SSF - Welcome to Cows

Today across America, people struggle alone in hospital beds against a new virus. Today across America, people struggle together in the streets against violence, hatred and oppression that has for too long infested this country. Today, in Vermont, we collect eggs and bring fresh water to sheep. Fulfilling our daily responsibilities to the animals we share the farm with can feel like condemnable inaction against the injustice that plagues society. To some, our farming appears a way to turn away from others’ pain. We are not farming to insulate ourselves from the pain and injustice in society. We are farming because things are wrong. Our work is essential.

Food in this country is often produced in a manner that is unjust to workers, animals, and the environment. Though we strive to do better here, it is easy to be disheartened by the power that props up industrial agriculture. Our days on pasture, however, are not without their moments of joy. Many of those this month have been in the company of our new crowd of bovine grazers. Friends and neighbors have asked if it’s a big transition to be cow farmers now, but at the root we have been and continue to be grass farmers. True, we have been learning to adapt our systems to the needs of cows, but our most basic work is still building soil and growing grass that our animals harvest and convert into food.

We’re excited to have new cow-leagues in our mission to build a resilient farm ecosystem while producing food. In getting accustomed to their work, we’ve spent some time on pasture with them, watching as they graze. Observing their cowish lives is a daily joy. If you find yourself needing a moment of peace this week, we highly recommend a minute's breather in the company of grazing cows. There’s something deeply relaxing in their manner of unhurried munching.

That unhurried grazing is not universal among our animals. Rather than leisurely munch, sheep graze with incessant, almost anxious motion. If you stop to watch, you’ll see that a sheep’s muscular lips are working overtime, nibbling away tender leaves and ignoring the coarse stems. Cows are less discriminant – they’ll use their tongues to round up a bunch of whatever is in reach and munch away. These differences in grazing methods reflect different evolutionary strategies towards making a living off of grass. Grass is superabundant and resilient, but nutritionally poor compared to other plants. Cows, with their massive size and stomachs, make grass work for them by filling up with as much as possible. Sheep, with their smaller stomachs, must focus on getting the most nutritious and digestible parts of plants.

A bovine tongue hard at work, lassoing forage. Princess Fiona turning up her nose at stems.

When we’re managing our pasture we keep our grazing colleagues’ different strategies in mind. We’re glad to welcome cows to the field, not just for what they’ll bring to the farm store come fall, but for the tools they lend us in building soil and resilient plant communities. Picky sheep will devour clover and leave standing grass stems behind, but cows will take the tops off the taller grasses and give clover a fighting chance – adding nitrogen to the soil and growing as a nutritious snack for later in the year. They also throw their weight behind improving soil fertility by trampling those dead stems into the ground where they can compost in place. Every hoof has its place though and the dainty sheep remain our star grazers of wet and fragile land.

Thanks to our new cow-leagues, we’ll have clover in the pastures as well as beef in the farm store. Each day we’re grazing we strive to build soil that absorbs carbon and nurtures a resilient plant community while helping us provide nutritious food that respects animals, workers, and environment. While it’s easy to forget this when we’re checking in on every one of this year’s 106 lambs, we remain a small farm. As our grazers build soil, we hope to build enterprise, so that we can be an example of and, eventually, even an incubator for change towards more just agriculture. Based just south of here, Soul Fire Farm is already a fantastic example of farmers moving powerfully towards justice in food. Our motivation in restoring soil fertility is not simply that it will allow us to raise more animals and produce more food. We are building a resource that sustains a business that can powerfully advocate justice in this system that sustains us all. With hope we look towards a brighter future but in the meantime, we graze on. There’s fence to move and paradigms to upend.

Posted on 12 de junho de 2020, 10:16 PM by pkm pkm


hey fam, next week the first Field Notes goes out to the world. My entry in Food for Thought will be similar to above, though without the first paragraph. Instead, Annie's describing SSF's anti-racist beliefs and their practice of activism through farming on the website and the introduction blurb. Ecology is one thing, but it's a lot to trust someone else to summarize your business's anti-racist and revolutionary views in a paragraph.
It's a strange week when one feels that any post to social media must be prefaced with acknowledgement of the fact that racism is toxic, deadly, and systemic. We're feeling pretty isolated in Vermont, but have attended a demonstration in solidarity with M4BL and organized against unchecked over-policing in the nearest town. Within a month we will have a Citizen Review Board of Vergennes PD.
I've talked to academic peers about recognizing indigenous land in their publications (check out and am working to get that map to more thoroughly describe Panama. 2 of my peers agreed to do land recognition statements in their next papers.


Publicado por pkm cerca de 4 anos antes

Thank for the relaxing video of cows munching away. Not sure if it's just me, but the photos didn't load properly. I'm eager to see some bovine action. At what point do the cows trample the soil too much? Does simply having enough grazing land mitigate that potential problem?

I thoroughly appreciate the work you're doing and the effort you've made to relate ecology, sustainable farming, and social justice. This is a good example that should motivate others, including myself, to make the same sort of connection.

Also, what an excellent map. I'm happy to help fill in the empty space in Panama if needed. I'd like to know exactly which indigenous group(s) I can acknowledge. Richard Cooke would be an excellent reference.

Publicado por rileyfortierii cerca de 4 anos antes

Thanks for the image tip Riley. Still learning html over here [person shrugging with their hands raised emoji].

Grass is absolutely disturbance adapted - the best growing fields here are those that have been grazed the most in previous years. It makes a lot of sense when you consider how populous ruminants and grasslands as an ecosystem coevolved. There are certainly areas and times where too many hooves can be a problem. We keep the cows of steep and wet terrain, and wait for things to dry out a bit before putting animals on pasture in the spring. Water troughs and shade trees become popular areas to congregate and can lead to over trampling and bare soil (gasp!). We minimize those by fencing around the base of trees, moving water jugs often, or putting water on durable surfaces (like here:

Richard Cooke indeed! I'll be in touch with him and Milton Solano. STRI probably has shapefiles from archeological and cultural work in Panama.

Publicado por pkm cerca de 4 anos antes

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