Videographer Joe Dickie discusses soil health, mental health and the art of getting information from Men of the Soil in a conversation with good friend and content collaborator Buz Kloot.
By Mike Cox
This journey began twenty five years ago while Joe was Senior Art Director for American Outdoor Group when he started taking photographs of his year old daughter. Joe discovered how much he enjoyed photography, much like his great grandmother and great aunt, who were self-taught photographers, and early heroes.
After a Fine Arts Degree from the University of Minnesota, Joe went back for a design degree, planning on becoming a graphic designer and art director. But a box filled with old slides from his inspirational relatives changed his mind. “I really grew up seeing these images. Their eye for composition is just amazing. It's what inspired me and so when I started taking photos of my daughter's friends, and their families saw what I was doing, I got this little business going doing family portraits.”
Joe also began shooting weddings; his sister trusted him enough to let him photograph her wedding first. While still employed as Senior Art Director, weddings “took over his life.” In 2007, he shot 65 weddings, including 4 over weekends like Labor Day. One third of his shoots were out of the country. The stress level was really high.
One day in 2008, Joe had a date conflict with wedding photography; one was a woman getting married in Mexico and the other was Kasja Perman, who he connected to immediately. Joe kept trying to make sure Kasja got the right photographer. Eventually, the Mexico wedding changed dates, so he was able to shoot both.
He developed a strong relationship with the Perman family and made a General Mills photo studio connection with the Mexico wedding bride that led to a commercial photography job… on the same day! “But this is sort of how my life has worked.”
The connection to the Perman family led to a job doing farm stories with Colette Kessler of the USDA-NRCS. Joe had done some farm stories before, but Colette introduced him to South Dakota. “I worked with Lakewinds organic Co-op, and I did some stories they had on grant recipients. Those are the stories that really got me excited about proper management and soil health.”
Doing those stories convinced Joe that proper management and improved soil health benefits the environment. He noticed the absence of chemicals in the organic process and wondered whether his mother, who succumbed to cancer at 53, might still be living had she lived a life less dominated by chemicals.
Joe noticed the sounds of the birds, and the difference between the wildlife on organic farms and larger, more traditional farming locations. A long-time pheasant hunter, he remembered how different the soil was during wet seasons in Minnesota where tillage was the norm, compared to South Dakota, where no-till and cool-season cover crops were more prevalent.
Moved by how healing the land connected with so many things, Joe began searching for information, and credits Ray Archuletta, Gabe Brown, Shane New, and Allen Williams for “moving him closer to a full understanding” of soil health. Joe also credits Colette Kessler with teaching him how to ask the right questions. Joe had always wanted to “know the why” of any situation. Colette helped him better understand the technical aspects of what they were documenting.
A South Dakota farmer emphasized to Joe how high the stress level can be for farmers. The man admitted to Joe he’d strongly considered suicide recently because things were going so badly. His insurance was paid, and his family would be taken care of. All he had to do was step into an adjacent grain bin. He didn’t, and since then, partly due to regenerative land management, his stress level has been reduced significantly.
Joe also reveals his personal battles with stress, and how being in the outdoors, and feeling like he’s making a difference, not just for the local farmers but for the planet, allows him to better handle issues like a daughter’s struggles with addiction and a recent motorcycle wreck that left his wife paralyzed from the chest down.
“Making a difference for the land has made a difference for their quality of life. You know these people are able to enjoy their lives more and its brought families together… a lot of young people didn't want to stay on the farms and ranches. But now that things are changing due to changing practices, it's become enjoyable to be a farmer and rancher again.”
Visit Joe's website at: https://www.joedickiephotography.com/ Joe has also created the Our Amazing Grasslands Series with the SD Grassland coalition and Soil Stories with the SD Soil Health Coalition. All these videos can be found on the SD NRCS YouTube site at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d9zz5llW3V0&list=PLg6Jx7lcOmB2YcAWtowbjWSVTRBlCt17o Joe has also worked on the SD NOLO (Non-Operating Landowner) project and has produced many videos for this project as well as the NOLO/Tenant partnership stories. These can be found at: https://www.nolosd.org/ Also please visit the SD NRCS Range and Pasture website for more information at: https://bit.ly/SDGrasslands
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