Q+A With White Buffalo

Q+A With White Buffalo

Cayla Zelanis

The bright future of regenerative agriculture inspires us with the same exhilaration we felt for organic farming back in 1991. The quest for cleaner, safer ways to create has led us to an exciting new partnership with the White Buffalo Land Trust, celebrating this deep-rooted method of engaging with the land.

White Buffalo Land Trust sign with logo

The White Buffalo Land Trust recently welcomed our own Sejal (VP Ecommerce + Marketing), Margot (Manager, Production + Sustainability), and Eileen (CEO) to their demonstration farm in Summerland, CA, where they shared their groundbreaking approach to agriculture.

Gone are the rigid rows of individual crops and heavy machinery: the land is brimming with life, and feels as though nature has reclaimed it — though every plant serves a purpose. Native species of plants and wildlife are beginning their return, and the soil is rich with nutrients. The methods feel so intuitive, yet they carry the potential to spark an agricultural revolution.

They took the time to walk us through the ranch, greeted at every turn with the warm smile of a new friend who, without hesitation, dropped what they were doing to share their enthusiasm and expertise. The three of us were treated to heartwarming stories, knowledge, tokens of appreciation, and an organic feast of a lunch at the home of Steve’s mother-in-law, nestled atop the hillside.

The compassion they feel for the land is expressed in everything they do, driven by a quest for a healthier way of life that benefits the environment, humanity, and all living things. 

Their principles and practices showcase the resilience of nature: all that native life returns, even after all this time. Undoing the damage of industrial agriculture is no small feat, but the work of White Buffalo Land Trust proves that the solution lies in working WITH the land instead of trying to conquer it.

With WBLT, we are joining a movement. We are marching toward a large-scale adoption of these methods, and cementing regenerative agriculture as the new norm. While WBLT is not currently producing fiber, for us, our contribution to their work at Jalama Canyon Ranch is an investment in the future of all farming, and fiber will soon find a way. We’re all in this together.

As part of our visit, Steve Finkel, the Founder of White Buffalo, sat down with our CEO, Eileen Mockus, to shed a light on regenerative agriculture and the driving force behind White Buffalo Land Trust.

Eileen: Thank you for taking the time to share your passion and expertise with us, Steve. Can you tell us a little about your journey, and what inspired you to get involved in regenerative agriculture in the first place?

Steve: My introduction to regenerative agriculture came from the inspiration of my late wife, Lyndsey McMorrow. Lyndsey and I shared a passion for creating a better world, and during our life together we worked on many conservation and social justice based projects. In her last years she devoted her attention to the power and potential of regenerative agriculture and brought me along into it. When she passed away in 2018, I founded White Buffalo Land Trust in her honor, to continue her vision and make it a reality for the benefit of all of us.

Since the founding, White Buffalo Land Trust has grown out of the unique stories each member of our team has to tell about how regenerative agriculture became their life’s work. The root of these stories lies in the understanding that the world is out of balance, and a passion to dedicate oneself to the work of finding a better way forward. Our team is committed to the work of aligning agriculture, conservation and human development in a way that supports the long term health of ourselves, our environment, and our economies.

Eileen: Everything has changed over the past several weeks and we are all experiencing a new reality. Why do you feel regenerative agriculture is important, especially right now?

Steve: As all of us are aware right now, we are facing major public health and environmental crises around the world. The climate continues to heat up, biodiversity is rapidly declining, toxic inputs are overwhelming our food system, and we are near the end of our supply of top soil for growing any food at all. So that gets my attention and tells me it is time for bold action! 

The good news is, these global imperatives have local solutions and regenerative agriculture is a foundational element. Typical land management continues to use toxic chemicals, erode topsoil, and cause carbon to be released into the atmosphere, leading to a negative cycle of even greater toxicity, less food yield, and increasing climate pressure. By transitioning to regenerative agriculture, we can reverse these trends and create a positive cycle. A cycle built on the growth of healthy soils, the restoration of water cycles, carbon sequestration, the remediation of toxins in our food system, and the increased nutrition and resiliency of plant and animal crops. This is doable, and it is happening! And there is a way for everyone to get involved.

Eileen: We are so excited about the potential for regenerative agriculture to change the way the world farms. What role do you see White Buffalo playing in this movement?

Steve: At WBLT, we do several things that are both innovative and unique. First and foremost, we do not operate like a typical non-profit; we are an entrepreneurial start-up. We approach our mission — and the urgent need to create positive outcomes in ecosystems, food systems, and community dynamics — as our products and services; and we know we are in a very competitive marketplace. We began with a 12 acre farm to prove our concept, and now we are scaling to a 1,000 acre project where the positive outcomes we create can inspire and facilitate the transition of millions of acres.

Another unique aspect of our work is that we are building a fully integrated regenerative system; from stewarding land to packaged foods, and all along the way we are researching the impact of our practices, and educating and training others. Our entire operating system is built on the foundational concept that we must reconnect human health to ecosystem health if we are to thrive.

Eileen: We would love to hear all about your vision for Jalama Canyon Ranch. What can you share about this groundbreaking project?

Steve: Jalama Canyon Ranch is a majestic 1,000 acre parcel on the Central California coast. It is a classic example of productive agricultural land and oak woodlands that have been depleted over time by conventional practices. And it is here where we see the greatest opportunity! We are building a Center for Regenerative Agriculture at Jalama Canyon Ranch that will model the power and potential of regenerative agriculture at scale in a financially viable way. Serving as a center for education, training, and scientific research, we are working to remove the barriers to rapid and broad adoption of regenerative agriculture locally, regionally and globally.

We are currently in the midst of our Campaign For Jalama and fundraising for the acquisition and perpetual protection of this land. We will close escrow and begin stewarding the land in December 2020. We are very excited to have Coyuchi as a strategic partner to the campaign and for your generous donation of $50,000! Now more than ever, projects like this are critical to creating the positive ecosystem and community outcomes we need to thrive on this earth for many generations to come.

Eileen: We're thrilled to support the Campaign for Jalama. Can you describe what success at Jalama Canyon Ranch looks like? And, how does that create impact beyond the Central Coast of California?

Steve: The Jalama project has many opportunities for success in diverse areas including scientific field research, community education, stewardship training, habitat conservation and restoration, enterprise development and of course, growing delicious local food. But the biggest success, where we have our sights set, is to bring all of these pieces together to develop and model what the future can be.

We envision Jalama Canyon Ranch as a thriving system that is producing the highest quality, nutrient dense, diverse crop of plant and animal products in a financially viable way — all while enhancing the ecological function of the landscape, and improving the resilience and quality of the local food system and communities.

We envision producing shareable data on practices, outcomes, and business models that inspire and support the transition of millions of additional acres of agriculture locally, regionally and globally. That's what success looks like!

Eileen: As a textile company, Coyuchi’s connection to agriculture is through the fiber we use in our products. How do fibers and textiles figure into your work at White Buffalo?

Steve: Fibers and textiles are at the core of how humans define culture. What we wear, and how we keep ourselves warm and comfortable goes back to our earliest history. In the modern context of synthetic fibers and materials, our organization is working to bring awareness back to the importance of natural fibers and what they mean for the health of our bodies, and the health of our landscapes. Cotton, Linen, Wool, Leather, Hemp, and Silk all have rich traditions and cultural relevance around the globe, and all have modern applications in current fashion and home textile trends. We see a groundswell of energy focused on understanding how the principles of regenerative agriculture can inform local practices to produce high quality fibers that help to regenerate landscapes and communities around the world. We're looking to cotton, wool and hemp to take center stage in the United States and here in California. 

Eileen: So I have to ask, where did the name White Buffalo Land Trust come from — and is it true you have a white buffalo on the farm?

Steve: It’s true! It’s a long and beautiful story, but I will give you the short version. The organization is named after two white buffalo sisters who came under the care of Bobbie McMorrow — our founding board member and owner of the Summerland Flagship Farm — at the request of a group of Lakota elders from a local Native American tribe who knew she could be trusted to keep these rare animals safe. Bobbie welcomed them onto her ranch in Santa Ynez, CA and into her family. Her daughter, Lyndsey McMorrow (my late wife), formed a strong connection with the buffalo sisters and cared for them dearly. Rooted in her understanding of Lakota traditions, Lyndsey believed the White Buffalo were an urgent reminder of our responsibility to the earth and to our relationships with all living things. Today, the surviving white buffalo sister grazes on the Summerland Flagship Farm and continues to be a reminder of the important work we must do to care for the health of our ecosystem and our communities.

Eileen: What a beautiful story. For those of us who feel inspired to make a difference, can you recommend four things we should all do right now to show our support for regenerative agriculture and accelerate its widespread implementation?

Steve: Consumers have enormous power! In fact, I believe consumers are the most powerful stakeholder in our entire economy. Every business wants to satisfy the consumer better than the next business. So consumers, make your voice heard! Let businesses know what you want and vote with your dollars!

Together we create the demand to transition to regenerative agriculture on a large scale. Here are a few ways you can positively impact the movement:

  1. Purchasing Power - VOTE WITH YOUR $$$. As you buy all types of products for your homes and families, be on the lookout for companies that are actively involved in regenerative agriculture, as well as those who are beginning to sell products sourced from regenerative farms and ranches.
  2. Get to Know Local Farmers - Sourcing from local food systems is foundational to the health of our communities and ecosystem. Get to know how your local farmers are producing food: Are they keeping their soil covered? Are they growing a diversity of crops? Do they integrate animals? How are they contributing to the long term health of the soil? What support do they need to further implement the principles of regenerative agriculture? 
  3. Donate to Organizations like White Buffalo Land Trust - Your support of organizations like ours catalyzes the transition to regenerative agriculture through innovative, on-the-ground demonstrations, community education, farmer and rancher trainings, rigorous scientific research to monitor and investigate the impact of these practices, and the development of new products sourced from regenerating landscapes.  
  4. Take Steps at Home - The whole family can get involved in supporting regenerative agriculture at home by starting to compost food scraps from the kitchen, growing a garden in the backyard, eating more perennial vegetables, and by asking questions at school and at work to inspire more focus on principles of regeneration.