• Matt

Observations of a Generalist: Balance in Regeneration

By Wyatt Ball

“I’ve always thought of myself as an 80 percenter … that probably explains the diversity of the Patagonia product line—and why our versatile, multifaceted clothes are the most successful.”[1]

When I read “Let My People Go Surfing: The Education of a Reluctant Businessman” by Yvon Chouinard (Founder of Patagonia), I was struck by a concept interwoven throughout the book. Chouinard did not want to be a specialist in anything. Instead, he sought to be a generalist every chance he could, applying the 80:20 rule to his quest of knowledge-seeking, character building, and of course, reluctant business growth.

Chouinard talks about how instead of devoting his life to achieving 100% fluency in one thing, he would rather get to about 80% before moving on to the next adventure. Instead of devoting energy to a singular track, he could find balance among a web of activities woven into a common theme – the outdoors, its exploration, and its preservation. This is all while still striving for growth and achievement not easily attained without dedication, hard work, and a variable mindset. Chouinard helped foster and build Patagonia’s multi-generational mission, vision, and ethos by valuing something little appreciated in our fast-paced, standardized, and segmented society: balance[2].

I find that whenever I need a bit of balancing myself, I need to be near the ocean. The left photo is during a 2,000-mile solo bike-packing tour around France in 2018, and the right photo is fly fishing after a day of farming on the island of Andros in the Bahamas

Now, I'm not here to talk about the pitfalls of specialization, or to knock the masters of their crafts, or even to necessarily say that being a generalist is better than being a specialist. Rather, I am here to try and give voice to the validity of this way of thinking, be a proponent of generalism, and connect this balance to the movement which is regenerative agriculture.

Reflecting upon my journey, I can see how I have been fortunate enough to stumble into a life of a generalist. At 17, I left the USA to study and live in the UK, where I pursued a BSc in Business Administration. At the wise and mature age that I was, I believed my life’s purpose was to become a specialized investment banker operating within the world of large-scale corporate mergers and acquisitions. Meaning? Well, I had no clue what I was talking about. And, of course, I thought life was singularly about making money.

Fast forward to the present day. I am currently living and working on a 200-acre diversified livestock farm in Colorado. I’ve done a 180 degree shift, arriving at a point where I have come to believe that to heal our planet, our society, and our economies, we must produce high-quality, environmentally regenerative, and societally accessible food at scale.

Petting Zippy on a beautiful day while soaking in my surroundings and all that I still have to learn.

I am by no means the world’s most capable farmer, nor do I have seasons upon seasons of farming experience or years of farming wisdom and knowledge. I do not believe I will become the next Nicole Masters, Christine Jones, Gabe Brown, Joel Salatin, Chris Newman, Dave Vetter, Will Harris, Mark Shepherd[3] anytime soon. But, I am cemented in purpose to reach the 80% threshold, aligning myself within intentionally rudimentary yet flexible goals:

1. Strong knowledge of the principles of regeneration and its implementation.

2. Possessing the patience to see triple-bottom-line regeneration take hold and grow.

3. Learning and practicing what it means to steward land, community, and life.

4. Understanding the economics behind regenerative agriculture on small and large scales alike.

My first attempt ever shearing sheep…a humbling experience to say the least!

Still, these goals only scratch the surface of being a generalist. There are hundreds of different directions within the regenerative agriculture conversation that could (and should) be in the spotlight. From land access to inclusivity among BIPOC communities, to soil and microbial health, overall biodiversity in the land, profitable farming business models and brand adoption of regenerative agriculture practices, or what these practices even are. The list is literally limitless.

Yet, what I still believe to be an evident truth from my short time on this planet, is that we need a society full of generalists for the wide-scale adoption of regenerative principles. Finding the balance between all these conversations and not losing sight of the regenerations principles is central to the success of this movement. And, to achieve this goal, we need more full-system, holistic-thinkers.

- People who appreciate the importance of biodiversity on the land as well as diversity within our communities, belief systems, and critical thinking patterns.

- People seeking to “plant” living roots in their core values, beliefs, and principles and build upon the foundations of what aligns with goodness in their hearts.

- People seeking to integrate non-standardized lifestyles and are willing to think, act, and strive for success outside of societal norms and our pigeon-holed expectations of what reality “should be.”

- People who think holistically across multiple disciplines to try and prevent tunnel-visioned solutions built within a chamber of groupthink.

I know this is a lot of “we need.” However, I believe that the principles of regenerative agriculture and soil health are not just meant for regenerating our land bases. They are meant for regenerating ourselves. But, at the end of the day, I am just a 25-year-old reluctant business school student turned farmer turned generalist. It isn’t my life’s mission to be the next master of “x, y, and z.” What I would rather be asking is “what can I start learning about next?”

“If you think adventure is dangerous, try having a routine. It is fatal.”

– a rock found somewhere along a bike path in France, 2018

[1] let my people go surfing, Yvon Chouinard, p.56 [2] Funnily enough, balance itself is quite an interesting word. According to Merriam-Webster, “Balance” has 9 different definitions ranging from physical state equilibriums to a means of judging to the accounting definition – ( that is just for the noun…the verb has 7 more.) This means that to define a word which seems to be quite simple at face value, we have had to create 16 different definitions just to explain what we mean by the word “balance” (the average word has 2.718 definitions.)

[3] This list is by no means exhaustive. The number of incredible farmers, soil experts, biology experts, generalists, etc., is almost limitless.

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