Agroecology Non-Profit Receives 2022 Impact Grant

In the wake of the 1930s Dust Bowl, the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) partnered with landowners in the drought-stricken Southern Plains to restore land productivity, profitability, and resiliency in the face of environmental challenges. Despite all the best efforts made in the decades since, some areas of the region remain barren.

However, the NRCS declaring a 14-acre parcel of land in Colorado’s rural North Boulder County as not farmable did not stop Nick DeDomenico from founding Elk Run Farm and launching Drylands Agroecology Research (DAR). The land had been untouched for at least 15 years. Host to a prairie dog colony, the land lacked topsoil and biodiversity. Where others saw a prime example of desertification in the region, DeDomenico saw the opportunity to demonstrate the power of regenerative design.

The Woodard & Curran Foundation is thrilled to support DAR’s mission to leverage regenerative design to restore agricultural land and communities with the 2022 Impact Grant. This one-year $100,000 grant will provide key funds necessary for DAR’s latest project: Scaled Agroecology at Yellow Barn Farm: A Model for Rehydrating the Arid West.

“DAR’s regenerative agroecology marries water, soil, animals, and native plants in an innovative and integrative approach to restore arid land to productive agriculture,” said Foundation Giving Committee Co-Chairs Laura Tessier and Samantha Olney. “This systemwide management technique can be replicated widely and is a roadmap for sustainable agriculture in the face of climate change. The Giving Committee was very impressed by the talent and passion of the team at DAR and is thrilled to support this important work.”


Barry Sheff

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A pilot study in repairing the land 

DAR spent time assessing and analyzing the land at Elk Run Farm to identify the best path forward for regeneration. Their goal was to create a productive homestead and provide a livelihood.

The team designed large-scale earthworks to manage water flow through the property. The earthworks system captures all rainwater, as well as distributes the resource across the property. They developed planting techniques specifically for the site based on its resources, which has resulted in the successful planting and growth of 1,200 fruiting trees and shrubs without supplemental irrigation. This laid the foundation to then test resilient grain crops, including blue corn, amaranth, sorghum, and dry beans, that adapt to the climate. The team also added livestock to the property. By actively managing the areas where pigs, chickens, and sheep roam and feed, the practices in caring for these animals helped reestablish a layer of topsoil and rehabilitate dry pastures. An exotic forest garden further provides essential vitamin- and mineral-rich foods and herbal medicines.

This effort helped add six inches of rich topsoil to a previously gravel packed parking lot. Organic matter in the pastures has increased by 200 percent compared to adjacent properties, and 960 percent in grain fields. Specifically, soil nitrogen in pastures has increased by more than 1,400 percent and in grain fields by 7,400 percent. The trees, planted along terraforming contour swales have an 85 percent survival rate without irrigation. The rapid, significant success at Elk Run Farm is the basis for DAR to expand their practices to a highly visible demonstration site.

Drylands Agroecology Research

This short documentary highlights DAR’s vision is to transform dry, abandoned, and marginalized landscapes into lush ecosystems through regenerative design, cultural pollination, rotational grazing, and ongoing research.


Leveling up with grant funds

The Foundation’s Impact Grant Funds allows DAR to take what they’ve learned on the 14-acre Elk Run Farm and restore the 100-acre parcel on which the historic Yellow Barn stands. Formerly known as Allen’s Farm, this property was the site of international equestrian events and boarding facilities. It was once home to more than 50 horses and 100 riders. The goal of the Yellow Barn Farm project is to revitalize the land for low-scale, high-quality food production, community building, and sustainability education. This will be the first step in expanding regenerative land practices across more than 1,000 acres in Boulder County.

The model DAR is putting into practice as they scale up includes:

  • Agroforestry and water management through terraforming contour swales to rehydrate the land;
  • Intensive livestock management and holistic grazing; and
  • Perennial and bioregional crop breeding and development.

The historic use of Yellow Barn Farm raises the visibility of this project, as well as the fact the landscape mirrors that of much of the arid West’s windy, exposed, and variously degraded land. DAR hopes this project will create abundant and diverse economic opportunities within the context of a functional, self-sustaining regenerative farm. The project already supports 10 individuals working in farm-related businesses and engages 150 regular visitors and customers. The barn itself will become a facility for events, workshops, and trainings to further DAR’s mission and expand these regenerative practices across the arid regions of America.

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