A champion for sustainable agriculture with a heart for serving her community, Dr. Lisa Bellows is certainly a hero among us.
Born and raised on a ranch in Saint Jo, Bellows has been serving her community for decades. From a young age, her parents taught her three important things: to be responsible environmentally, financially, and socially, through giving back.
After graduating from Saint Jo High School, Dr. Bellows received two associate degrees from North Central Texas College, followed by bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Molecular Biology from Texas Woman’s University. She went on to earn her doctorate in Environmental Studies from Texas Christian University.
After teaching several years in the public-school system, she was hired at NCTC to teach Botany.
In her early years at NCTC, Tommy Thomsen called upon Bellows for help on his 600-acre nature preserve near Forestburg, Texas called the Thomsen Foundation. The goal of the non-profit foundation is to educate students while passing on Thomsen’s passion for botany and wildflowers. More than 1,000 students visit the preserve each year.
Bellows and the Thomsen Foundation were given the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s Lone Star Land Steward Award in 2013 for their efforts in rejuvenating native habitat and wildlife across the state.
In 2016, Bellows met Clint Josey and together with the Dixon Water Foundation, they formed the NCTC Josey Institute of Agroecology to conduct research and offer educational programs on sustainable ranching and farming.
With the Dixon Water Foundation and the Noble Foundation, Bellows has recently been conducting research on cover crops. Dixon awarded a grant to NCTC to partner with Gainesville ISD on rotational grazing plans. On either side of the high school, GISD owns a 75-acre wooded area and a 90-acre prairie, now known as the PACE, for Promoting Agriculture and Conservation Education.
All the goats on the 75-acre wooded area are purchased from local county livestock shows. Each semester Bellows and various students go out on the land and teach the pampered goats how to eat leaves from trees, creating a browse line that you can see from the road. This allows grass to grow underneath the trees.
Once a year, cattle are brought in to graze on the PACE. Last semester 120 heifers grazed for 30 days. Bellows explained, “We want a lot of animals on a small space for a very brief period of time. Then we have all the benefits of the animal, including saliva, feces, hair, hooves, to feed the microbes in the soil.”
After the 30 days, the land has a 335-day recovery period for the microbes to do their work. Bellows notes that the PACE was 40% bare soil before this grazing plan started. Now, Bellows challenges anyone to go find a single square foot that isn’t covered by a plant.
The PACE has 47,000 automobiles pass by it every day. According to Bellows, that land is sequestering carbon at an unprecedented rate, taking the carbon emissions from the cars on the interstate and putting it into the ground where it becomes environmentally beneficial.
“I can’t tell you what the future is, and I’m pretty sure that someday there will be houses where those cows graze on that 90 acres,” said Bellows, “and that’s OK! Even if we’re doing a little bit, it’s better than nothing at all.”
Bellows gives presentations and speeches across the country about soil health and sustainable practices, and is a certified educator for Holistic Management International. She organizes various events for NCTC and for the community to promote sustainable agriculture, and she never turns down the opportunity to help anyone who asks.
“Whether you have a backyard garden or even just a flower pot, it’s a part of the world we live in and it’s important,” said Bellows. “When someone asks for help, regardless of how small it seems to them, I know it’s important and I want to try and find answers for them.”
“Lisa lives her life for the betterment of everyone else, whether for their safety, well-being, or for their future,” said Dean of Instruction at NCTC, Sara Flusche. “She has an unceasing desire to help mold and support learners of all ages and backgrounds.”
Aside from her work with these many properties and foundations, Bellows and her husband, Phil, own the 225-acre farm that she grew up on near Saint Jo. The farm has been in her family since 1952 and is her legacy. She said it belongs to her son Lyle, who recently moved back to Gainesville with his wife and two children.
“So often we look at Gainesville and we don’t see the diamond in the rough that it is,” said Bellows. “There are so many wonderful people here. The environment is good and clean. There are opportunities to be outside in places that are safe.”
“In some of the other cities in Cooke County you’ll find a monoculture, but Gainesville has diversity,” said Bellows, “and for a child to grow up in a diverse environment is a gift. I love Gainesville for its diversity.
“I see Gainesville really moving forward and becoming more progressive and I really want to see it hold on to some of its valuable roots,” said Bellows, “and I think the PACE is a little piece of that.”
Bellows serves as the Director of the Thomsen Foundation, Director of the NCTC Josey Institute for Agroecology, Chair of the Science Division at NCTC, and sits on the Advisory Board for the Dixon Water Foundation, “but most importantly,” says Bellows, “I am a teacher.”
Every semester Bellows tells her students, “If I could give you one thing, I would give you the opportunity to have a career that has been as fulfilling as my time at NCTC and working in this community has been for me.”