Regenerative Agroecology and Grazing
Regenerative Agroecology is a field of agricultural practices which have been shown to improve the quality of the ecosystems in which they exist,
and of which they are a part.
The term "agroecology" is a contraction of the words "agriculture" and "ecology" - a paradigm and practices which deliberately seek to design agricultural systems which mimic and are in mutually beneficial relationship with ecosystems within which they reside. Its conception and practices of growing food, fuel, fiber, fodder, fertilizer, 'farmaceuticals' and fun (as Dave Jacke sums up our potential yields), is juxtaposed to a more conventional "agriculture" and its history, which is arguably defined as a largely degenerative force globally in terms of its effects on soil, climate, water, forests, non-human communities, and social / political / economic structures within and between human communities.
There are a number of practices such as silvopasture, multi-strata agroforestry, perennial cropping, and holistic grazing which fit into the regenerative agroecology toolkit - but ultimately, the practices determined to be effective in any given place will be dependent on the site itself: the land, the people, the surrounding community, etc. Grassland - in fact most pasture based plant species and the extensive biological networks they are interdependent with - evolved in direct relationship with grazing, migrating, ruminant animals. These animals provided significant periodic disturbance, helping grasses keep woody plants at bay, providing a unique habitat for other birds and animals, and creating significant amounts of rich top soil. Our culture has primarily turned to mechanical means of maintaining grasslands which are reliant on fossil fuels, compact soils, and do not return fertility in the diversity of ways grazing animals do.
Adaptive Multi-Paddock Grazing
Adaptive Multi-Paddock Grazing, a phrase coined by Allen Savory, has been shown to improve a number ecological factors locally and globally: soil aggregation and structure, soil biology, carbon sequestration, quality of existing vegetation (above and below ground), water quality and holding capacity in the land, etc. In Vermont we are well suited to transitioning the management of our old fields and grass lands from predominantly mechanical (mowing, haying, corn), to predominantly biological - community scale herds travelling from field to field, providing yields of nutrition, education, exercise, and play for our communities.
Studies & Information
STUDIES SHOW CARBON SEQUESTRATION FROM IMPROVED GRAZING
As seen in the attached bar graph from this paper, it is estimated that improved cropping and grazing practices on North America alone could draw down 1.2 Gigatons of carbon annually, offsetting about 1/8 of the world's total GHG emissions. It should be stressed that drawdown must be done in addition to cutting fossil fuel emissions and transitioning to a carbon-free economy as rapidly as possible. This grazing research paper is precedent-setting because it includes as a coauthor renowned soil scientist, Rattan Lal, PhD, of Ohio State University, cited by Jim Hansen in his book, "Storms of My Grandchildren." Its lead author, Richard Teague, PhD, of Texas A&M, serves on the Advisory Board of Soil4Climate.
Grass Fed Nutrition
Not all grass-fed and finished beef is created equal
Grass fed and finished beef has been shown to be a nutritionally optimal food source. Among other benefits, it contains less cholesterol, and significantly higher omega 3 / 6 fatty acid ratio, conjugated linoleic acid content, and anti-oxidant levels than conventional beef. These qualities result in a product with similar fatty acid ratios to wild caught fish (but without the heavy metal toxicity concerns), which is anti-inflammatory to the cardiovascular system, fortifying of the immune system, and strengthening to the musculoskeletal system. Its health benefits reach into other aspects of the body such as the endocrine system, and our skin.
1. A review of fatty acid profiles and antioxidant content in grass-fed and grain-fed beef. Daley et al. 2010. Link
2. A Literature Review of the Value-Added Nutrients found in Grass-fed Beef Products. Daley et al. 2005. Link
Quality of Life
The cattle at Robinson Hill Beef live a life orchestrated to mimic the natural environment and life of a migrating ruminant herd animal. They live their entire lives outside, apart from the winter; they move daily into diverse forages maturing to their optimal growth stage for cattle and ecological rejuvenation; and, they have access to fresh water. The only supplements that our cattle receive are mineral supplements such as kelp meal and trace mineral mixes - this can be important in places like Vermont which tend to have a deficiency of a particular number of trace minerals in its soils.
Conventional cattle often live a truly sad life - they are rarely out eating fresh forage (if ever) and they spend the last months of their lives in large crowded feed lots being fed grain and low doses of antibiotics prior to being slaughtered. This results in animal stress, poor nutrition, anti-biotic resistance, poor nutritional quality beef, poor livelihoods and quality of life for workers and neighbors of these facilities, ecological degeneration of the surrounding environment and waterways, and contaminated product. There are many articles, studies, and investigative reports into the conventional meat industry. This article from Consumer Reports highlights some startling differences between Grass Fed and Conventional Beef —
Cattle have been praised and mythologized globally over time for the diverse and substantial benefits which they provide to communities. They happily exist on the consumption of grasses, forbes, legumes and many other plants which our modern culture spends money, time, and ecological currency degeneratively managing - often mechanically. Out of these plants, they make fertilizer, meat, milk and a number of other healthy and ecologically beneficial products - but modern management of cattle, economics and agriculture has reimagined the cow as a machine and its yields as commodities; it has taken them from the pastures and put them into buildings; its has removed their manure from the land and instead turned the spoils of our weapons industry onto our soils. I am consistently amazed, confused, and terrified at the perversions which our modern culture has inflicted upon such a gracious and motherly animal and our relationship with it; and, I am determined that the integrity and mutually beneficial nature of our mutual domestication will become predominant again, and in newly imagined and created ways.
Activism, Advocacy and Intersectionality
Graham, Aaron and Robinson Hill Beef recognize the complexity and unjust nature of the politics, economics, and social and environmental inequities of our local and global food systems. Robinson Hill Beef and Walking Onion will work to contribute to research and advocacy which will be of use in the work to bring about a just transition to regenerative agroecology within and without Vermont. Their is a fundamental error, or group of errors, in our culture, politics and economy around food which refuses to compensate farmers and agricultural laborers justly for the work and food they provide, and at the same time makes inaccessible the healthiest and most well produced food products financially and / or logistically to the vast majority of the population in this country. The food system and its politics relies on a "go big or go home" mentality built for industrialized agriculture, food processing and distribution. This system externalizes its exploitative costs (ecologically, socially, economically) on the majority of the population, and internalizes its profits - funneling the majority of them to a small percent of the population.
As with the rest of the Working Class, small farmers and land based laborers find ourselves in an economically, politically, and socially marginalized place and untenable situation. Robinson Hill Beef recognizes and embraces the value and irrevocable imperative of intersectionality in facing injustice and organizing to envision and cocreate a just and thriving future. Intersectionality speaks to the intrinsic relationships of mutual interest between our diverse, but common, struggles; it points to the imperative and necessity of articulating and embracing them together in order to reach out from our silos of specific work and affinities to achieve real changes – locally and system wide. In simple terms, there is no climate justice without racial justice, there is no economic justice without climate justice, etc. We need a world in which all forms of justice are realized – and in order to do that, we must reach out from our traditionally segregated sectors of focus and reactionary politic, and embrace a more collaborative approach of solidarity with others' struggles as well as collaborative vision articulation and advocacy.
Robinson Hill Beef has donated beef to local non-profits, prisoner support dinners, indigenous relocation resistance fundraising dinners, and other events. Please inquire about donations or discounts.
Graham is a chair on the board of Rural Vermont (https://www.ruralvermont.org/) - a grass roots rural economic justice and small farm advocacy organization - and pursues some of this work in this way. Robinson Hill Beef is further pursuing its relationship to advocacy, activism, and intersectionality and invites questions and suggestions.