Blackfoot Phenology for Farmers

Posted by Alex on July 16, 2021

Blackfoot Phenology for Farmers
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This course is currently closed

This course is no longer being offered through Young Agrarians. If you would like to take the course please contact the instructor, Ryan First Diver, directly through his Patreon or Facebook accounts. 

You can read about participant’s observations from a full year of Blackfoot Phenology on our blog:

You can also read one farmer’s 35 years of incredible observations of the local ecology and the impacts of his farming practices.


Do you find yourself often getting distracted in the field looking at insects? Do you crane your neck out the window to catch a glimpse of a hawk overhead? Do you wonder how it is that squirrels survive the harsh winter? Do you love the taste of sun-warmed saskatoons? Then you’ve found yourself in the right place!

Ecological and regenerative farmers and food growers are intimately connected to the land they tend and they strive to understand and learn from the ecological relationships and cycles that surround them. This is uniquely localized knowledge that requires keen observation skills. But ecological observation skills are rarely taught to farmers, or anyone else these days for that matter!

Blackfoot Phenology for Farmers is a year-long course designed to help aspiring, new, and experienced farmers and food lovers to observe and learn from their local ecologies. Developed and taught by Beaver Bundle holder Ryan First Diver of the Kainai Nation, the course will provide you with foundational knowledge of Blackfoot understandings and ways of relating to diverse plants and animals throughout the seasons. Through this, you will develop observation skills and gain insights into ways of partnering with ecological relationships and cycles that support the needs of the land. The course will also explore questions of ways in which farmers can become better Treaty Land or Unceded Land Inhabitants. Blackfoot Phenology for Farmers is open to anyone, in any place, who wishes to learn through observation and to engage more intentionally with their local ecology.

“We’re going to learn a lot. You’re going to learn to recognize hundreds of species, you’re going to understand some of their relationships with each other and their relationships with us. You’re going to engage with these places more as a human being than you ever before. It’s going to be good. If you stick with it for the year I guarantee you’re going to be a changed person. You’re going to see with different eyes.”
– Ryan First Diver

Hear more from Ryan about Blackfoot Phenology by watching the Orientation video


The core premise of Blackfoot Phenology is that the plants and animals around you are your “elders and teachers” that you can learn from through observation and interaction. To participate in the course, you will need to choose a study site (ideally close to where you farm or eat food) and visit that site every few days throughout an entire year. Each time you visit you are to make observations of what the plants and animals are doing and teaching you. You are asked to share these observations with the rest of the students in the course. 

“I want you to select one place and visit that place again, and again, and again, and again, for the whole year. And you’ll be conducting real research there.”
– Ryan First Diver

Ryan will also share traditional Blackfoot knowledge of ecological events that are expected to happen in each lunar cycle of the year, and how these events relate to Blackfoot ways of life. These lectures will include plant and animal identification as well as important relational concepts that are crucial to engaging well with nature. As Ryan says, “You will gain…a better understanding of how a knowledge tradition and a way of life is linked Indigenously to the ecology of a certain place”.

Blackfoot Phenology includes the following components:

Video lectures

  • Each month Ryan has a video lecture that will be available for you to watch. These lectures include Blackfoot knowledge on what is supposed to happen during that part of the year, species identification, and Blackfoot relational concepts.

Site visits

  • Visit a site of your choice every 3 or 4 days for 2–3 hours at a time. These site visits are the core of the course and are an important way to apply the knowledge shared in Ryan’s lectures. You will observe what is happening at that time of the year, identify the plants and animals in your local ecology, and practice relating well with your site. 
  • Your site should be somewhere that you can easily visit. Choose an area of your farm or neighbourhood that you’re drawn to.

Recording and sharing observations

  • During your site visits you will record your observations of what is happening with the plants and animals. Most people do this by taking photos but any sort of recording medium that suits you best is good. If possible, you’ll then share these observations with the other students in the “Phenological Engagement” Facebook group.

Online gatherings

  • At the end of each lunar cycle (new moon) we will have an online gathering where everyone has a chance to share major findings and insights from that month. These gatherings are casual and an amazing opportunity to learn more about what is happening across ecologies.
  • Our first gathering will be on Wednesday, October 6th at 7pm MT (6pm PT, 8pm CT) to welcome everyone.
  • Tentative dates for the other gatherings are: Wed, Nov 3; Mon, Dec 6; Mon, Jan 3; Mon, Jan 31; Wed, Mar 2; Wed, Mar 30; Mon, May 2; Mon, May 30; Mon, Jun 27; Wed, Jul 27; Mon, Aug 29

Reflection piece

  • At the end of the course we’d like to compile and share all the incredible learnings from our community. We ask that at the end of the course you write (or video or draw or anything!) a piece about what you’ve learned about your local ecology.

“Once you have a year of this experience, you’re going to see the world in a whole new light. You’re going to look around you and instead of just seeing nameless plants around you or maybe not even observing them at all, you’re going to see the prickly rose, you’re going to see the balsam poplar sapling, you’re going to see the golden rod, you’re going to see the liquorice fern, you’re going to see all these different things”
– Ryan First Diver


Ryan First Diver is an Iiyaohkiimi (Beaver Bundle holder) in the Blackfoot tradition. He is the former Director of Kainai Studies at Red Crow Community College and creator of the Blackfoot Phenology course. He mitigates human-rattlesnake encounters in the city of Lethbridge, Alberta, where he is also frequently called to relocate small mammals and assist all varieties of injured wildlife. 

For the Blackfoot Phenology course, Ryan says, “I have a couple of different jobs. I am a guide. As you visit your places and share your field notes in whatever form they may take I can help guide you in your quest to become more closely related to those places, more closely applied to them as a human being. I can be that guide. I can help you formulate questions, research. I can help you develop that research, that learning. But I can also share what I know, from what I’ve learned. I can share how each of the animals and plants in my region relate to what we know as Kipaitapiiyssinnooni, or Blackfoot way of life. I can share that. I can share what I know about the mainstream about what I know about these plants and animals. I can help introduce you to these species.” 


Blackfoot Phenology is an immersive course. You will gain the most from this experience if you are excited to…

  • Learn about your local ecology and species identification
  • Improve your observation skills
  • Explore how you can farm or live in better partnership with ecological relationships and cycles
  • Learn about Blackfoot ways of knowing and relating to the world
  • Regularly visit your site and share your observations and insights


The course is open to everyone and there are no prerequisites to participate in this course. We do ask that you commit to a year of observing a site of your choosing and to sharing any learnings with the group for the full year. 

Here are some helpful tools that can support your learning:

  • Computer with reliable internet connection for watching Ryan’s videos, posting your observations, and participating in our monthly online gatherings (via Zoom)
  • Camera or journal for recording your observations 
  • Binoculars 
  • Plant, insect, and/or bird ID books or apps


We love supporting new and young farmers to grow! To make the Blackfoot Phenology course more affordable we are offering a sliding scale payment, which means that you are able to select how much you pay to participate. The suggested sliding scale cost is $125–$250, which is about $10–$20 per month. We base the price range on the cost of running the program (coordination, instructor compensation, facilitation, program development, and online infrastructure). When you register you are able to enter any amount as a registration fee. If you’d like to learn more, please go to “What is sliding scale payment? Why do we use it?”.

If you have any questions and/or you’d like to arrange a payment plan, please contact Alex at


Do I have to be a farmer to participate?
Nope, everyone and anyone is welcome to participate! Whether you are a gardener, food lover, farmer or somewhere in between, there is a lot to learn from your local ecology. 

Does it matter where I live? What if I am moving in the next year?
You are able to participate in the course from anywhere – rural, urban, coast-to-coast-to coast and everywhere in between! Site visits are supposed to be somewhere close to where you live and the course content and gatherings will all be online. If you are moving within the year that is okay too. You may need to put in more work to learn to identify species in two locations but the practice of phenological studies is valuable in and of itself. 

Why do participants record their observations and share them online?
Recording and sharing observations is part of the learning process. Recording observations allows you to retain more information and to have a record of what you have seen – this is helpful for comparing between years and reminding yourself of what things look like at different times of year. Sharing observations with other course participants builds community and allows for people to learn from each other. Everyone will be recording observations in different areas so sharing these notes allows people to compare and contrast their own observations. 

What if I am not able to visit my site every few days for 2-3 hours?
That is okay, just do your best to visit as close to these recommendations as possible. Ryan suggests visiting every 3-4 days to get the most out of your phenological studies but you can still learn a lot if you visit less often or for shorter periods. 


Thank you to Alberta Ecotrust Foundation for their support of this program!