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RANCHFEST: Cochise County rancher creates event to educate, show fun side of ranching

RANCHFEST: How one rancher is hoping to grow the number of ranchers, farmers
Posted at 2:52 PM, May 16, 2024

MCNEAL, Ariz. (KGUN) — Rachael Stewart created Ranchfest to bring people together and inspire the next generation of ranchers, so food production can continue in the United States. According to the 2022 Census of Agriculture, there has been a decline in the number of farms in the U.S. since 2012.

Through her non profit, People First Global and Land Reclamation Foundation, Stewart is helping people of color and women become ranchers. So far this year, she’s helped three women close on their own ranch.

Ranches are a common scene in Cochise County and rural parts of southern Arizona, but there are still more opportunities for people to get involved in the industry.

Stewart, a rancher herself, says by showing people of color the opportunities and providing positive experiences with agriculture and ranch animals, the event could help the industry grow.

“I have four amazing children, and i didn't want them to be the only black farmers in the future,” she said. “I also find that for minorities, farming can be traumatizing, too. That's why I have Ranchfest (be) like a celebration, so it's helping create new positive memories.”

This year's Ranchfest will be at Shoot Out Arena, in Tombstone, and is a 2-day event that begins on Friday. Stewart says the event's purpose is to provide resources to current and future ranchers. There will also be concerts and bull riding to help make a fun experience for the attendees.

"I want people to come and have these positive interactions because (we may be inspiring) future farmers and ranchers," she said.

Stewart says there is a need for more farmers in the U.S. According to the 2022 Census of Agriculture, there are 1.9 million farms in the country and the average age of farmers is 58 years old.

“If we don't support new farmers going in, we're not going to have any food," Stewart said. "I feel like it's important to support new farmers coming in in a positive manner, but in with positive things— (like) renewable energy with water conservation.”

Another way Stewart and others use ranch land is therapeutically. Stewart says she's an abuse survivor and when she got on a horse to look for her hogs, she realized how therapeutic it was for her. Now, she trains horses that can be used to help others.

Jazz Thompson, owner of Jazz's Art and Animal Sanctuary, is using large animals, like horses and donkeys, to help people with mental health needs.

“Mental health is on the rise," she said. "There are options to help people, but I wanted to offer an alternative that you don't often see.”

Thompson will have a petting area set up at the event. Stewart says she hopes this event continues to grow and help people.

"This is just the beginning," she said. "I think this will grow a lot more."

Alexis Ramanjulu is a reporter in Cochise County for KGUN 9. She began her journalism career reporting for the Herald/Review in Sierra Vista, which she also calls home. Share your story ideas with Alexis by emailing or by connecting on Facebook.