Graze Ojai: Ojai Valley’s Community Supported Grazing Program
As a part of the Ojai Valley Fire Safe Council’s community-focused and community-driven wildfire risk mitigation strategy, we launched in 2021 our Community-Supported Grazing Program (CSGP) using the prescribed grazing of sheep, goats, and cattle for fuel reduction, vegetation management, and ecosystem enhancement projects in the Ojai Valley and Ventura River Watershed. Prescribed Grazing is the use of ruminants as a tool to meet specified land management objectives. This ecological approach is a practical and impactful alternative to chemicals and fossil fuel-dependent mechanical methods of vegetation management and fuel reduction.This program will engage the community to closely observe fire fuel reduction at work with grazing animals in some of Ojai’s most populated areas and in critical fuel beds surrounding the valley and watershed. The CSGP will seek to bolster public participation in, and support of, efforts to increase our communities’ fire safety and resilience.
The CSGP is a multi-stakeholder approach with private and public landowners and managers to create diverse funding sources and collaborative management oversight of contract grazing services to carry out the goals and implement the strategies set forth by the prescribed grazing program.
Prescribed grazing is being carried out by local targeted grazing businesses to support a growing local industry for public safety and ecosystem services using this ecologically-sound management strategy as another important tool in the fire prevention and preparedness toolbox.
GOALS & VISIONS OF THE CSGP:
- To develop a prescribed grazing program that integrates holistic approaches to impactful and efficient fuel reduction and other vegetation management of the wildland-urban interface of Ojai Valley and the Ventura River Watershed.
- To engage local and regional government agencies, county/state/federal open space authorities, conservation groups, academic institutions, local public and private schools, businesses, and private landowners in planning, fundraising, education, and training.
- To support community engagement and diverse fiscal support from private and public stakeholders, in addition, to grant funding.
- To create an innovative and transferable framework for how a community-supported prescribed grazing program can be developed and implemented from the ground up.
- To utilize local resources and technical support of industry leaders from the Grazing School of the West and to engage with other successful grazing programs around the state. Examples include:
- Fire Safe Marin Goat Grazing (https://firesafemarin.org/
- East Bay Regional Park District (https://www.ebparks.org/
- Sonoma Resource Conservation District Landsmart® Grazing for Community Resilience (https://sonomarcd.org/get-
- Fibershed (https://fibershed.org/
- Fire Safe Marin Goat Grazing (https://firesafemarin.org/
- To create foundations for a successful program with the use of new technology and software tools for implementing holistic approaches of prescribed grazing, GIS mapping systems, and cutting-edge software for communications throughout the duration of the program.
- To collaborate with universities to develop research projects to monitor ecological factors and goals of carbon soil enhancement.
- Develop a landscape-level “Wildfire Intensity Reduction Zone” (aka “The Corridor”) that extends from Upper Ojai and down both sides of the Ventura River Watershed. This will be a continuous, and contiguous as possible, annually grazed corridor of approximately 3,000 acres.
GRAZING SCHOOL OF THE WEST
To reach the grazing acreage targets set by the CSGP (and other prescribed grazing programs in Southern and Central Coast counties), there is an unmet demand for skilled shepherds. To address this important need, the OVFSC is the fiscal sponsor The Grazing School of the West.
The Grazing School of the West offers multidisciplinary vocational training, peer exchange, technical assistance, and professional development for individuals working within regenerative livestock and land management. The GSW mission is to support and promote individuals utilizing regenerative livestock grazing as a land stewardship methodology.
GOALS OF THE GRAZING SCHOOL OF THE WEST
TRAIN: To expand the number of active working graziers in the west; to instruct active graziers in vital skills for responsible business management and ownership; to promote a suite of ethical best practices for small ruminant and cattle grazing professionals.
CONVENE: To empower a connected, informed, and participatory group of western graziers working in tandem to support each other in qualitative and practical ways in order to further the development of contract grazing as an industry; to be an active voice in public moments of legislation, advocacy, or publicity of issues that affect the solvency of responsible grazing in the west.
SUPPORT: To contribute to the creation of a vibrant pipeline of grazing contracts and actual job opportunities for incoming and existing graziers; to transfer significant acreage away from chemical and mechanical fire load reduction techniques; to facilitate improved stewardship of public and private land bases at local, municipal, and regional level with increased knowledge on soil health and biodiversity, careful attention to healthy water system preservation, native habitat enhancement, and controlled spreading of invasive species.
WHO WE SERVE
New, beginning or hopeful ranchers, livestock and land managers
- Current agricultural apprentices and interns enrolled in or graduating from other training programs.
- Interested, inexperienced individuals from non-traditional demographics (examples: urban, college graduates, new to agriculture, refugee, indigenous american, veteran, post-incarceration, women, people of color, LGBTQ, socially disadvantaged.)
- Multi-generational operations looking to improve their viability and success through legacy farming.
- Current employees or managers looking to become entrepreneurs.
Seasoned or transitioning land and livestock practitioners
- Existing or hopeful entrepreneurs in grazing
Professionals in the land management field
- Private and public landowners
- State, regional or federal agencies or municipalities
- Non-profit organizations and their personnel
- Land Trusts and their personnel
- Schools and universities with relevant departments, academics and scholars
More information can be found at grazingschoolofthewest.com
Contact Brittany “Cole” Bush, Co-Director, at: email@example.com
Brittany "Cole" Bush
Cofounder and Consultant, Co-Director of Grazing School of the West, Shepherdess Land & Livestock LLC
Brittany Cole Bush, AKA Cole is an entrepreneur, educator, and practitioner in the fields of climate beneficial agriculture, land stewardship, and prescribed grazing based out of Southern California. With over a decade of experience, Cole has developed and managed the treatment of thousands of acres on private and public lands using prescribed herbivory with commercial-scale herds of sheep and/or goats as a tool for restoration, remediation and fire hazard reduction in Northern and Southern California. Clients have included: CalTrans, PG&E, East Bay Regional Parks Districts, city municipalities, land trusts, homeowners associations, and private landowners.
Cole sits on the California Range Management Advisory Committee of the California Board of Foresters. She is the Founder and Owner of Shepherdess Land and Livestock Co., a prescribed grazing outfit based out of Ventura County working on both fire fuels mitigation and ecological enhancement projects and the Director of the Grazing School of the West, a vocational training program for individuals entering the field of climate beneficial agriculture and land stewardship. Cole is also the Co-Director of the Ojai Valley Community Supported Grazing Program, an initiative of the Ojai Valley Fire Safe Council in a multi-stakeholder approach with public agencies, non-profit organizations, and private landowners to increase fire safety and ecological resilience at watershed scale at the Wildland Urban Interface.
Michael Leicht, Consultant
Ventura Brush Goats LLC
Michael has been passionate about regenerative agriculture from an early age. At 20 years old, he began writing about the importance of local versus global food economies. When he started his own small farm at 23, he would slip short essays lauding the benefits of localized agriculture into his weekly ‘CSA’ veggie deliveries. When asked why he was so passionate about local food, Michael would exclaim “Localizing agriculture is not only good for our health; it benefits our community, our planet, and just tastes better!”
At 24, his daughter Lavender was born, and Michael struggled to find locally produced milk to provide for her. Not content with the store-bought fare, this first-time dad decided to learn how to milk goats to provide homegrown milk for his daughter.
The demand for this holistic and effective vegetation management service was so great, Ventura Brush Goats went from managing just 6 goats to about 800 sheep and goats in just 4 years. The company clears 5 acres of fire-fuel per day on average. In 2022, Michael became certified as a ‘Type 1 Wildland Fire-Fighter’ in order to better understand how practices such as pre-emptive vegetation modification can prevent wildfire damage within the wildland-urban interface.
Diane Anastasio, Program Coordinator
Grazing School of the West
Diane Anastasio is a weaver, writer and shepherd currently working with Shepherdess Land & Livestock in Ojai, California. Diane arrived in agriculture through overlapping explorations of food systems, nutrition, and a deep desire to carry on the work of her agrarian ancestors. Her mission as a land-based weaver is to exemplify the full circle of wool production, from raising sheep on pasture, to breathing new life into their wool in the form of utilitarian pieces of art that serve as reminders of the ancient relationship between humans and sheep.
Before working with Shepherdess Land & Livestock, Diane worked as a nutritionist and as a butcher, pasta maker and livestock-tender on a Vermont farm. She is passionate about creating accessible pathways into prescribed grazing and has been collaborating on the development of the Grazing School of the West in order to support new generations of agrarians in the field.
After growing up on the East Coast, Maurica (more-EE-suh) has been fortunate to make California’s Central Coast her home and living laboratory since 1996. Driven by a life-long understanding that change is the only constant, her research interests span a wide array of topics such as land restoration and reengaging (western) humanity with the landscape, chaparral ecology, and sociology and wisdom.
Maurica’s life’s work is encapsulated by a mentor’s directive to “leave it better than you found it,” applied to doing right by the land and people in our disrupted climate. To that end, she seeks to strengthen bridges through problem solving/connecting, project managing, and active mentoring via a confluence of professional roles within both the public and private sectors. Maurica hasn’t found a FireSafe Council that she won’t enthusiastically support, though she works for and volunteers closely with her perennial favorites: SLO County and Ojai Valley. For Coastal San Luis Resource Conservation District, she facilitates a fine-scale vegetation mapping project across three counties that, once complete, will inform natural disaster risk assessment, high-priority conservation work, and innumerable restoration and research projects across many land-based fields – please ask her about it! Maurica is thrilled to have recently joined Althouse and Meade as their fire and fuels project manager, so enabling her to work with an even larger network of environmental professionals.
Previously, Maurica worked for CalFire for nearly a decade; taught forestry, GIS, and environmental sciences in Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo’s Natural Resources Department (her alma mater); and served in several roles at Cal Poly’s Swanton Pacific Ranch, including as coordinator of a statewide fuels management workforce development program.
These days you’ll find her picking up interesting rocks and spending beach days with her beloved, their children, and their wild extended family.