“What I’m trying to do out here is grow good grass,” said local rancher George Nolte on a quiet afternoon at Elster Ranch.
In 2006, Nolte purchased his home and 320 acres of historical agricultural land where he continues a ranching tradition begun by the Elster family in 1895.
Nolte raises 80 head of cattle on carefully cared for pasture land and gently rolling oak woodlands once considered for development.
His land ethics have been deeply influenced by internationally recognized naturalist Aldo Leopold.
For five years, Nolte has served as a board member of the Aldo Leopold Foundation.
On Tuesday, he will lead a screening and discussion of the documentary film, “Greenfire: Aldo Leopold and a Land Ethic For Our Time,” as the season finale of Bear Yuba Land Trust’s ongoing Armchair Trek series.
The event will be at 7:30 p.m. at the Gene Albaugh Community Room at the Madelyn Helling Library in Nevada City. Organic, non-GMO popcorn and beverages will be served.
The film about Leopold’s life and legacy is a relevant story for folks living in Nevada County, a community that holds the local landscape dear, says Nolte.
“We love the outdoors. We love nature,” Nolte said of his Nevada County friends and neighbors.
Published in 1949 as the final chapter in Leopold’s “A Sand County Almanac,” “The Land Ethic” defined a new relationship between people and nature and set the stage for the modern conservation movement.
“Leopold is kind of a probe to help you gain awareness that land is much more than a commodity,” said Nolte.
As a boy, Nolte grew up in a metropolitan environment in Palo Alto, yet weekend duck hunting trips with his father provided enduring connections with nature.
“We’re all biological creatures so I think it is in our genes. We’re coded that way,” Nolte said, sitting on the back deck of his 1920s-era restored farmhouse.
As he recalled memories from his youth, Nolte noticed and pointed out a deer feeding in the distance. Wind chimes sung loudly from an old Sycamore tree riddled with acorn granary holes made by woodpeckers.
Nolte’s first exposure to Leopold happened 15 years ago when he joined the board of Delta Waterfowl Foundation, a Canadian nonprofit Leopold helped found.
He was given a copy of “Sand County Almanac.”
“His writing style has a wonderful cadence to it,” Nolte said.
Like many who have read Leopold’s work, the writing awakened in him a sense of curiosity about land and environment and led him to examine the things he was doing in his own life and why.
On a trip to Minneapolis, Nolte looked up the Aldo Leopold Foundation and was given a tour by Executive Director Wellington “Buddy” Huffaker IV, the same man who would later help produce the “Greenfire” film.
Nolte, a civil engineer who spent a career in infrastructure, was looking to retire on 10 to 20 acres when he found Elster Ranch near Grass Valley one memorable blue-skied January day. Now his ambition is to be a steward of the land.
On his ranch, cattle graze on 100 acres of irrigated pasture and 100 acres of dry land. Another 100 acres are left natural for wildlife habitat. His pasture-fed beef is sold at BriarPatch Co-op.
“Leopold conveyed the term ‘land’ to include flora, fauna, soil, water, air and human society as part of the same community, and that the evolution of a ‘Land Ethic,’ which is uniquely human, is an emotional as well as intellectual process.
“As a ‘grass farmer,’ we walk our patch of landscape searching to observe and understand how pieces we influence can be managed to improve land health,” Nolte said.