Updated: Jan 10, 2020
As a field hand in the Midwest, I have no land of my own, and my work disappears under snow for several months of the year. Living in an urban center and commuting to the outskirts has been an education in the relationship between conservation and culture, history and technology, domesticity and wilderness. I relish the dissonance, yet I’m torn—between advocating for farmers and working as one.
Last winter I drove west, as young, landless farmers must, in search of sun and some unfrozen soil to dig my hands into. Incidentally, I found myself in the high desert of New Mexico, working off-the-grid and without running water, alongside a herd of free-range dairy goats.
The rich history of goats quickly intrigued me—in their 10,000 year existence as domestic animals, they’ve provided sustenance to nomads, sea voyagers, and desert smugglers. Not only do they persist in harsh environments, but they transform them into milk. As I followed these goats down rocky highways, over cliffs, and through arroyos, I began to learn the varieties of yucca, cacti, and pinon, which were at first alien to me.
Historically, the life of a goat-walker was isolating, difficult, and irregular—but also steeped in simple, tranquil beauty. Nomadic pastoralism was certainly a matter of survival, not theatre—animals and caretakers tucked away in the farthest countryside, always moving on to the next piece of land. At the dairy in New Mexico, the rhythm of our lives lined up with the needs of the goats. Our days were bookended by milking, punctuated by feeding and less often, birthing and slaughter. We ate thick, creamy chevre made from their milk; we relished their hearts and their livers with onions; we peeled the meat from their ribs.
I resonate with the scrappy ingenuity of goats—their spunk that carries into the taste of their milk, their disbelief in fences. My dream is to take them on tour, giving goats the stage they are practically built for, while showcasing a better, ecological alternative to lawn-care chemicals and powered mowers.
With goats, I can bring agriculture into places which seem inedible or useless. I can bring attention to unused lots and bits of overgrown land as much as I can for farmers themselves—all while wearing down hoofs against cliffs of pavement, reshaping expectations, and advocating for surprise. Without land of my own, I can be a modern goat-walker, my hands engaged in both advocacy and farming, working to transcend the urban-rural binary and rewrite our ecologies to include grazers and browsers once again. Thinning the overgrown and adding fertility to the forgotten, I can reimagine a world which is hospitable to farmers, connected to its food, and interested in ecology. Turning brambles into milk, I can contribute to making the world a safer and more edible place.