In life, all it takes is having one thing clear in order to pave the road to dramatic change. Rocío had this clarity, and 13 years later we find her; a loving partner and mother of three rapidly growing adolescents, a business owner, and a caretaker of 160 pastured ruminants that roam over two farmsteads and many hectares of forest.
Rocío studied biology and started her career as an environmental educator in Barcelona. With the birth of her daughter came the determination that brought her to become the women we now know. The decision was simple: Rocío did not want to raise her child in the city. Taking use of the maternity leave, she moved from the city to a heavily forested region approaching the French border. No doubt a drastic change replacing the urban jungle, but her clear-mindedness led her to just what she needed.
Here, newly installed in the country landscape, she would meet her soon-to-be partner, fall in love, and together they would start building their homestead. During the 9 years it took to bring the construction of their stone house to a livable level the whole family resided in a tiny wooden bungalow with a central wood stove and a minimal solar panel system. Although lacking the final stone layer and visibly incomplete from the outside, entering the stone home brings a charm that rivals the tranquility revealed through traversing the 10 km path from the closest village. With an upgrade from 250kW to 1500kW of panels, which is still mini compared to most of our electricity consumption today, Rocío, her partner, and their three children have lived almost 4 years with no more utilities than just these panels and the 60m well that marked their first substantial investment in the property. The homestead sits atop a steep uphill grade surrounded by jagged yet smooth conglomerate boulders that demarcate paths, boundaries, a playground for goats, and perched ledges for resting and absorbing the depth of the forest and enormity of the view.
We sit on one of these boulders and discuss what drove her to raise cattle; Rocío was looking for a vocation that would allow her to continue this lifestyle of living within the bounds of nature. So, starting with just 15 goats, Rocío officially became a business owner and shepherd. One key word is ‘official’, because to start a project involving livestock requires extensive paperwork, specific certifications, and dutiful fees. One may think a shepherd is a man that roams the countryside with a staff watching over his heard. Contrarily, caring for animals is just half the work, despite it requiring almost all of the time. As a businesswoman, and as a shepherd with a flock this size, direct sales are one of the few viable ways to get your product to market, and consume a considerable amount of time. On a normal week Rocío brings her animals to slaughter on Wednesday and delivers her products to various distribution points on Friday.
After helping baby sheep triplets suckle some extra milk from a not so willing goat companion of their mom, the conversation transitions into what it’s like to bring an animal—one that you’ve helped give birth, nourished, and raised—to the slaughterhouse. It is never easy to be at the helm of death, but when the caretaker is linked to her farm, the herd, and the environment in such the way as we encounter hidden in this remote forest, every living being feels the life and love teeming through the forest. The symbiotic relationship that allows this life is well defined by this love. And, after it is all over, and possibly enjoyed for a wonderful Christmas dinner with friends and family, with no part of her being going unappreciated or under-utilized, and returning to the earth just as she came, it is safe to say there were no hard feelings. This exchange between the life and care a shepherd provides for her flock parallels what any sacrificed domesticated animal can offer. Rocío is also quick to mention that when it comes to meat consumption most consumers are skewed by corporate advertising and processed options. Taking into account healthy portions and utilization of the entire animal, in one year, Rocío and her family of five consume fewer animals than would be slaughtered for one average-sized wedding party. Rocío has a strong connection to her community and among the numerous less noticeable contributions—one such being her role in the collective of women shepherds of Catalonia—there is also a product she happily contributes. The local organic market of the Empordà, Món Empordà, has a wide range of vendors engaging in similarly beneficial projects to the earth and consumer. What Rocío brings to the table is the dark fertile organic matter known as humus. For the vegetable gardens, the planters, or the end users’ home garden, a source for humus is a welcomed necessity.
So, after sitting and taking in the view and traversing the terrain of this virgin landscape, we have learned a little bit more about the life and love that grows out of a simple decision made after a moment of clarity. Thanks to Rocío, her couple Jep, and their three lovely children (who don’t let it be forgotten are happily managing this 21st century technological life with a very modest energy footprint), we are able to understand a bit more about just one of the many women shepherds who have embarked on this journey for reasons that are only their own, and are successfully contributing to the improvement of our ecosystem from a remote forest one might never imagine was habitable. //