Sheep Culture

The story of the 2018 Petaluma Transhumance told by one of the humans.

There are many documentaries about the dismal version of our agricultural state: driven by industrial progress and capitalism, a forced transformation into a state of becoming fossil fueled and high yielding; packed into feed lots and factory farms; oppressed by regulation; bled by a system unwilling to practice reciprocity.

What is the worth of the food we partake in, if it is paired with a story of oppression? fear? loss? Many, while fed, have entered a state of starvation. So last Saturday, an effort was made to feed our community, not just calories, but experience. The very experience we crave. An experience that gave us hope, hope for food to feed more than just our bodies.

The demand to evolve away from over mechanized and heavily industrialized agriculture is increasing for many reasons, but the subtle logic that stands out to me is our desire for CULTURAL SATISFACTION. The presence of this longing [for a food culture] suggests we do not need to be at war within our industry, maybe just creatively provide alternatives; Simpler ways of being.

There have always been individuals working tirelessly to preserve the cultures being trampled by this “progress”. Many of those individuals have been rolled over by our speed wagon economy, some killed, some stolen from, some just left feeling as though they have lost the battle. However, on Saturday, June 9th, in the city of Petaluma, another effort was made to preserve and create culture in our local food system… and lose, we did not.

One of the many effective practices lost in this push to become more efficient, is the art and action of Transhumance. From the latin origins, Trans- meaning “across” and humus meaning “ground”. Andre Voisin, Author of the book “Grass Productivity”, describes the phenomenon and its applications quite beautifully:

“The absolute necessity of adhering to these rest periods during seasons of drought leads to the practice of a special rotation, known as Transhumance, in spite of the considerable time and long journey it involves.”

Chances are if you ask any one of us why we did it, you’ll get a slightly different answer, and each one would be right. The necessity of this animal movement across the landscape has come to feel impossible with fragmentation and privatization. Expecting this to change, is irrational without increasing awareness of the challenge. Instilling that practice back into our society, is unreasonable without support. And enjoying the abundance this exercise would create, requires a culture be developed alongside it.

We herded the sheep through downtown, having prepared a list of reasons we needed to do so, and gracefully jumped through every hoop necessary to make it acceptable to the city government. At the other end of our journey, we knew there was no pot of gold, yet we found it was a place, not one bit short on wealth.


Community members lined the neighborhood streets; children, dogs, coffee cups, and the occasional cowboy costume. The support was surprising and fed the soul as only the richest of experiences do. We wore matching shirts, “Keep the Culture in Agriculture” not as a uniform that removed our individualism, but as a uniting characteristic that made each one of us stronger. We wore beautifully hand died bandannas, made especially for our cause; it felt as though we each carried a flag through our town, for our cultures we were desperate to preserve.

We flocked past homes and businesses. We crossed busy main streets and bridges. Moments before we arrived to our destination all the sheep let out a buck as though to remind us this was a moment of joy and triumph.

We arrived and the sheep grazed through the evening. So we did the same.

We celebrated them, their offerings, their impact. We feasted. We laughed. We exchanged valuable knowledge. And of course, as most healthy cultures do, we danced.


We are young, and everyday we are making a stand for who we want to be; what we want our communities to be made up of; what we want to teach our children about us.

We are successfully defying the system that demands we take but not give. We are becoming a culture that respects life, honors death, embraces diversity, celebrates beauty and chuckles at the word impossible.


**All photo credit to Sonoma County photographer, Noelle Gaberman.

Thank you to the community members who came out and showed your support of good agriculture and got involved. Thank you to all the people who brought pieces of yourselves to the market place, the stage, the dinner table. Thank you to my dearest friends, each with their own vision of what this could be, for pushing through the busy weeks to get a us to beautiful moment we will remember forever.

Those who could not attend, I hope to see you at the 2019 Transhumance Festival!

Published by paigelynntrotter

I work as a grazer and shepherd in Marin County, CA. My relationship with Sweet Grass Grazing provides for my goats and I, the honor to impact landscapes all over the surrounding public and private spaces. As I tend to our animals and land, I become more aware of how intricate life really is, both ecologically and socially. I recently created this online space for sharing of those noticed connections, hoping we can all deepen our understanding, appreciation and ability to interact with the diversity of life around us.

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  1. Sounds incredible, what an amazing and important event. It is on our calendar for next year and look very forward to being there. Thank you for the beautiful and inspirational writing about it.


  2. It was such a special day. I loved the mindful motions calling this festival into being.

    It connected suburban and rural, history and present, and (for me) bridged many worlds by helping me share what I love, with my loved ones, in the place I call home. And to see the same longing expression on so many sleepy faces in pajamas was priceless. I know it from my first encounter with livestock in land. We called to something deep. Might even call it a…primal hunger? Thanks so much for making this happen.

    And I’m delighted to discover your writing. What a wonderful series of reflections on death and life, nourishing life and living.


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