Category Archives: Guest Post

I’m A Bad Ag Teacher

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.


Filed under Ag, agriculture, Guest Post, Rants, Uncategorized

Guest Post: A Piggy Tale

Living and working on this ranch give me the opportunity to share this lifestyle with others. Sometimes that is as simple as inviting friends to come over for a hike, but sometimes it involves giving my friends animal body parts. My friend amazing Alyssa asked me for some body parts for her kids, now I know this might sound weird or strange at first, but stay with us here. When I figured what she was planning to do, I squealed with delight because this is something I’ve heard a lot about but never seen done. Know what? I’m going to let her tell you what she did….

A Piggy Tale

by Alyssa Manes

When I was young, I loved to read. I picked books based on author (I read all the Black Stallion series by Walter Farley), based on cover (King of the Wind by Marguerite Henry), and based on title (The Secret Garden by F. H. Burnett). There were books I didn’t read for the same reason, and Little House on the Prairie series was one of them. One cover had a girl holding a doll, and that definitely wasn’t a book for me. I’m so glad that having children has given me a chance for a second childhood! We borrowed Little House books on audio CD from our local library to listen to, because our homeschool co-op group was doing a unit on the Little House time period.

Now one of the many advantages of home school is the ability to do some really neat hands-on projects with your kids that might be impractical in a larger group. So when we listened to Little House in the Big Woods, and heard the mention of playing with a pig bladder like a ball….well…..why not try it out? All we needed was a pig bladder and a bit of willingness to try something new.
My friend Megan has a ranch and has started breeding heritage pigs, and was very gracious about hooking us up with several fresh bladders. So here’s how it went down:


The pig bladder. Note it is about the size of her hand.

The pig bladder. Note it is about the size of her hand.

I have three children – my son, the oldest, is cautious (which is great because he’ll be driving first), the second has special needs (I think she was napping during our bladder experiment) and the youngest girl is full of joy and mischief.  My plan was for my oldest and youngest to follow instructions and blow up the bladders while I took pictures and helped.  No go.  The youngest was excited to help, but at the age of two, she was a little limited in her ability.  She did hold the pig bladder and watched me closely.  The oldest became the photographer and watched me blow them up.  Now I supposed I could have blown directly into the bladder….after all it didn’t really smell or look all that awful.  But I took the easy route and used a drinking straw.   It actually fit perfectly in the urethra (I’m pinching that part in picture below).  I had a really hard time finding the “tube” that carried urine to the bladder.  I’m not sure if it was a smaller part attached to the urethra or if it was either so small or had some valve to keep the air from flowing out that we never had a leaky bladder once we blew one up.


Pinching the urethra of a pig bladder.

Pinching the urethra of a pig bladder.

Considering the bladder started about the size of my hand, it actually expanded quite a bit (see below). When the bladder was full of air, I pinched the urethra as I pulled out the straw, and had my son help me tie a piece of thread around it. I tried once or twice to use the urethra to tie it off like a balloon, but things were too slippery and/or the tube was just too short.
So there you have it!

Blowing the bladder up

Blowing the bladder up

Getting bigger!

Getting bigger!

Once the bladders dried, I suppose you could have played with them. They have a bit of a crinkly sound now, but they have lasted a year and a half looking like this:

Dried bladders.

Dried bladders.

The fat on them is a little greasy, but the main bladder part is translucent and oddly beautiful.

Bladder balloon!

Bladder balloon!

If I had to rate this “activity” as a family experience, here is what I would say:

  • not very stinky/smelly (although my dog thinks differently and is hoping that a dried bladder will come within her reach)
  • fascinating to see the bladder inflate and to think of its usefulness in historical terms as a child’s “toy”
  • didn’t take very long
  • medium gross-factor


  • tying the string while holding the bladder was a little challenging, since my oldest didn’t want to get too close to the bladder
    wrangling a toddler with gross hands (but this part is still totally worth it in my book….as long as she doesn’t try touching my face…)

Overall, a really cool and memorable experience. Thanks, Megan, for the opportunity to do something so unique!


Thanks for sharing this project with us Alyssa! As an avid reader of the Little House books myself, this was so fun to read about!

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Filed under Ag, agriculture, animals, arts & crafts, Field Trip, Guest Post, History, photos, Pigs, Ranch life, Uncategorized

For Sale: Working Kelpie Pups

Having a working cowdog is essential to me. They are worth their weight in gold. I joke that having a good pack a dogs is far better than hiring an extra cowboy. I pay them in kibble, never worry about them quitting on me, hitting on me, or questioning me (at least out loud). Having a good working dog is something I need on this ranch.

Kelpie pups that are available

Kelpie pups that are available

Our first Kelpie, Ranchie, retired this year after almost 15 years of stellar cowdogging. She had been a gift to my Dad, and quickly became one of our best dogs in the history of ranch dogs. Before Ranchie, we had Queensland Heelers and Border Collies or a mix of the two. I was a diehard border collie fan for years and years. Until Ranchie, then Boo.

My girl Boo dog. I spend more time with her than any other animal or person.

My girl Boo dog. I spend more time with her than any other animal or person. (photo courtesy of Rob Eves).

Boo was originally meant to replace Ranchie, she was supposed to be my Dad’s dog. But we like to say cowdogs pick their own owners, and Boo picked me. I’ve been her person and she’s been my righthand girl for two years now. This spring I found Boo a boyfriend in hopes of getting a litter out of her. Most people who have met Boo wanted a little copy of her because she is such an amazing little dog. I wanted one too! Unfortunately, it didn’t work out. I did, however meet the Martin’s, Tim and Abbey.

You want this pup. Trust me.

You want this pup. Trust me.

Tim and Abbey are seriously cool. We have a lot in common including an intense passion for these dogs. They have an excellent breeding and working pair. Check them out in the video below! Since Boo didn’t get pregnant, I was able to buy a pup from Tim and Abbey. Of course, I didn’t get to keep it. My Dad pointed out that I did get the last dog, so it was his turn for a new working dog. I’m going to give it a few more weeks then I’m totally going to steal her. The animals like me more these days anyway (but shhhhhhh, don’t tell him).


Kelpies are perfect for cattlepeople like us because they are tough, smart, have short hair (keeps the stickers out of their coats), they are suited for heat, and they are intensely loyal. I love this breed so very much, it’s all I’ll ever have for the rest of my life. Just like heritage hogs, they need more people to champion them. So I intend to promote this breed as much as I can.

My Dad got a pup and an IN-N-OUT burger on the same day. It's good to be the boss.

My Dad got a pup and an IN-N-OUT burger on the same day. It’s good to be the boss.

If you are a working ranch looking for an excellent pup to start, buy one of these pups. Trust me, this will be the best dog you’ll ever have the pleasure of working with. I will personally vouch for these dogs because we are now the proud owner of 3 different kelpies! I’d love to see these dogs become more widespread. Right now, it is challenging to find good pups.

Phee the new ranch dog, already trying to work!

Phee the new ranch dog, already trying to work!


The ad below is from Tim, he is selling the littermate to Phee the wonder pup. Again, I cannot stress enough how good these dogs are. Get one.

Quality Kelpie pups for sale, both parents pure breed and used daily. Father of pups registered in N.S.W Kelpie stud book of Australia. Trial or the ranch these pups have proven to be top hands and very trainable, they make a great transition on cattle to sheep and very willing to get a job done. 2 females, 3 males $600 a pup all Black and Tan. Call (530) 945-3403



Filed under Ag, agriculture, animals, dogs, Guest Post, Know a California Farmer, photos, Ranch life, Uncategorized, Video

Guest Post: Ode to Sanadian

Those of us lucky enough to be raised around horses will tell you, we always have “that” special horse. My Dad had Leo and I had Dusty. These horses are once in a lifetime horses. Our memory makers. Our companions and friends. When Carol sent me this post I cried when reading it, it reminded me of  my Dusty horse so much. Carol has been great help to me with my Throwback Thursday posts, and really has a knack for writing. I was super excited when she agreed to do a guest post for!

A Bittersweet Farewell

by Carol Viscarra

Today… I start my day in it’s usual way ~~ a stout cup of iced coffee, a leisurely moment at the computer, trying to search out something positive from the news headlines, something to tie my anchor to in our complex and puzzling world. Pausing to reflect about ALL that is good and right in my world. And indeed, there is so much to be thankful for.

But today is NO usual day. I cannot begin to pretend that it is. Today we say a final goodbye to a beloved horse, Sanadian, that has been a living, breathing, partner in our family, helping our family with one of the most precious tasks of all, the rearing of our grandchildren. Some of you will stop reading right here, and that is OK, for your life experiences may not have gifted you an understanding of emotion I wish to share.

Sanadian came to our family “free”. He had some stiffness in his front shoulder that made it difficult for him to continue the hard physical work as a “cowboy’s” horse. But here, in Indian Valley, he was to meet a little girl who needed a horse to call her own and it would be his job now to teach her what it meant to truly have a cowgirl’s heart .

Sanadian exited the trailer, his lead rope handed directly to the 3 foot tall little person who was to become his master….he paused, leaned forward and exquisitely lowered his muzzle to take in a full breath of the smell of this little person…and Faith Ann, as if on cue, stood on her highest tippy toes, offering the full measure of her face and being if to say “Hello” friend. And from that simple moment in the matter of instant, a bond was forged that would prove life changing for Faith Ann.

Was Sanadian a “kids horse”??? That is an easy answer. That would be a most definite NO…he was an alpha male…a pistol… Had spent years in Idaho as a ranch horse with a no nonsense job… Always in charge…keeping his rider safe but cutting no slack for stupidity, ignorance or mistakes…..not even if you were 3 foot tall and 5 years old.

Sanadian let FaithAnn take her fair share of falls… you could almost read his mind “put me on a cow sister..and you better hang on”. But when she would come off, he was so purposely careful not to step on her or injure her… he would stop.. put his muzzle to the ground where she lay and look at her as if to say…”get on girlfriend..let’s try that again” Barrels and poles..what is THAT?? Well OK.. I will do it but I don’t have to like it!! Scooby Doo wait just about a minute…When Sanadian would find himself in the unfortunate position of being scrubbed, shampooed and polished…he would heave a huge sighs… because he knew what indignities awaited him… another kids gymkhana or parade…

This horse embodied and complimented Faith Ann’s human family in cultivating the “traits of the soul”. Be kind, be fair, honorable to your responsibilities to those who need you , and if you are gonna ride…ride like the wind!!

And now we know that the time has come to say goodbye..before another cold hard winter..a winter that leaves you, Sanadian, weak and thin, ribby and rough coated. A shell of your former beauty and grace…the bright light in your eyes dimmed.

Your human family owes you a huge debt of gratitude. We owe you the dignity in death that you embodied in life, to NOT find yourself down in the cold mud, no longer able to rise on your own. To NOT be able to take in enough nutrition to sustain yourself.

Sanadian, your final task is done.

Faith Ann has the true heart of a cowgirl!!

FaithAnn and Sanadian

FaithAnn and Sanadian

My Parting Prayer
St. Francis
to come escort this beloved companion 
across the Rainbow Bridge.
Assign Sanadian to a place of honor,
for he has been a faithful servant
Bless, Roberta, and the hands that send him to you, 
for they are doing so in love and compassion,
Grant us the strength not to dwell on our loss.
 Help us remember the details of his life
 and the love he has shown Faith Ann
Thank you, Lord, 
for the gift of his companionship
and for the many lessons taught

Carol can be reached at

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Guest Post: Collards Greens Recipe

I met John a few weeks ago and we immediately bonded over our mutual love of food. He impressed me with his knowledge of heritage pork and all things gravy (a great mix, FYI). Since then, he’s been gracious enough to teach me more about Southern food and culture.

I was 30 kinds of excited when he taught me how to make these collards. I absolutely loved them. I have some in my fridge right now! I cannot believe this isn’t a “thing” out here. Seriously. I feel like it is important to share this magical concoction with as many people as I can, so I  asked John to author a post for this blog, you know, in the interest of education. Make these. Promise me? You need to try them, they are delicious.


Let’s Talk About Collards, Y’all…

Food is a huge part of southern culture, and the magical ways in which true southern country dishes, or soul food, are prepared are varied and complex. Recipes usually aren’t written down or gathered in great collections. This sacred knowledge is often times only accessible through the family cooking cult’s supreme leader; in my family, this is Granny. Granny is the culinary queen of Coosa County, Alabama and the patron saint of Rockford; the nearest town to our family farm. If she’s not on the front porch reading the Good Book and talking to her hummingbirds, then she’s in the kitchen rattling every pan she can get her hands on. If she’s not in the kitchen, then she’s probably at church because those are the only places this lady goes.

In our house, food is love. You know your Granny loves you because she makes an effort to see you smile every time you eat. Your Granny knows you love her because you eat the mound of savory beauty she piles on your plate. You eat all of it. You say thank you. Then you get some more.

One of my all time favorite loves that my Granny makes is collard greens. They grow very well in that area of the country, and because collards don’t mind being frozen or canned, they are a regular appearance on many a plate in the south throughout the year.



It has come to my attention, since moving to Northern California back in May, that the mighty collard is underutilized in this particular region of the country, and drastically under appreciated by everyone except the health nazis who think that greens should just be eaten raw, or even more appalling, juiced! Blasphemy, I say! Blasphemy! I feel obligated to share a true southern recipe for preparing collard greens. This is Granny’s way. She’d be so pissed if she knew I was doing this…

As I mentioned earlier, southern dishes like collard greens are prepared in many different ways, whether it be from region to region, family to family, or generation to generation. This is how I learned, and even though I am very much biased I’ve had them all, and I believe this is by far the best way to prepare the greens. If you don’t like what you get, try something else. Collards are magic food that can take on a bunch of different flavors, so don’t be afraid to mess around with flavors and spices you are more drawn to or comfortable with.

When I met Megan a few weeks ago we quickly found that we share a passion for eating, drinking, and cooking, and she has been kind enough to be my Chico culinary tour guide since then, showing me the best food and drink the area has to offer. Last Saturday, we went to the Saturday Market in Chico to peruse the goodies and plan a good meal for a beautiful but chilly day. As we were walking the rows of the market we came upon a stack of fresh kelly green collards sitting on a table and Megan turned around and informed me that she’d NEVER EATEN COLLARD GREENS!!! Her excitement and joy from learning that I know the way of the greens was enough to melt my cold dark heart and dishonor my family by giving away my Granny’s trade secret. We bought two bundles and decided to do the damn thing. We had a blast cooking up all kinds of stuff that day, but Megan was really impressed with the greens and asked me to share how to do these things right with all of you. So, here’s how you make Granny’s Collard Greens. Share them with somebody special!

Granny’s Collard Greens

Warm a medium to large pot to low-med heat. You can also use a big cast iron skillet if your heart so desires. Add some fat –
fatty thick cut bacon, bacon ends, bacon grease, smoked neck bones, butter, something…don’t be scared to get greasy. I prefer bacon ends or thick cuts of bacon, cut into small pieces. You want this to cook slowly and to maintain a soft texture so that you release the fat and smokiness. Low and slow is the way to go.
Let your choice of fat cook for about 10 – 15 minutes, stirring regularly

Mmmm, Table Mountain Ranch Pork bacon ends..

Mmmm, Table Mountain Ranch Pork bacon ends.

Add some garlic. 4 – 6 whole cloves should do the trick. Let your garlic sweat until it starts to soften. You don’t want it to fall apart just yet, so don’t let it go too long.
Add some broth. 2 to 3 cups of chicken broth is my go to. You can use beef or pork broths as well.
Heat on medium and let all that get aquatinted together for about 10 minutes.
Add some flavor:
go heavy on the smoked paprika
go heavy on the fresh ground black pepper
add half an onion. Just cut it in half and drop it in there. I prefer reds or vidalias.
add 1/4 to 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar. If you like tanginess use 1/2 cup, if not use 1/4. If you’re timid, just roll the dice and trust the southerner. I mean you no harm.
Stir and simmer for another 10 minutes.

Green prepping

Green prepping

Prep your greens:
Remove the leafy greens from the central stem. You can use a knife or scissors to cut them away, or you can go old school and simply tear them away by hand. Wash your damn greens. Even if they look clean, collards are a very porous plant that grows near the ground, so the leaves can absorb a lot of soil and grit. The best way to ensure they are clean is to fill your sink with cool water and then add your greens and a half cup of coarse salt. Gently bath the greens in the salty water then drain the sink and rinse the greens with fresh water. I’d even go so far as to spin them as well. Gritty greens are no good.
Add your greens:
Slowly add your washed greens in small handfuls at a time. Stir each handful into your broth and add more as they cook down. When all of your greens are in the pot you want it to look sorta soupy. There should be an ample amount of liquid allowing the greens to not be clumped together or weighing heavy on the bottom of the pan. Add some water or more broth if you think you need to. Continue gently stirring until all the greens begin to darken in color, usually about 5 minutes. Put a lid on it.
Come back and stir it in 20 minutes. Put the lid back on.
Come back and stir it in 20 minutes. Taste your broth. By this time, you should be able to get an idea of what your working with. You should have some tang, some spice, and some smoky fatty goodness going on in there. I usually add more paprika right here. Bring your heat back down to low-med, put the lid back on, and let the magic happen.
Continue checking and stirring every 20-30 minutes until all the green are very dark in color and soft in texture. When you taste them they should not be chewy or crispy or fibrous, but soft and savory. They should be ready to eat after about two hours of cooking.

Adding your greens, slowly.

Adding your greens, slowly.

Serving your greens:
I just slap em on the plate and go to town, but some people do prefer to add pepper sauce or hot sauce to theirs’. Do as you so please. I usually add some more pepper just because pepper is amazing, and a little salt can go a long way if you have undercooked or unevenly cooked your greens and are getting some bitter flavors in there.
Saving your greens:
Collard greens are amazing left over, so don’t throw them out if you don’t eat them all. In most cases, they will continue to ferment in that heavenly broth and continue to taste better and better over the next few days. They also can be frozen and stored away for entire seasons without losing anything with the time.
When you’ve had your fill of the greens be sure to keep the broth. The broth is called pot likker, and is the best soup base you could ever ask for. Some old country folks even drink it straight, you know, for vitality and what not.

A pot of green love.

A pot of green love.

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Filed under Ag, agriculture, food, Guest Post, Humor, photos, Ranch life, Recipe, Uncategorized

Guestpost: Help Save the Wild Salmon

In June, I was able to attend part of UC Davis’ 1st Annual IFAL (Institute for Food and Agriculture Literacy) Symposium.  For me, it was the equivalent of walking into the Academy Awards or other famous award show. People that are celebrities in my world were everywhere!!! I was star stuck the whole time, I mean check out a sample of the speakers: Dr. Pamela Ronald, Dr. Kevin Folta, Yvette d’Entremont, Dr. Cami Ryan, Dr. Anastasia Bodnar, Dr. Alison Van Eenennaam.

aquavantage #3

Watching these experts in their fields talk about our food and the technology that they are developing to better our food and fiber was a game changer for me. I mean, I’ve always been interested in the science and technology that surrounds agriculture, but to see and learn from professionals that are doing it was inspiring. When Dr. Folta got emotional talking about meeting starving people, and when Dr. Van Eenennaam reminded us we can’t save wild fish by eating them, I was inspired to use my media platforms in a way that will help the general public understand how important this work is. 

When I heard there is going to be an orchestrated attack on this technology that will benefit our lives, I wanted to help! Since I’m not a scientist, Dr.Anastasia Bodnar* was kind enough to write a guest post for The Beef Jar. Dr. Bodnar has been one of my biggest mentors for years. I finally met her “in real life” at UC Davis, it was glorious. Please friends, take some time to learn about this issue and the benefits this fish will offer us. I know we all want safe, sustainable food and this is one tool to help us get that. Please support it. Thank you.

On Thursday July 9, an anti-biotechnology group is orchestrating calls to Costco asking that they never carry fast-growing genetically engineered salmon. They’re trying to bully Costco into making a decision on selling GE salmon before it’s even on the market. See below for Costco’s contact information and a sample script.

GE fast-growing salmon can be an environmentally friendly way to meet increasing demand for seafood. These salmon are a healthy, safe source of protein and omega 3s, and will potentially be available at lower cost than non-GE salmon. There simply aren’t enough wild fish stocks to meet demand so we must farm fish. The way these GE salmon will be raised has a lot of advantages over farming fish in ocean pens – namely they won’t spread disease to native fish populations. They’ll also take less feed to get to the same size. If you want to learn more, check out my article Risk assessment and mitigation of AquAdvantage salmon (the article is a few years old but as far as I know, little if anything has changed) or visit the AquaBounty website.


If you have a moment, you could contact Costco (especially if you’re a member) to let them know you support genetically engineered foods and specifically that you would choose this salmon if Costco had it available. While you’re on the phone, you could also express concern that so many Costco-brand foods are only available in organic, increasing costs with little or no benefit to the consumer.

Costco’s Customer Service phone number is 1-800-774-2678 (press “0” to speak with a representative).

Here is a sample script:

I have been a Costco member for __ years and I support biotechnology. I would like Costco to base their decision on fast-growing GMO salmon on the best science, not activist demands. Land-raised, fast-growing GMO salmon is an environmentally friendly way to make healthy, safe fish available for more people. Please consider selling GMO salmon when it becomes available.”


*Dr. Anastasia Bodnar is Director of Policy for Biology Fortified, Inc., an independent non-profit devoted to providing science-based information about biotechnology and other topics in agriculture. Learn more about Anastasia at Disclaimer: Anastasia’s words are her own and views expressed do not necessarily represent the views of her employer(s).


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

Guest Post: Western Regional Grazing Conference: Grazing for Change

I am ecstatic to share this. I’ve known the Abbey since birth, and her husband, Spencer and I attended Chico State together. The Kingdon’s have been friends with the Brown’s for generations and our ranches also neighbor each other. I have endless happy memories of spending time with this family. They also happen to be cattle people that I deeply respect and learn from often. For these reasons, I can think of no better people to be putting this awesome event on. I’m excited that people like Abbey, Spencer and Maezy are not only continuing their family legacy but improving upon it. I urge you to attend this conference, I know you will learn much.



Join us for the first Western Regional Grazing Conference: Grazing for Change on February 27 and 28, 2015 at the Chico State University College of Agriculture Farm Pavilion.

The Jefferson Center for Holistic Management is owned and operated by the Smiths: Spencer, Abbey and Maezy Rae

The Jefferson Center for Holistic Management is owned and operated by the Smiths: Spencer, Abbey and Maezy Rae

Farmers and ranchers face enormous challenges today: from the drought conditions in the Western US to rising costs of production, regulations, family succession hurdles and feed availability for livestock. As livestock producers, we seek lasting solutions to these issues—as do our neighbors throughout California, Oregon, Idaho and Nevada.

Allan Savory will be speaking at the Grazing for Change Conference

Allan Savory will be speaking at the Grazing for Change Conference

We need a way to increase production of the land we have instead of seeking more production ground, which puts us deeper in debt. We need a way for families to plan together for generations so ranches and farms remain ranches and farms. We need rich, fertile soil to lessen our dependence on highly-coveted irrigation water and make the most of the rainfall and moisture we receive in the arid West. We need rivers to run, soil to stay and communities to grow.

Dr. Christine Jones will be speaking at the Grazing for Change Conference

Dr. Christine Jones will be speaking at the Grazing for Change Conference

We call this regenerative agriculture and holistic management makes it possible. We are excited to report that our conference caught the attention of the international community; however, we do not want our local producers to miss this great opportunity to learn from some of the world’s most respected farmers.
Enter the promotional code Local2015 when registering to receive 15 percent off now through January 15.

Here is a sneak peek of the topics covered by the leaders of regenerative agriculture at Grazing for Change. This is just a taste of the great content and conversation provided by the conference. Speaking of taste—experience the North State terroir with lunch provided by local caterers, Bacios, meat donated by Llano Seco and Belcampo and greens grown locally especially for this event. Engage in conversation with the speakers, meet leading authors covering the topics of regenerative agriculture, soil cultivation, holistic management and more, and make new friends in fellow attendees during a social hour on Saturday afternoon. Enjoy the local food scene with Chico’s finest microbrewery beer, wine, cheese and sausages.

The effects of holistic management in the Karoo, South Africa.

The effects of holistic management in the Karoo, South Africa.

Grazing in Nature’s Image, the role of Holistic Management (HM);
Mr. Allan Savory, President and Co-Founder of the Savory Institute

An Australian perspective on managing rangelands for drought: what you can do to improve your water holding capacity on-farm.
Dr. Christine Jones, Australian Grasslands Ecologist and Soil Scientist. Co-Founder Amazing Carbon Project.

How to run more livestock on public land; Mr. Tony Malmberg, Rancher & Consultant for Grasslands, LLC

Regenerating landscapes with cover crop cocktails and planned grazing; applications to California grasslands. Mr. Gabe Brown – Owns and operates a 5,400 acre diversified livestock and cropping operation in Bismark, North Dakota.

Holistic management helps families work together and build profitable ranches.

Holistic management helps families work together and build profitable ranches.

Dig into the principles and practices of holistic management in hands-on workshops, roundtable discussions and talks led by accredited holistic management educators including Allan Savory, Jason Rowntree, Rob Rutherford, Bill Burrows, Dr. Christine Jones, Tony Malmberg and Gabe Brown. Learn more about all our speakers. Spend an extra day with us on the land on a ranch tour, on March 1, led by Chico State professor Dr. Cyndi Daley, Gabe Brown and innovative holistic management practitioners.
Grazing for Change is an essential event for farmers and ranchers seeking new tools and practices to cope with drought, rising costs of production, and pasture availability. Small scale and urban farmers, consumers, students and anyone working to make sustainable decisions in their lives will benefit. Grazing for Change is hosted by Chico State University College of Agriculture, the Jefferson Center for Holistic Management and the Savory Institute.
Register today to save your seat!


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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


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Guest Post: Empowering Inquiring Agricultural Minds

Speaking up and advocating for something you love, can be a rewarding experience. It can also be overwhelming and intimidating, but if you push through, the rewards far outnumber the ‘what if’s’. This is a lesson I learned first-hand last week by participating on a panel for CropLife America’s 2014 Policy Conference. Traveling across the country to speak about what I do was a massive shock to my system, in the best way possible.

I was not the only multi-generation ag woman at this conference. My new friend Julia Dedes, was in the audience. In fact, I noticed her because she spoke up. She identified herself as a farm kid, then proceeded to blow the room away with a stellar question. I was so impressed, I turned around and took a picture of her, so I could lurk her later.

My lurker picture of Julia.  As a fellow farm kid, I wanted to hug her!

My lurker picture of Julia. As a fellow farm kid, I wanted to hug her!

I did speak with Julia after the conference and we also connected on twitter. She graciously offered to write a guest post about her experience with the conference. I was thrilled to read our feelings about our experience last week, mirrored each other.

I have been very vocal with my efforts and urgings for agriculture to open our barn doors. But we must do more than offer transparency. We must engage. I plan on covering this topic more, in future posts, but Julia is right, we must use our voices.

Empowering Inquiring Agricultural Minds

By Julia Debes, @StoskopfDebes working as Assistant Director of Communications at @uswheatassoc

Today, I spoke up. Today, my voice was heard.

Today, I attended the 2014 National Policy Conference of CropLife America. Did I lose you? Keep reading, it was not just another board meeting.

Living in the Washington, DC, area, I take any chance I get to attend broader agricultural events. I seek  out information from other commodities, other organizations and particularly other viewpoints CropLife brought together speakers from all sectors of agriculture and conservation, from a sixth generation California cattle rancher to Honest Tea to the Nature Conservancy. Ali Velshi, formerly of CNN now with Al Jezeera America, was master of ceremonies, artfully weaving crowd comments into poignant debate.

One speaker answered an Ali Velshi remark saying, in his work, he gave a voice to the emotive opposition to the stiff scientific claims on a very contentious topic (to be named on another day).

Neurons flared! I had a question. Why did this emotional, sometimes misinformed, perspective get equal voice with a life-saving technology, scientifically safe and valuable? Furthermore, if both of these viewpoints had equal time and space, did readers or listeners really even consider the other side of the argument? Or did they simply laserpoint in on the viewpoint they already shared?

Burning questions! But, in a room full of experts, I was shy to stand at the microphone. So, I tweeted it.

“Does equal coverage of inequal science educate or reinforce consumers’ confirmation bias?”

And, bam! there it was! Asked by Ali Velshi on a national stage. Success! Well, except for the fact that I  spent so much effort into smartly wording my question that no one could understand it. Communications fail.

The question was answered, in its own way, but after a break and another panel, I decided to give it another go. So, I approached Ali Velshi (gulp!) and explained myself. Little did I know what would be the outcome.

After lunch, a panel of journalists took the stage. And, true to his promise, Ali Velshi retooled my  question and posed it again. The topic took off! The entire room was engaged (some even enraged)! Just because I had taken the time to go and explain my less than 140 characters in person.

The panel continued their discussion and the conversation grew more heated. And I grew bolder. So, after conflicting comments, I DID step up to the microphone. In front of a room full of those with far more experience and far more expertise than myself, I posed a second question.

The short version: “If science is not credible and story-telling is a disservice, how should we in ag communicate with consumers?”

A visible reaction from the audience. And an even greater emotive response from the panel. So much so that I followed up with one of the speakers to further continue the train of thought after she left the stage.

Ali Velshi even thanked me for my additional question at the end of the day. Oh my! (blush)

My takeaway today, just as much as the specific issues we discussed, use your voice. And you will be heard.

I could have sat there, thinking about my observation. I could have typed it in my notes and talked about it with my boss come the next work day. I could have said nothing, done nothing – and absolutely nothing would have been the result.

So, the next time you are sitting in the audience at an event – large or small – move from passive to participation! If you have a question or a comment that you want the answer to, do not be afraid. Instead, just use your voice. You never know who might listen if you do.

PS: Ali Velshi is welcome to a good conversation at my table anytime.

PPS: If anyone has any ag-related questions they want to ask, please do! Ask away – I may not know the answer, but I will hep you track down who does!

Julia Debes is the Assistant Director of Communications at U.S. Wheat Associates where she tracks news on the wheat industry as well as puts together newsletters and other publications. She’s also a fifth generation farm girl from central Kansas, where her parents operate a wheat and cattle operation.



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They Need Our Help: Seedleaf

Social media is a wonderful thing. I know I say that constantly, but it really is. I met Shannon Mattice Baker on Facebook, even though she lives across the country from me and we’ve never met in real life, I find myself calling her a friend. Her passion for agriculture, and her passion to wanting to pass it on caught my attention. She needs our help. If you have a few bucks to spare, won’t you think about it? This is a wonderful program that we need many, many more of. Thank you!



Photo from

Photo from

Since 2010 I’ve been working with Seedleaf in Lexington, KY. Seedleaf is a non­profit that nourishes its communities by growing, cooking, sharing, and recycling food, with the intent to increase the amount, affordability, nutritional value, and sustainability of food available to people at risk of hunger in central Kentucky.
I discovered Seedleaf while in college shortly after abandoning my quest to become a dietitian to pursue a degree in Sustainable Agriculture emphasis: food justice. Which is a great story in itself, but for another day.

photo from

photo from

SEEDS (Service Education and Entrepreneurship in Downtown Spaces) is a youth program that targets 5th – 11th grade students living in areas of Lexington, Kentucky that have been identified as food deserts. In an attempt to connect these youth with healthy fresh food, participants are involved in all aspects of growing food in an urban setting.
The first day we gathered in the garden I was so excited because we were going to partake in a tasting tour. I had plotted a path that would have us chomping fresh sugar snaps, sampling the sweetness of baby greens and basking in the simple pleasure of green beans plucked from the vine perfectly warmed by the afternoon sun. My enthusiasm was not shared by the youth. The activity was met with distrust, bad attitudes and darn near mutiny.
Students gain hands ­on experience in growing and caring for a garden, meal preparation, food preservation and nutrition basics. Participants also learn the fundamentals of entrepreneurship as they work to develop a business venture that involves selling their healthy products in their community. It is our goal that the participants will become healthy food ambassadors for their communities.

Photo from

Photo from

These same youth who were sure beets were poisonous and claimed to be food allergic to anything green when the summer began, blew my mind as we prepared the refreshments for our end of the season celebration. They made the most impressive bruschetta I had ever tasted and made it even more amazing by adding some lemon cucumber they had grown because “The tastes of the tomatoes and cucumbers work well together and I think it will make it prettier.”
I have seen these youth make the connection with real food and witnessed how the skills they develop empower them. I’ve helped them fill out job applications and watched them swell with pride when they hear me list skills they have mastered that are not just great life skills, but marketable skills that give them an edge on job opportunities.
We are about to embark on our 5th year of offering SEEDS and need some help. We have an indiegogo campaign to help us raise the funds to support this endeavor. Even a $1 donation gets us a little closer to our goal of reaching out to these youth.

Please go here to donate



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