Cuyama Lamb

Weaving Traditions: Building Capacity for Regional Grazing and Fire Mitigation and Reconnecting Regenerative Agriculture with Indigenous Art and Lifeways in California

Jenya Schneider and Jack Anderson met in 2016 at Quail Springs with the vision of restoring native California ecologies while producing regeneratively sourced food and fiber. Their backgrounds in ecosystem restoration and rangeland management, respectively, led them to launch Cuyama Lamb, a sheep outfit committed to the regeneration of native California grasslands and the sustainable production of ethically raised food & fiber on the coastal foothills of Santa Barbara County. Founded in 2018, Cuyama Lamb promotes a new model of agriculture based on collaboration and cooperation. Jenya and Jack offer prescribed grazing services to their local region to assist with fire mitigation, integrated crop management, and ecological restoration.

Cuyama Lamb is dedicated to improving native habitat, mitigating climate change, reducing the  fuel load/fire risk, and producing meat and fiber to support their local community. They work to shorten the distance between people and the animals they consume, bringing them right to their backyards and public spaces.There is a large need for large acreages to be managed with prescribed herbivory (or the intentional grazing of herbivorous animals). In order to meet their region’s goals in the next five years, they would need to scale up their flock to 1-2 thousand sheep. In order to reach that scale and build their capacity to fulfill contracts, they are requesting funding for a portable corral system (PortaYard), which will allow them to handle more animals safely and effectively. As they expand their capacity to serve new neighborhoods, they strengthen the personal relationship and availability/accessibility to the meat that feeds their communities.

Currently, wood and steel corral panels, secured with t-posts and wire, are used. This is a difficult and hazardous system that often prevents them from effectively meeting their goals. Grazing contracts are at times delayed, denied, or overly costly, simply because  it takes too long to set up the corral system. Wood and steel corrals also leave a heavier impact on the land due to the use of t-posts. The PortaYard corral can be set up in an hour, requires no t-posts, and can even be set up on asphalt or impenetrable  ground, making more areas accessible.

Successful implementation of the PortaYard corral will increase Cuyama Lamb’s capacity to manage vegetation, expand operations, and serve the Santa Barbara region’s prescribed herbivory needs. The new corral will be able to accommodate projected sheep numbers within the next three to five years of 1-2k head. Less time spent setting up corrals, means more time and effort on grazing and relationship building and fewer escapes from electric nets will be an added bonus! The new corral will improve the impact of regenerative grazing by expanding their reach across the landscape, reconnecting their community to their food supply, and reducing their impact on the earth by discontinuing the use of t-posts at shipping sites.

The new system will also better serve a diversity of partners in Santa Barbara and Ventura Counties. Cuyama Lamb currently partners with Channel Islands Restoration at the San Marcos Foothills Preserve on native grassland restoration and with fellow Transition Program members, Gaviota Givings and Duvarita Vineyards for pasture improvement and vegetation management, respectively. Importantly, they will be able to ship in and out of densely inhabited areas to manage fire fuels in partnership with Montecito, Carpinteria and Santa Barbara City and County fire departments without risk to sheep or property damage.

We have the tools to make California resilient and prepared in the face of wildfires. Targeted grazing is one of those tools, and we need to deploy it everywhere so it can be in service to a safe, healthy and balanced ecology in California.”
– Jenya Schneider

In 2022, Cuyama applied for an additional grant aimed at supporting a California-based Zapotec textile artist revitalizing and preserving traditional natural dyeing and weaving techniques. The project will connect the wool from Cuyama’s grazing lambs with the artist – Porfirio Gutiérrez – so he can create his traditional blankets and ponchos for sale, creating a circular economy. 

“I am one thread of life connecting the past and the present. My designs draw deeply on my experiences of two cultures, moving between the traditional and the modern, but always reliant on the deep knowledge and spiritual dimensions of my work.” says Porfirio. 

For this project, Porfirio will weave Cuyama Lamb’s fine Merino wool for the first time and will develop a product line that highlights the beauty and benefits of this wool type. Zapotec weavings generally use a coarse wool, which lends itself to the creation of beautiful rugs. With Cuyama’s fine wool, Porfirio will breathe new life into the Zapotec tradition by producing blankets and ponchos. He will weave approximately 50 blankets and ponchos using naturally-dyed Cuyama Lamb yarn.

The Weaving Traditions project aims to support a local destination for regeneratively produced wool from Central and Southern California that fosters collaboration with the local indigenous artisan traditions that exist in the region. 

Regenerative Agriculture takes a holistic approach to land management, which encompasses not only management decisions but also how we exist and engage in our local communities. Just as the soil’s health is determined by symbiotic relationships that create a web of interdependent organisms sharing nutrients, so too are our communities dependent on the same web of interconnected relationships. Cuyama Lamb envisions every aspect of their work as a nutrient that can feed another element in the system, which in turn uplifts their human and more-than-human community. 

Porfirio is a member of the large community of Oaxaqueños in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties, many of whom work in the agricultural sector. Through their collaboration with Porfirio, Cuyama hopes to highlight the native Oaxacan agricultural practices that in many ways inspire the movement for regenerative agriculture in the U.S., and draw attention to the ways that art and culture are innate extensions of our agricultural practices. 

The partnership between Cuyama Lamb LLC and Porfirio Gutiérrez bridges different facets of the regenerative movement: one that focuses on broadscale impact, cooperative ownership, and primary production of food and fiber (Cuyama Lamb), and another that focuses on perpetuating indigenous cultural technologies, engagement of native and immigrant communities, and the production of value added products.

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