Grass-Fed & Pasture-Raised vs. Factory-Farmed > Meet the Farmer

JULY 2021

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Welcome to San Juan Land & Livestock 

Farmer George Whitten likes to say he learned everything he needed to know about life by walking behind an old ewe. Born near Saguache, Colorado, on the ranch that has been in his family for 127 years, he was an environmentalist before he ever heard the word. At 8,000 feet, the land is dry and the weather is extreme, going down to 30° below in the winter. One day, when George was 48, a bus full of students from the Audubon Expedition Institute arrived. They wanted to learn what he was up to. The teacher, Julie Sullivan, a former actor from San Diego, was an “anti-cattle vegetarian, uppity feminist environmentalist,” as she puts it. “I didn’t even know how to drive.” 

Well, Julie never quite left. And now, 20 years later, she and George raise certified organic, grass-fed cattle together as they work to regenerate the soil and conserve water. Their cattle roam the meadows, as George and Julie physically move a solar-powered electric fence to guide them toward fresh grazing. “We also spend a lot of time working with organic farmers that let us bring our livestock onto their fields to help them rebuild their soil,” says George. “And then they plant cover crops and we graze them. And so there's reciprocity there.” 

One of George’s innovations is about the hay: Instead of baling, hauling it somewhere for storage and then back out to the fields for feeding, they cut it and make it into little piles right there in the meadow for the cows to munch. “That way the viable seed is deposited back into the ground through the action of the cows, eating and pooping and stepping on it. So the meadow not only is able to reseed itself, but it maintains its biodiversity,” says Julie. “We also use less machinery and fossil fuels—partly because we just go out and move that electric fence with our human legs and arms. Granted, we have to pound holes in the frozen ground. But, hey, we don’t need a gym membership.” Because that’s another thing George likes to say:  “If the sun and animals and soil can do the work, why are we starting a combustion engine?”