Hello readers! My ag teacher friend wrote this blog, and out of concern for their place in the community, we thought it might be a good idea to post it here anonymously. I believe this needs to be said and shared. Please read with an open mind…..
I’m A Bad Ag Teacher
I’ve been teaching high school agriculture for several years now. I love my job immensely. I pour my heart and soul into it. But what has become apparent over time is that I am a bad ag teacher.
Good ag teachers are all about creating people who will advocate for agriculture and tell its story to the disconnected public. I don’t do that.
Good ag teachers are constantly applying for grants and working community connections for sponsorship dollars. I don’t do that.
Good ag teachers believe that agriculture today is pretty awesome and the methods and way of life need to be protected. I really don’t believe that.
Good ag teachers are relentlessly optimistic, believing that the future of agriculture is always bright and a more important focus than the past. That’s really not me.
Good ag teachers teach their students how to perform taxidermy or methods of hunting or fishing. I don’t give a hoot about my students learning those things.
Good ag teachers encourage students to participate in youth apprenticeships or work release so students can get a head start on their careers. I struggle to do this.
So by now you’re probably thinking, “She really doesn’t do all those things that sound important, but she doesn’t necessarily sound bad. What does she actually do?” Well, let me tell you.
I encourage my students to make the most of their free (taxpayer funded) education as they never know where life will take them. I want my students to make the best choices for themselves, but to never turn down an opportunity to learn. Sometimes that takes place at an outside placement, but you can never get those years in the classroom back.
More than hands-on skills, more than agricultural knowledge, I teach my students to think critically and evaluate issues from all sides. Whether it’s wildlife management, raw milk consumption, or animal cloning; we examine data, we look for holes in arguments, and we take the perspective of those we disagree with so we are both better informed and can better communicate about things we care about.
I teach that land management on this continent did not begin with white colonizers, and that the idea of a place without white people being labeled wilderness is preposterous. By now you can probably see I’m a weird ag teacher.
I teach that soil health is paramount to human survival and that the methods we are currently using are not enough to save us. We will have to change our methods to become climate resilient and protect our water supply. This makes me at most a mediocre ag teacher.
I teach that science literacy and consistency is important for all people, and that the natural sciences and social sciences cannot exist without the other. The natural sciences help us understand how the world works, but the social sciences explain how the functions of the world affect the dynamics of human lives. The anti-GMO movement didn’t happen because lots of people just wanted to be willfully ignorant of science, it happened because they had valid concerns about how biotechnology is utilized and there was an us v. them mentality with farmers/scientists/agribusiness and consumers. This makes me a near heretical ag teacher.
I teach that United States agriculture, in all parts of the country, has been complicit in injustices since before we became a nation. Slavery, sharecropping, theft of Native land and methods, migrant and immigrant exploitation, it’s woven into the fabric of how our agricultural landscape today came to be. And despite those injustices, all people in this country have a right to determine their level of involvement and understanding of agriculture. Some want to be involved in agriculture but struggle with access due to centuries of disenfranchisement. Others don’t, and we need to be okay with that. I don’t want to be a computer science expert, I just want my phone to work for me; people in cities (many of whom were forced off the land) just want their food to be trustworthy and safe, we shouldn’t expect them to be able to list which crops have GMO versions or why castrating pigs is important. By now you’ve guessed it, I’m a pretty bad ag teacher.
And most of all, I don’t teach that agriculture exists in a vacuum, that ag is a sacred profession that is to be revered and subsidized more than others, and that there aren’t real issues in agriculture today that are hurting real people (and I’m not talking about animal rights activists). I’m an awful ag teacher.
The official mission statement of agricultural education is “Agricultural education prepares students for successful careers and a lifetime of informed choices in the global agriculture, food, fiber and natural resources systems.” I actually really like this, but it allows for a little too much wiggle room for me. Good ag teachers would argue that the phrase “informed choices in the global … systems” is referring to understanding the place of biotechnology and feeding the world. The bad ag teacher in me sees that phrase and thinks of making sure my students understand the fraught issues with natural gas pipelines, food sovereignty, and animal welfare. That’s why I wrote my own mission statement, “Agricultural education is a holistic education with a radical agenda to empower young people to be inclusive community leaders who will be agents of change in order to create a climate stable, biodiverse, environmentally and socially just, and food secure world; and have the pragmatism, communication skills, and hands-on abilities to make it so.” They’re essentially the same, right?
Most of the ag teachers I’ve met are ridiculously kind and giving people. They love the agrarian life and want to be able to pass it on to future generations, and that’s noble. But in ag education we have a ton of privilege, even if funding issues don’t always make it feel that way. We work with students who are overwhelmingly white and rural, for whom social distancing is more the norm, the police are little more than a friendly nuisance, and the right to live on the land we inherited from our ancestors is never questioned. We also spend a ton of time with our students, often forging deep bonds and helping to shape their futures. That is a privilege beyond measure. But to paraphrase a movie, “with great privilege comes great responsibility.” Since we have those bonds and time with our students, we are in a better position than most to help students understand what’s going on in the world, and what our role in it is. And for our students of color, if we aren’t acknowledging the role and trauma of their people in agriculture throughout time, we are guilty of whitewashing and erasure. If we think ag education is valuable to all students, they need to be able to see themselves both past and present in our story, and not just talk about George Washington Carver because he’s the only black person in ag we know of.
There are days I want to be a good ag teacher so badly. I tell myself I’m going to apply for that grant from a large agribusiness with questionable practices, or I’m going to explain that modern dairy production is the most efficient system ever and leave it at that, or that I’m going to spend time teaching my students to memorize different types of fishing equipment. I could do all of that, it would be easy, the resources are there. But no matter how hard I try I can’t follow through on these things and once again I show my true colors, as a bad ag teacher.
This is a follow up to my last Throwback Thursday post. I’m sincerely hoping someone will recognize some more children in these photos. As someone who loves family history, I get a real kick when I can return family memories and memorabilia to their rightful owners.
I think this is a candid photo Ella Byrd took and not an official school photo. I think this because these photos are mixed in and look the same as the other photos of ranch life she had taken. I’d imagine it must have been a big deal to have a camera back in the 1920’s.
This photo has written on the back:
“Class in 1925
It’s interesting to note they had a new teacher this year! Ella Byrd is in the back to the left of the right window. Miss Mary is in the front row in the white dress. I think this school is in Crescent Mills, because of the wood siding, and the fact our family ranch was just a few miles away. As much as I wanted it to be in front of the 1864 Taylorsville schoolhouse, later pictures I have of the class, don’t confirm that. I’ll try and sneak a photo of the old schoolhouse to compare for next week’s blog.
When I start posting these photos I start falling down the rabbit hole of research. I started retracing Sam and Hazel’s (Ella Byrd and Mary’s Parents), steps again. Pulling out notes and emails my friend Erin helped me with years ago, talking to my Dad about what he knows. My Dad said Fletcher (Ella Byrd and Mary’s brother), was born in the big house on the Pony Hill Ranch. That means the family had to be living there in 1921. I think they were renting that ranch before they bought it.
Does anyone recognize their family in this photo? Have a memory of the school? I’m always interested in learning more….
Slowly, I am making progress through my family photos. There is one album among them that belonged to Ella Byrd Brown as a teen. It has some pretty amazing photos. I think I need to get through it first in case there is anyone, still alive, who remembers any of these people. This album has notes and pictures drawn onto some of the photos, which is an interesting look into her life. The first photo I’m going to share has this written on the back:
“Class in ’24 Mrs. Eldred teacher”
written in childish handwriting I am not familiar with. I think it is Ella Byrd‘s, but her child style. Ella Byrd would have been about 11/12 in this photo. She is the tall girl, second from left. Her sister, Mary Brown (later Mcintyre) would have been around 6/7. I can’t tell if she appears in this photo. The girl in the front row, with the bob, and white collar, looking toward Ella Bryd, does resemble her.
I know, because of the 1920’s census, Ella Byrd and Mary’s Parents were still in Lassen County, California. But by 1924, I believe Sam had bought and moved our family to the Pony Hill Ranch in Indian Valley, Plumas County. The photos in this album tend to confirm that. However, since there are no buildings in the background, it is hard to say where this was taken.
I know many of the same families who lived in Indian Valley in 1924 are still there today. So readers, do any of these kids look familiar? Do you remember any tidbit about Mrs. Eldred?
Change is hard for some of us. Especially in agriculture where we tend to be proud of the fact ‘we’ve always done it this way”. But when we resist change in such a way that we hurt or dehumanize other people, we need to stop being proud of that heritage. We need to realize we are part of the problem.
The South Dakota Cattlemen’s Association mission statement is this: Advance and protect the interests of all cattlemen by enhancing profitability through representation, promotion and information sharing. Imagine my surprise when I saw Steve Ollerich, the President of the South Dakota Cattlemen’s Association, opinion piece in their magazine. He goes on a tirade that does nothing to enhance the beef industry in any way. In fact, I wager it reenforces negative stereotypes our urban peers have about us. I am going to put a screenshot here because we need to talk about it.
When a leader of an agriculture organizations jokes about killing transgender people, and the whole industry doesn’t stop, and go, ‘NOT OK!’ we have a problem. I’m hoping by drawing attention to it, my industry can grow, learn and improve.
When jokes are funny, we all laugh. When jokes dehumanize, it’s a gateway to violence, it normalizes aggressive, and violent policing. Dehumanizing language has long been used to justify violence and destruction of minorities. I am not willing to perpetuate this.
I see the beef industry asking again and again, how we can connect with consumers. Here is our chance. Here is a glorious, wonderful chance for us to step up, in our white cowboy hats, and do some good. We need to talk about this harmful language and attitude. This isn’t about being politically correct, or call out culture, this is about treating all human beings with respect. Something we, in agriculture, demand constantly. It’s about doing the right thing. I look forward to both The South Dakota Cattlemen’s Association and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association addressing this in a mature and professional manner we can all learn from.
I spent last Thursday driving around North Eastern California with my Dad. This is interesting because this is the first time we’ve done this in my adult life. The Brown side my my family has history in this area of California. Driving around this area prompted my Dad to tell some family lore, which I love. This got me thinking about all the pictures I inherited and how I need to continue to Throwback Thursday them before I lose all the people who have memories of this time.
On the back of this photo, in perfect script, are the names of these fine folk. They are family members of mine, one I actually met. Many of the people in this photo appear in other photos I have. Hopefully this winter I’ll post all the ones I can find. In the meantime please enjoy…
I think this photo is taken in front of the Doherty Ranch on Stampfli Lane in Indian Valley.
Do you remember these people? Have a memory you’d like to share? Feel free to leave a comment.
It’s that time of the year again! I’m finishing beef for you!
After much complaining and sulking on my part, my Parents have graciously given me our open heifers to sell as beef to you. These are the sisters of the animals we sell to commercial outlets, your Whole Foods, Costco and Raley’s. These heifers didn’t do their job, to get pregnant, so they now they get go to your freezer camp.
I like to eat heifers because I think they are just a whisper sweeter. This is just personal opinion though. These full blooded black angus heifers are 24-30 months old and weigh around 1100-1200 pounds. I believe the best meat comes from beef animals this age, breed and gender.
These beefs have enjoyed a grass diet, here on the ranches, their whole lives. Recently they have been enjoying their summer on clover and natural grasses in picturesque Indian Valley, California. They have received no antibiotics, added hormones, and our handling set up is based on Dr. Temple Grandin’s methods.
This year, I am offering both grass finished and grain finished animals. I know the popularity for totally grass-fed beef is growing, especially for people involved with CrossFit. If you want a grain finished beef (this is what my family eats), I plan to use a corn, oats, and barley with molasses mix. I plan on starting the finishing process this week, so if you are interested best let me know sooner than later. The beef should be ready for pick up in September.
Down to business. I charge you for the actual live animal. You will be the proud owner of a live heifer for a while. When the beef is “finished”, I will make an appointment with a mobile slaughter truck and have the beef killed here on our ranch. I am a big fan of this because the beef will not experience any stress, one second she’s hanging out with her cow friends, doing cow things, the next she’s not.
You will work with the Locker to order the cuts of beef you want. It’s my favorite part, a Foodies dream! You can choose your cuts, how many per package, ect. Please check out this link, it’s a great reference. The Locker will guide you through the cuts and make this experience educational.
My beef usually goes for around $2000-$2400 for a whole beef. However, most people don’t have room for a whole beef in their freezer, so I offer ½ and ¼ beefs as well. (The general rule is about 28 pounds of meat per cubic foot of freezer space.)
If you choose a half or quarter, you will split the cost of the whole beef. The prices fluctuates based on how you want your beef finished (grass is slightly more) and how much you get. A whole is slightly cheaper than a quarter because it’s less work for me to sell in bulk.
You will pay me and the Locker separately. The Locker charges an $125 kill/disposal fee per animal. This is for the death of the beef and the disposal of the inedible parts. Then they will charge you $1.20 per pound for the hanging weight to hang, cut, wrap and freeze your meat. If you split a beef, you will split the processing costs as well. I warn you, once you buy beef like this, it’s hard to go back! The frozen beef will last way over a year in your freezer.
Before I breakdown the ballpark costs for you I want to talk about something important (in case you didn’t read the PDF I linked above). My beef averages around 1200 pounds when it is slaughtered. After it is slaughtered, the blood, organs and head will be removed, leaving about 62% of the original body weight. This is called the “hanging or rail weight”. After that, your carcass will age, losing another 21% of weight. This is the industry standard. Because most people don’t see this process, sometimes they think they are going to get 1200 pounds of meat and are very surprised when they end up with about 600 lbs of packaged, frozen beef.
So let’s ballpark price and amount for a half of a beef shall we?
Let’s say you want a half of an 1200 pound grain fed beef. That’s $1000 for the beef. Now you want to have it killed. That is half of $125, ($62.5). So far you’re committed for $1062.50. And you have 372 pounds of beef that needs to be cut and wrapped. You pay the $1.20 per pound to do that, adding another $446.40 to the $1062.50, you already accrued. You have a grand total of $1,508.90 invested in 295 pound of premium beef. This gives you an average of about $5.11 per pound for beef where you know how the beef lived, how the beef was treated and how the beef died.
I know this seems overwhelming. But it’s not once you get going. I strive to make this as fun and educational as possible. I will help you with recipes for unfamiliar cuts you will receive, you can come visit you beef before it’s death, in short, I want you to be as involved as you feel comfortable because I believe that should be a right.
Please email me at MegRBrown@gmail.com if you have any questions, comments or concerns. Thank you!