Steve’s Weekly Update 9/15/10

Dear members,

Climatology 2010: Fall is slowly heading our way.  We had our first patchy frost on Friday, 9/10.  It nipped the tops of the squash and cucumber plants.  We will have to watch the weather and be ready to get the winter squash in before it takes a hard frost, but it is very possible that nothing more than a light frost will happen for several weeks!  At Mesa Top we usually pull in the winter squash the third week to last week of September.

Steve’s Soapbox: I think it is time to tackle a very sticky issue. I am writing again about the relationship between agriculture and environmentalism, or farmers and ranchers and environmentalists.  I have to write this because I have come face to face with the incongruity of extreme environmental groups and their members who also propose to support Beneficial CSA because they want to “support local agriculture”.    In general I always want to say “yes” and “thank you” to any supporters of the CSA.

Western agriculture depends on access to “public” resources like water (irrigation projects) and range land.  As much as 60% of the open lands in some Western States are public lands in some form or another.  The battle lines have been increasingly polarizing over use of public lands.  Western agriculture and rural economies based on agriculture are under attack by environmental groups who place the needs of some species ahead of those of human beings. Though the intention was never to directly harm people or businesses through pursuit of environmental objectives, that has become an acceptable if unintended consequence for some groups and proponents.

The question of whether human beings “belong” on the land, caring for it in ways that produce value for themselves and other human beings underlies this simmering conflict:  agriculture puts the needs of human kind first, and environmental groups, the more extreme ones anyway, place other species first, no matter what the cost.

One would think that these viewpoints need not be mutually exclusive and in most cases they are not.  Farmers and ranchers live by a “multi-use” stewardship ethic, providing for the needs of wildlife and preserving and enhancing resources for future use, as they manage today to produce food.  Many environmental groups understand this and place emphasis on supporting agriculture to improve its practices so that environmental impacts of all kinds are minimized, and food production is also enhanced.

But the gauntlet is thrown down when it comes to endangered species and none is more contentious than the Mexican Grey wolf re-introduction program.  I have had several chances over the last couple of years to spend time in Catron County, NM which is the epicenter of the struggle over the Gila Wilderness wolf program.  I listen to the ranchers there, whose basic needs as families and as ranchers have not been equitably or effectively served by this program. I have listened to the stories of danger to children, loss of livestock, and above all of poor program administration by the agencies in charge and the environmental groups whose instigation drives this program.

I do not question the need for managing land to preserve species diversity.  I also generally see the need to manage predator populations when they place people or property at risk.  Species populations are both measures of landscape health and in turn influence that health.  I also question the methods by which this is accomplished.

In particular I see danger in “reintroduction” programs unless such programs are managed by a body that truly represents ALL of the interests that are present in the reintroduction area.  Whether on public or private land or a combination, ALL affected parties must be well represented in a process that can have such far-reaching effects as reintroduction of a predator.

By all complete accounts, the Mexican Grey Wolf re-introduction program has been a poor one from the standpoint of equitable stakeholder representation. This program has been a lightning rod for distrust among stakeholders, which has devolved into a raw power play.  Ranchers no doubt stayed out of the process as much as they could, distrusting the governmental agencies involved, as well as the environmental groups that have led the push for this program. They held the view that this program was going to be pushed down their throats without regard for its effects on them.  At some level their reticence to engage the process assured that undesirable outcome. I think they were short sighted and compromised their own interests by declining to participate fully.  To some extent they now suffer the consequences of that choice.

At the same time it is clear that the environmental groups that have pushed this project forward were not going to ever place the ranchers’ needs on a level with that of the wolves.  The lead groups believe strongly that the Gila would be best off if it was rid of cows and ranchers and was strictly a wildlife zone.  That belief is not restricted to the Gila, as efforts are now under way to remove all public land from ranching, particularly in the West.

I wonder how it could be possible for ranchers and agricultural groups to sit down with people who do not accept their right to work and live and thrive?

By analogy, is it not a prerequisite for “peace talks” in the Middle East that Arab nations accept Israel’s “right to exist”?  Somehow we understand that need when it comes to struggles among people, but in what has become a “civil war” between urban and rural interests in the West, the basic “right to exist” of ranchers seems to be fair game for those who seek to put other species first.

How can any person be expected to trust another person or group who does not accept as fundamental each other person’s right to survive and thrive?  I truly believe that if ALL “resource management discussions” began with this understanding, we would be able to find creative ways to accommodate the needs of more species on the same landscape.

Farmers and ranchers are innovative and adaptable.  If something is important to our costumers, AND THEY ARE WILLING TO PAY FOR IT (somehow or another, in the cost of the food or in some other public support mechanism) we want to deliver it! If we can adapt to nature and its wide range of “expression,” we can adapt to politics and other imperatives. But how can we engage processes with a level of trust unless our basic right to exist and to thrive is first and foremost, accepted and in fact celebrated!

In the case of the wolf, there are many ways that this impasse could shift. Whether this program can ever attain a high standard of stakeholder trust and mutual support, I cannot say because its biography so far has been so tortured and non-transparent.  But I continue to hold that as the goal.  I sure wish I could find moderate voices who are championing the wolf and who also respect and value the ranching community.  If there are any such, please speak up! I for one would willingly join you in discussion.

In the mean time I am cautious about the motives of the proponents of the wolf re-introduction program.  I do not know who I can trust.  Until I know that rancher’s right to survive and thrive is an essential part of any program, I have to view it with suspicion.  And the people who advocate these programs cannot, in my view, be considered “supporters of local agriculture” while they demonize ranchers as a group.  I realize that this is in some way a risky position for me to take…..  Oh well.

I hope I will hear from any of you whose views differ from mine.  The loss of civil dialogue among people of different views is one of the casualties of polarized situations such as this one.

This week’s Cow stories

Update on Mesa Top cows, Jim Miller Ayrshire projects and more:

One interesting consequence of the meltdown at Twin Mountain is that I finally got to   dialogue with Alan Vander Horst, the Texas dairy man who invested in and owns the Twin Mountain plant.  Alan is a larger operator with several dairies in Texas.  He has become interested in the Raw Milk / cow share program, and that interest led him to help open the little dairy in Colorado, where a robust and fully legal cow share program exists.

See the RMAC website:  Raw Milk Association of Colorado.

In all of my value chain development work I find that there has to be a “core producer”, usually larger in scale with a strong financial base, in order to support the eventual creation of wider range of opportunity for farmers.

In the case of dairy, I have tried to strike up relationships with several larger dairies in NM, but have not been able to sustain them for a variety of reasons.  It has been a treat to get to know Alan, even though under adverse circumstances.   I believe that in the long run our little project will be helpful to him and we will also benefit very much from access to him and his scale of operation.

I liken this situation to Vermont, where Cabot Creamery, a very old cooperative, produces 90% of the cheese in the state.  But their success creates opportunity for dozens of smaller cheese makers, whose success in turn also contributes to the awareness of the “Vermont Brand.”

We need a larger dairy in our “family.”  I am optimistic that Alan can benefit from and appreciate that role.

This week’s cheese share update:

This week the cheese share will be Provolone and a piece of Ayrshire.

This week’s Veggie/Share Update:

Mesa Top offers a harvest of mei quing choi –  a spring and fall favorite!  Also from Mesa Top will be salad greens and collards, which are getting tired but are still tasty, as we approach the end of their life cycle.  The squash and cukes are winding down quickly, but we should have modest amounts for another couple of weeks.

This week’s special treats are on the fruit side again; grapes and sweet poms from Shiraz Vineyard.  We will have 3 different types of large red grapes.  Sweet poms will also continue for several weeks.  They do not require refrigeration and even if the skin gets dried out, the tasty center is protected.  I have held sweet poms for several months and still enjoyed them (though cutting that outer skin gets more difficult with age.)

Thank you for supporting innovation and variety among our local farmers.  See the pictures of pom preparation on the blog yesterday.

Membership news:

Please continue to refer your friends – if they sign up in September they will receive a piece of artisanal cheese or a jar of peanut butter.  Our membership continues to grow at Santa Fe Prep and Eldorado.

Thank you for your continued support!

Steve Warshawer


1 Comment

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One response to “Steve’s Weekly Update 9/15/10

  1. Steve – thanks for the kind words. Good insight on the role of larger producers. I wish current economics would allow me to play a larger role than I’m currently able to. I’m hopeful for Molly’s success. Go by and see her some time. She is doing great.
    Alan VH

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