00:00

Episode 84: Brittany Cole Bush – We’re gonna need a bigger goat

00:00

All Xero Gravity episodes

Hosted by Elizabeth Ü

Brittany Cole Bush is a woman on a mission, revolutionizing the US farming industry, one sheep at a time. When it comes to being sustainable and accessible, the farming industry in the US faces a lot of challenges. But Brittany knows that bringing the next generation of farmers and land stewards together for food and fun is a big part of the solution.

“What does it mean to be organic, what does it mean to be sustainable, what does it mean to be local?” she asks. Brittany wants us to ask those questions. She also rolls up her sleeves to explain how current land management practices are like trying to fight fire with fire – literally.

Listen to Brittany’s stories about why goats love poison oak so much, all the way through to working with organic cow hides in the fashion industry. This is episode #84.

Episode transcript

Host: Elizabeth Ü  [EU]

Guest: Brittany Cole Bush [BCB]

EU: Welcome back to Xero Gravity - I’m Elizabeth U. Before I joined Xero, I spent a long time working in the sustainable agriculture space - I’m talking 12 years supporting farmers and small food businesses as they addressed problems including soil erosion, public health epidemics, consolidation of land ownership, and the list goes on… especially in the United States, there’s a LOT of work to do to bring a runaway food system back to a point where it focuses on getting healthy food onto all families’ tables, enhances - rather than degrades the environment, and And don’t we want to build wealth for a diverse ecosystem of small businesses rather than concentrating wealth in the coffers of a few enormous corporations.

Our guest Brittany Cole Bush is a bright spark when it comes to solving problems in US agriculture. She calls herself a “modern-day, urban shepherdess” - but don’t let that title fool you: she’s on a mission to inspire the next generation of people who will produce our food, and steward our landscapes. She’s got some great stories to share - from fielding questions at craft fairs like “how do you get the fur on the leather?” and why it’s so important to ask where your food comes from. I am thrilled to present Brittany Cole Bush.

BCB: Well, agriculture in the United States is definitely centralised and become more industrialised, which is really depleting the population of family farms.

EU: What does that mean centralised, like it's all coming from one place or-

BCB: Yeah, generally, depending on the crop, you'll find large sections of the United States that are dedicated to the production of one crop. So for example Iowa, the state of Iowa is really heavily based in production of corn and that's not just corn for food but corn for ethanol. You also have soybeans. You have this big swaths of land that are just one crop, one cash commodity crop.

Family farms in the past were used to this amazing diverse polycultures of all kinds of produce and you see less of that as Big Ag has really taken over the, production of food and in answering to, global demand in what we export in food, as well as our growing population in the United States.

EU: And so what's Big Ag? I mean I'm imagining this beautiful pastoral scene of a lot of small farms with people growing food that they need and food for their communities, but clearly that's not the case anymore. But what actually is Big Ag and how that that take over?

BCB: My understanding in how I define Big Ag is large corporations that function to produce as much crop as possible in industrialised factory type of way. How would you define Big Ag?

EU: Yeah, no, I mean I think this is a really fascinating conversation in a somebody that's spent quite a few years in the whole sustainable Ag movement or in looking at different ways that we can kind of go back to an agricultural situation and is more about feeding people, and feeding communities, and feeding our neighbours as opposed to feeding people across the globe.

You know for me Big Ag has a lot to do with the fact that so few people actually own their farms anymore. Like it's really about ownership.

So if we've got large multinational corporations that are buying up what were formerly family farms, and instead of having again like you called it a polyculture of different food crops that we can process locally and instead growing this massive commodity crops like, you know, acres and acres of soybeans, corn, other crops like that that are not even feeding people and maybe they're getting turned into corn syrup that is contributing to like unhealthy food for all of us.

But they're feeding cars in a form of ethanol, or they're feeding cattle another livestock, or they're going to international exports, or they're just going into grain silos because we have too much of it and they wanna keep the prices down. I mean this is part of what I think of terms of the, the Big Ag or more industrial Ag situation.

But to me, it's also ... You used the word factory when we're looking at the different inputs that go in. There's so much pesticides going into this huge crops in the US. And there's so much you know, whether it's roundup or other so many different chemicals that are going in either as fertiliser, or as something to kill the fungus that's growing, or something to kill the weeds and something to kill everything that's not that one crop that you're after.

And this stuff is pretty scary. I mean I don't even wanna get into the whole GMO thing, but this is very, very common in the US and not so much in the rest of the world.

BCB: That's wild to me. It's so wild to me because I feel like there's such a big segregation, separation between, you know, this type of food production and the smaller localised family farm or ranch, which are lessening in numbers all the time, and it's very hard for young ranchers and farmers to come into producing this great, food, in a local way because of what you said land access.

Access to land is nearly impossible. And we have to come up with new and creative ways in the United States to address how we can supply and support, you know. It's not only a sustainable agricultural system but a regenerative one, where we don't just think about how much we can produce, but how do we regenerate things like the soil, improve water function and mineral function. It's one big system and we have to nurture all parts of that and people are part of that.

EU: Yeah, I was just gonna say like part of what's been so inspiring to me about your work and I'd love to hear you talk a little bit more about this, is how you see community as being a part of this whole system.

It's not just about, let's make sure that the water table is clean, let's make sure that we're not poisoning people that are working on the farms or ranchers, let's make sure that, you know, we're making the environment better with everything that we're doing but also how are we bringing people together so that this is exciting work that people want to do and not just this like ball and chain that is bogging you down or putting you into debt.

BCB: Yeah, right. A consumer revolution is needed so people understand how important it is to support, food systems that give back not just to the earth but to our health, the whole community aspect or the social aspect. I think a lot about this especially engaging in an urban area. I think that a lot of this has to do with accessibility.

EU: Accessibility to what?

BCB: Accessibility meaning, well, basic access to good food is one of them. We have these things called food deserts in large cities, all over the United States where there really isn't any access to grocery store that provides produce, where low-income families are bound to just eat processed food in thin-foiled bags or plastic where there's not that much nutrient density in this food.

So when I talk about accessibility, it has to be physically accessible, but then also we have to be able to afford it.

EU: Let's go back to this concept of food deserts, and I know that this is a somewhat controversial term and not everyone loves the term food desert, but it does pain this picture of a rather bleak scene.

And just to further elaborate on that, we're talking about parts of inner cities where you might have a liquor store on every corner or more than one liquor store on every corner and you can get all kinds of unhealthy foods to your heart's content.

And then on the opposite side of that same block, you've got 12 different fast food outlets. So you can buy any number of things that are, let's be clear, very cheap but also entirely unhealthy and, you know, might give you empty calories to get through your day but aren't going to support the kind of brain function that might help lift you out of poverty and then get you into some kind of a place where you're able to create a better life for yourself or your families.

I mean and this is, it's connected to so many different factors and I think that's also, again, why it's so interesting to see a very young person. How old are you?

BCB: I just turned 31 this year.

EU: Happy birthday.

BCB: Thank you.

EU: And so, it's so surprising to see a young person even think of farming as a viable location. I mean so many people that actually grew up on farms in the US have watched their families go bankrupt or their family farms get bought up by these large, you know, Big Ag companies as we were describing earlier.

So, what on earth possessed you to get into this in the first place and to be part of the solution?

BCB: That's a great question. And, a dynamic answer is what I have to bring (laugh). I studied Urban Planning and Sustainable Development in my early years of my education. And so from Urban Planning and Sustainable, Development, I shifted to agroecology, which is basically understanding the ecological process of growing food.

From agroecology, I was introduced to permaculture and-

EU: Well, let's define some of these terms, so what's permaculture?

BCB: (Laugh) Oh, gosh, I love this question.

Permaculture is a decision-making framework that allows for us to take principles that are organic in nature to make the best decisions we can make in building our built environments through mimicking things that work in nature.

EU: Do you think that a lot of people falsely believe that this is still what's happening in farming even in the US? Maybe not, maybe not that exact definition of permaculture, or maybe not the decision-making process but I have this suspicion that a lot of people see the picture on their milk carton and think that their milk is coming from cows that are wandering free in this gorgeous landscapes-

BCB: Mm-hmm (affirmative)

EU: ... and eating grass-

BCB: Mm-hmm (affirmative)

EU: ... and you know mooing at the sun.

BCB: I believe that, unfortunately, a large population of consumers of food (laugh) in the United States have a disconnection to how their food was produced where it came from, what it looked like, what food pro- production once was has really changed drastically since the industrial of revolution, or rather the green revolution, when synthetic pesticides and herbicides were introduced to, American agriculture so-

EU: And I feel like that's one of the most missed named "revolutions" ever, like green revolutions that's awesome don't we want a green revolution like actually no if we're talking about all these pesticides, herbicides, fertilisers, chemicals, chemicals, chemicals (laugh), it's scary.

BCB: Well, just to be clear, I think that what happened in science and agriculture with the advent of these- these chemical inputs was really not to destroy our environment. It was really to try to produce as much food as possible and to make it affordable for most, you know, all people.

Unfortunately, what we've seen over the years is that these inputs have depleted our soils and have depleted the resiliency of our landscapes. And we really do need to reevaluate how we approach, large-scale agriculture, and I don't feel that all, all inputs are bad. I just think that there's a lot of opportunity for us to grow and look at other dynamic natural ways, natural functions to address how we create good food for people.

EU: This intensive way of farming is one of the things that the US is exporting to other countries.

You know I think about how food consumption habits are changing in hugely populous countries like China and especially as their meat consumption is going up like that's where a lot of these like huge monoculture, livestock feed crops, that's where a lot of them are going or a lot of the meat that we're producing in that more kind of factory farmed way, is going to satisfy the needs in China and more and more Chinese companies are buying up those Big Ag companies that used to be owned by people in the United States.

So, I mean, at the same time we see this like small movement of the type of regenerative agriculture, farming and food processing that you're talking about, that' so inspiring. While we're also seeing some of these kind of, again I don't wanna call them outdated, but perhaps maybe not the most beneficial forms of farming are still spreading.

BCB: Right.

EU: So like how do you see this playing out in terms of like who's gonna win if I were to make it be that kind of combative sort of antagonistic (laugh) dynamic?

BCB: Well, I think I would frame that by saying that there is a lot of opportunity (laughing) for innovative approaches that take into consideration the longevity of the resources that we used to create food.

Instead of looking at a doomsday perspective, I think the best way to look at it is, looking at all of the opportunity and there need to be excitement and enthusiasm and food needs to be sexy and eating good food needs to be sexy.

And when I use that word, it's just to answer to a new culture, or a new generation that is so used to social media and marketing in general. You know, a lot of like pop and glitz and it has to be cool, and hot, and fresh.

EU: I keep thinking of this Emma Goldman quote that, "If there's no dancing at the revolution, I'm not coming." 'm sort of imparting that quote-

BCB: Absolutely.

EU: ... but it's got to be fun.

BCB: Yeah.

EU: It's got to be fun. And, well, and speaking of different demographics in having more and more people at the table, how has it been for you as a very young woman travelling around the country and the globe representing kind of this new gutsy, sexy, or fun next generation farming movement?

BCB: Well, thank you very much first of.

You know, I have been incredibly welcomed into a culture that you would imagine being a, you know dominated by middle-aged or later-aged white male with a cowboy hat or something like that. I have been totally embraced because of the enthusiasm and the dedication that I have to, in industry, the sheep industry in particular in the United States that is declined incredibly since World War II.

It's very hard.

EU: Why is that?

BCB: Why is that? Well since-

EU: Yeah, where's it gone?

BCB: Well, World War II, the United States suited every, man in the army in wool, in wool uniforms. Wool was really ... This natural amazing fibre was really to suit up our soldiers. After World War II, synthetics quickly were invented and things started shifting to synthetic fibres.

EU: So basically, we're talking about petrochemicals, plastic?

BCB: Exactly, plastic.

EU: Or dead dinosaurs compressed under the earth's crust into something that we now spend into clothing?

BCB: That's right, that's right. It's a (laugh) petroleum byproduct. And plastics are still alive and strong and growing. But it really has hurt the fibre industry in the United States.

EU: And what do you think the impact is that you're having showing up in the spaces with your fresh face and this bubbling enthusiasm?

BCB: What I'm able to bring is hope. Especially amongst my comrades who are of the similar age who come from multi-generation operations of farms and ranches. And this is because of myriad of reasons. It's got more expensive to produce food and to raise livestock. Our resiliency has really decreased, because-

EU: How does that affect the farm?

BCB: Well, if you don't have healthy soils, it really creates a volatile situation for next generation folks to come come into the family business. Our whole food system has changed since great grandpa and great grandma have operated. So like I said, there isn't [as much 00:16:24] resiliency and the commodity market is quite volatile in the United States.

EU: So you're getting pressure from both sides like not only do you have global weirding causing (laugh) like either flooding or droughts depending on where you are or rainfall at different types rainfall at different times of the season, but then you also have pricing fluctuations.

BCB: Right.

EU: So, you're challenged on the side of actually growing these crops and then selling them. You know, you're not in a position where you get to name the price that you want or the price that you might deserve depending on how much work or inputs you're putting into these crops. You have to just take whatever the market is gonna give you at that moment, which is affected by how much that crop is selling around the world. I mean it's really, it's really a pinch.

BCB: Absolutely and I think you just nailed it there. Depending on those commodity fluctuations in prices, sometimes we have to sell our animals for food, for prices that are less than what it took us to produce it. We can't, we can't do that year after year after year. And we can't pass on, or our forefathers and mothers, can't pass on family operations that will set their children and grandchildren into bankruptcy, they just can't do it.

My comrades who have been in this for a very long time, I think they're excited to see me who, hasn't come from ranching but has entered into it and is dedicated, dedicated my career to figuring out how to make this work.

And coming up with some hairball ideas, I'm just (laughing) some wild ideas and not being afraid, and fortunately, some of my ideas have been received well and I think these stock functions in producing food and fibre is the future of good agriculture not only in the United States but all over the world.

EU: Well let's talk a little bit about some of the techniques that you've been able to pioneer or at least, you know, take on and make work. So, you talked about stock functions, what does that mean and how do you brought that to the ground?

BCB: Stock functions, well, I can look at it in a couple ways. One way is in business. Stock functions in business for me is diversifying as much as possible. So if one aspect of my business is being controlled by an outside impact, then I have these other business aspects that I can lean on.

I work in a couple different ways in my business. So, the first one is what I'm so passionate about which is what I call modern day shepherding. I shepherd animals, people, and projects. And what that looks like is operating sheep and goats for contract grazing. So in the United States, it's very typical that a rancher is producing livestock, lease his land to raise a livestock.

In this particular case, we are actually getting paid to graze our animals to achieve different land stewardship goals.

EU: That means somebody has hired you to graze their land on their ranch in a particular way in order to, as you said, achieve particular goal. So what might those goals be?

BCB: Well, we graze both public and private lands. Public agencies like regional parks districts, state parks, land trust . The big one in California is fire hazard reduction. When-

EU: Ahhh-

BCB: ... fire-

EU: ... especially in such a drought ridden time?

BCB: Absolutely and all over the state and that's one of our largest natural disaster threats is wild fire.

When in spring we grow green and then by summer we're yellow and grey. So we need to actually eradicate all of that fire hazard, fire hazardous vegetation around homes and buildings.

Generally in the past, it's been individuals and hazmat suits with weed whippers and it takes a lot of time. It's brutal work especially on hillsides. So employing sheep and goats to do what they do best, eat and defecate (laughing), we're able to treat hundreds and hundreds of acres in really efficient way and very quickly.

EU: So how are most ... If you say this is a public land management technique, but how are people doing this if not with goats or sheep or other grazing animals?

BCB: Typically, this vegetation has to be hand-removed, so it's either weed whippers folks in hazmat suits, weed whipping hillsides. So they're relying upon fuel-based tools, you know, big mowers and handheld weed whippers is really what we call.

EU: So petrochemicals again.

BCB: Petrochemicals, again, again-

EU: All the gas and diesel, yup.

BCB: So what we do with the sheep and goats in this prescriptive contract grazing is treat all of these vegetation to be reduced before the height of the fire season. And should there be a fire, we've then created amazing defensible space for our firemen and women to go in there and fight the fire in a really effective way because the fuel road of the fires had been reduced.

We also get higher to graze for a number of other really fantastic reasons. One is to reduce invasive species to manage invasive species.

Actually all over California we have this nasty stuff called poison oak that really, really keeps our public from adventuring into the wild and getting closer to nature. It gives you horrible rash and it's excruciating thing to have.

Sheep and goats love it. They love it. (laugh) They enculturate their young to have this amazing salad bowlfor all of these things we want them to graze.

EU: Which is great. I mean it's so funny. Alice is pointing at the background here and she's like wait, "This is so insane why are people using highly flammable techniques to get rid of high-risk fire vegetation?" I mean that is totally absurd (laugh). It's like-

BCB: Absolutely. I mean it gets even more absurd. These weed whippers often because there's so much shrub and woody material. They use metal blades.

EU: Oh, great.

BCB: If a metal blade-

EU: Okay, so you're sparking-

BCB: Sparking fire.

EU: Right (laugh)

BCB: And- and, if this technique has been-

EU: Awesome.

BCB: ... known to start fire, so the very thing that you're trying to fight, you're creating.

So coming back to the stock functions, contract grazing can be something that can be integrated into these ranching operations. Along with that really identifying that there's so much amazing products that is created from livestock. We're not just producing food, we're also producing fibre and in some cases, we're producing hides for leather.

So another aspect of my stock business model is taking the pelts, the raw hides after the animal has been harvested. And stopping the trend of what happens right now, which is pelts, raw pelts get bailed and shipped to China and processed into myriad of products.

EU: Amazing, so again it's this bulk commodity thing. It's like your ... I mean, again Alice is freaking out back here because she's like wait, "What do you mean in the US you don't have livestock on your farms?" "How is that not a normal thing?" Right. (laughing)

It's like not only that but we're not actually taking advantage of the value add, you know, the additional income that would come to the farm from processing your own hides, we're just sending them at like cheap, cheap commodity pricing over the China so they can take advantage of the value add of processing those hides.

BCB: Absolutely, absolutely.

EU: So what your ... I mean, it's- it is again this is amazing because in the past, you would have had all of these diverse, not only food crops, but animals on the farm and you would have done all your own processing or at least there are these more community scale processing facilities, and now what you're talking about is bringing that back but in a new way.

BCB: Absolutely, absolutely. And part of being able to do this is educating our consumers why it's so cool and so awesome to support folks who are selling these byproducts of food production. Having sheepskin in every home in the United States is a goal, so (laugh)

EU: But not, you're not talking about sheepskins from Ikea that are coming from China probably. What are you talking about in terms of like what is the actual process that you go through to create your so-called sustainable hides?

BCB: So I have a business called Shepherdess Holistic Hides and I've teamed with the fashion designer from the east bay of the San Francisco Bay area in California. She and I realised when we were both making our leather work from sheepskins and goathides that we didn't know where these sheep and goat skins were coming from when we bought them at different warehouses.

I realised that, "Hey, I help to produce sheep and goats, what if we get those pelts back, how does that look like and how can we change the raw pelt or bring that process of the raw pelt to tanning and then have this amazing product where I know where this thing comes from?" And so we did a pilot project about three years ago where we basically went to the slaughter facility and bought back raw pelts that were produced originally in California.

We then partnered with a family that's been tanning for over a hundred years from Mexico that live in the central valley of California, and they do all of our tanning. So, we've been able to actually keep this whole process where the animals are raised in California, the animals are processed in California, the animals are tanned in California, and the business started with individuals buying in California.

So again, that's all really localised or regionalized if you think about it. These animals not only produced these beautiful sheepskins or goathides, they were part of our original food system and again, that is an added value product of producing good food.

EU: And what you're talking about is more expensive to produce and it's more time consuming for you?

BCB: Absolutely.

EU: But it's like, how is it better though? I mean as far as the actual product itself?

BCB: Everything in regionalized the process that we use is a veggie tan process. Tanning is-

EU: What does that mean? Veggie tan?

BCB: Veggie tan is an alternative to chrome tanning. Chrome tanning uses a lot of heavy metals. Veggie tanning it is a water-intensive process, but it does use more organic biodegradable compounds to tan. I don't believe that there's any right on tanning solutions. I think there's a lot of room for us to grow in innovation with tanning and for leather and things like this.

As the market demands better products, we will shift our innovation, and I would love to learn what's going on in other countries that are very innovative such as New Zealand, how they’re tanning and processing their pelts.

Generally, overall, what I've seen is the people love to meet the shepherdess (laugh) or the shepherd. You know they love the story, they love the, they love that they're supporting somebody.

Me as a livestock handler who works on open spaces, I'm going to high profile inner city craft fairs and things like this, talking to urban people who don't even know what a sheep or goat skin looks like or I get questions, get this. I get questions, (laugh) how did ... How did you get the fur on the leather? (laughing)

They're like-

I think ... Oh, it's a natural process.

EU: (Laugh)

BCB: It's an organic process and now I start out there because you know, you got- you've got to start somewhere, you know, you got to start somewhere and you have to, you know. Or I get questions, did this an- ... Did this animal die? And I'm like, this is the skin of the animal.

EU: (Laugh)

BCB: And sometimes people are disturbed but I'm like well do you eat chicken? Do you eat beef? Do you eat lamb? And to have those conversations to me is so awesome to get ... We gotta get people more connected to their food that's just what it comes down to-

EU: Yeah, what ... And I think, you know, one of the things that you're really driving home to me right now is the difference between the people that have grown up in rural areas where agriculture and farming are the normal way of life. As Alice is saying, "Hey, like you know New Zealand you can accidentally buy organic cow hide from your neighbour." Like, it's not even, it's no big thing, but for people that are living in cities, which the majority of human beings do now, I hope I'm not making that up, I think that's true. (laugh)

BCB: No, that's true, that's true.

EU: You know, I hope that that's true and so given that most people are living in cities now, this disconnect between how food or leather or any animal products are actually produced and what they see on the grocery store shelf or in the department store shelf or in their craft markets even, I mean people just have no idea.

So what you're talking about, I mean without having that story behind it or without being able to ask that question, I mean that's probably representative of far more people than we would care to believe that people just have no clue where things come from anymore and so you being there telling that story in an urban craft market where people care about what's cute or what's trendy is a huge contribution.

BCB: Thank you. (laugh)

That's one of the most exciting parts of my work I feel is is that interface. And I don't think that people are purposely being separated or they don't know where their food and their products come from. I think it's really what it comes down to is accessibility and opportunity to learn about this stuff.

We don't learn about this stuff. The only way we learn about the stuff if we come from the suburbs or the urban areas if we get moved or touched in some way, some sort of connexion and often time it's health-related. You know somebody has to get really sick or-

EU: Yup.

BCB: ... you know the proliferation of cancer. You know, cancer is often connected to what we put in our bodies and the things that are out there in our environments that are causing great sickness, things like diabetes. People are coming to understand health through these really horrible experiences people have with poor health. That brings them to understanding health food as a part of their health.

And then the deeper level is how is this food being produced? What is it mean to be organic? What is it mean to be sustainable? What is it mean to be local? Those conversations are being spun by really hard things like sickness. We-

EU: Yeah.

BCB: ... need to have these conversations because it's awesome (laughing).

EU: Yeah, it tastes better, it brings you together and actually help the farmers send their kid to school. I mean one of the things that's been really fascinating about moving from the US to a country like New Zealand or looking at, you know, a lot of the countries in Europe, they're rejecting American food products based on the production practises or whether it's GMOs or the fact that they're not organic or you name it, it's that, especially when you're talking about this whole concept of health.

Like when a country has in its best interest protecting the health of its inhabitants, a lot of these things that have become so rampant in the US are non-issue. They're just not allowed. Like we will not poison our people.

So it is amazing to see that people like you and other folks that are forefront of this sustainable agriculture movement in the US and beyond are implementing and innovating these practises that will help not only the environment also public health without having a regulatory mandate. Like there's no law that says that you have to do this, it's, you just know that it's the right thing and we're gonna figure this out because we don't wanna kill each other.

BCB: Mm-hmm (affirmative)

EU: Like it's that simple.

BCB: Mm-hmm (affirmative) (laugh)

EU: What inspires you most about what you're seeing as far as other modern day farmers or other young people who are choosing this vocation of all of the other things that they could be doing? And what do you see as far as the hopefulness that they have and how they can change the tide from, you know, their parent going bankrupt and losing the farm to them creating something better for themselves and their communities?

BCB: There is so much opportunity and so much hope for regenerative agriculture. What I'm seeing is new demographic of folks who are choosing lifestyle to work with land and animal because of the incredible benefits of doing so and understanding our landscapes and producing food for people.

I'm grateful to be a part of a community of agrarians. We call ourself the new pastoralist. Food production that really focuses on making our landscapes, our natural landscapes better and improving things that have been degraded on our natural landscapes. We're passionate about that. And there's more and more faces like me who folks who haven't come from agriculture who are pivoting and shifting.

This is the most exciting thing. Hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people, I really have gotten that many emails of people saying how can I get into this, I want a vocation that gives me the quality of life that I see you have. And I tell them often, it's a lot harder than it looks. You can look at some really pretty pictures but it's a lot harder than it looks.

EU: What kind of shock are people gonna have when they shift into this more manual labour type of lifestyle?

BCB: Well, what we've seen and maybe this is throughout history and our cultures around the world is that the folks who do the most manual labour get paid the least than the folks who are behind the computer or at the desk get paid more. I think that there is this expectation for folks shifting into agriculture that they can maintain their monetary income as if they would, you know, behind the computer for example.

I think that it's a really hard transition to labour. You have to know your body. You have to understand the processes of life and death with working with livestock. You have to- you have to know how to endure. And what I hope is that I can be a part of inspiring people to see what an incredible quality of life it can be.

One of the biggest excitements that I have is going to investigate the shepherding schools in Spain and France because there is a fantastic demand that I see for people who wanna learn.

EU: Well and what about the whole concept of "carbon farming" and the fact that the way that you manage your landscape through intensive grazing can actually remove carbon from the atmosphere. And you know maybe I'm overly simplifying that process but it seems like there is some hope for like really large scale shift in climate change through some of these practises?

BCB: Carbon farming has been something that's been very exciting in the region of the bay area of California. What we're trying to do is really quantify how much carbon can be sequestered from the atmosphere based on our land management choices. How this is done is through creating more resilient soils, taking carbon from the atmosphere very similar to how forest take the carbon from the atmosphere and create amazing oxygen.

EU: So I wanna switch gears a little bit. Again back to this whole dancing at the revolution making farming fun and sexy and financially viable, because hey, like you said, you know, the last thing that we wanna do is have a whole new generation of people, entering in a new field where they're not gonna be able to make a living at all or they're gonna lose their shirts in the process.

So what is your hope for these new farmers?

BCB: My hope is for the next generation of this new type of pastoralist is that they're able to not only embrace and harness the wisdom and knowledge of the tradition of culture, the traditions and culture of those who've come before us and livestock management. Animal husbandry is a very big part of that and at the same time, I hope that business acumen and the tools are used for these new pastoralist to support them to have these dynamic businesses.

We have to know how to operate, you know, loans and how to budget for the future and how to do, you know, simple tasks that can take along time. We need to be able to streamline stuff. So that aspect of understanding our businesses and you know, having a financial hold on our operations is important. So that's definitely an aspect for the next generation of new pastoralist.

And then the last one is, is last but not least is the ecological benefits and ecological care and the land stewardship that we absolutely need or good business. It's not- it's ... That's how we're gonna be able to support our livelihoods is we have to think of all of those things and that's the only way we're gonna march fruitfully into the future.

EU: I think there's also so many people that wanna be a part of this that aren't actually going to be a modern day shepherdess or they're not going to be a farmer or a rancher or grazer. They're gonna be on the other side of that equation which is that they can be the people that are purchasing your goods.

BCB: Yeah.

EU: So you know, short of asking ... Or maybe this is the most important thing you can do I was gonna say ... I was gonna ask you what is the most important thing that we can do for those of us who wanna be part of the solution without actually rolling up our sleeves and becoming a farmer other than asking where does this come from?

I mean I know that's such a powerful question, where does this come from whether you're at a restaurant or at a craft table or in your hipster design store (laugh)? You know, where does this material come from is a really powerful question but there's gotta be other ways that we can contribute?

BCB: The most ... Change happens when we as, when we create a new market place, so really we have to care about what we buy. That's a big part of it. The ... our purchasing power is one of the strongest things that we can do to support folks like us. I think we also need to care about how our open spaces are being managed, you know, be it state parks or federal lands. We have to care about those things. We have to understand tradition and culture of farming and ranching.

I think we need to kind of take a step back and look at the history of where we come from and how food is a part of it. And this can be all over the world and I think that that as a consumer somebody who chooses not to be a shepherdess for example. I think that just becoming aware and conscious is creating power and support of those who were trying to create a conscious product.

EU: Hear hear! And then for those of us that want to follow along with your adventures-- and I can vouch personally, I've been following Brittany Cole Bush for quite awhile on Facebook and Instagram, she's always posting some really fascinating photos and videos I should say, of her adventures around the country and then around the world because, you know, you are often, say, in London at an international meeting of grazers or you're in France or Spain at this grazing school, so there's all kinds of you see stuff to feast your eyes upon, so how can we find you on the internet?

BCB: I have a website called www.brittanycolebush.com, and I'm on Instagram and that's also my name. I am very active in communicating with people and I love to do, so you can find me. I'm out there. You can google my name. I hope everything good comes up and good looking photos, hopefully. But you can find me at www.brittanycolebush.com.

EU: Excellent, thank you. This has been a fun conversation and definitely illuminating about the state of agriculture and livestock production in the US and how that touches systems beyond. So, thanks again for joining us on Xero Gravity.

BCB: Thank you so much, Elizabeth.

EU: That was Brittany Cole Bush. In her own words a modern day urban shepherdess of animals, people and projects.

As always, I'm Elizabeth U, Producer and Host of Xero Gravity and Alice Brine is Creative Director. Thanks also to Megan Wright, Technical Producer, Daniel Marr and Jonny McNee, Technical Editors.

If you've got any questions, comments, or suggestions for the show, you can find me on Twitter @smallbizwithliz. Thanks for subscribing the Xero Gravity and we'll see you next week.

Read more>

You may also like