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Remembering Mitch Faulkner


Mitch Faulkner - Spearfish, SD
Mitch Faulkner - Spearfish, SD Photo Credit: Barrett Self

By Buz Kloot

The community was saddened to hear of Mitch’s passing after a long illness on 4/29/2024.

If you’d like to skip this blog and get to hear Mitch Faulkner’s voice and see video of him, feel free to skip and go straight to the links at the end of this blog.


When I have a lot on my mind, I tend to wake up at 3 in the morning and then do my best to try to go back to sleep.  Much of the time, my efforts are in vain, and I drift in and out of alternating thoughts and dreams.  This morning, Mitch Faulkner was on my mind. “Why” would you ask, “are you mourning Mitch?  He lived 1,700 miles away from you and you don’t even know his family!”.  Good question.  This note is a lot more personal than most of our blog posts are, but Mitch was ... is part of a community that I deeply care about, and now, as the ancient text says is a “time for mourning” but at the same time, it’s a time for remembering, this is my part.  


One of the blessings I have is that I have been able through my work to meet with many ranchers, farmers, and practitioners in South Dakota during film shoots – these folks end up sharing their passion for the land with me and invariably I get to see a bit of their soul.  My friend Joe Dickie, who has infinitely more experience in visiting with farmers and ranchers says “you get to visit and maybe share a meal and then you fall in love with them!”.  


The first time I met Mitch in October 2020 was at a gathering of ranchers and practitioners in Faith, SD, roughly the same time as I began my love affair with the prairie.  I didn’t get to spend too much time with Mitch that day, but he struck me as erudite and passionate about the prairie with definite ideas of restoration – I do remember that his opinion was that if we protect the riparian areas these parts would be the first to come back, given the availability of soil moisture around the streams and ponds.  We have some video of Mitch talking that day and I plan to go back and get some clips and make them available.


My friend Emily Rohrer suggested I do a podcast with Mitch on drought planning and the drought tool in 2021 and I got to know Mitch and his passion a little better.  What struck me in this interview was the way he walked me through the drought tool, and in less than an hour turned me from a novice to a passably competent user.  


Next time I met Mitch was in September 2022.  I was delighted to see him again and when I rode with him in his truck, he filled me in on the little 80-acre spread belonging to Craig Gardner we were to visit not five miles from Spearfish.  What excited Mitch was that, somehow, this little patch of land was unique.  Mitch’s face lit up when he told me, “Buz, this place is so diverse, and right here in Spearfish!”, and indeed it was.  We went through some rowcrop land and a field covered in a monoculture of almost waist-high smooth brome, but as we rounded a corner, we saw Craig’s little spread; patches of color here and there, lots of tell-tale red signifying big bluestem, and then on closer inspection, all sorts of grasses, plenty of western wheatgrass, sideoats grama (my favorite, and Joe Dickie tells me I pronounce it sideoats grandma) and forbs, abundant leadplant and silver scurf pea and if I remember correctly, prairie aster.  Yes, there was Kentucky bluegrass, but Mitch and Craig had a plan for it.  What animated Mitch that day was his love of the prairie and his passion for preserving it, but it was also his excitement about working with Craig, a newcomer to ranching, but someone with a wildlife biology background who was an eager student; Mitch delighted in his role of teacher and mentor.


Mitch Faulkner
Mitch Faulkner Photo Credit: Joe Dickie

We shot a lot of film that day, and like so many others, ended up not being fully explored and not made public, much to my regret.  When I heard about Mitch’s condition about a month ago, I made up my mind to produce something that honored Mitch before he passed and ended up digging the story out of the video we shot with Mitch and Craig that day.   In going over the video material of Mitch and Craig, I could kick myself for not having gotten this material into the public space sooner.  What I saw (and hopefully you will, too) from the video is Mitch’s deep concern for the loss of prairie habitat, especially the insidious invasion of tame cool season grasses (smooth brome, Kentucky bluegrass, and crested wheatgrass), his passion for and joy in the prairie and his joy in the fellowship of a kindred spirit like Craig Gardener.  The opening shot in the video of Mitch reflecting on his career seems to be both prescient and intensely poignant.


This morning as I lay in bed and thought about Mitch’s family and friends and the huge hole his loss will leave, I thought “I don’t get it, I just don’t understand what the universe is up to”, I know that at some level, that’s OK, but it doesn’t hurt any less.  There was a part of me this morning that thought “Why Mitch and not me?”.  Most of us I think, if we are honest, “shrink before the mystery of death”, I do, at least, in spades. But I am reminded to ask for help to “live as those who are prepared to die and when our days are over to enable us to die as those who go forth to live”.


I don’t know what Mitch wanted – when one has limited time on earth, I think family, loved ones, and friends take first place, work is way in the back.  I hope that some of this material will help honor Mitch’s legacy, and I do hope he doesn’t mind, knowing his generous spirit, I know he will forgive me if I have erred in my stumbling attempts to honor him. For those of us who remain, let’s continue the good work of restoring the prairie habitat through education and changing the culture one ranch, one farm, even one child at a time; this work, I am convinced has the potential to restore soil, water, air, plant, animals and human communities to become a true reflection of this vast, abundant, life-giving prairie’s true potential.

 


For more material on Mitch please go to the following links.


Podcast:

A Practical View of Drought Planning with Mitch Faulkner:  (also available on the SoilHealthLabs podcast show on your mobile phone.


Videos:



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Visit these “Growing Resilience Through Our Soils” information pages:

1. Podcast page for drought planning fact sheets, Q&As, news, podcasts, and more.

2. Video page to watch videos of other ranchers’ journeys toward improved rangeland/pasture.

3. Follow Growing Resilience on social media:

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