Responses by Ariel Greenwood, Holistic Ag Herdess
Please introduce yourself and describe your role with Holistic Ag and Pepperwood.
I’m Ariel Greenwood, resident herdess for Holistic Ag at Pepperwood. We partner with Pepperwood in using our cattle as a management tool to sustain and restore its many acres of grasslands. For my part, this means I’m somewhere on the preserve most days of the week—picking up and building out fence, herding the cows, observing and documenting health indicators in the animals, soil, and landscape as a whole, working with herd founder Aaron Lucich or managing volunteers, and using mapping software to plan and record our movements.
What got you interested in holistic management and how did you get started working in the field?
My interest in holistic management began in college while I was studying agroecology and psychology. Through coursework and producers I began to learn about grassland ecosystems and adaptive management. At the time I was also growing for a software company on their corporate campus, producing fussy food for chefs in fenced-out plots while surrounded by sweeping but poorly managed grasslands. The more I learned, the more I wanted to play a part in using well-managed animals for ecosystem functionality and carbon sequestration. A couple of years and a move to California later, I began actively seeking a herd to work with, got connected with Holistic Ag a the end of 2014, and I’ve grazing ever since.
What are some of the benefits holistic management provides for the land?
Holistic management is a decision making framework that enables us to work with complexity: biological, human, and especially what emerges at the intersection of both. It allows us to take into account and then specifically manage for what we deem valuable, which includes ecological health as well as quality of life, relationships, financial sustainability, and so on. In the context of Pepperwood, our holistic grazing plan is shaped by Aaron and I and the Pepperwood staff. It guides our practice to support qualities like breeding bird and amphibian habitat, perennial bunchgrass health and recruitment, healthy soils and streambanks, and so on. Our exact practices depend on the time of year, but generally speaking we move our animals rapidly and rest the land for long periods to select against invasive species and support native perennials.
How as the time you’ve spent working at Pepperwood influenced you? What have you learned?
This work is grazing for ecological benefit is equally challenging and beautiful. I have made mistakes that have humbled me and experienced triumphs that will serve as psychological resources for years to come. I learn and see something new every day, but to date the biggest lesson is this: as a human animal, I am bound to influence my environment. So the best thing I can do is exert that influence with humility and intention, pay attention to the feedback in the land and animals, and never be afraid to change direction when necessary.
What have been some of your most memorable moments working with the cattle on the preserve?
Two memories come to mind immediately. One morning I came upon the herd to find a calf and a wild raven playing together. They were both croaking, spinning, and dive-bombing one another with apparent glee. Another memory was witnessing the Valley Fire explode in the course of a few hours. I watched its spooky orange glow from Weimar and we made contingency plans to evacuate the herd if necessary. Both experiences reminded me of how complex is nature. To quote the naturalist Wendell Berry, “I don’t understand everything that I am involved in.”