While traveling across the country for their documentary film about urban agriculture, Growing Cities, Dan and Andrew came across Truck Farms from Portland, OR to Washington, D.C. From the first sight, they knew they wanted to start a Truck Farm in their hometown of Omaha, NE.
Truck Farm Omaha is an edible education project focused on teaching area youth how-to grow food in the city and to recognize the environmental, social, and health benefits involved in urban farming. Currently, TFO is the only education program offering food and sustainable agriculture education for youth in the area.
With some local funding including the Mayor of Omaha, Jim Suttle, Dan and Andrew were able to bring Chelsea into the project to purchase and plant Truck Farm Omaha. Watch a video of the initial construction here.
Truck Farm Omaha taps into the potential of urban youth by engaging them in growing food and paving the way for a new generation of healthy eaters, educated consumers and sustainable farmers. The project impact students by bringing the mobile mini-farm directly into the classroom. TFO makes food production more accessible to inner-city youth and introduces them to sustainable farming, healthy foods, and plant science in a fun and hands-on way.
By showing youth that caring for and consuming fruits and vegetables is not only healthy, but also delicious and enjoyable, the team hopes to address the childhood health epidemic at its source. Older students are at an age when they understand choice. They may be able to walk home from school alone and stop at the convenient store for a candy bar. TFO wants them to feel empowered to make healthier food choices and incorporate these choices into a healthy lifestyle. The group’s long-term goal is to be a part of developing a healthier, happier and more sustainable future for our community.
truckfarmomaha.com * Facebook: Truck Farm Omaha * @truckfarmomaha
Eric and Gina Lanik live outside of Ceresco Nebraska on the original homestead of Eric’s Great, Great grandparents Otto and Hulda Johnson and have owned the land continuously since 1892. Today they grow their pastured chicken, natural beef, pastured pork, grass fed lamb, free range eggs and veggies the same way they did then, without chemicals, pesticides, antibiotics, or hormones and we are striving toward holistic management, closed herds and complete sustainability.
Their journey started in 2002 when Eric and Gina acquired the farm and went to work cleaning it up. They got a few goats and started a CSA garden, the goats proved difficult to keep in as goat normally are so they moved to sheep and a couple of calves to butcher for themselves and family. Their original goal was to help their two children grow up with farming values of nurturing, hard work, a sense of independence and ownership as well as a tie to the land and community. They produced their own good quality food and enough extra to pay for their trouble. People liked the beef so much more than they could get in the store that they started expanding slowly adding chickens then pigs and dropping the vegetable CSA. They found that their passion was in livestock in every aspect from breeding to finishing.
Johnson Hill Farm’s pastured pork is a purebred heritage breed hog called Hereford, it is called that due to its red white markings which are similar to the cow of the same name. It is a recovering breed and Johnson Hill is proud to be stewards of this old breed that was developed in Nebraska and Iowa. It is a moderate framed pig that finishes with just the right amount fat for what they think is the tastiest pork you will ever eat. This is the perfect pig for their pasture based system. They are hardier and more docile and are the most raved about item on the farm. “Even our butcher bought a bred gilt from us because he liked the way they cut so much, we think that was the ultimate vote of confidence.”
Their Beef is a composite of Scottish Highlander and Belted Galloway. They are using these breeds to develop their base herd, then will add a Irish Black bull to proceed with the genetic base. They focus on moderate frame, easy calving, early maturity, easy fleshing, and longevity. While the farm still currently uses grain to finish for 90 days, these cattle are the kind that finish excellent on grass. Eric has attended several seminars on rotational and high stock density grazing and is focused on improving grazing lands and increasing carrying capacity, because as one of his favorite authors Wendell Berry says, it’s not about what you can take from the land but how much can it produce dependably for an indefinite time.
The Lanik’s raise broilers in the Salatin method, in tractors with daily moves on grass and fresh air. They still have heritage Blue Swedish ducks for self-consumption, and heritage chickens for eggs but have stopped selling eggs and vegetables to the public. Johnson Hill Farm will offer meat shares in a CSA model for 2013 to include beef, pork, chicken, and lamb. Their goal is to offer concerned families an affordable opportunity to buy local meats that are raised with care and with sustainable practices, all the while supporting their farm family. You can contact them through their website at www.johnsonhillfarm.com, email firstname.lastname@example.org or find them on Facebook.
Goat Song Farm is an integrated livestock farm that sits on only slightly more than 1 acre of land, but the centerpiece to everything is the dairy. I run a raw milk herdshare program with both dairy cows and dairy goats, and while I have been doing this with the goats for 3 years, this will be my first full year with cows. My herd numbers this year are currently nine goats that will be milking, and at the moment I have one Jersey cow, one Jersey/Guernsey heifer, and the hope of acquiring one more milking cow by summertime.
To some, it may sound like madness to have this many animals on roughly 1 acre of pasture; the secret to success though, is intensive rotational grazing. And while I can make no claim to be an expert on doing this, it has worked so far, and I think this year will be the ultimate test. I currently have 20-25 herdshare members, and hope to increase to 40-50 before the year is over.
I started dairying six years ago, just providing raw milk for my family. Dairying quickly became a passion, and in 2011 I began offering raw goat milk to local consumers. The learning curve has been steep, but the joy of doing this has kept me going and made me want to take the next step in adding cows. In 2012 I became a member of the Oregon Raw Milk Producers Association, and am working on not only building a proper, Grade A dairy parlor, but also beginning to test my raw milk on a monthly basis, and striving to produce the cleanest, healthiest raw milk for people.
In 2012 I had the rare opportunity to visit Joel Salatin’s extremely well known Polyface Farm, and stayed with the Salatin family for four days, experiencing a crash course in how they run their enormously successful farm. My knowledge learned from that trip has fueled a fire in me to farm in a way that heals my land, my animals, and my customers, and I will be heavily implementing many of Joel’s methods on my farm this year to benefit the dairy operation.
Some 2013 goals this year are building the dairy parlor, acquiring a third cow, re-mineralizing the pastures in an organic manner, rotating the grazing grounds in the most intensive manner yet, and I suppose “trying to stay sane” might be considered a goal, seeing as I run the farm by myself… At any rate, it should be a grand year filled with adventures.
You can read more about my farm by visiting my website at: http://goatsongfarm.weebly.com/index.html
It’s the height of conference season, and I was delighted to travel this week to Oregon for the Organicology Conference, a three-day gathering of folks from all across the organic food chain in Portland, OR. The event seeks to bring all stakeholder groups to the table to not only develop skills in their own areas of activity but to gain exposure to the challenges and accomplishments of those in other areas of the organic movement. The great takeaway? There are many different opinions on what organic should look like, but the more united we become, the stronger our movement will be. And without supporting the next generation of organic farmers, the organic movement cannot continue!
Excited to meet the brilliant and innovative young farmers of the beaver state, I rented a car and started touring. I met with Leah and Nellie of Oregon’s FarmON!, a one-year old coalition of young and beginning farmers in the state and a proud affiliate of NYFC. I had a drink with Megan Fehrman of the Rogue Farm Corps which has a beginning farmer training program down in Ashland, OR and Dan Bravin from the Beginning Urban Farmer Apprenticeship (BUFA.) BUFA is a partnership between Multnomah County and Oregon State University (OSU) Extension Service and trains 20 urban farmers each year.
Rowan Steele, who co-owns Fiddlehead Farm with his wife Katie Coppoletta, is starting a brand new incubator program- Headwaters Farm Incubator- on land leased by the East Multnomah Soil and Water Conservation District. I joined in for a tour of the land, and was inspired by the excitement of the potential incubatees.
Danny Percich and his 16-month old daughter Ramona showed me around Full Plate Farm, their Winter CSA farm 30 min. north of Portland in Ridgefield, Wa. I was thrilled to eat delicious, fresh carrots in February. Danny is hoping to expand his operation by renting parcels of neighbors’ land.
Evan and Rachel of Boondockers Farm in Beavercreek, OR are pioneers in breeding rare heritage poultry. The breeds they focus on raising are listed as critically endangered by the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy. The couple told me about how conventional hatcheries often kill male babies when they’re not needed. They believe anyone raising pasture-based birds shouldn’t ignore the inhumane practices of the commercial hatchery! They also grow and sell heirloom seeds, breed heritage turkeys, and raise Great Pyrenees dogs to protect their flocks.
My last stop was Lonesome Whistle Farm down in Junction City, OR where Jeff and Kasey are working to preserve and promote rare and unique dry bean and grain varieties through a bean and grain CSA. Starting out as veggie farmers, Jeff and Kasey quickly taught themselves bean and grain growing, and are happy to be producing quality product not easily found locally. They grow: Dakota Black Popcorn, Red Fife Wheat Flour, Purple Harless Barley, Emmer Berries, a diverse array of heirloom beans, polenta, and more!
Farmers in Oregon are busy fighting plantings of Roundup Ready GM Canola in the Willamette Valley which threatens its lively organic seed industry. And GM sugarbeets are grown just up the road from Lonesome Whistle Farm. There’s certainly plenty to organize around here, but the state’s supportive policies and markets for local food make Oregon a great place to be a young farmer.
Mike and Rita Brhel’s just over five acres might be small in size but it’s big in dreams. Firefly Meadows features a farm-fresh chicken and duck egg business, a pasture-based sheep operation, and a vegetable garden with spring, summer, and fall plantings. There are plans to add meat goats, pigeons, and an orchard.
Both Mike and Rita grew up on farms – Mike on a diversified livestock and crop operation southwest of Lincoln, NE, and Rita on a sheep ranch south of Hastings, NE. Mike was involved in FFA. Rita was also active in 4-H and FFA, expanding the ranch’s enterprises to poultry and beef cattle. Mike and Rita met in college at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln where they both earned Bachelor of Science degrees in the agricultural sciences. While in college, Rita completed a two-year internship with the North Central Region SARE program, where she was introduced to sustainable agriculture. After graduating, Mike and Rita moved to Northeast Nebraska where they became involved in the Northeast Nebraska RC&D Council’s rural development efforts. Rita worked as a farm journalist, further studying differences between conventional and sustainable farming methods. When the couple began having children, they decided to move back to South Central Nebraska. It took eight years for Mike and Rita to find the property on the edge of Fairfield, NE, but only days to decide to buy it. They moved in on Halloween of 2009.
The property was fitted for horses, so it took some work to convert fencing and facilities for small livestock. Mike and Rita started with a small flock of sheep, laying hens, and a few dairy goats. The goat herd was sold to ease pressure on the droughty pastures. The pasture is managed with a rotational grazing system. The goal is to graze livestock year-round with minimal grain and purchased hay. The hens and ducks are free range and fed vegetable scraps from the kitchen. In addition to eggs, the poultry provide excellent bug control. Mike’s passion is in gardening where he uses organic principles and grows heritage varieties.
The goal is for the farm to pay for itself in food as well as provide a country lifestyle for the family. Mike works off-farm building houses. Rita works mostly from home as a parenting magazine editor and part-time at a local clinic as a breastfeeding counselor, allowing her to watch the farm during the day and be a stay-at-home mom to their three kids.
Mike and Rita are passionate about their sustainable lifestyle. Rita serves on the Board of Directors for the Nebraska Sustainable Agricultural Society and helps with the organization’s bimonthly newsletter. They have extended their sustainable philosophy from farming into other areas of life through such practices as Attachment Parenting, frugal living, and eating whole foods.
The name of the farm, Firefly Meadows, comes from the early summertime evenings when millions of fireflies light up the grass pasture – it is the most brilliant display of fireflies from the back porch swing.
Eleanor Kane and Theodore Wiegand are finishing up their successful first season on Brasen Hill Farm, a 21-acre diversified farm in Dudley, Ma, where they raise lambs, goats, chicken, pigs, ducks and most importantly this thanksgiving, 51 beautiful turkeys. Bourbon reds, Broad-Breasted Bronze, and Great Whites make up their flock, though Eleanor says next year they plan to raise 100% heritage breeds.
Eleanor and Theo are ideologically committed to transitioning to heritage breeds, as keeping these breeds in production helps to maintain their popularity. “The Bourbon Reds are smarter, and there’s a bigger market for them,” she explains. “It’s a more pleasant experience on a small farm. They do really well on pasture.” Plus, Eleanor says people really get excited when you tell them you’re doing heritage turkeys.
Theo’s agricultural roots run deep– he grew up on a thousand acre wheat farm, whereas Eleanor more recently decided to pursue farming to get more involved in the food system and her community through farming. After the pair completed the yearlong Practical Farm Training Program at the Farm School in Orange, Ma they found land to lease from an old dairy farm.
Of course there are some challenges. The Bourbon Reds didn’t get as big as the pair hoped. The birds are not as aggressive of foragers, so Eleanor and Theo needed to separate out the breed to make sure they got enough to eat.
Since Brasen Hill doesn’t yet have an established customer base, many orders came in for turkeys very late. Even though they began taking orders in May, they are still adding to a waiting list! Luckily, Eleanor and Theo are tapping into a relatively new market. Many community members interested in this kind of product have been driving far to get it. Brasen Hill now offers conveniently located, top quality, pasture-raised meat. This thanksgiving, that’s 51 thankful families.
I thought it might interest you to hear about what my friends and I, young farmers all, are doing here to revive my family farm in Brookfield, New Hampshire.
I am Andrew Weeks, I was born in North Conway, and spent most of my summers on my grandparent’s farm in Brookfield, NH. I initiated the move to Brookfield after my father passed away unexpectedly in 2010 and, with the state of affairs my family’s finances were in caused in no small part because of the economic downturn, I saw my family’s farm at risk of deteriorating or worse, becoming sold off. I saw this as the perfect, and necessary, chance to turn around the fate of the farm and do what I could to halt the spiral of disappearing small farms, as well as youth, from New Hampshire.
As the 10th generation of my family living here in New Hampshire, I’d like to focus on the farm my grandfather started, in the town my ancestors founded. Hopefully, longevity will sprout success!
We are two couples, with the medium age of 26 between the four of us, that broke ground only in March and now have over 160 varieties of vegetables, two bee hives, and 31 free range chickens and ducks. It’s been hard. Really hard without a tractor. But with the help of a nearby octogenarian with a tractor, and work exchange with neighbors, we now have a farm stand up beside the road that commonly sells out and we hope to have our first classes this fall. You can find us on facebook here.
We are young farmers setting out to keep farming alive and new and vibrant and appealing to other young people. Knowing something of how hard it is to start up a small farm (I have experience running a CSA elsewhere and on these fields growing up) we are making a twist on the normal farming framework: We are hoping to build and run a farm that is also a school. We hope to start programming focused on farming as well as sustainable building practices and the arts using experienced based learning methods. But, for now, one step at a time. We are still struggling to make our market garden in the green for next year.
I believe that young people reinvesting in New Hampshire’s food economy are crucially important at this juncture, and with a little help and support, we can be successful. In our experience, there has been an amazingly positive response, and surprise, from the community here. (Only 5.5% of the town’s population is between the ages of 18 and 24 and you would be hard pressed to find many people between the ages of 19 and 40!) While we may have surprised the town with moving here and planting our feet by starting a business, but we have been equally surprised by the response. Neighbors are always dropping by with gifts and words of encouragement. Those words have meant the most to us. And it’s given me the message that this is the kind of community reinvestment that New Hampshire really needs. People are literally asking for it!
To save this farm we need a boost. Some of the infrastructure is in good shape, but other necessary improvements need to be made before we can make this a success. There is no electricity or water on the barn and field side of the property, these have to be run across the road, the 200 year old wood-shop out-building needs it’s foundation replaced before eminent collapse (we are going to transform the wood-shop into an artist residency!), and we need a four season greenhouse so we can grow and teach year round. To get that financial boost we created this Kickstarter campaign.
We are very excited that we made the front page of New Hampshire’s biggest newspaper on Friday, the Union Leader! It’s a start but we still need help getting the word out about our Kickstarter fundraiser. Posting on facebook news-feeds and sending to emails lists is the best way to help. If you like what you see, tell your friends, strangers, family, co-workers, ex-lovers, and bitter enemies alike!
How can we make investment in rural New Hampshire cool, and economically feasible again, for young people? I think this is one step in the right direction and I’d really like to share.
Thank you so much! And I hope to hear from you soon!
Andrew Weeks, Coleraine Farm
Brookfield, New Hampshire
Thirty-eight miles from the Arizona/Sonora border lies a fourth-generation ranch managed by two young ranchers, Sarah and Joe King. The ranch spreads over 55,000 acres of private and state land, rising up over the Baboquivari Mountains. Sarah and Joe raise 450 head of grass-fed cattle to sell at auction, slaughtering only a few due to the lack of local processing options.
Ranching in the borderlands, with little forage and water, is no easy task. Sarah and Joe have unique struggles and impressive triumphs.
Located just an arm’s stretch from the border between Mexico and the United States, Sarah and Joe navigate and cultivate a host of relationships with U.S. Border Patrol and migrants. This reality, for the most part, is unheard of and unknown to suburban neighborhoods in nearby towns and cities.
Many border-crossers begin their journey in Nogales, Mexico, either alone, in groups or in a group led by a coyote. Migrants are often told that they won’t need much food, water or special clothing because they’ll arrive in Phoenix, Arizona (the capital) three days after they begin their journey. But that journey is more than 180 miles. While a person may be able to walk 10 or 20 miles in a day, depending on age and ability, this terrain includes the steep mountain crags in the Baboquivari’s. According to Sarah, climbing five miles in a given day over the mountains would be a reasonable estimation. A few months ago, one woman crossing the border arrived at the K.A. Ranch wearing stiletto shoes; her son was barefoot.
Sarah sees border-crossers approximately twice a month, but sometimes more frequently. By the time migrants arrive at the King’s Anvil Ranch, they’ve often run out of water and food and suffer from heat exhaustion. These conditions by themselves are enough to induce desperation or belligerence in an otherwise non-violent person. Last year, Joe came across a dead man. But not all border-crossers are seeking a new life in the States. Sarah and Joe also live in a drug-smuggling corridor.
Ranching on the border grows more complicated still. Migrant trails result in changes to geomorphology: Water flow is altered, increasing run-off and erosion. Furthermore, border-crossers leave trash in their wake. A few miles from the King’s Anvil Ranch there is a trash pile as big as a house. And because migrants primarily eat packaged or tin foods with long shelf lives, this trash becomes problematic for cattle, too. For instance, if a cow steps on a tuna can, its skin will literally grow around the can and become infected.
Finally, Sarah and Joe understand the necessity of having a working relationship with the United States Border Patrol, which includes sharing with them the importance of ranch etiquette, such as closing fences so the cattle don’t escape to another pasture. The Border Patrol’s new ranch liaison has been a huge help to Sarah and Joe.
But despite these hardships and challenges, the King family has worked this land for generations. Nestled in the heart of the Altar Valley, this ecosystem is host to some of the most biologically rich and ecologically threatened biotic communities in the entire world. Sarah and Joe ranch side-by-side with other, multi-generation ranches that, apart from the Tohono O’odham Nation to the west, make up the largest unfragmented watershed in Pima County. These families have come together in the last 17 years to form a collaborative group called the Altar Valley Conservation Alliance. Along with other organizations and citizens, the Alliance enhances the watershed through science and restoration projects.
Even before the Alliance came into existence, the King family was actively working their landscape to restore the land and maintain its longevity for generations to come. Joe’s grandfather started working with the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) back in the 1950s. The King family planted crops for livestock forage and erosion prevention. They removed invasive mesquites that deprived native grasses of sunlight and necessary moisture. They implemented cross-fencing and pasture rotation. Some pastures lacked water, so they built water infrastructure–pipelines to wells and aquifers–so that animals didn’t need to walk the long distances to rehydrate. With increased water access across the ranch, cattle could move seasonally, giving pastures a chance to rest (reducing soil compaction and erosion) and regenerate.
Today Sarah and Joe look out across their landscape and study what native grasses are blooming. They do NRCS monitoring at different sites. They’ve reintroduced fires. They’re using solar technology to pump water. Earlier this year they hosted a watershed restoration project, inviting Bill Zeedyk and Steve Carson to install rock structures that harvest upland rainwater to reestablish vegetation and prevent erosion. The Border Patrol came out to help, too.
In the coming months, Sarah and Joe will begin to prepare for Fall Round Up. They’ll wean mama cows in pens by the big hay barn and sell calves at auction, on the internet or to private buyers. They’ll navigate with and around Border Patrol in one of the most active border-crossing corridors in the United States. They will put the cows out with the bulls in the lower pasture and herd on horseback to the road and fence lines. Sarah and Joe will look for ways to reduce erosion and watch for blooms of native grasses.
Tell me a little bit about your farm.
The operational story of Diamond Hills Farm could fit on the back of a napkin as it has only been a physical entity for about a month. The real story of the farm lies in its conception and realization in the hearts and minds of the farmers Lori and Jason. The idea for the farm was conceived on camping trip to in Brooklyn, New York (Yes, there is one campsite in Brooklyn.) This annual vacation served as family reunion for members of a multi-city bicycle club. Over beers with friends our conversation turned to the fact that we were both tired of our work, our lives, our situation and towards the dream that we could have all that we wanted from the land for ourselves and for our families. We quickly realized that we were both looking for something that provided new challenges, while at the same time giving back to the those around us. Inherently dynamic, innovative, and integral to communities, farming seemed like the perfect ﬁt.
Looking back, our nascent plans sound ridiculous. Lori wanted a ﬁber farm, I wanted to farm vegetables like my Polish grandparents, but as we did our research and began to loosen our grips on our former lives, we realized that we couldnʼt plan the farm as much as the farm would plan for us. In addition to not knowing what to farm, we didnʼt know how to farm. After our brief vacation we both began seriously researching farming and I began the process of securing a succession of strange and wonderful apprenticeships. Around the same, time Lori was relocated by her employer to Hudson, New York and the search for land began.
We were very fortunate in that it only took six months for us to secure 80 acres of fenced pasture with a ten year lease in Claverack, New York. The land was a partnership between the land owners and a previous farmer tenant who, because of personal reasons, had decided to stop farming the land. This winter, I quit my job of eight years and moved to Hudson. Now every morning, after feeding and listening to the chickens gossip, I start out my day with a long walk to the back forty to speak with the pigs and to dream and listen to what the land wants to be.
What difﬁculties have you had, or are you overcoming, and how?
Honestly, we are so new to the game that everyday is exciting and fun, no matter how difﬁcult or trying it may be. We encounter problems and have to make difﬁcult decisions just like any other business, but for us getting to this stage was the real struggle. Early on we began to focus on livestock farming. We found ourselves drawn to the added challenges that caring for and learning from what other critters offered. I did my apprenticeships with farmers who were practicing unconventional farming in Virginia. Since the move to New York we have struggled to meet like minded farmers who are farming on the scale that we aspire to, while still practicing holistic management practices. It can be intimidating to be the new guy at the farm store or auction explaining to a bunch of old school dudes how we only plan to feed our cattle grass and refuse to ween our cattle at two weeks. As of recently we have been meeting more and more farmers that are practicing similar techniques. The possibility of integrating into a like-minded farming community is really exciting and the potential for assistance and guidance is already apparent.
What are your goals in the next 5-10 years?
We want to grow healthy humanly-raised plants and animals. We also realize that we are growing a business and would like to be able to make our living farming full time. At the moment I am on the farm full time while Lori is still working forty-hour weeks at her job. We want to develop healthy and diverse breeding stock that compliments our space in the hopes of providing others with stock. From the beginning we decided to include education in our plan. A portion of our mission statement addresses providing unique and functional educational opportunities for people of all ages and backgrounds, and to grow a family of resources with other farmers and consumers. Although these goals are important, the longer term goals are not the ones that keep me up at night. Today my goals include ﬁnishing the rabbit pens, moving the pigs to start tilling out our new garden, keeping the chickens off the top of the hover, and planning the corral.
How (if at all) do you see your work as a farmer ﬁtting into the larger movement for social change from the ground up?
As a necessity, and a commodity, food has sweeping effects on many different parts of society, the economy, and the environment. Careful consideration of its production and impact is required to ensure the planetʼs well being. It is no longer about feeding the most people but how to get the people to feed themselves. The pendulum has swung back and we are realizing that we, as a global entity, need to be more responsible for our food production and less reliant on large scale and chemical driven farming. There are many ways that we as farmers can effect social change. We get to set a clear example through the operation of our farm. Speaking honestly and respectfully with people who do not share your views or philosophies can go a long way in opening up a dialogue and making friends. Hosting and attending educational events can provide information for others that would not normally be accessible to them. Basically, we work from the ground up by working in the ground, not being afraid to be ourselves, and respecting all the creatures we encounter on a daily basis.
The hot July sun beats down on me as I stand on a park trail, just outside of Oakland, CA. Before me, hundreds of sheep and goats graze and chew at tall grasses and shrubs. Occasionally they pause to scratch themselves with their horns, twitch a fly from their coats, or stare quizzically at me. Beside me, their human guide sends out commands to a border collie named Becky. “That’ll do Becky!,” she yells out in praise, standing confidently in front of her herd. Meet Cole Bush, a modern day shepherdess and project manager at Star Creek Co. Land Stewards.
One might wonder, as I did, how somebody becomes a modern-day shepherdess. Bush’s story begins with her self-directed education. After studying in community college and traveling abroad to Mexico and Africa, Bush enrolled at UC Santa Cruz as a transfer student. There, she designed her own major under the guidance of three professors. Like many students compelled by the environmental impacts of agriculture, Bush incorporated sustainable development, environmental studies, agroecology, and the study of ancient civilizations and how they designed their built environments and produced food to feed their populations. Graduating with a B.A. in “Sustainable Development and Community Design” was a stepping stone for Bush to enter into a greater community of young farmers and ranchers.
Bush faced challenges that are typical for recent college grads. Yet, that did not distract her from pursuing a career as a young agrarian. “You have to be willing to break the common mold—graduate college, get an entry level position or internship, then maybe go back to school, “ she explains. “For me what worked was following doors that were opening because I was pursuing a lifestyle, and not a career.” In order to accomplish this, Bush sought a supportive community which she attributes to her LDS upbringing. Like her community had raised her as a child, she now needed a village to stand behind her dreams of being an active and involved contributor to the young farmer movement.
And a village is what she found. Bush moved to Trout Gulch, a community of young film makers, farmers, and do-it-yourselfers experimenting in sustainable lifestyle practices (and all the while having a lot of fun). During her 5-year stay, Cole’s interest in ranching began after taking a permaculture class. When a friend and mentor informed her of a potential to get involved in the documentation of grazing at Star Creek Ranch in the Santa Cruz Mountains, Bush still had six more months before gradation from UCSC. Despite her commitments as a student, she realized the opportunity could not be passed.
Today, Bush describes her position as manager and shepherdess as a “goat ambassador.” Fire captains, park supervisors and rangers, Star Creeks’ operations manager and Peruvian herders and the public all call upon Bush to communicate about the herd. Star Creek Ranch animals main purpose is to graze and consume vegetation as a land management practice—in the East Bay Parks District, this prevents forest fires and the overgrowth of undesirable or invasive plant species. Alongside her beloved co-herders, Bush is also responsible for caring for the herds while on-site, as well as organizing the transportation of the animals to and from site. This is no simple task. Goats are loaded onto double-trailer semi rigs, which carry up to 400 animals at a time. While the goats are grazing, Bush’s schedule revolves around the goats’ needs. This is her favorite part. “Time seems to change. It reminds me to take life slowly and be happy.”
Bush’s intention as Star Creek shepherdess is to help create a relationship between people in the city and their natural environments, and to exemplify a replicable model of healthy land management. When passer-by check out the grazing herds, Bush believes they leave a different impression on people.
For young people interested in pursuing careers as agrarians, Bush prescribes patience, diligence, and believing in your own potential to accomplish new strides as an individual within the movement. She assures that the young agrarian community is like one big family, and there will be help along the way. And, she stresses, this is more than just a career. “Being a young agrarian isn’t just about creating the most epic job,” she urges, with her eyes shining. “It’s about creating the most epic lifestyle.” With Bush’s enthusiasm for the whole package it all seems quite epic, indeed.
For more information, visit:
Cole’s online portfolio: http://brittanycolebush.weebly.com/
Star Creek Ranch: http://starcreekranch.weebly.com/
Trout Gulch Farm: http://troutgulchfarm.com/about/