As market demand continues to grow for ethically raised, pasture-based meat, eggs, and milk, young graziers are joining the fray inspired by Joel Salatin, Jim Gerrish, and the incredible soil-building potential of grass-fed animal husbandry.
These products fetch a major price premium over conventional, confinement-raised alternative, and present the possibility for small scale producers to make a real livelihood. And farmers can build their own low-cost infrastructure–hen houses, portable electric fencing, moveable pens and pig enclosures–so that the need to own land is no longer first priority.
They can improve the land they’re on through grazing, by virtue of the animals’ manure, but also from the intensive management and impact of animals, creating a state change in the pasture itself, promoting plant growth, diversity, and increased organic matter. These are measureable outcomes with benefits to landowners, soil micro-organisms, the grazing animals, and water quality.
When landowners lease grazing land to these producers, they get a tax benefit for “agricultural use,” as well as the joys of enlivening pastures with contented cows, tick-eating hens, and young entrepreneurs.
For the farmers, it is a balance of managing a small business without owning land or much solid infrastructure, often on multiple parcels, and negotiating for fair terms and solid tenure with absent or risk-averse owners. These kinds of partnerships are increasing, particularly in areas adjacent to urban centers, where recreation, second homes, wine grapes, and leisure activities have priced farmers out of the market for ownership. But when both parties manage the relationship with care and work together, making decisions that are best for animals, place and people, it’s a win-win solution for local food sovereignty.