The Gavelin Family’s Journey with Regenerative Farming

Story by Calvin Gavelin

My name is Calvin Gavelin, and along with my wife Marla, and our girls Rhys and Quinn, we make up the mixed farming operation we call Gavelin Farms. Our farm is located at McCord, Saskatchewan in the heart of semi arid, brown soil zone. The last seven years we have suffered drought conditions, with 2021 being the most devasting, when we received only seven tenths of moisture.

A new direction for the family farm

Our exploration of new practices began one day while I was walking to the house for dinner. I’m the 3rd generation to operate this family farm. It was the middle of the summer, and I was struck by the fact that using our current farming practices, plants were growing for only 60 days out of the year before being harvested, and most of the plant material removed. With so little being added back to the land, I thought it is no wonder that our soils have been dying since homesteading. This idea led me to days of research, online meetings, conferences and discussions. Eventually, I took a one day holistic management course, and left confident in my idea of trying cover cropping. Despite receiving advice that this practice wouldn’t work in my drought-prone area, I was determined to find a way to extend the time that living roots were present in our soils. 

Surprising successes

We seeded our first cover crops in the spring of 2019. That first crop got completely hailed out at the beginning of July, without either hail or crop insurance, because no institutions believed in or would support the practice. However, the crop then did the impossible; it rocketed back and provided a source of feed for our entire herd of cows. Our monocrops did not respond the same way to the challenge. Since then, we have continued to experiment with growing polycrops to use as livestock forage and fodder, and have had great success with spring- or fall-seeded combinations of annual, biennial and perennial blends.

Growing interest, growing connections

Since we started using diverse cover crops on our farm, we have improved our risk management, soil health, and herd health. Most importantly, we are experiencing a higher quality of life for our environment and our family. Prior, I felt like I was the only one involved in our operation; but now that the seeds of change have been planted, my family’s interest and involvement has grown exponentially. We have also radically opened our operation to hundreds of farmers, industry, scientists and government representatives, to showcase and discuss what we have found on our operation. I am excited to be building on this work, in partnership with the Living Lab, to help quantify and further communicate the many successes of our regenerative practices.