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Back at the Ranch

A decade after Michael Pollan wrote his landmark article 'Power
it appears that not much has changed in U.S. beef production,
although a movement for healthier, more ethical food has certainly
grown. In the Centennial Valley, the variety of economic, ecological
and social factors that affect the pace and feasibility of
transforming large-scale beef production play out among neighbouring
ranchers who often differ from each other in approach but share a deep
love of their livelihood and the land. The J Bar L Ranch raises grass-finished beef, that is cows which have been raised on a forage diet for their entire life. The idea is that cows can be good for the landscape and ranching can still respect the
animal, wild or domestic. By mimicking the grazing of wild
herbivores? - bunching together for safety, calving in the spring and
intensely grazing an area for a brief period before moving on? - J Bar L
cattle are contributing to improved rangeland health and
theoretically, a less complicated relationship with wild predators.

This valley, an expanse of 620 square miles, has changed very little
in a century. 15 families have ranched here for 3 and 4 generations
and they share this place with thriving populations of elk, grizzly
bear, wolf and bird species. The valley contains critical migration
routes for wildlife through the Northern Rockies and is home to
endangered and recovering species that include the arctic grayling,
trumpeter swan and gray wolf.

These practices reveal a deeper story?, one of layered realities and
changing times. Resilience, inventiveness and adaptability are not
foreign concepts to these ranchers, nor is living at the interface of
wilderness. Yet, does the value of what they know and the work they do
translate to the dinner plates of those they feed?
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