Guest Post Meet Your Beef: California Drought on a Central Valley Ranch

I met my friend Brooke on social media. We are both multi-generational cattle ranchers, who are very passionate about our way of life. Brooke has a wonderful blog where she details her life. Because of the hurtful and ignorant comment made by my local environmental group (which I am now a member of), I decided to attempt to humanize this drought, so they could see the farmers and ranchers and families behind it. Brooke was kind enough to let me re-blog her original post (please see here).


 

 

My friend and fellow blogger, Megan Brown, over at The Beef Jar recently uncovered some rather hurtful words that her local Butte Environmental Council shared on their Facebook page. After I saw what’s pictured below, I decided that maybe I should continue to share how real the drought in the Central Valley is and how it has hurt my family’s business as well as multiple farmers and ranchers in the area. Just to be clear: my intent in writing these posts is to share our business, foster agricultural education, and develop conversation pieces that may lead to a better understanding for the greater good. I hope it comes off that way.

Here is what Butte Environmental Council put on their Facebook page that inspired this post:

Cry me a River??

Cry me a River??

My mom is the 3rd generation cattle rancher and she runs the ranch my grandparent’s fought hard to preserve all their life. As most everyone knows by now, over the last 4-5 years we have had a heck of a time with the drought. 2014 has been the worst. The ranch we raise our beef on solely relies on annual rainfall to grow the native grass to feed our cattle. There is no irrigation on this land. Average annual rainfall for us is somewhere around 12-13″ a year. This year, there was no rain in December and most of January (typically wet months for us). Our grand total was a whopping 4.89″ of rainfall. That was also accompanied by record high temperatures.

We take pride in how well we manage our ranch land but regardless of what we did this year, there was no saving it from devastation. Between the months of January and April we had to cull 20% of our herd as well as spread our cattle out amongst another field just to sustain them and the land. 20% of any business is no small amount… especially when these animals are your livelihood. My mom has worked her whole life to build these genetics, making the decision to sell those cows not just a business decision, but an emotional one as well. To make matters even worse we also had to buy and feed 3 times the amount of hay this year (it’s outrageously priced right now because demand is so high).

Relying on Mother Nature is a gambling business. We know that. I can remember growing up when ever we would sit down to a large meal in celebration of someone’s birthday, we would say a prayer before eating. My grandfather would always chime in at the end of that prayer with “and PLEASE don’t forget the rain!” It became a bit of a joke then because he’d say it regardless of the season (we have a lot of June birthday’s in our family and it tends to be in the 100’s then). But this is no joke. This drought is real and it is hitting the bottom line for every farmer and rancher in the state of CA and beyond.

Some close family friends of ours, the Estills, who are also a multi-generational cattle ranching family in both CA and NV have sold a staggering 60% of their herd this year due to drought. 60%!!

A family whom leases part of our ranch also grows oranges in the surrounding area. On my way to the ranch I pass their orchard. They put up this sign that reads “No water. No trees. No work. No food.” And behind that sign is acres upon acres of DIRT.

No Water Sign No Water, No Trees, No Jobs, No Food

No Water Sign
No Water, No Trees, No Jobs, No Food

 

Orange Trees that have been ripped out

Orange Trees that have been ripped out

 

There used to be a beautiful grove of orange trees but they were forced to rip them out due to the water crisis. I can’t imagine what kind of financial impact that will have on their business. For the people of the same mindset as Butte Environmental Council, this isn’t just a bunch of propaganda. It’s real life and it’s devastating. We aren’t a bunch of “giant agribusinesses”. We are close knit families trying to carry on traditions and a passion for this industry that our mothers, fathers, great grandmothers/grandfathers and so on worked tirelessly to build.

A recent drought impact study published by UC Davis (read more here) states that the total statewide economic cost of the 2014 drought is $2.2 billion! Amongst other things, there was a loss of 17,000 seasonal and part-time jobs related to Ag which represents 3.8% of farm unemployment. Regardless of whether someone is directly connected to Agriculture in this state or not, those numbers tell a brutal story.

I will leave you all with a video that my mom and I were asked to be a part of for a news station from France that was covering the drought here in CA. This video was done in March when the grass was still green. It is now very brown, very sparse, and very brittle.

Having trouble viewing the video above? Click below to see it on YouTube!

California Drought on a Central Valley Cattle Ranch

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Guest Post: Whiskey is for Drinking, Water is for Fighting

One of the amazing things about farmers and ranchers is solidarity. We will always have differences of opinion about everything, but when push comes to shove, you’ll never find a group of people that are more supportive of each other. This becomes apparent to me every time agriculture has a serious event like a drought or a major storm.  As we know, the western United States is suffering from an epic drought. The networking, and information being shared amongst our groups right now is staggering. The messages of support and advice I’ve been receiving has blown me out of the water (sorry, bad pun). Carin has been one of those people that has offered her support. Like me, she is passionate about her way of life and ranch. She has graciously shared with me a post about her experience with our drought. Please take the time to follow her blog here. Thank you. 


93432. Creston, California.  It’s a tiny little slice of heaven most folks have never heard of because we boast a population of 240 according to the sign at the NorthWest edge of town.  We only have two paved streets. One is Highway 229, or you can head south on O’Donovan Road.  I grew up in a log cabin my parents built about a mile and a half down O’Donovan Road.  My Dad’s family has been here since 1874 when Patrick O’Donovan, an Irish Immigrant, settled here.

Noel & Nancy Ryan. Married 40 years. Nancy grew up as a farmers daughter and one of 5 children. Her fathers family settled in the Paso Robles area in the 1860's. Noel was raised on his family's ranch established in 1874 by his great grandfather.

Noel & Nancy Ryan. Married 40 years. Nancy grew up as a farmers daughter and one of 5 children. Her fathers family settled in the Paso Robles area in the 1860’s. Noel was raised on his family’s ranch established in 1874 by his great grandfather.

Creston doesn’t have much. We do have a church, elementary school, rodeo grounds, steakhouse, post office, dive bar – all the essentials. And water.  We have water.  The greater Creston area parallels the beginning of the Salinas River Valley.  The branch of the Huer Huero River that skirts our property is a tributary to the Salinas River. It’s dry for years at a time requiring steady, heavy rain for weeks on end or several wet years in a row in order to flow water.  On a few occasions and only during tremendously wet years, the river has overflowed its banks and rerouted down our driveway.  A good excuse to stay home from school when we were kids!!

It’s a Sunday night and I sit on my parents back patio with my Dad.  It’s 100 degrees at 7:00 pm, down from 106 earlier.  Typical summer weather. Hot days and cool nights make for great growing conditions for wine grapes.  In the last 30 years, the Paso Robles AVA, which Creston is a part of, has seen numbers jump from 5 wineries in the late 70’s to nearly 300 tasting rooms, probably thrice as many individual grape growers, several custom crush facilities and countless other businesses directly related to grapes and wine.  Wine has been good to us.

Good rain years, grass gets about a foot tall, up to 3 feet in the good spots. This is April which is about the end of our rainy season.

Good rain years, grass gets about a foot tall, up to 3 feet in the good spots. This is April which is about the end of our rainy season.

Dad remembers the wet years and the dry ones.  He can name them off the top of his head.  1958, Dad and his brother swam in the creek in front of the house in May – long after the rainy season had passed.  1969, he was in a leg cast and dating my Mom. Grandpa would pick Dad up at the end of the driveway in a tractor and haul him to the top of the hill to get Mom.  It was so wet he couldn’t drive his car up their driveway.  I was born in May of 1978.  A friend had a helicopter on standby to get mom out in case it was too wet to drive to the hospital when she went into labor.  The early 90’s were bone dry ending in the  March Miracle in 1995.  Dad will tell you that 2011 – 2014 have been the driest he remembers.  Our average is 13″.  We haven’t seen 10″ in the last 3 years combined.

I grew up knowing that just 5 miles from us in three directions were areas of land that had terrible water – quantity and quality.  We’ve sold water by the truckload to folks that live in those areas, from our ag well for as long as I can remember.  Some of those folks abandoned their wells completely, years ago.  Add 10 miles to that radius and I can name 5 areas outside of Paso Robles where subdivisions went in, everyone had their own domestic well and leach field on their own 5, 10 or 20 acre lots.  Old grain land which used to be dry-farmed and grazed with cattle and sheep was gobbled up by folks moving to the “country” from the big cities 250 miles north and south of us.

As the wine industry grew, more land was absorbed, wet years, dry years, wet years again and more vineyards were planted.  As of late, some large corporations, either wholly comprised of wine and wine grapes or having large interests in the wine industry, saw the writing on the wall in the Napa Valley and bought up Northern San Luis Obispo County land, largely made available as a result of the economic collapse.  They installed vineyards at a record pace.  Hard to blame them.  A savvy local reporter revealed that one of these corporations is active in water banking in the San Joaquin Valley.  This bit of information raised the hackles of some of the locals and, as they say, the fight was on.

During our record breaking drought of late, wells that were installed in those Paso Robles Sub Divisions started failing and going dry.  Folks took to their computers, wine in hand, and lobbied locally to form water districts so that the big corporations would be held responsible for the well failures.  Farmers and ranchers were wise to counter.  They formed their own groups.  Now we have PRAAGS, PRO Water Equity, an individual who is filing for overlier rights on behalf of landowners.  And then we have the politicians. A quick thinking North County Supervisor immediately omitted two towns and the City of Paso Robles from the areas to be affected by the initial Urgency Ordinance passed by County Sups to stop the bleeding. (Note:  the City of Paso Robles is undeniably the largest user of water in the basin – without argument.) The Chairman of our County Board of Supervisors (his district does not include one ounce of water in the Paso Robles Groundwater Basin) sent errant letters to State Elected officials full of lies and inaccuracies.  We have a state Assemblyman filing for legislation that lays the groundwork on how to govern the water district that has yet to be approved by LAFCO. I sat in his office and he told me, to my face, this legislation doesn’t form the district.  I do not believe him.

The 5 heifers we kept.

The 5 heifers we kept.

Let me be clear. In this crowded groups of litigants, politicians and groups promising to be in my family ranch’s best interest, I don’t know who to believe. I believe the rain gauge when it said we got ±5″ at the ranch, more than doubling the two years prior.  I believe my Dad when he said we had to reduce our cattle herd down to 10 females because our unit per acre ratio (usually 1:25 – 1:50) was, at best, 1:100.  I believe the quivering chin and tears on my Mom’s face when she gets back from her usual favorite activity with Dad – a Jeep ride to check the cows. She cries because there is no grass, no water, little hope.  Checking cows now takes about 15 minutes and is hardly the romantic endeavor she used to enjoy.  She and Dad would share memories, discuss important topics and dream of their future, all while taking pride in their herd.

My parents are blessed with good water, and they know it.  Our ag well pumps 400 gallons a minute and does not waver.  Our domestic well that feeds two houses is set at 60 feet. Sixty.  The ag well provides water to our longtime customers, fills our reservoir and was formerly used to pump water for our alfalfa hay operation.  We abandoned the hay business when Dad didn’t have enough time and we weren’t old enough to help. The water never left.  Dad tells a great story of he and my youngest brother in the field down below the house the middle of one summer.  There’s a small, abandoned well shaft.  Dad showed my brother the casing. My brother dropped a rock down the casing to see how deep the water was.  They heard nothing.  My brother bent down and put his skinny arm down the shaft.  He was wet up to his elbow. We had standing water at about 18″.

Looking north across our pasture. The green is our neighbors vineyard. It was planted probably 15 years ago and is thriving. It has had NO impact on our water levels.

Looking north across our pasture. The green is our neighbors vineyard. It was planted probably 15 years ago and is thriving. It has had NO impact on our water levels.

I had the privilege to listen to DeeDee D’Adamo of the California State Water Resource Control Board during our May, California Women for Agriculture meeting, speak about State water issues.  Most the questions were about pending Bond measures to fund more State Water projects, the Delta tunnels, and so on. I stood up in front of my peers and asked her directly about what was happening in the Paso Robles Groundwater Basin. She didn’t really answer my question and only said she’s very interested in what’s happening here.  She’s interested because what happens in Paso Robles and its surrounding areas will be echoed all over the State of California in areas where the water isn’t adjudicated.  If you think that because you have water under the property you own, and you are entitled to a well and that water, you may be right – but not for long. What happens here, won’t stay here.  What’s happening here is the answer to politicians desire to control every drop of water in California.  Some of the Paso Robles water groups are for water districts because they’re against water banking and private entities selling water outside of our basin. Our family is part of the water-blessed.  We fear that if this district is implemented, what will stop the State of California from pumping the water from my family’s well into the pipeline that already runs through our ranch, and selling it to someone else?

If you come to dinner around our family table, you will say a Catholic Blessing. “Bless us oh Lord, and these thy gifts, which we are about to receive. From thy bounty, through Christ our Lord, Amen.” Dad will pause, then close The Blessing saying thank you to the God that has given him so much.  Then he humbly and quietly asks God to bring us more rain.  I also believe that if God answers Daddy’s nightly prayer and brings us enough rain to end the overdraft in the Paso Robles Groundwater Basin, much of these passionate debates over water will be yesterday’s news.  I believe we have a water problem.  The problem is that not enough rain and snow fell from the sky in the last three years.  Regulation and new governing bodies are not the answer.  Because dissolving government agencies and removing regulation is like trying to un-ring a bell.

As I told a friend in a heated Facebook debate on the subject of water: You can have my family’s water but you’ll have to buy it, one truckload at a time. And then I offered her a glass of whiskey.

Ms. Ryan

Ms. Ryan

Carin Ryan grew up on a grain and cattle ranch in Creston that her father’s family settled in 1874. Her mother’s family began farming grain in the Independence Ranch area of Paso Robles in the late 1860s. She is currently serving as the Public Relations Director for California Women for Agriculture. She served as the President of SLO County CWA in 2009 and several years as Secretary for Paso Robles Friends of NRA. She currently resides on the ranch in Creston where she helps her family with their cattle operation. Her blog can be found at carinryan.wordpress.com

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Cry Me A River

I spend my summers in Indian Valley, California. It’s a beautiful valley nestled in the Sierra Nevada mountains, located in Northern California. This valley is perfect for cattle and hay, since the growing season is too short for most food crops. It’s a great symbiotic relationship, we make hay, then turn the cattle out. The cattle poo, fertilizing the ground, then we make more hay for the cattle to eat. Rinse and repeat.

On the left used to be a ditch, we changed it to a buried pipe to conserve water. On the right is our laser leveled field.

On the left used to be a ditch, we changed it to a buried pipe to conserve water. On the right is our laser leveled field.

This is the one ranch where we have irrigation. Many of the ranches in this valley have water shares from the local river. We use the water to irrigate the hay and water our cattle. Over the years, we’ve gotten rather high tech when it comes to our water share. Since we only get a limited amount of water, we know we must be as efficient as we can with it. This has led us to bury our ditches in underground pipes so we can limit evaporation and waste. We have laser leveled our fields so we don’t waste water in holes or on poor grades. My point is, we understand what a precious and rare resource water has become, because our life depends on it.

California is in the middle of a major drought. This is terrifying for a number of reasons, but mainly because California produces more than half the nation’s fruit, nuts, and vegetables and we can’t grow these things without water. This drought is directly impacting people like me: farmers and ranchers. Let me remind you that 98% of farms and ranches are family owned.

My family has been working extra hard this summer. We’ve practically lived in our fields, watching our water. Because it is so precious and rare to us, we have to use it as wisely as we can, in order to survive, we simply must. Imagine my shock and awe, as I was sitting in a field, waiting for the exact instant the water was ready to be changed, I saw a local environmental group post on their social media page:

It’s hard to stomach the giant agribusinesses whine about lack of water when they have made the poor business decision to grow luxury orchard crops (pistachios, etc) in a dessert. Cry me a river about your dust bowl.”

 

This is a pretty tough thing for agriculture to read when we are drying up.

This is a pretty tough thing for agriculture to read when we are drying up.

I started crying, right there in the field. I may not be in the central valley of California (where that vile comment was referring to), but I certainly understand the anxiety and fear this drought is causing. Our neighbor’s well had just dried up the that very morning, our water share is the lowest we have ever seen it, our fields are starting to brown and die. How could a group that claims to be “devoted to environmental education and information referral services, and advocacy” say that about the very people that work for a better environment everyday of our lives?

I couldn’t sleep that night, I was so upset over that comment. Giant agribusinesses? Luxury crops? Dessert (sic)? This is how many of the misconceptions and fallacies that plague agriculture start. By people that, I think, do have their heart in the right place, but don’t have enough understanding of a topic to fully communicate both sides. Beyond that fact, I was hurt that the writer chose to take such an inflammatory and hurtful tone – “Cry me a river about your dust bowl”. Ouch. That is a hurtful and horrible thing to say when farmers and ranchers are literally crying over the loss of our way of life.

I decided that I needed to join this group and I needed to say my peace about their comment. As someone that lives to advocate for my life, I would be a hypocrite to not take the 10 minutes to have a conversation. As soon as Dad could spare me, I jumped in my truck with my cowdogs, drove the hour and half to Chico.

 

A felfie. I was on my way to Butte Environmental Council's office. I haven't showered in two day, I had no make up on, the same pants I wore the day before (saving water!), I had both my dogs and our neighbors well just went dry. I wanted to show them the face of giant agribusiness crying them a river in my dust bowl.

A felfie. I was on my way to Butte Environmental Council’s office. I haven’t showered in two days, I had no make up on, the same pants I wore the day before (saving water!), I had both my dogs and our neighbors well just went dry. I wanted to show them the face of giant agribusiness crying them a river in my dust bowl.

Because of the heat, I was forced to take my cowdogs in the office with me. I can only imagine the sight and smell of me as I walked down the streets of downtown Chico with two dogs on a leash made of bailing twine. I arrived at their office, introduced myself, and proceeded to cry them a river. All the anxiety, emotion and fear I’d been feeling lately about our water situation boiled over. Their office was so nice and cool, such a change from the heat and dust I’d been working in. The women in the office seemed very nice, concerned, and thanked me for coming in and talking to them. They said they would speak to the people that had administrative access to their page. I urged them to remove the comment and maybe issue an apology because alienating your active environmentalists (farmers and ranchers), is not a good way to foster communication.

My dirty, smelly self, crying in BEC's office.

My dirty, smelly self, crying in BEC’s office.

I also paid my $20’s and became a member. As I said, I want my voice to matter, so I felt like paying my dues, would prove I am serious about working together for the greater good. I left their office feeling hopeful. Hopeful that their comment would be removed, perhaps an apology given and hopeful that a new partnership could blossom.

I walk the walk. I am serious about my love for our environment and agriculture and making those things better for everyone.

I walk the walk. I am serious about my love for our environment and agriculture and making those things better for everyone.

 

When I checked their page the next day, I was dismayed to find they had not removed the offending post. In fact, they edited it to reflect a spelling change. I realize that the women in that office do not have the same experience as I have with water or our environment.  Their income, their very way of life, all they have ever known isn’t on a cattle ranch that five generations before them worked so hard for. Their friends, family and peers aren’t facing uncertain futures like mine are. As a new member with these insights, perhaps I need to show and tell, so this council can start to fathom what we are facing.

My comments on the initial post and the day after I went in, paid for my membership and cried.

My comments on the initial post and the day after I went in, paid for my membership and cried.

Over the next few weeks, I plan to share more about how this drought is affecting agriculture. I’ve reached out to some other advocates in hopes that their stories can help put a face to what people think are “giant agribusinesses”.  They plan on sharing about their farms and ranchers and the “luxury” crops they produce. I sincerely hope that with this new information and ability to communicate with agriculture, the Butte Environmental Council will re-think how they talk about farmers and ranchers. Perhaps this would be an excellent time for everyone to start over again, and work together for the great good. All of our futures depend in it.

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Wordless Wednesday: The House Eagle

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Salt Cured Egg Yolks

Like the majority of Americans, I have a Facebook page. As most of us know, Facebook offers groups you can join. There are groups for everything, I belong to everything from teacup pigs owners groups to stuff your own sausage groups.  One of my favorites these days is The Cult of Pre-Pasteurian Preservation and Food Preparation, moderated by Ken Albala.

A turkey egg.

A turkey egg.

 

A few months back someone in the group was talking about salt cured eggs and how delicious they were. I decided I needed to try them!

Aren't they pretty?

Aren’t they pretty?

I just happened to have a dozen free-range, red bourbon, turkey eggs that were begging for me to use them. I also had some black truffle salt, itching to be used on eggs! Match made in heaven.*

Egg yolks buried in delicious truffle salt.

Egg yolks buried in delicious truffle salt.

I buried the yolks in a layer of black truffle salt, then a layer of regular sea salt. I left this alone, covered, in my refrigerator for two weeks.

ALmost cured yolks.

Almost cured yolks.

After the two weeks were up, I knocked as much salt off as I could, wrapped the yolks in cheesecloth and hung them in my fridge for another week.

All done!

All done!

I had been dying to try these for months at this point and finally got the chance on a green salad. You literally must use a cheese grater to use these eggs, but it is worth it! The eggs could also be served over pasta and other vegetables.

So, so, so good.

So, so, so good.

Once your egg yolks are cured, keep them in an airtight container in the refrigerator for about a month.

*Also you can use regular chicken eggs and salt. I was just being extra fancy.

 

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Wordless Wednesday: Sunflowers

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Giveaway: “Vintage” Poster

I love a good giveaway! Especially when it means I get something!

I had a nail in one of the tires on my truck, so while waiting for the nice people over at Les Schwab to fix it for me, I accidentally did some shopping.

I found the coolest posters! I had to buy them! Since I don’t have room in my house for all three, I’m doing a giveaway!!! Two of these are going to be adorable framed in my office, one is going to be adorable somewhere in your home!

This giveaway is for one of these posters! You pick!

 

Cows!

Cows!

OR

Canning!

Canning!

OR

Cameras!

Cameras!

 

I will select a winner next Tuesday, July 10, 2014, using random.org. Just leave me a comment below!!

Good luck!

 

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