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carbon cowboy synopses

soil carbon cowboys

Gabe Brown, Allen Williams and Neil Dennis were all going out of business with their conventional grazing – then nature forced their hand to try grazing without chemicals because they couldn’t afford them anymore. They are now the pioneers in regenerative grazing – replacing the specter of bankruptcy with resiliency. These ranchers regenerate their soils which makes their animals healthier and their operations more profitable. Robust soils enable rainwater to sink into the earth rather than run off; and retain that water, so the ranches are much more resilient in drought.

  • Gabe Brown: “It’s extremely low stress, because we are working with nature, instead of against her.”
  • Allen Williams: Regenerative grazing “is allowing these plants, as they’re rapidly re-growing, to capture carbon out of the air, and put it back into the soil.”
  • Neil Dennis: On how regenerative grazing is much less work: “I’ve got more spare time on my hands than I know what to do with… If I was to start this when I was your age, you know what would have happened? I would have had 15 kids by now, because I spend so much time in the house.”

Filmed in Starkville, Mississippi: Bismarck, North Dakota; Wawona, Saskatchewan, Canada.

one hundred thousand beating hearts

Fourth generation cattleman Will Harris shares his evolution from industrial, commodity cowboy to sustainable, humane food producer. A growing group of consumers look at beef consumption as a terrible environmental and moral choice. Harris’s work in southwest Georgia shows how he produces healthy beef that regenerates his soils and allow the animals to express their natural instincts. The 150+ jobs he has created are breathing new life into a community left behind and forgotten due to, as Will says, the industrialization of agriculture.

  • Will Harris: Responding to conventional farmers saying Will cannot feed the world like this: “My response is, I don’t know that I’m supposed to feed the world, I think I’m supposed to feed my community.”

Filmed in Blufton, Georgia.

a fence and an owner

At the Ranney Ranch in arid Corona, New Mexico, Adaptive Multi-Paddock (AMP) grazing is restoring soils and benefiting the environment while producing healthy food for consumers – and they changed to AMP grazing during a 15-year drought – this was unheard of. Ranch manager Melvin Johnson was extremely resistant to trying this new method of grazing, having been a conventional rancher all his life.

  • Melvin Johnson (ranch manager): “I was almost not willing to try… I almost didn’t want to admit I was seeing the difference… My medicine bill was probably 10% of what an average ranch would be. So, I don’t know if we could have done anything better.”
  • Nancy Ranney (ranch owner): “We still had grass for the couple of years where there was no rain, and everyone else was out.”

Filmed in Corona, New Mexico

during the drought

Michael Thompson, a young farmer in Kansas, is regenerating his soils with no-till, cover-crops practices coupled with Adaptive Multi-Paddock (AMP) grazing - giving his farm resilience during the severe 2011 and 2012 droughts. While his neighbors’ soils are washing down gullies and blowing away towards the east, Michael is building a farm he can leave to his children. His exemplary work was given the Kansas Farm Bureau Natural Resources Award.

  • Michael Thompson: “I personally am debt free, and a lot it’s because the grazing.”

Filmed in Norton, Kansas

the luckiest places on earth

A research team led by ecologist Steve Apfelbaum explores 4 regenerative grazing ranches in Alberta, Canada. The ranchers were some of the very first to adopt organic farming and AMP grazing in Canada – making their ranches profitable, and a haven for wildlife.

  • Steve Apfelbaum: “If we can restore health to landscapes, we can probably remove huge quantities of atmospheric carbon dioxide and put that back where it came from… There is this huge opportunity to rebuild soils, and rebuild ecosystems.”

Filmed in Alberta, Canada

i sell water and sunshine

USDA grazing specialist Doug Peterson has spent his entire career teaching reticent farmers and ranchers to focus on their soil health, even if, and especially if, that means adopting new ways to graze. Peterson walks the walk, practicing and experimenting new methods on his and his dad’s farm outside of Newtown, Missouri.

  • Doug Peterson: “I’m going to get up in the morning … and I’m going to say goodbye to my wife and kids and I’m going to go out and talk about soil health to people. I’m going to go home, and get up the next day, and do it again. And if I can reach somebody every day, then we’ll eventually get there.”

Filmed near Newtown, Missouri

givers and takers

Don Jackson wanted to change his grazing methods, and he called Allen Williams, a top U.S. expert on regenerative agriculture for help. Allen helped Don transition from continuous grazing to AMP (Adaptive Multi-Paddock) grazing. This film captures Don's first 6 months of the transition - in Don's 1st growing season. Don (and his son Patrick) can see huge changes already, especially in the amount of forage they can produce, the improved health of their cattle, and the increase in beneficial insects.

  • Don Jackson: “That’s my goal, to build this top soil for my grandkids… There’s givers and takers. You can divide everybody up into givers and takers. And I want to be a giver. I’d like to give back what I have taken.”

Filmed in Ware Shoals, South Carolina

herd impact

Husband and wife ranchers Emry Birdwell and Deborah Clark have been going against the grain of North Texas ranching for decades – hiding their ability to raise many, many more cattle per acre than any of their neighbors. They are a fiery couple, prone to snips as they get their field work done – they are in their 60s, and run the 14,000 acre place on their own, sometimes with one extra hand.

  • Deborah Clark: “On average, we’re producing between a 100 and 120 pounds of beef per acre. Our neighbors, and the county average is somewhere between 40 and 50. That’s a telling number.”

Filmed in Henrietta, Texas

time will tell

Dairy farmer Ben Mead, and beef producer Martin Howard are renegades in southwest England – figuring out ways to graze their cattle using nature as the starting point – eschewing chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides while giving their animals, and their land, the best chance of health and regeneration. There is no soil run-off from their farms while their neighbors’ soils cause the port of Plymouth to be dredged on an annual basis. • Ben Mead: “You kind of need a degree of failure to actually kick you up the ass to get a degree of success.”

  • Martin Howard: “Instead of being down that conventional road of having to work with chemicals, life is more interesting to me, ‘cause you’ve actually got to be a farmer.”

Filmed in Devon and Cornwall, UK

this farm is medicine

Murray Provine lived the traveling executive lifestyle until prostate cancer was diagnosed. With a focus on his personal health, he changed his 110 acre horse farm to Adaptive Multi-Paddock (AMP) cattle grazing - with the tutelage of Allen Williams. 3 years into the change, Murray and his land are in much better health.

  • Murray Provine: “There are a lot of things that pass us by at this age but then there are other things that come along and make life exciting. This farm is a big part of that. This farm is medicine to me.”

Filmed in Clarkesville, Georgia

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