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In Conversation with #WomeninAg: Beth Robinette

Posted by Jessica McCarron, USDA Deputy Press Secretary in Food and Nutrition Initiatives
Apr 29, 2016
Beth Robinette
Beth Robinette, a rancher and leader in the local food and regional food movement in Spokane, Washington.

Every month, USDA shares the story of a woman in agriculture who is leading the industry and helping other women succeed along the way. This month, we hear from Beth Robinette, a rancher and leader in the local food and regional food movement in Spokane, Washington. She runs her family's fourth-generation grass fed beef operation the Lazy R Ranch, and is one of the co-founders of LINC Foods, a worker and farmer owned cooperative food hub based in Spokane. She studied sustainable agriculture and business and marketing at Fairhaven College at Western Washington University, and earned her MBA in Sustainable Systems at Pinchot University with an emphasis on Local Living Economies and Sustainable Food and Agriculture.

How did you first become interested in the local and regional food movement?

Local food was really the norm in my household growing up. We raised a lot of our own food, or we would trade beef for things we didn’t raise ourselves. My grandpa was a prolific gardener and I can vividly remember the joy of eating a perfectly ripe tomato, warm from the sun, out of his garden. My dad had a part-time job working for a sustainable agriculture non-profit called the Washington State Food and Farming Network when I was in middle school and high school. He was the Eastern Washington coordinator and his job put him in contact with many movers and shakers in the local/regional food movement, which was really my first exposure to the idea. It wasn’t until I left for college, however, that I began to realize how privileged I had been to grow up on a ranch, and that most of my fellow students had a totally different relationship to food and agriculture than I did. I read Michael Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma for a class my freshman year, and I was pretty much hooked on local food from then on.

What does a typical day in the life look like for you?

Well, I can’t say any day is a typical day, but generally I wake up about 5:30, feed my horses and check for eggs, then I hit the gym. I have been training for power lifting and it has really helped reduce the number of injuries and overall makes my ranch work a lot easier (even though my dad always teases me for lifting weights when there’s plenty of heavy things to move on the ranch.) I feed the cows or open a new paddock for grazing, depending on the time of year, have a cup of coffee with my parents, then head into town to do intake and deliveries for LINC. I love doing intake because I get to chat with lots of the farmers in the co-op. Mostly we complain about the weather (the number one pastime of people involved in agriculture) but it’s also a chance to get an idea of what people will have available in the coming week so we know where to focus our sales efforts. Deliveries last until about noon, then I head out to our office, which is in the warehouse where our malting equipment is located. I do a little work on the computer (which can be everything from crop planning to updating our website, to doing graphic design for our promotional materials.) When I’m finished in town, I might try to squeeze in fixing fence in the afternoon. Ideally, my evenings are pretty relaxed.

Who are your role models in agriculture?

Well, both my parents are tremendous role models. My dad is one of the hardest working people I know and he has also always been really dedicated to doing things he finds interesting (and not wasting time on things he finds frivolous or boring.) My mom is a total rockstar who taught me to never turn my nose up at doing dirty work and to stand by my convictions. They are both incredibly encouraging and I could not be doing all the work I am doing without their support.

Aside from that, I am deeply moved and inspired by the work of Allan Savory and other Holistic Management practitioners, especially other young women working in sustainable livestock production. Names such as Brittany Cole Bush (an amazing shepherdess based in California), Märta Jansdotter (a grass-fed butcher and brilliant business woman in Gothenburg, Sweden), and Chloe Burns (a 20-year-old cowgirl from Kansas who definitely has a fallback career as a stand-up comedian) are probably not familiar to most readers of this blog yet, but they are all women to watch!

What is your favorite part of your job?

I have too many jobs to just have one favorite part! My favorite part of my work with LINC is growing the business. Every dollar we bring into the business represents a dollar reinvested in our local economy and in local farmers that are working like crazy to care not only for their crops, but the soil, water, wildlife, and the whole ecosystem each of those farms represents.

My favorite part of ranching is just being on the land. Grazing at its best is like choreographing an incredibly complex dance. I am constantly learning how to get a little better at my choreography. That might mean improving my stockmanship, or learning a little more about how the land responds to different grazing pressure at different times, or figuring out how to adapt my management to changing climatic conditions. I am constantly blown away by the level of complexity present on the ranch, even at the microscopic level. It’s a lot of responsibility, but I am also just one of billions of organisms working to steward the land.

I am also a Holistic Management educator and help run a non-profit called Roots of Resilience, which trains other producers in Holistic Management. I teach a class every other month or so, and I love seeing people turned on to looking at agriculture from a holistic perspective, working with nature rather than against it.

What do you wish you knew when you were first getting started in agriculture?

I wish I had known that it was okay to stand up for myself. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been with my dad and started chatting with a neighboring farmer who just completely ignored me and addressed my dad as if I wasn’t even there. Being a young woman in an industry dominated by men can definitely be challenging. People often assume that our ranch belongs to my husband’s family and are shocked to learn that he is a school-teacher who hates getting his shoes dirty! But as I round the corner into my thirties (I’m 28 now) I’m definitely starting to feel more comfortable asserting myself in those types of situations. The face of agriculture is going to change radically in the next 15 years. We’re going to see a lot more women, and a lot more racial and ethnic diversity. And I can’t wait!

In seven words or less, what is some advice you would offer your fellow women in agriculture?

Work smarter, not harder.