wildlife value and bring an additional source of income to his operation. A Sustainable Ag grant from the Minnesota Department of Agriculture helps his research by funding a nursery where he is trying to discover what crop trees will perform the best at his location.
Tyler farms for the love of farming and the environment. Although his income from his farm is limited during this start-up period, he hopes that his sustainable practices will one day pay off in an increased herd size that can be maintained sustainably while rebuilding the soils and repairing water quality that has been damaged in the area.
For now, his residence consists of a very practical and comfortable looking yurt, a pumphouse which doubles as a root cellar from which he carries drinking water every day, an outhouse, and a silo that has been converted into an office. From the perspective of several of the MPCA staff who visited his farm, he seems to live an ideal, outdoor lifestyle. Tyler treated watershed staff to samples of his grass-fed beef and by all accounts, he may have gained some new customers!