Regenerative Agriculture at White Buffalo Land Trust
How we care for our land and oceans today impacts our ability to thrive tomorrow—and it’s all connected. That’s just one of the lessons the team at White Buffalo Land Trust is working hard to teach. “What I do here on my land is going to be different than what happens on the islands and different in the desert and different in a rainforest, but they all are coming back to these same principles of caring for our soil and respecting water as the foundation for life. Those things are universal,” says Jesse Smith, Director of Land Stewardship. He’s standing at the edge of Jalama Canyon Ranch in Santa Barbara, looking out across 1,000 acres of rolling farmland. In the distance, a herd of sheep dots the green expanse with tufts of white. They were brought here to graze the fields in a harmonious and natural way. For the sheep, that means receiving a nourishing meal; for the farmers, it means mowing down cover crop without machinery. White Buffalo Land Trust is setting the example for symbiotic farming practices like this one, and they aren’t wasting any time.
White Buffalo is on a mission to practice, promote, and develop systems of regenerative agriculture—a practice that was pioneered in ancient Hawai’i. Going beyond the standards of organic agriculture, regenerative agriculture is about rebuilding soil health and restoring the natural balance of our ecosystem as a whole. “For us, that’s the investment in and the increased health of our soils, our water systems, biodiversity, and ultimately, human health,” Smith explains. Across their land, you can find a vineyard, orchards, herds of cattle, and an array of seasonal crops flourishing. The team even created a food brand, Figure Ate, so that people can taste the fruits of their labor. Beyond farming, White Buffalo operates as a global hub for regenerative land stewardship, education, training, ecological research and monitoring, and enterprise development. Their techniques, though age-old, have seen a recent resurgence with the need for more sustainable food systems. According to UN News, “food systems account for over one-third of global greenhouse gas emissions.” That said, White Buffalo Land Trust knew it was time to move away from the standard practices.
As a brand guided by aloha, our team has been in search of its shared spirit across the world. And with our first destination being Santa Barbara, White Buffalo Land Trust seemed to be the perfect launching point. So we met with Smith and Steve Finkel, President and Founder, to explore their team’s work and how it impacts our food systems, specifically our wine.
Wine is just a small part of this thousand-acre property, but its impact is getting larger by the day. White Buffalo Land Trust is working to shift from an eradication to an inoculation paradigm through their vineyard. “Think about these vines as their own living entity. We don't want to try to kill all the things that could harm them. We want to inoculate them with the things that will benefit them,” says Smith. “We're not spraying anything non-organic; we're not doing any chemicals, insecticides, herbicides. That's off the table.” And that no-waste mindset reaches all the way from how the vines grow to how they are nourished. More recently, the organization has focused on two key partnerships. The first is a project they call Healthy Soils, Healthy Seas. As Smith explains, “healthy soils, healthy seas looks at how the way we care for our land impacts our coastal watershed and ecosystem, as well as how the coastal ecosystem can help benefit nutrient cycling and soil health here on the land.” One prime example of this symbiosis can be seen in nutrient distribution from sea to land. Historically, nutrients from things like dead whales and seals on the seashores would be carried upland by foxes, wolves, mountain lions, bears, and even bees. Those nutrients would then be scattered across the hills and allow the land to flourish—but that cycle has long been broken. Put simply, everything that happens in the ocean affects the land above and vice versa. To naturally repair the process, White Buffalo Land Trust has been collaborating with local brand Get Hooked Seafood to repurpose byproducts from the fishing industry into liquid fertilizer for their vineyard. The result benefits both the vines and the ocean; cutting down on waste while nourishing new crops.
The second of these two partnerships is with Sandhi Wines, a small-production winemaker in the Lompoc region that was founded by industry mavens Rajat Parr and Sashi Moorman. The duo is deeply committed to the impact of proper stewardship of vineyards and, ultimately, the wine itself. Sandhi has been working in collaboration with White Buffalo Land Trust to demonstrate regenerative viticulture and how shifting the traditional approach can positively impact the land and environment while producing top-notch grapes. As natural winemakers, Smith describes their approach as hands-off yet deeply committed, “we took on the responsibility of demonstrating what this process looks like of transitioning from a conventionally managed vineyard to one that is not only certified organic but goes well beyond that into really regenerating the ecosystem around it, and Sandhi has very much celebrated that.” Outside of bottling two signature blends, White Buffalo and Sandhi will work together to inspire the community and produce training programs that will expand the adoption of regenerative agriculture far beyond the California coast. Our team had the pleasure of tasting these wines while on the Jalama Canyon Ranch, and we were not disappointed.
Smith and the rest of the White Buffalo team radiated so much of that Aloha Spirit we’ve come to know and love in Hawai‘i. So, it’s no surprise that Smith spent much of his childhood traveling to Kaua‘i with his mother and grandfather. Even today, Smith still applies the lessons he learned from those trips to his work on the ranch. “One of the aspects I've always respected about the Aloha Spirit is positivity. I think that's something that we embody in our own way. Our work is showing up for every engagement, every child that comes to our land, every farmer that takes our courses, every customer that buys one of our products, and every donor that supports our organization. It’s about providing a positive experience that cascades through their life and their life energy.” The White Buffalo Land Trust team epitomizes what it means to lead with warmth, generosity, and passion for the land. For Smith and his wife Ana, Director of Program and Engagements, this land is more than a job—it’s home.
Jesse and Ana, along with their two young daughters, are fortunate enough to live on a small plot of this 1000-acre ranch. They look at life and work here as a love letter to their family, their town, and those who will occupy this land long after they’re gone. “Having a child reminds you of the multi-generational nature of our decisions and actions. Ultimately, I want to be planting trees that I may not be able to enjoy the shade of, but hopefully, my daughter will swing from those limbs and, you know, have her own kids under those branches, too,” says Smith. We brought home a few life lessons from our time at Jalama Canyon Ranch, but none quite as essential as this one.
The future of White Buffalo Land Trust is one of relentless optimism. Plans for expansion, new partnerships, and grant-winning projects that will pave the way for healthier ecosystems and revive Santa Barbara’s natural habitat are in the pipeline. If you’re looking for ways to get involved or want to learn more about how the Jalama Canyon Ranch is restoring our ecosystem through regenerative agriculture, visit https://www.whitebuffalolandtrust.org/