Market demand continues to swell for ethically raised, pasture-based livestock, poultry, eggs and milk. These products fetch a major price premium over the conventional, confinement raised alternative, and present the possibility for small scale producers to make a livelihood. Young graziers are joining the fray to meet that market appetite, inspired by Joel Salatin, Jim Gerrish and the incredible soil-building potential of grass-fed animal husbandry.
For farmers who build their own low-cost infrastructure: hen houses, portable electric fencing, moveable pens and pig enclosures, 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.
For landowners, the benefits of leasing grazing land to graziers are many and include a tax benefit for “agricultural use”, as well as the joys of enlivening pastures with contented mother cows, tick-eating hens, and young entrepreneurs.
For the farmers, it is a balance of managing a small business without clear title 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 price pressure for recreation, second homes, winegrapes, and leisure activities has priced farmers out of the market for ownership. When both parties manage the relationship with care and work together, making decisions that are best for animals, place and people, its a win-win solution for local food sovereignty.
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