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/