Summary: Byron Palmer is a Grazing Specialist for the Sonoma Mountain Institute, a non-profit in Sonoma County, California. In that role, Byron uses the combination of regenerative grazing practices and proper stockmanship to do custom grazing for local ranchers, using their cattle to preserve and restore land at Sonoma Mountain Institute. He also currently serves as the Director for Holistic Sourcing at Mindful Meats bringing organic, non-GMO, and pasture-raised meat to local markets.
Byron is passionate and reflective on the current state of the food economy and has identified many of the persistent structural obstacles facing farmers. He believes that in order for new farmers to be successful in most locations the notion of farming and ranching needs to be decoupled from the notion of land ownership. He says that when buying land you are purchasing so many more layers of value then then what you use in most cases (Mineral Rights, relative location, wind that goes over it, development rights, water that falls on it, trees etc.). These additional layers of value increase the overall land price beyond what you harvest for agriculture, in turn forcing overall scale and operations to be unsustainably large for most farms. In this decoupling of the land and farming business, he identifies a greater need for creative land use agreements with more innovative farming enterprises. He wants to see an emergence of models to link land and asset owners with the landless, in hopes of sparking more common modes for intergenerational land transfer. Palmer believes that there is a vast lack of business training as well as a lack of orientation to the landscape of food and farming for young entrants into the food economy. He sees the need to help people articulate their entry point into farming stressing that there are 100s of ways to participate, and being a farmer is just one of them. He stresses that the new food economy needs more than a collection of pioneering farmers; it needs engineers, educators, software developers, logistical problem solvers, graphic designers, relationship counselors and many others to better foster a dynamic farming economy.
History: Byron came to farming and ranching through his work as a documentary filmmaker with Habitat Media. Working on a documentary profiling the agriculture sector ultimately led him to start farming in 2006. On his farming path, he took biointensive gardening courses with Ecology Action, apprenticed in organic agriculture at The Farm in Tennessee, and completed a two year intensive permaculture, ecology and leadership program with The Regenerative Design Institute in California. In 2011, he began managing the ranching operations of Tara Firma Farm, a large diversified organic farm and member CSA in Sonoma County, CA. Byron worked with an amazing team, and supportive owners at Tara Firma to greatly improve their operations, nearly doubling their CSA membership from 500 to 1000 families. Working with this team, he helped transform the business, bringing it very very close, to a profitable bottom line. During that time, he strengthened his already strong passion for high-density grazing and holistic management as a tool to heal the land. His position at Tara Firma, while amazing, didn’t allow him the ability to focus on his passions. So, guided by his learning as a student with Ranching for Profit, Byron left Tara Firma to pursue his commitment to regenerative Land Management using herbivores as his tool. In ranching, he has found a convergence of his ideals and passions. His latest pursuits as a Grazing Specialist and Sourcing Director have revealed a more balanced work relationship paired with a greater sense of purpose.