Embrace rebellion. Speaking truth to power takes practice, just like anything else! And in a child’s life, the parent often represents authority and power. Since rule-breakers are necessary to change the world, consider your reaction when your kids break your rules. Try not to crush their critical thinking or outside-the-box thinking, even when it’s wielded against you or your wishes. This can be challenging for parents, because it’s also really important to teach kids that their actions have consequences, but if you want your kids to feel empowered to go up against the status quo — and the authority figures who protect it — for the sake of a better world, you have to allow them to practice rebellion.
As part of my series about what we must do to inspire the next generation about sustainability and the environment, I had the pleasure of interviewing Shreve Stockton.
Shreve Stockton is an award-winning photographer and author of The Daily Coyote, a memoir recounting her first year of raising an orphaned coyote pup. She is the founder of Star Brand Beef, devoted to keeping cattle out of CAFOs and ethical stewardship of the land. Stockton lives in Wyoming with her Farmily — cows, bulls, cats, dogs, horses, honeybees, chickens, a coyote, and a cowboy. She is the recipient of the Wyoming Arts Council Creative Nonfiction Writing Fellowship. Her new book, Meditations with Cows, is out 9/29.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?
I’ve always felt most at home in nature. Growing up, every spare minute I had (that wasn’t spent on boys or rock n roll) was spent in the woods. A neighbor let me ride one of her horses whenever I wished, and I found endless thrills racing through the woods on Buddy the horse, looking for fallen trees to jump, with about five of the neighborhood dogs in tow. Those woods, those animals, and Mother Nature herself were my teachers, my therapists, my trusted companions. The same is true now — though I’ve traded the woods of the Pacific Northwest for Wyoming’s meadows and mountains.
Was there an “aha moment” or a specific trigger that made you decide you wanted to become a scientist or environmental leader? Can you share that story with us?
In 2005, I was living in San Francisco and planned to move back to New York City. I decided to ride my Vespa across the country and have my belongings shipped once I found an apartment in NYC. Along the way, I fell completely in love with Wyoming and moved to a tiny town in rural Wyoming instead. I fell in love with a cowboy, started working with his cattle, and soon fell in love with them, too. It didn’t take long for me to realize that cattle are not the ecological nightmare they’re often made out to be. Pastured cattle play an extremely important role in local ecosystems. Their presence protects wildlife habitat — habitat that is often destroyed in the production of conventional crops. Their grazing helps sequester excess atmospheric carbon in the soil. They deposit their natural fertilizer across the land, which supports the soil ecology (synthetic fertilizers, on the other hand, are made from natural gas and mined minerals, and harm the soil ecology). Bovines are, in fact, one of the most promising and effective allies we have to help combat climate change and heal the devastating mistakes we’ve made since the dawn of the industrial age. Just 1% of the population of the United States currently works in agriculture. Even fewer work with cattle. But I want everyone to understand just how important and valuable pastured cattle are to our environment and our future. This mission has inspired my work.
Is there a lesson you can take out of your own story that can exemplify what can inspire a young person to become an environmental leader?
Trust your path. You are gathering everything you need to be a unique force of creative power in this world, even if it doesn’t seem like it in the moment.
Can you tell our readers about the initiatives that you or your company are taking to address climate change or sustainability? Can you give an example for each?
The vast majority of meat on the market comes from animals that are confined in CAFOs — Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations. CAFOs are horribly inhumane and environmentally destructive. The familiar statistics regarding the harmful environmental impacts of beef are based on beef from CAFOs. These statistics are true, but cattle are not the culprit. The fault lies in how those cattle are fed and managed when they reach CAFOs. In my work, I’m devoted to keeping cattle out of CAFOs and providing a sustainable alternative for those who choose to eat meat — pastured, grass-finished beef, raised with love. The carbon footprint of a year’s supply of my grass-finished beef is equivalent to just seven days of one average American’s commute. We must dismantle CAFOs for myriad reasons — animal welfare, sustainability, environmental impact — and I hold hope that ethical omnivores, vegetarians, and vegans can come together to fight for this common goal.
Can you share 3 lifestyle tweaks that the general public can do to be more sustainable or help address the climate change challenge?
1. A daily lifestyle tweak is to be aware of where your food comes from. How was it produced, and how far was it shipped? For example, it’s far more ecological for me to eat the grass-finished beef I raise than to eat cashews and coconut milk shipped from halfway across the planet. Just because something is plant-based doesn’t mean it’s a good choice for the environment — the methods and practices used in production may be harmful to local ecosystems, or the transportation of that food may leave a massive carbon footprint. Buying local, buying in season, buying directly from farmers and ranchers, and buying in bulk are all ways to reduce the carbon footprint of our food.
2. A really simple tweak is to embrace dandelions. Dandelions are often the first food available to bees and other pollinators in the spring. For those who care about pollinator populations, the demonization of dandelions is counterproductive and downright baffling. If you have a yard, allow dandelions to decorate it and local pollinators will show their gratitude by visiting your yard. Encourage your parks department and local businesses with lawn areas to do the same. Dandelions support pollinators, and pollinators really need our support right now. Plus, the two stages of the dandelion flower are a visual reflection of the sun and the moon — how magical is that?!
3.This last one may be easier said than done, but get involved with government. Policy determines so much of our reality, and we must be involved in determining policy. If you don’t have the desire to run for office — and I certainly don’t — there are many other ways to be involved at the local or national level: phone banking or community outreach, donating money to candidates you believe in, donating your talents to their campaigns — whether that talent is art or organizing or initiating conversations. Bringing up topics that are important to you in an engaging way when you’re hanging out with friends is a political act. The myth that politics and policy are dry or boring is a smokescreen to keep us from getting involved.
Ok, thank you for all that. Here is the main question of our interview: The youth led climate strikes of September 2019 showed an impressive degree of activism and initiative by young people on behalf of climate change. This was great, and there is still plenty that needs to be done. In your opinion what are 5 things parents should do to inspire the next generation to become engaged in sustainability and the environmental movement? Please give a story or an example for each.
1. Embrace rebellion. Speaking truth to power takes practice, just like anything else! And in a child’s life, the parent often represents authority and power. Since rule-breakers are necessary to change the world, consider your reaction when your kids break your rules. Try not to crush their critical thinking or outside-the-box thinking, even when it’s wielded against you or your wishes. This can be challenging for parents, because it’s also really important to teach kids that their actions have consequences, but if you want your kids to feel empowered to go up against the status quo — and the authority figures who protect it — for the sake of a better world, you have to allow them to practice rebellion.
2. Spend time outdoors. It can be as simple as eating meals outdoors a few times each week, even when it’s cold outside, or sitting in a park and collecting various leaves and looking at all the similarities and differences between the various leaves. I think being outside is the best way to nurture our relationship with the natural world. As I share in Meditations with Cows, being in a relationship with the land, with an ecosystem, is like any other relationship. Attention grows into familiarity. Familiarity grows into intimacy. Intimacy elicits a reflexive urge to care for, protect, and defend that place, and to protect everything else that belongs to that place.
3. Teach kids how to cook. When we buy prepared food, we end up buying SO much packaging! The manufacture of packaging uses an incredible amount of energy and resources, and then it immediately becomes waste. When we cook from scratch, we can avoid a lot of packaging material. When I started cooking, I had to reframe it for myself. I forced myself to stop thinking of it as a tedious burden and to start thinking of it as a creative outlet and a time to enjoy myself. It didn’t take long to actually feel that way. Cooking as a family can be a wonderful time to bond and connect. And if parents don’t know how to cook because they weren’t taught, cooking together can be a joint learning experience. Most things turn out edible.
4. Allow for failure. Parents can help their kids understand that failure is inevitable and that failure is not necessarily a bad thing. In creative work, in revolutionary work, mistakes are inevitable. Success is only guaranteed when something has already been done — there’s no such guarantee when trying something new. Kids need to know that they have permission to make mistakes. Creativity and failure go hand in hand, and conditioning kids to fear failure cuts them off from their innate creativity. It is creativity that drives innovation and change. The next generation needs to know how to not let failure derail them. And so parents can model productive ways to respond to failure — not just in response to their children’s “failures” but in how they respond to their own.
5. Prioritize experiences over things. My parents were frugal by necessity so we didn’t get a lot of “stuff” when I was growing up. Since I wasn’t conditioned to conflate “things” with rewards or expressions of love, I don’t need “things” to make me feel happy or worthy, and so it’s easier for me to consume less. Consuming less means less resources are used in the production and transportation of stuff, and leads to less waste and less pollution. Giving experiences as gifts, rather than things, is an opportunity to create lasting memories.
How would you articulate how a business can become more profitable by being more sustainable and more environmentally conscious? Can you share a story or example?
Honestly, I’ve never made a business decision with financial profit as the primary motivator. I care that my business turns a profit every year because it needs to be self-supporting in order to exist, but financial gain has never been my driving force or ultimate goal. My goals are so much bigger than money! I care far more about the humane treatment of the animals that produce our food, honorable stewardship of the land, trust and cooperation with my customers and the people I work with, and changing the status quo of the meat industry. Yet, by focusing on these goals, my business has found financial stability, profitability, and longevity. An enormous percentage of my customers are return customers, and any business book will tell you that a return customer is far more valuable than a potential customer. Just saying that makes me feel gross because my customers are not numbers — they are collaborators. My customers and I are in a relationship of mutual respect and trust. We take care of each other. Isn’t that what sustainability is all about?
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I started working when I was 14 and my boss, Linda Allen, was an invaluable mentor to me. She owned a shop that is impossible to categorize — part metaphysical bookstore, part artisan boutique, part sanctuary for searchers — and she gave me an incredible foundation in business during the five years I worked for her — everything from organizing paperwork to managing inventory to the energetics of a business — the energy you cultivate and contribute through your business. Looking back, I can see how much responsibility she trusted me with when I was just a kid, but at the time, it just felt natural — not exceptional. I think we live up to the expectations others have for us.
You are a person of great influence and doing some great things for the world! If you could inspire a movement that would bring the greatest amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
We’re not here to take. We are here to give. Nature shows us, over and over, that this is the true meaning of life: to live or exist in a way that nurtures lives beyond ones own. To enhance the whole.To contribute through cooperation. The triumph of the individual is a myth — because everything is a collaboration. Collaboration and cooperation require trust. I think the movement that will bring the greatest amount of good to the greatest number of people is for us to remember how to trust each other. That movement begins with a mindset. So many of our problems stem from greed, and greed stems from fear. Warfare isn’t the antidote to fear. Trust is.
Do you have a favorite life lesson quote? Can you tell us how that was relevant to you in your own life?
“The role of the artist is to make the revolution irresistible.” These are the words of Toni Cade Bambara, whose brilliance I discovered while reading Emergent Strategy by adrienne marry brown. I have this quote written on a sticky note that is now fused to my computer, and it was a touchstone for me while I was writing Meditations with Cows. Whenever I felt stuck or scared or insecure about what I was creating, these words felt like permission. These words empowered me, reminded me of why I chose to write this book, why I devoted a year of my life to the work of writing it and why this work was important. These words helped me realize that my voice is valuable.
What is the best way for people to follow you on social media?
I’m on instagram and twitter @dailycoyote. And my website — www.shrevestockton.com — has links to my blogs, social media, and various projects.
This was so inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!