One year ago, in January 2020, a group of Grassland 2.0 grad students launched the Grazing Oral History Initiative. They were motivated by a desire to collect stories from the farthest corners of the grazing movement. And, although the pandemic threw a major wrench in their plans, the group was still able to conduct more than 20 interviews—mostly over the phone and Zoom. These interviews have become an important part of the information gathering process for the Grassland 2.0 team, revealing many issues and challenges that graziers and grazing-aligned folks are up against today.
The team’s last interview of 2020 was with farmworker Edgar Navarro.
Edgar moved to the US from Mexico at 13 to join his mother and stepfather on their small conventional dairy farm outside Dodgeville, Wisconsin. He spent his high school years helping out and learning on that farm. Then, after finishing high school, he went to work on another farm in the area. For years, Edgar bounced between different conventional dairy operations as a farm worker. He wanted to have his own farm but struggled to access the resources and support. Eventually, Edgar got burned out working 100-hour weeks as an employee and went back to Mexico for a few months. When he returned in 2015, he started working at Green Dairy & Uplands Cheese, where he’s been ever since. This was Edgar’s first grazing operation, and it totally changed things for him.
Edgar talked with us at length about the challenges he faced working on conventional dairy farms, and why he has found the work at a grazing operation much more manageable. In Edgar’s own words:
This form of grazing changed my life, I think, because it made me look at things differently on a farm. Things I didn’t know before. I think my viewpoint, my personality, my mindset — I think the cows are happier now … and with grazing, we [the workers] have opportunities. Maybe there are months with a lot of work but after working there for years, I know that there will be two or three months with very little work. Time for yourself, time to relax, time for family. Time to take a vacation, to leave. It’s such an important thing that maybe a lot of farmer owners don’t see that way.
More to come soon about the Grazing Oral History Initiative and the farm worker perspective on animal agriculture.