Zack Koscielny on Creating Rural Resilience on the Prairies

A new generation of farmers finding community and peer-to-peer support through regenerative farming with ALUS 

Carl Atkinson on his farm with a wetland in the background.
Zack Koscielny on Green Beach Farm and Food at the Prairie Hub field conference.
Zack and his family live near Strathclair, Manitoba, and together they manage Green Beach Farm and Food. Purchased in 1917, Zack is the fifth generation to live on this farmland. Over time, the Koscielnys have increased the size of their farm by acquiring more quarter sections. They now operate about five quarter sections, which they mainly use for grazing livestock. However, they have also recently diversified their activities and have started growing organic grain.    Zack’s parents still live in the original home constructed in 1917, a true testament to the way their operations have evolved dynamically through time.  Like many families making a living on the prairies, the Koscielny heritage is closely tied to the surrounding landscape. 
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Zack examines the intercrop of winter wheat and hairy vetch that was seeded into a roller crimped cover crop on his field. In Manitoba, producers might have photosynthesis on their grain acres for roughly 60 days (about 2 months). With cover crops, producers may have plant growth from April to November.
Growing Roots is a regenerative agriculture program launched by ALUS in 2022. Through Growing Roots, participants establish on-field projects that benefit soil health with financial support and technical guidance from farmer coaches and a Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) composed of producers and experts, experienced in the implementation of regenerative practices.  Starting out with ALUS, the Koscielnys first integrated a few acres of saline tolerant mix in a low yielding cropland and then integrated an edge of field pollinator buffer strip project. They enrolled in Grazing Forward in 2022 and modified their agricultural practices on 50 acres of land. Now, working with the Growing Roots program, the Koscielnys have integrated cover cropping, where their projects strive to keep a living root in the soil for most of the year. They have implemented over 225 acres of cover crops over two years with Growing Roots.  

“There’s always been a history of environmental or conservation groups being kind of at odds with farmers. But I think that’s changing a little bit. It’s just a practical thing.  A lot of marginal acres you’re not able to farm very well anyways,” says Zack. “ALUS is able to open your mind to the possibilities that there is an alternative.”   

In 2018, Zack returned from studying at the university in Winnipeg, Manitoba.  Many local cow-calf operations have shut down in the last twenty years as market changes have altered profit margins. However, with the help of the Growing Roots program, the Koscielnys, have been able to continue their long history of managing cattle on the land, and have even increased their profitability.  

“We’ve got room for more animals now, which obviously adds to the profitability, because we’re running more animals on the same number of acres,” says Zack “We’ve been able to increase our forage production on our perennial pastures and increase the size of our cattle herd every year even through drought.”

ALUS Assiniboine West has helped the Koscielnys pursue dynamic new practices, and their efforts are not going unnoticed. Collaborating with ALUS partner Birds Canada, the Koscielnys have learned interesting things about the wildlife species that inhabit their land, including the presence of species like Common Nighthawk and grouse. Zack is thrilled that research conducted on their farm will contribute to a larger understanding of bird diversity and species richness throughout the province and will support how farmers and ranchers are publicly understood as supporting the natural world.   Zack’s advice to other farmers interested in ALUS is that they “go and check out somebody else’s [ALUS] project and see if you can find something that fits your needs and your goals on your farm.”  

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Jim Fisher, Director of Conservation and Policy with Delta Waterfowl stands with Zack.
The Koscielnys have already inspired some of their neighbours to consider how programs like ALUS can benefit their operations. The Koscielnys have maintained and expanded their operations even through droughts by trapping moisture in the soil using cover-cropping. The next generation of farmers, like Zack, are confronting challenges to their agricultural operations stemming from environmental impacts driven by biodiversity loss and climate change. But together, farmers and ranchers working with ALUS are building a more resilient agricultural landscape, piloting new solutions that endeavour to harmonize farm profitability and environmental health.  

“Once you get digging into it, a lot of people have discovered that improving the health of the soil and diversity on the farm really contributes to profitability, too.” says Zack. 

Producers like Zack who are working with ALUS on new projects like Growing Roots and Grazing Forward, as well as the farmers and ranchers who have been with ALUS from the beginning are proving the biodiversity and environmental benefits of bringing together agriculture and nature. 

#DYK: ALUS is always looking for feedback from ALUS participants. When recently polled, 74% of ALUS communities expressed an interest in delivering regenerative ag programming now or in the future.   

Communities taking part in the Growing Roots program include ALUS Assiniboine West, ALUS Saskatchewan Assiniboine Project and ALUS Seine Rat Roseau. For more information, contact your local ALUS Coordinator or ALUS Prairies Hub Manager, Paige Englot, at [email protected] 

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