Here’s a photo from my recent experience as a 2018 Stone Barns Exchange Fellow. We’re gathered on a patch of land in Pocantico Hills, NY that was once home to a monastery and, in revolutionary times, a place for ranchers to hide their cattle from roving soldiers. It was known as Buttermilk Hill because the roads were so bumpy milk would turn to buttermilk before journey’s end.
The day was dry and hot. Standing on land devoid of any signs of humankind except for our little group, we glimpsed the pastoral life of a much earlier century. Sheep, goats and cattle grazed close by to each other, and at one point the sound of bleating of lambs was so loud it was like being in an echo chamber filled with rambunctious ruminants.
The human talk that day, led by grazier Mike Peterson and farm director Jack Algiere, was about regenerative grazing, or returning the soil to health through the tightly bunched herds that rotated through the pastures. Their grazing would stimulate grass growth and robust root formation, activating dormant seeds and enriching the earth. This process would also sequester carbon, a key reason regenerative grazing is gaining adherents.
It was an apt lesson for our fellowship, which focused on the intersection of agriculture and climate change. You can read more detailed accounts of our time a Stone Barns through these blog posts I wrote.
We were a diverse group of nine women from across the country and world. All of us were working in our own way for a better food system, and a number of us did work directly connected with soil health: Aria through her work advocating for soil change legislation at the federal level; Kathryn, as a grass-fed beef expert and director of business development at Carman Ranch; and Karen through her work at her restaurant and non-profit in San Francisco, which educate diners about soil health and carbon sequestration.
Regenerative agriculture and carbon farming alone are not going to solve our climate challenges, but they are way into thinking about these issues. Soil and its life-giving potential bonded and grounded us.
Here are some other snapshots of our time at Stone Barns:
The greenhouses at Stone Barns.