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 (sic). 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.

16 Comments

Filed under Ag, agriculture, animals, Field Trip, food, Know a California Farmer, Media, photos, Ranch life, Rants, Uncategorized

16 Responses to Cry Me A River

  1. Burton

    There are two types of people in the world that create reality. The majority who are the authoritative followers that believe and regurgitate the fallacies of corporate democracy. And the rest of us ‘misfist’ that endeavour to create an understanding of the true value of land and compensation beyond money.
    We are beyond the slippery slop where corporate food is deemed food sovereignty by the majority. The education of the masses continues…

  2. Jan @MyBarnyardView

    I am a dairy farmer from Minnesota, and as I read this I am crying. I am crying for your present drought situation and the impact it has on your crops, your livelihood, and your love for what you do. I am crying because it is never easy to watch your land or animals be affected adversely by something you have worked so hard to handle in the best way possible. But mostly I am crying for the lack of understanding many people have for this situation, and their ignorance to dig deeper and learn more. I commend you for facing the issue and visiting their office. Keep up the fight! Hugs from a fellow agriculturist!

  3. I want to personally commend you Megan for joining the battle the best you know how. Joining an environmental group like you have may not endear you to others in agriculture, but I commend you for thinking this out as you have.

    • jodi818

      Megan, keep up the good fight. It’s only through your personal experiences that non- ag people can sorta relate what you’re going through. They will understand your emotions and hopefully empathize and truly think about what they are saying. I’m a dairy girl from Michigan and we’ve had our share of dry spells, but nothing like what you are experiencing. God bless you with His showers of rain soon.

    • Fair play to Megan for doing it, I’ve done the same thing in the past in a hopes of highlighting the shared priorities both agriculturalists and environmentalist have. The fact is a lot of environmentalists simply have never seen the appreciation we have for the habitat, wildlife and environment around us or how important that is for us to maintain.

      There are always going to be differences but more positive and intelligent contributions to the conversation is in both groups benefit

    • It’s cool, I’ve done a good job of not being too terribly endearing to some other in ag, lol. I gotta try and do something, Todd, ya know? I just have to.

  4. I want to say kudos and thank you for paying your dues to the Council to make sure your opinions and complaints matter. Working for a non-profit membership organization, there is nothing more frustrating than a non-member wanting to call, complain, and badmouth our work and never bother to pay their dues or try to play a role in actually making a difference. Best of luck working with this Council, Megan!

  5. There are far too many people who can’t or won’t isn’t ever understand that nothing is as simple as Us vs Them. Yes, there is “evil” ag, but a lot of ag isn’t evil and much more doesn’t intend to be evil. But leave it to a bunch of yuppie liberals—I can call them this, dammit; I’m a liberal—not to know much of anything about farming/ranching life. It’s always been sadly hilarious to me how so many of the people who are most afraid of nature are the ones who like to say they love it most.

    I’m glad you joined up. Environmentalism can’t be separated from the reality of production, but it so often is when it comes to food.

    Here’s to hoping CA gets some rain soon, as well. I know it’s bone dry there. I was living in Austin, TX, during its bad drought a couple of years ago. The earth was cracking around the house I rented. There were some water restrictions—probably not enough—but for the most part…no one batted an eye. It’s frightening how disconnected people are from the earth they live on.

  6. Deb

    Hi Megan, From Australia I congratulate you on a well written blog, and a well thought out response to the crushing and ignorant post written on the basis of….hmmmmm?? Not sure what factual information such unpleasantness is founded on really!! The problem is also common here, and as a farmer myself, I work hard to ensure our (agricultural) story is heard by as many people as possible. We must tell our stories in a clear and informative way, that allows non farmers to understand what we do and why we do it. There are not alot of farmers as a percentage of the population, so it is encumbant on each of us to do our bit to break down this information and cultural divide. This is a new and vital role we must add to our long list of daily jobs. You are right….farmers are actually closely aligned with “real” environmentalists who work at the coal face of managing soil, water and biodiversity. We are usually, however, at odds with the “activist” environmentalists who seem soley intent on creating friction and angst and upset and do not choose to find ways to collaborate with those, like you, who have offered a hand in conciliation. Keep up your great work! Don’t let the negativity get you down! If you would like to see what I do check out http://www.farmday.com.au The program is on hold at the moment…but will hopefully be back in 2015!!

  7. Barb

    Megan, Hang in there. Ag needs more people like you to speak out and educate the clueless. Job loss alone from this drought ought to be enough to get someone’s attention. Maybe it will take empty store shelves, too.

  8. mike Zeiler

    The bottom line is that the only american made products left in this country is what the American farmer grows! What are the crops grown here worth compared to every other product? Without agriculture the USA will fold up in a minute. We as a country have no other products to trade or sell. Do we want out agriculture products grown in mexico or China?

  9. What a well written piece. I am a Chico resident and find it embarrassing that we have people spewing that type of evil. Good for you for walking the walk and talking the talk. Blessings

  10. Pingback: Culling Cows | The Beef Jar

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