Farmer Voices

Alex Machado on Farmer Voices

Rancher: Alex Machado
Farm:
Sundog Sheep Company
Location:
Edwall, Washington
Acres:
10

I’m Alex Machado and I am the Farmer Collectives Manager for Washington Farmland Trust on the Farm to Farmer team. I am also the founder of Sundog Sheep Company where I raise Navajo Churro sheep for grass-fed lamb and raw wool. I also co-facilitate New Cowgirl Camp, which is a five-day intensive camp for women interested in learning more about ranching as a career or trying to build their skillset as a farmer or rancher who wants to work with livestock.

I am a first-generation farmer, which means I did not grow up farming. I did not grow up in a family that raised livestock. I was actually born and raised in metro Detroit, but I’ve had a passion for food and land since a very early age.

I started my farming career interning and working on other people’s farms, which includes a goat farm in Stanwood and a yak farm in Bellingham. I got a lot of experience firsthand by interning, and then during that time I got my degree and my welding certifications from Bellingham Technical College.

I joined the eighty-four percent of farmers who rely on off-farm income while working away at my own farm goals. I started raising Navajo Churro sheep in 2019, and I joined the New Cowgirl Camp facilitation team in 2020 after Covid.

I’m growing my flock on 10 acres in Edwall, Washington. I am the first Farm to Farmer employee that lives in Eastern Washington. I’m very, very passionate about supporting Eastern Washington farmers – we have a lot of farmland out here, a lot of farmland that is at risk and a lot of transitioning farmland.

I sell grass fed lamb direct to consumer, and sell raw wool and sheep skin hides through my website.

Navajo Churro sheep are the oldest domesticated sheep in North America. They are an endangered heritage breed. Sheep are these really amazing animals; they have these complex family structures. A lot of people look at sheep and wonder what’s going on in their brains, but they have these strong matriarch relationships, which are just incredible to watch, especially during lambing season.

They’re also just this really versatile and useful animal that has a lot of purpose, whether that’s for fiber or for meat. They really have a lot going for them, and there’s a different sheep breed out there for every small farm. I think if you are a small farmer and you’re interested in raising livestock, sheep are a really excellent starting point.

I think one of the most important things I’ve learned about farming through my career, from being an intern to actually owning and operating a farm, and in my role at the Washington Farmland Trust, is that I think a lot of people assume farming is a solitary trade or career, and that it must be done alone or with a partner. And that it’s this big career where you have so many moving parts and there’s so many seasonal things that — you know, timing is everything in farming — I just have realized over the years that farming does not have to be done alone. Collective and cooperative farming models are really starting to increase in popularity and I can’t advocate for them enough.

I think farming is hard work and is extremely challenging, on an individual or those farming as couples, and collective farming offers a solution to the isolation and burnout that sometimes comes with the field.

Not only can a lot more be accomplished with a good team, but we’re finding that more and more collectives are able to access farmland. Having a stronger team, having a stronger group of people who are able to steward the land, opens up a lot of doors and opportunities for land access.

As a first-generation farmer, somebody who decided to enter into this field not by way of inheritance or by family history, I struggled the most with land access. Land access is probably the greatest issue I hear from the collectives I work with, as well as and up-and-coming farmers who I meet through my New Cowgirl Camp programming.

I think land access is really going to be one of the greatest topics of our time for entry-level farmers, or beginning farmers, or first-generation farmers who have been at it for a while and are just looking to start their own business on their own land.

I would say another challenge that I work with a lot of farmers on is fundraising — fundraising for infrastructure, fundraising to scale an operation. I think that continues to be a challenge, and that’s something I work really closely with the collectives that I work with on, developing a plan for tackling some of these weak points.

I think for land access in Washington State, one of the things we’re finding with farmers is that the cost of land is so prohibitive that it’s almost inaccessible for the average person. For new farmers, land and then land with infrastructure is not easy to come by, and you have to have a solid understanding of your business, a clear vision, and be able to feel confident about the direction that your business is taking in order to even begin to talk about land.

I think that a lot of the farmers that I see who are in need of land access are immigrants and refugees, and there’s the added layer and complexity of trying to buy farmland, buy land at all in America, and it’s not common knowledge. Real estate knowledge is not just out there for everyone and there are a lot of considerations when looking at and purchasing farmland.

So one of the things I suggest in starting a farmland search is if you don’t already, get really clear on your business goals and your business plan — that’s going to be something essential. Your context is everything.

And then the next thing I would say to people looking for farmland is to really have a good connection with your community of farmers. Talk to other farmers. Talk to people who are collectively farming. Talk to people who have been able to purchase farmland, talk to people like us at Washington Farmland Trust. We work with so many people who are in different stages in their farmland goals, and we have a lot of resources for people who are first time land seekers.

As Collective’s Manager, I want people to know we don’t just work with produce farmers. If you’re farming sheep, or you’re a cattle rancher, we can support you in that way too.

One of the greatest privileges and highlights of my work is being able to support other farmers. The farmers I have met through my time here as the Farmer Collectives Manager are so resilient and incredible, they are such knowledgeable people. They have so much information about the crops that they’re growing, about the type of soil they want to cultivate, and their passion for stewarding the land and then growing food for their communities is just unmatched. I really feel like this is one of the most important causes of our time.

I would say if you’re curious about collectives, if you’re curious about farming as part of a collective or starting a collective, please reach out. I have resources for people in different stages of collective formation, and I would love to talk with you about your farming projects. I would be happy to engage with you, and I love to talk about collective tenure on farmland.

For information about New Cowgirl Camp, you can go and visit us at newcowgirlcamp.com. It’s a five-day intensive course, and we teach you everything you need to know about holistic management, animal husbandry, planned grazing, and everything from biological monitoring to how to give vaccinations to a sheep. So if that is something that sounds interesting to you, please check us out. If you are interested in finding more about Sundog Sheep Company, you can go to sundogsheepco.com. I’m also on Facebook and on Instagram, so let’s chat.