My official title is Herdess for Holistic Ag. When people ask what I do, I usually say something like “I work with a herd of holistically managed cattle on a nature preserve, and various other agroecological pursuits on the side.” It’s a lot to take in—holistically managed? Cattle on a preserve? Agro-what? You?
One day I’ll find a better way to convey what I’m doing to the uninitiated. But for now, leaving out any part of that feels like an injustice. We (Holistic Ag) are not exactly ranchers, and we’re not a herd-for-hire. We are motivated by ecological restoration and right livelihood, intentionally situated at the edge of food production and ecology–the ecotone, the edge where two unique environs meet.
Edges are funnily hard to define. Schematics and instruction manuals use edges to delineate between one item or object and another; we make lines to show where one discrete thing ends and another begins—but how can we show it when the edge is a world unto itself? This takes a more granular view, a zoomed-in perspective. That’s a lot to impart to a culture that views complexity with suspicion: complex things are resistant to commodification. In a world motivated by scarcity, this is frustrating.
One day, I want to be able to say my job is “herdess” and see the glint of understanding in the eye of those with whom I’m speaking (beyond my agrarian cohort). Herding, shepherding, is one of the world’s oldest professions, after all—when did we forget what it meant to spend one’s days working with animals? Unlike many more modern agricultural undertakings that involve the application of significant force to yield consumable goods at the cost of ecosystems, I help the cows lilt across the landscape, leaving boosted biomass and biodiversity in their wake. The beef is the byproduct.