I am spending the summer as an intern on a grassed beef ranch on the coast of California. I am not a farmer. My family does not own land, nor are they ranchers or cattlemen. I am from suburban Connecticut …yet here I am standing in a herd of Herefords-black Angus crosses watching a cow birth her second twin. We thought she was done, but she laid back down and shortly thereafter we could see not-so-little hooves making their way into the world. Cows are not very good mothers to twins because of their attention spans. They can only focus on one. I have just learned this, yet I watch momma lick one calf off and as soon as it stands and tries to nurse, turn and tend to the other, getting their smell which is her smell, training both momma and baby that they belong to each other. Whenever one calls the other will answer. I have loved witnessing the herd dynamics. This is a herd of cows and calves and a couple yearlings. It doesn’t take long for the calves to grow rambunctious and brave, exploring new territory and celebrating their new lives, world, and legs. Whenever I see a few-day old calf tearing around like a bat out of hell and kicking up it’s heels I feel like it’s saying “I’ve got leeeeeeegs! Look at me gooooooooooo!”. I also love walking through the herd and finding a calf who is bedded down and curled up in the tall grass, where mom left him or her.
I spent the last 10 years working with horses, the last 5 years reading about healing nutrition and digestion in attempt to balance my own health, and the last 3 years learning about our current food system and sustainable livestock practices on a grassfed beef and dairy ranch in southwest Colorado. As a wrangler at 2 different guest ranches in Colorado I worked with over 100 horses in 4 years, taught horsemanship and riding, and led trails and pack trips into the mountains. I loved what I did but it was very physically demanding and I experienced a health crisis when my immune system and thyroid both crashed. I worked with conventional medicine but found no relief. I saw an herbalist, an acupuncturist and took gluten out of my diet and saw improvement, but it wasn’t until reading a book called the Paleo Cure by Chris Kresser that I actually started to feel like a healthy thriving person again. Chris talks a lot about the evolution of our diets (which has drastically changed in the last 50 years and corresponds to a huge rise in health issues), the chemistry of fats, carbohydrates, and proteins, how food chemistry interacts with our physiology, and how that changes when we have inflammation and a triggered immune system. Chris along with many other experts on healing diets including Weston A. Price, Sally Fallon Morell emphasizes the importance of pastured animal fats (grass-fed meat and dairy) because of a much higher presence of Omega 3 fatty acids than corn fed meat and dairy, their tendency to be lower or free of antibiotic use, and the presence of other wonderful nutrients such as vitamin D (they live in the sunshine) and vitamin A retinol (grass-fed butter is one of the only dietary sources of this vitamin). I will go over the nutrition of grass-fed meats and cheese in much greater detail but for the sake of painting the big picture I will leave it here for now.
In perfect symmetry to learning more about what our biology needs to be healthy and how our food system has changed over the last 50 years was my work at a grass-fed cattle and dairy ranch in Colorado. While I was there I learned the huge difference in practices between industrial agriculture and sustainable livestock raising. Industrial agriculture has a massive carbon footprint and heavy negative environmental impacts such as polluting water ways, generating large amounts of indispensable toxic waste, relying heavily on petroleum and energy in it’s production, exhausting top soil, and utilizing our finite water resources extremely inefficiently. Sustainable and regenerative livestock raising has an opposite and very positive environmental impact. It’s land management strategies through it’s grazing practices build topsoil and restores grasslands with large root systems that not only prevent erosion but holds and more readily absorbs water (as drought conditions increase and water reserves decrease, the efficiency with which we use this resource matters greatly). Grasses with larger root systems sequester carbon out of the atmosphere (wait-as in the greenhouse gas? Yup. So cool.) The presence of pasture instead of bare land reduces surface temperature (kind of a big deal as global warming continues). And there is a beautiful closed free energy loop where sun grows grass, cows eat grass, cows feed humans in an optimal nutrient dense package complete with co-factors (I’ll talk more about this) so humans can get the nutrition provided by the sun and the grass that we cannot directly consume. Wow! Are you seeing some intelligent design and amazing synthesis here?
As I learned about sustainable agricultural practices, factoring in the quality of life and experience of the livestock raised this way, put against the backdrop of what I already had learned about optimal healing nutrition, sprinkled with a very observable effect of creating thriving small businesses, local economies and the communities that go along with them, matched with a system that inherently maximizes water use efficiency and actually builds top soils and replaces soil nutrients, it became clear: It’s all the same solution! There is an amazing intersection here where the answer to building healthy populations, raising animals humanely, reducing carbon footprint of agriculture, sequestering carbon out of the atmosphere, conserving topsoil and water resources, and building healthy, local economies is all the same. I’m so excited to tell you about it and report what is going on to move our current food system to a more sustainable one and the inspiring food producers, non-profits, advocates, conservationists, researchers, policies, and challenges intersecting with our food. This matters to everyone because everyone eats and everyone votes with their dollars. I hope that this will be educational, entertaining, relatable, and a source of connection to everyone who lands on this page.