Established by first-generation Capay Valley farmers Christian Cain and Shannon Waldron in 2017, Perennial Grazing has quickly become a sought-after service in the midst of worsening wildfires in California. The company offers sheep-grazing services for fire safety, targeted ecological projects, and crop system management for vineyards and orchards. The couple takes pride in utilizing their 750 sheep to provide a soil-building alternative to tillage and chemical fertilizers on over 1200 acres per year while promoting native grasses and local food systems. The sheep are also harvested for meat production and sold directly to local families, restaurants, and markets.
Christian credits the supportive community in Capay Valley for playing a crucial role in his farming journey. He was first exposed to ranching at Deep Springs College, near Death Valley. An alternative school situated in the Sierra with a cattle ranch, he notes he gained “experience with doing the work and the rhythm of that life and everything, but that ranch wasn't still ecologically minded.”
Upon moving to Yolo County, he was surrounded by farmers who shared a passion for sustainable agriculture and were willing to try new approaches beyond the conventional farming techniques. “I met a lot of inspiring organic farmers and then I got obsessed with the possibilities that grazing presents and what can be done with it. And then I met Shannon and she came into it through us being together. She helped guide us to think, ‘Okay. Well, how can we bring this to more people and more places and more industries and really open up the flower?’”
Christian emphasizes the importance of a support network: “When I told them [the farmers] about wanting to do this grazing enterprise, they were saying, ‘Okay. Well if you did, you could use this field of ours, or you could use this truck of mine.’ These are different farmers talking to us and just offering the support to make it feel more possible. It's all about those relationships, and it continues to be.”
Christian and Shannon re-financed business debt, which was used to expand their herd and equipment, through California FarmLink’s 0% loan program. FarmLink has set up an annual repayment structure to support the seasonal nature of the business. “I'd say everything we do with California FarmLink allows us to really confidently present ourselves to the world as professionals and say we're going to bring a certain amount of animals somewhere at a certain time and really confidently hit those goals and set ambitious goals and then achieve them.” In addition to growing their business, Christian and Shannon have been invited to speak about regenerative grazing by organizations such as UC Davis, Fibershed, ManyLabs, PT Ranch, Wildfires to Wildflowers, and the California Climate and Agriculture Network (CalCAN) 2022 Summit.
Regenerative grazing is a farming practice that involves moving livestock through different areas of land to promote soil health, increase biodiversity, and reduce the use of chemical fertilizers. The animals are allowed to graze in a controlled manner, with enough time for the land to recover before they return. This process can also help to sequester carbon in the soil, which can help mitigate climate change.
To Christian and Shannon, Perennial Grazing is not just a job but a way of life. Going forward, they aim to communicate their message more effectively and change prior, negative perceptions of intensive grazing. Future goals also include expanding their work to public lands and growing their team. They believe that as humans, we are responsible for taking care of the grasslands and nurturing them. “And one thing that always comes to mind for me is that grasslands and herbivores, like sheep and cows, evolve, so they're really meant to be together…I have a lot of good talks with people, just saying, ‘So what are we going to do to take care of this land?’”
Sherlin Benjamin is an International Environmental Policy Master’s Candidate specializing in Sustainability Management at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in Monterey.