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.

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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!

So wild, we could taste it.

The fat from a single bear can provide 48,960 calories; that is enough to provide for 1 average sized human body the appropriate amount of sustenance for 24.5 days. That is just the fat. [Unfortunately for myself, this is not knowledge gained from my own experience, rather from the sharings of Daniel Vitalis’ personal experience with hunting and using a whole bear.]

Most people are surprised when it is revealed that my interest in rewilding the spaces we live, love or play in, is intensely motivated by my desire to rewild my own diet. However, as a farmer and shepherd, my experience of living with the land and receiving the abundant gifts of nature, has cultivated a desire within me to see ecosystem health become a priority to our society.

I deeply enjoy being partnered up with the animals that I trust and feel safe around; I see us moving through and tending to the land together as a great start. However, as the health of the landscapes increase and they begin to flourish, the energy required to maintain their balance is increased. In this pursuit, the need of our planet could become more than land stewards and domesticated species can impact at the appropriate rate. Who better to tend to this achievement of ecologic abundance than the bear; the elk; the antelope; the bison?

If we arrive one day to our home being once again shared by the wild hooves, the black bear, the lion, the wolves, I wonder if we would restrict the earth’s ability to thrive in that achieved health by arguing over the one right way of being on the land? The bear population could move into your area, grow and be thriving before your government has even realized it was an issue, let alone followed protocols to deciding how to deal with it. Hunters provide a huge portion, sometimes all, of the funding for conservation of wildlife and habitat. Hunters provide food. Hunters provide a disturbance on the landscape that is necessary in order to create biological diversity.

I am not [yet] bored with the 10 meat options given to me at the butcher shop, but I am definitely bored with the landscape being void of diversity. I am bored with the cows. When I drive up or down the coast, I imagine herds of elk sprinkled throughout. Antelope running, goats climbing, bear tromping, birds of every shape and size soaring and diving. I imagine the mountain lions I can not see and the wolves waiting for the right moment. Do not misunderstand me, there are cows out there, being managed in ways that could lead right into this fantasy; for those cows, I am deeply grateful.

This is only the beginning of the conversation and for those who live in california with me, we probably have a long time to discuss it. But for now, I will continue to daydream about a landscape full of the animals I would love to share it with. I will continue to dream of a space where no one is hungry. I will continue to dream of a food system so rich and diverse that our minds will wander to what we wish to taste rather than what we wish to own.

For those of you interested in exploring this idea more, Daniel Vitalis hosts a fine platform for conversations about such captivating topics, and the following podcast with the inspirational George Monbiot [author of Feral] is educational, moving and pretty radical to anyone tapping into their primitive side.

http://www.danielvitalis.com/rewild-yourself-podcast/rewilding-land-people-wildlife-george-monbiot-171

 

** Please do not misinterpret my words, I have mad respect for the domesticated bovines and the people who work with them to improve our landscapes and provide food for our species and other species we love. I have no interest in removing them from the food system or the land, just in finding the capacity to share those spaces.