Category Archives: Rants

I’m Your Huckleberry: My Adventures with Social Media and my Congressman

‘You gotta quit this sh*t Megan, it’s getting ridiculous’ – (my Dad)

To be fair I think Dad was referring to the fact that I have had two different forms of news out to The Ranch in less than two weeks. The first was The Sac Bee, and the second was my local news station, KHSL-TV.

Screen shot from the story! Go here to check it out http://www.actionnewsnow.com/news/oroville-cattle-rancher-uses-twitter-to-make-political-voice-heard/

Screen shot from the story! Go here to check it out.

But it’s not quite that simple. Over the past few years I’ve been using social media for more than cows, plows and sows. I’ve used it to engage my local politicians, namely my Congressman, Doug LaMalfa. This all culminated with our President’s State of the Union Address last January.

You see, I was “live tweeting” it on twitter. If you are not familiar with twitter or live tweeting, that means I was, at 140 characters or less, giving my thoughts and opinions on the President’s speech. Congressman LaMalfa was doing the same thing. It happened to catch the eye of Brian Johnson, which led to an interview out here on the Ranch.

One of my favorite topics to ask my Congressman about is climate change. Even if you don't believe it is happening, I think as an elected official, farmer and Dad, he should at least humor those of us that are concerned about it.

One of my favorite topics to ask my Congressman about is climate change. Even if you don’t believe it is happening, I think as an elected official, farmer and Dad, he should at least humor those of us that are concerned about it.

Now, the Congressman and I have been tweeting at each other for a few years now. Ok, to be fair, I have done MOST of the tweeting. I firmly believe that our elected officials should interact with their constituency. I do understand how busy our elected official must be, especially our Congress, but that is the beauty of social media – you can address those issues for many people rather quickly. It does make me sad that my Congressman does not really take advantage of that opportunity.

Congressman LaMalfa's email blasts always encourage us to engage him. However, as I have found out and you can see for yourself on his pages, he doesn't engage.

Congressman LaMalfa’s email blasts always encourage us to engage him. However, as I have found out and you can see for yourself on his pages, he doesn’t engage.

Brian Johnson came out the morning after SOTU for the interview. We had a great visit, and it was fun to have him out to the Ranch. He filed a wonderful report! The feedback I got on my social media feeds was all super positive. It was a wonderful experience for me!

Brian got to meet Silly pig. As you can see, Silly really like him.

Brian got to meet Silly pig. As you can see, Silly really like him.

 However, I’m not sure how my Congressman felt about it. I have a feeling I might have upset him when I mentioned that sometimes he responded to my tweets and it is getting harder to ignore me. Since the interview he hasn’t tweeted or facebooked me back at all, despite multiple attempts.

He invites the President to his 'house', I invite my Congressman to mine.

He invites the President to his ‘house’, I invite my Congressman to mine.

 I have to admit I do find it disheartening. I think when the next generation of ag leaders are actively seeking to engage with current leaders, only good things can come of those interactions. It hurts to approach my elected official in a positive and polite manner only to be rebuffed, again and again. I know we might not have the same political beliefs but having open and respectful dialogue would help foster understanding on both sides and be an excellent example for many.

It puzzled me when the Congressman made the comment about name calling. That is not my style at all.

It puzzled me when the Congressman made the comment about name calling. That is not my style at all.

Stay tuned! I have no intention of giving up my quest to communicate with my Congressman. I believe that our Government is for the People, by the People, and it is our responsibility to maintain that. Many of us have slipped into complacency and general sense of disconnect and we no longer engage in our political system. It’s time to change that and if I can inspire just a handful of people to do that, then my job is done. #aghagforcongress

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Filed under Ag, agriculture, animals, Humor, Know a California Farmer, Media, photos, Ranch life, Rants, Uncategorized, Video

No More Poachers

Hunting season, especially dear season is an event for my family. It’s such a big deal, my Dad changed our calving season around to accommodate it better. Most cattle ranchers don’t take vacations – they go hunting.

My Uncle and cousin - family.

My Uncle and cousin. This was a cold, rainy, good time!

Since I have a fall birthday, I cannot tell you how many “birthday parties” have been opening day hunting trips on the ranch. And, honestly I like it. I love to see how excited my Dad and Uncle become – they are like little boys on Christmas morning. Getting to share that excitement with their daughters is one of those experiences that makes life worth living for them and me.

My Dad, my Dog and a memory that will last me a lifetime. Plus dinner for a few weeks.

My Dad, my Dog and a memory that will last me a lifetime. Plus dinner for a few weeks.

One of the huge benefits of owning land is having a private place to hunt. The best places to hunt on the ranches have been passed down through generations, like a deathbed secret. We cherish this knowledge and the fact we are custodians of our land and wildlife. Cattle People love to be self-sufficient and hunting is another skill that let’s us feel that way. Seriously though, if zombie apocalypse happens, you want me on your side!

This is why we get so very upset when our little fairytale of family bonding and environmental stewardship is thwarted. Who, you ask, would do such a thing?

Poachers.

Today's first hunters. They were "neighbors" that got confused where the fence line was. I guess I was born yesterday.

Today’s first hunters. They were “neighbors” that got confused where the fence line was. I may be a simple, ranch girl but I sure as hell know where the property lines are.

The past couple years, poachers have been a major problem on the ranch I live on. I’ve been harassed, threatened, and shot over. Our deer population has plummeted. Our friends and neighbors that earn the right to hunt here, by donating their labor to us, no longer get to hunt here. We simply don’t want to stress the habitat anymore than it already is. I didn’t even hunt this year.

My second set of hunters. They couldn't read their map, so they were let off with a stern warning. That won't happen next time.

My second set of hunters. They couldn’t read their map, so they were let off with a stern warning. That won’t happen next time.

This ends now. The past two weeks have been the worst I’ve ever seen. This morning we caught two different pairs hunting on this ranch. I was ripped out of a rare, sleep-in morning to deal them. I was not pleased. I’m tired of excuses like ‘we don’t know how to read our map’ or my favorite – ‘we have permission’ (from a family member that died 30 years ago). Either know the rules and boundaries or don’t hunt – it’s that simple and your responsibility as a hunter.

From now on, I will be taking pictures  and names to publish on my social media (public shaming is one of my favorite things), calling the California Department of Fish and Game (I have a private cell phone number now!), and the sheriff. Charges will be pressed. In short I am going to be a screaming mimi, pain-in-the-ass, something I excel at.

The heads of past poachers will grace certain fence posts as a warning, lol.

The heads of past poachers will grace certain fence posts as a warning, lol.

Here is your notice poachers of D3. I’m waiting for you.

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The Future of the Farm: The Aftermath

I recently had the wonderful opportunity to take “The Megan Show” to my alma mater, CSU, Chico and participate in a discussion. The discussion was about “The Future of the Farm”. I was lucky to have David Robinson Simon the Author of Meatonomics as a discussion partner. I felt that Mr. Simon and I contrasted nicely and it made for an interesting conversation.

It always makes for a fun and lively conversation when two polar opposites sit down to discuss an issue both are passionate about. Being a cattle rancher, obviously I feel very strongly about what I do. Mr. Simon is a vegan and based on my own experiences and others I know, one must feel very strongly to maintain that lifestyle (it was really hard for me and I failed).

Mr. Simon spoke first. He had a powerpoint that basically outlined his book. Some of the slides had pictures that painted animal agriculture in a poor light. They say pictures are worth a thousand words, but unfortunately they often only tell part of a story. Because agriculture has typically kept our barn doors shut, we have left ourselves open to misunderstandings like this.

While I did disagree with Mr. Simon about several issues, Ag Gag, factory farming, and ag terrorism being a few. I was surprised about how many issues we held similar views on. For example eating “local” might not always be the most efficient and grass-finished beef is not always the most sustainable method in beef production.

It's always a win when I get to share this!

It’s always a win when I get to share this!

I felt like this discussion was time well spent. Being able to sit down and have a conversation with people that don’t always agree with me helps me become a better communicator and helps agriculture open our barn doors. Getting to interact with an audience enhances the experience for everyone; personal connections are made, passions shared. If agriculture wants to engage with our public we simply must take every opportunity, that is why I was disappointed in the College of Agriculture.

It's rare that I remember to take pictures before I speak. I kinda did it this time! Thanks to my friends that came!

It’s rare that I remember to take pictures before I speak. I kinda did it this time! Thanks to my friends that came!

There were only two agriculture students (thanks guys!) in attendance and no staff or faculty. Our industry leaders need to make sure our students and future ag leaders are being exposed to and urged to have conversations with our public. Our leaders are the ones that need to set that example. A huge part of why I am able to speak and engage the public is because I saw my professors do that.

Although I was excited to have the opportunity to participate in this discussion and give back to the University that helped shape who I am (and I’d do it again in a hot second), it worried me that there was a low ag turn-out and Dr. Jones had no success finding someone from the College of Ag to participate. If agriculture is serious about transparency and engaging our public our local leaders must do a better job of setting that example or they run the risk of “The Megan Show” doing for them – scary thought, huh?

 

At least The Megan Show has pretty boots! Thanks Jenny over at http://prairiecalifornian.com/ for coming!

At least The Megan Show has pretty boots! Thanks Jenny over at http://prairiecalifornian.com/ for coming!

 

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The Future of the Farm

Last month I got a rather interesting email from a Professor at Chico State. Dave Simon, who is the author of “Meatonomics” is going to be at Chico State and Dr. Jones (the Prof), is interested in putting together a discussion like The Commonwealth Club did here. Dr. Jones wanted to know if I’d like to be apart of this discussion.

I’ll admit, I was hesitant. My experience with some vegans and vegetarians have been less than stellar. Putting myself in the line of fire, away from my computer, is scary and outside of my comfort zone. But, part of the reason this blog exists is because of a vegan that went out of her way to attack my way of life, despite having never met me or seen my ranch. That experience did have a profound affect on me – I flung my barn doors wide open and never looked back.

When I flung my barn doors open, several leaders in my industry made it clear to me that they did not approve. While I certainly understand the repercussions of being so honest (I’m still feeling them), I think our industry needs to be as transparent as we can. We have nothing to hide.

 

Simon_Poster_11x17

It’s no secret that my biggest criticism of the beef industry is we don’t engage with our consumers in serious matters. We should be using every opportunity, every forum, every event as a platform to tell our stories. For too long, our stories have been told by others, and it’s gotten us no where.

When Dr. Jones mentioned he was having trouble finding someone from the cattle industry to participate, I knew, right then I would love to be apart of this discussion. I met with Dr. Jones to get a copy of the book and talk about this event. I was very much surprised to find Dr. Jones agreed with me about telling our story. He assured me that this event would be positive and informative and not your typical “meat bad, cattle rancher bad” event.

I’m excited. This is me, practicing what I preach.

If you are in the area Monday, October 20th, won’t you think about attending? Word on the playground is there is going to be some Q and A, and I know I could use some support. Plus, I think it is just great that our University is hosting events where we all can learn from different points of view, that is the whole point of education, right?

 

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My Top 13 Cattle Working Tips….

cowgirl

  1. Wear comfortable and supportive underwear and socks. There is nothing worse than getting an epic wedgie while running up and down a catwalk of a chute.
  2. Well…as long as we are on the subject…..Invest in a really good sports bra. The rocks + ATV’s = giving yourself a black eye.
  3. Bring an extra jacket because it’s always colder than you think, especially on an ATV. A beautiful, balmy morning can quickly turn into hypothermia and snotcicles.
  4. Wear short sleeves underneath because it gets hotter than you planned and boob sweat in your fancy sports bra is not your friend.
  5. Try and get as far away from the boss as you can, this lessens the likelihood you’ll get yelled at.
  6. Bring Chapstick, it’s wonderful for many uses. You never know when you’ll need to lube up a gate that is stuck or when your lips need moisturizing.
  7. Wind burn is as bad as sunburn. Wear lots of sunscreen and a big hat, you’ll thank me when you’re my age and you still get carded.
  8. Check all gates for hornet’s nests first! Those suckers hold a grudge and will get you at all costs. It’s like getting punched, it’ll ruin your day.
  9. Bring toilet paper. It’s a long way back to the house, there is no shame peeing in a stock trailer. Dripping dry is not time efficient.
  10. Keep your mouth shut as much as possible. I swear the cows get great joy flicking poo at and on you. Cow poo doesn’t taste good.
  11. Shut and lock and double check that you locked every gate you pass through. You do not want to be the one responsible for accidentally letting the cows out.
  12. Wear boots that are comfortable. There is nothing worse than breaking in a new pair of boots during a work day. You’ll be so busy, you won’t notice your blisters until they bleed.
  13. Bring your sense of humor.  Sometimes things will go wrong, people will get snapped at, and you will get poo in your mouth – it’s life, you just have to spit it out and keep moving forward.

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

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.

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

You Put Your Arms WHERE? To do WHAT?

WARNING! This might be considered by some to be gross, inappropriate, or tragic, but I think it is extremely important to share the how’s, what’s and why’s of our food. If you have any questions about anything you see please ask – I love to share about the ranch.

Every single cattle person I interact with loves their cattle. Our lives revolve around them and their needs. Their needs are met before our own. Their well-being is our first priority, always. When we have an animal in distress, we are in distress as well, and we do everything we possibly can to fix the situation.
I was reminded of this fact recently. It’s calving season in Northern California. Calving season is the best and worst time of our year. On one hand we are witnessing the birth of our future, new life and all the promise that brings. On the other hand, this is the time when things are most likely to go wrong.

Brown Ranch's first 2014 calf!

Brown Ranch’s first 2014 calf! Minutes old.

Just like when humans give birth, it is an event. Bodies change, hormones rage and things can go wrong. 98 percent of the time everything is fine, everyone is healthy. But sometimes, we do have problems. Often heifers, whom are giving birth for the first time, will need some assistance. Sometimes a cow will have a set of twins or a calf will be born backwards. In this case, both happened. In this video you will see our neighbor and family friend “pulling” a backward, twin, calf.

Unfortunately the calf you saw being pulled was not alive at birth and could not be resuscitated. However, her twin was alive and well!

Brand new twin.

Brand new twin.

When calves are born and are not breathing, there are certain methods we will use to resuscitate them. I’ve seen my father perform mouth to mouth on calves before and they lived! My Mom jokes that she decided to marry my Dad after watching him save a newborn calf. You can see Brian feeling and rubbing the chest, to double check that she was gone. This calf was already gone, so she felt no pain.

However when we do have a calf that is born dead, and without a twin for the cow to raise, we have methods to lessen the grief of the cow. Again we want our cattle to be happy, to do their jobs, and earn us an income so we can continue to ranch.

Cattle people work very hard to prevent pulling calves. I mean, honestly, is reaching your arms into the reproductive organs of a cow, something that you would WANT to do? No. This is why we use technology to improve what we do and hopefully prevent this from happening as much as we can.

This really isn't something we want to do.

This really isn’t something we want to do. But Brian is very good at it.

We use our knowledge of genetics and our understanding of EPDs (expected progeny differences) to manipulate our cattle herd. This means, calves are born with smaller birth weights (making birth easier on everyone, little babies are easier to push out!), but higher weaning weights. This makes us efficient. We are using technology to do more with less. I’ve been especially lucky in my lifetime to see these changes first hand. When I was a child, I remember watching my Dad pull way more calves than he does now. Our calves were also weaned at 500 pounds versus almost a 1000 now, all because we have access to better technology.

By adapting this technology into our herds we have improved the quality of our cattle’s lives, the quality of our lives and have become more efficient and sustainable. Yes, we still have death and loss, but, as I’ve just explained here, we constantly are seeking out ways to mitigate that.

Mama cow and her baby (from the above video) are currently grazing in a lush, green field in Northern California.

Seriously, these cattle have the best home!

Seriously, these cattle have the best home!

 

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Filed under Ag, agriculture, animals, Beef, family, Know a California Farmer, photos, Ranch life, Rants, Uncategorized, Video

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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Filed under Ag, agriculture, Field Trip, Guest Post, Media, Ranch life, Rants, Uncategorized