With food production controlled by a multinational global food monopoly and larger, more concentrated farm operations, our food system is becoming less resilient and more vulnerable to global supply chain issues. At Central Grazing Company, we are always learning how to reform our food system to create more resilient supply chains, equitable distribution models, and ethical and regenerative ways of raising animals.
We strive to create a collaborative community where our success is a means for others to grow and succeed. By fostering a community of fellow leaders dedicated to food reform who can wield the power of small businesses working in collaboration, we can reclaim shared cooperative ownership of our food system. The Central Grazing community is an avenue toward food sovereignty, and we are focused on creating pathways for increased access: land access for underrepresented farmers and access to agricultural infrastructure for small-scale producers.
The climate reality we face means preparing ourselves for an increasingly unstable planet. Regenerative grassroots food system reform is critical for stabilizing a safe and livable future. Moreover, robust local supply chains must develop to ensure long-term food security for Americans in the face of global supply chain disruptions.
Recent years have proven to us that unprecedented challenges can arise for even the most experienced agricultural leaders. In 2022, Central Grazing faced an ongoing loss of our processing capacity that has continued since the beginning of the pandemic. Despite the distressing strain placed on our supply chains, Central Grazing responded by tapping into community and building rapport with other leading agricultural advocates. Throughout 2022, we highlighted some of our regional partners, including Iowa farmer Wendy Johnson and chefs Ted Habiger, Alex Pope, and Steve Poses, to bring you special offers and inspiring stories. We also received a grant from the American Rescue Plan to develop a feasibility study for a meat-processing facility for area farmers — a key initiative that moves us closer to achieving local food sovereignty. The passion and commitment of our grassroots effort propel us into 2023 as we work to increase our access to land, markets, and capital.
The past year yielded exciting new growth from the ground up. Here are just a few ways we paved new pathways for agricultural advocates to reform our food system, based on lessons we ourselves have learned from managing our flock.
Guardian Dogs to Protect the Flock: Challenges with farming are always present, but challenges with raising livestock can be devastating – we are talking about life and death of our animals. To protect our lamb from the ongoing threat of coyotes, in 2021 we invested in raising two new livestock guardian puppies. We have not lost any lambs to coyotes since then, and we have added more livestock guardian dogs to the farm since. We plan to start breeding livestock guardian dogs to both provide additional protection to our own flock through the years as well as to provide a source of these breeds to our local farmers and add an income stream to our farm.
Predicting Climate-Induced Safety Hazards: The ever-escalating climate crises are continuing to be a greater consideration in how we are planning and raising lambs. In the early spring of 2022, heavy rain washed through our winter sacrifice paddock, which is an area of the farm we purposely let be overrun to best protect the rest of the pasture during the winter months. The resulting mud and flooding took the lives of several lambs. (Learn more about our winter to spring farm cycle here.) We had to move locations and reorganize how we situate our animals through the winter to better protect them. The wellness of the animals is our primary priority, and adapting to climate change is a critical part of protecting the lambs. On the farm, our responsibility to adapt and protect our flock is how we directly connect to the land, the Earth, and nature.
Starting a New Breeding and Genetics Program: Central Grazing has launched a new breeding and genetics program to create more hardy wool sheep with heftier weight that require less intervention on the pasture. By improving our own flock, we can collaborate with other farmers and share these genetics and increase the supply chain, which will help reduce dependency on synthetic fibers and other manufactured materials by producing wool and leather. This new program will help smaller producers work more productively by giving them competitive genetics.
Along with the food crisis, climate change has created a simultaneous energy crisis. Together, these challenges form the foundation for how we revolutionize agriculture in the Midwest. Both challenges outline weaknesses in our food supply that give us an opportunity to develop resiliency by creating pathways to rebuild a once-thriving rural landscape.
Agrivoltaics — Renewable Energy and Regenerative Agriculture:
Solar energy projects currently under consideration in Douglas and neighboring Johnson Counties could cover well over 3,500 acres of private prairie land over the next two years. And it’s estimated that solar energy will cover agricultural land four times the size of Yellowstone National Park by 2050. The vegetation surrounding solar panels must be managed to maintain optimal solar panel efficiency, prevent erosion, and mitigate invasive plant species. Aside from pesticide and labor-intensive mowing, grazing is one the most environmentally friendly method of integrating agriculture and solar energy in a given landscape, a process called “agrivoltaics.” Central Grazing has been working with the Douglas County Commission, wind and solar energy companies, and regional farmers to create regulations for new large-scale renewable energy projects to require grazing animals as part of sustainable vegetation management. We are very hopeful that this indicates a positive agrivoltaic future to increase land access and regeneration of our systems, including our soil, circular economy, energy production, human health, and opportunity.
Whole-Animal, Community Processing Facility Asset to Increase Local Food Production:
In 2022, the Douglas County Commission granted Central Grazing funding from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) to develop Kaw Valley Meats, a proposed meat-processing facility. With this new meat processing facility, Central Grazing can establish opportunities for new entrepreneurs to enter the local-level food and farm industry, offering a more resilient food system for the local community. The grant marks a huge step forward in helping us expand Central Grazing’s capacity to create a more resilient food system by creating a processing facility to accommodate smaller operations and allow farmers to sell outside the corporate monopoly.
The processing facility will also increase the capacity for the local producers to harvest more cuts and reduce food waste. With our whole-animal approach, we can create sustainable materials through leather production and introduce consumers to more diverse cuts while sowing more respect for the animals we harvest. We’ve also launched whole-animal education campaigns, including our nose-to-tail lamb cooking guide to educate home cooks on how to prepare every lamb cut.
Keep learning about how Central Grazing is putting community back into the food system and collaborating with regional partners to localize supply chains in this article from Lawrence-Journal World.
Regardless of whether you’re a farmer or a consumer, anyone can get involved in local decision-making that impacts our food system. Talk with your local leaders about climate change, food justice, and food access, and share your truth so others can make informed decisions that reflect our needs and values.
Although the challenges facing us may, at times, seem insurmountable, we have our flock and a community of like-minded people. Our From the Ground Up newsletter and Facebook page are examples of spaces we have created to build connections. We have the power as a collective to change things in our local community, which echoes bigger changes at national and global scales.
Central Grazing is committed to advocating for farmers and farmland. We work to liberate land, increase land access, and establish new pathways to markets and capital. How do we unlock those barriers for other people so that we can elevate each other in a collaborative model of community? We want to push the boundaries on what is possible, as we have been working in 2022 and will continue to be doing in 2023 and beyond. Moving forward, we can't wait to see how, together, we will unlock barriers and discover what is possible through collaborative community models. We’re so glad you are here in solidarity in this work.