Steady As The Sun: Seeing Through the Eyes of a Sparrow
By Doniga Markegard
Here we are steady as the sun that rises every morning and sets every evening. We have made it through shutdowns, meat shortages, drought, fire and an ever-increasing uncertainty of the future of our climate. One thing we know for certain is that we can kick off our boots and hang our hats at the end of the day knowing we did something to leave this planet better than we found it. Those of us who raise and grow food are just as essential to the survival of our species as a mother bird to hers as she cares for her fledglings before they leave the nest.
We are all feeling it. Record breaking temperatures, mega droughts and mega fires are currently plaguing the West. We look around and see that over half of the world's plant-based nutrition comes from just three crops: corn, wheat and rice. Due to the expansive tilling of once intact prairie ecosystems, grassland bird species have declined by 53% since 1970. Groups such as the Audubon Society are recognizing this, and they are enlisting grass-fed ranchers to partner with to bring these birds back. These birds depend on diversity, on prairie and grazing animals that can be managed holistically to support these ecosystems. Shifting to eat more grass-fed, regeneratively raised beef will help bring these birds back.
Only 30% of young songbirds make it through their first year of life. They are taken out by hawks, feral cats, windows or wind turbines. If a sparrow loses their nest to a tractor plow or a fox, she tries again, season after season. With a mother bird already fighting for survival from the known natural and human causes we are just adding more to that by relying on just these three crops to feed us. From the sparrow's perspective, those crops are not going to increase the odds of survival. How do we continue like that mother bird and keep working to ensure our survival and a good life for future generations?
My family and I work hard everyday to ranch in a way that regenerates biodiversity, captures carbon in the soil and feeds people nutrient dense food. I am doing this amidst the uncertainty because I have no other choice. I care about my children and their children yet to come. Like the songbird, I do not give up. I continue despite the odds.
A well respected PHD in ecology and animal science recently told me that beef is a massive global monster. Consolidation, corporate greed, deforestation of the Amazon, animals in feedlots fed grains responsible for destroying prairie ecosystems are just a few of the monster's daily activities. So how do we tackle that monster? With love. We spread love from every direction so that the monster is transformed and doesn't know how it happened. In permaculture I learned that the problem is the solution. I recently started working with a neighbor rancher to transition his family ranches to 100% grass-fed and grass-finished. Most cattle start out on grass, but they are then sold to the monster to finish in a feedlot. It takes a huge risk and a lot of work to pull away from that monster and do it all on your own, especially amidst the climate crisis we are in. We made the transition away from the monster 17 years ago when grass-fed was fringe, and we relied on a few influential mom groups to support our direct market beef program. This is what it will take - one rancher at a time, one mom group at a time. We need everyone to search for that love in your heart, imagine those intact prairie ecosystems and the grass-fed cattle being our co-creators of life, biodiversity and carbon drawdown. We can envision a future for our children that is fueled by farmers and ranchers that love the land and care for it as a sparrow will care for her young.
Doniga Markegard is a wildlife tracker, regenerative rancher, speaker, and author of Dawn Again: Tracking the Wisdom of the Wild and Wolf Girl: Finding Myself in the Wild. Her teen years in nature school started her on a path that led to a career in animal tracking and then permaculture and ranching in at her farm in California, Markegard Family Grass-Fed, where she works to regenerate both soil and community through farming. Using the innovative, carbon-storing methods of regenerative ranching, she’s restoring the land she tends, bringing native grasses and wildlife back. Doniga is a consultant and guest instructor at Nature Awareness Programs around the country, has led retreats in places such as 1440 Multiversity, Canyon Ranch and is a regular speaker at events such as the Bioneers Conference, Food Inspiration Trendsummit, and The Grassfed Exchange. She is a certified educator with Holistic Management International. She has worked with companies such as Patagonia, Tesla and Google, and has been featured in articles from Civil Eats, FastCompany, GreenBiz, The San Francisco Examiner, and NPR. Most recently she has been featured in the film Kiss the Ground available on Netflix.