Farmers and ranchers share land for healthier food and less waste

Farmers and ranchers share land for healthier food and less waste

Sharing land and other resources among farmers isn’t new. But research shows it may be increasingly relevant in a time of climatic upheaval.

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The livestock trucks arrived all night. One after the other they backed up to the wood chute leading to a dusty corral and loosed their cargo — 580 head of cattle by the time the last truck pulled away at 3pm the next afternoon. Dan Probert, astride his horse, guided the cows to paddocks of pristine grassland stretching alongside the snow-peaked Wallowa Mountains. They’d spend the summer here grazing bunchgrass and clovers and biscuitroot. The scuffle of their hooves and nibbles of their teeth would mimic the elk, antelope and bison that are thought to have historically roamed this portion of northeastern Oregon’s Zumwalt Prairie, helping grasses grow and restoring health to the soil.

The cows weren’t Probert’s, although the fifth-generation rancher and one other member of the Carman Ranch Direct grass-fed beef collective also raise their own herds here for part of every year. But in spring, when the prairie is in bloom, Probert receives cattle from several other ranchers. As the grasses wither in October, the cows move on to graze fertile pastures throughout the Columbia Basin, which stretches across several Pacific Northwest states; some overwinter on a vegetable farm in central Washington, feeding on corn leaves and pea vines left behind after harvest.

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Lela Nargi
Lela Nargi is a Brooklyn, NY-based veteran freelance journalist covering food and agriculture system, social justice issues, science & the environment, and the places where those topics intersect for The New York Times, The Guardian, the Food and Environment Reporting Network (FERN), Eater, Modern Farmer, USA Today, and other outlets. Find her at lelanargi.com.
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Getty Images

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