[Morgan Anderson | WOUB]

Meet the first generation farmers fighting climate change with cows

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ATHENS, Ohio (WOUB) — When CJ Morgan goes to a cattle sale, sellers are quick to give him their attention.

They don’t realize it’s actually his fiancé, Molly Sowash, who does the buying.

“I always have to point and say, ‘No, no, she started the farm. We’re co-managing it, but it’s not all me,’” Morgan said. 

Sowash, 28, and Morgan, 31, co-own and co-manage MoSo Farm, located off State Route 32 between Athens and Albany. The property includes 45 acres of pasture and 180 acres of wooded land. They raise 20 head of cattle for grass-finished beef products, and they also have pigs, horses, chickens and ducks as homestead animals.

“We’re farming on a combination of family property. Much of our pasture is on my uncle and aunt’s land that they’ve had almost all my life,” Sowash said. Sowash’s parents inherited the land from her grandmother. She purchased her first calves in March 2020.

The average American farmer is 57.5 years old and male, according to the United States Department of Agriculture’s 2022 Census of Agriculture. That makes Sowash a bit of an anomaly.

“It’s been interesting to be a woman, beginning farmer and first-generation farmer, trying to learn this. But I’ve also had some models,” said Sowash.

Sowash was studying English in college when a childhood interest in farming drew her to intern on a farm in western Minnesota. The farmers there raised grass-finished beef. Sowash quickly realized she wanted to do the same.

“They made a big impression on how to use livestock to regenerate the land and leave it better than they found it. They were rotating their pastures regularly and managing the positive impact cattle can have to sequester carbon and conserve water. I saw a dramatic difference between how they were doing perennial practices with animals compared to many other farms that were more annual and had extractive agriculture nearby,” Sowash said.

The farm was also co-run by a woman and her husband — something else Sowash would inadvertently wind up doing herself. 

Sowash and Morgan are the proud co-owners and co-managers of MoSo Farm located in Athens. [ Morgan Anderson | WOUB ]
MoSo Farm sits on about 225 acres of land. They primarily raise and sell grass-finished beef products, but have other livestock, as well. [ Morgan Anderson | WOUB ]
This mineral feeding program comprises 20 different minerals that the cattle can consume freely. They can choose what minerals they want to eat based on what their needs are, the quality of the forage and the quality of the soil. [ Morgan Anderson | WOUB ]
At MoSo Farm, the cows mostly eat phosphorus and potassium, which the soil lacks. [ Morgan Anderson | WOUB ]
Sowash and Morgan said silvopasture is an old practice that has recently gained momentum in today's livestock industry. The pair planted their 510 trees over one weekend in April with the help of 11 volunteers. [ Morgan Anderson | WOUB ]
MoSo Farm sits on land that the Sowash family has owned for some time. [ Morgan Anderson | WOUB ]
Sowash and Morgan move their cattle between pastures every day as part of a rotational grazing method. [ Morgan Anderson | WOUB ]

It’s a match!

Sowash and Morgan met on a dating app — something neither of them expected. But Morgan said it was love at first sight.

“After our first date, she mentioned that she raised cattle and I think I called her the next time and told her, ‘I can’t tell you how attractive that is that you own and manage cattle. That’s awesome.’” Morgan said.

Since then, they’ve learned a great deal from each other. 

“Molly always takes the time to slow down and take a minute to observe some of the smaller things,” Morgan said. “I tend to be like, ‘Go, go, go — get as much done as possible.’ Molly, a lot of times, will say, ‘If we’re not enjoying it, why are we doing this?’ So she makes it fun and has a great positive attitude about everything. I may get a little frustrated with something that maybe didn’t quite go our way and Molly lets it roll off her back.”

Morgan proposed to Sowash as they were walking the pastures one summer evening in July 2022. They’re getting married in the fall.

The name of their farm has stayed the same, but the meaning has changed. Sowash originally chose the name MoSo because that was her childhood nickname. Now it has a new meaning: a combination of Morgan and Sowash.

“I think we walk around the pasture a lot and are just like, ‘Oh my gosh, we get to manage this,’” Sowash said. “This is our after-work workplace of sorts where we’re surrounded by the passing of the seasons, sitting on the end of the truck watching the sunset — there is a romance to it.”

Sowash and Morgan both work full-time jobs on top of running the farm. “We always joke that we have our 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and the farm’s our 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.,” Morgan said.

Sowash is the sustainable agriculture manager at Rural Action, a community development nonprofit based in The Plains. Morgan works for the Wayne National Forest in the land survey department.

Sowash and Morgan said their side careers complement their farm life. This past spring, for example, they planted 510 trees across 10 acres of their property thanks to a grant they received from the Edwards Mother Earth Foundation that was implemented by Virginia Tech and Rural Action. It was all a part of a regenerative agriculture practice known as “silvopasture,” which involves planting trees where livestock typically graze. This not only promotes biodiversity, but also improves the wellness of the cattle themselves by giving them shade while they eat.

“Bringing silvopasture onto the farm was something that Molly was passionate about, but I had more of the hard science skills on how many trees per acre and what the spacing should be,” Morgan said. “So I’ve really enjoyed bringing my forestry background to the table.”

Farmers doing their part

Sowash’s guiding principle as a farmer is to “think globally, act locally.”

“I can’t keep reading about this big threat of climate change, or the incredibly devastating loss of biodiversity, and just sit here and read about it,” she said. “I also know that our little piece of land isn’t going to solve either of those things, but doing something and seeing these 35 acres of pasture change — even if it’s just the three short years we’ve been farming is a huge balm to that.”

By fostering biodiversity, increasing soil health and sequestering carbon through proper cattle rotation, Sowash and Morgan are doing what they can to fight back against the global climate crisis.

They view their work as crucial.

“You need a farmer every day, three times a day,” said Morgan. “We want to prove that you can do it and you can make it a career. Hopefully, we can make that happen. That’s the goal: at least one of us farms full-time, or maybe both of us. I don’t know if that will happen in five, 10, 20 years, but we’re trying.”

They have no plans to leave any time soon.

“The goal is here,” Morgan said. “We love this piece of land and it’s going to stay in the family one way or another.”

Those interested in learning more about MoSo Farm can do so at mosofarm.com.