Well you know I really have no idea how many people are reading this nowadays. There is meant to be some way of checking how many hits you get but I haven't sorted it out. For all I know I am ranting to the void that is cyberspace! Anyway undeterred I carry on...
I've been at a conference for the past three days, whilst I normally feel more comfortable on a farm or ranch than anything else, it has been good to stay in one place and recieve some information in a different way for a change.
The conference was run by the Quivira Coalition - they are an organisation that has been set up to try and address the differences between what had been traditional age old enmities - environmentalists and ranchers (and a few others.) OK, that is actually probably putting it far too simplistically but the essence of the organisation is to get people together and try and find new ways of addressing old problems relating to agriculture and the environment. Or simply addressing the old issues through a prism.
For readers in the UK it is kind of like getting the Environment Agency, NFU, RSPB, Soil Association and others together and then saying "forget about all the single issue agenda's and all that, lets do something which gives us all a common aim and brings us together" the premise being you can't solve the individual issues without looking at the context of the bigger system. The key to its positive atmosphere is that a lot of old baggage was left at the door quite a few conferences ago.
Now it does all sound a bit too good to be true and for sure, the Quivira Coalition probably doesn't represent a typical cross section of ranchers in South Western USA but its something of a start. Sometimes old enmities can be generational and intergenerational - Quivira seems to try to act as a touchstone for those who want to look at traditional arguments afresh as well as learn some new things. I liked the vibe, ranchers were articulate and educated about the ecology they worked in and recognised a lot of the problems that needed addressing such as overgrazing. Equally a lot of the people who work in the public and political sectors recognised and valued the ranching tradition greatly. There was a good spectrum of people, it was female and young person friendly as well which gave it a vitality.
In fact some of this was my first taste of real Western ranch culture. A lot of the ranch people were loyal to their traditions. There were quite a lot of pointed cowboy boots going clickety click on the floor, western style shirts, big tie brooch's and ten gallon hats for the men. The ladies usually had colourfully embroidered or sequined blouses and figure hugging jeans (I did notice!). To most attendees there this was nothing but normal, but it was something I noticed and thought was pretty authentic and quite special. Much the same way that in its own way, my local county show is with its bowler hats, or the livestock market with the tweed flat caps is!
This years conference was themed around a mid twentieth century ecological and conservation writer called Aldo Leopold. I hadn't really known a lot about him but he is generally considered the father of the "land" movement and from this various sub streams have spilled out over the years - conservation, environmentalism, agrarianism. Although this was the strand that united the conference the talks and speakers were immensely varied. From dung beetles, to wolves, to grassland managemen,t to interpreting beauty in nature via art, to amish farming, to horse management on a navajo ranch, to prarie literature, to promoting healthy local food. Ok you get the picture!
Before I went, being a typical human being I tried to pigeonhole it and therefore because I didn't quite understand what it trying to achieve, I almost thought it as a bit dreamy. The point is that in agriculture all things matter - its is not just about food production. Its other strands should be celebrated, commercialised, articulated, whatever. In fact one of the most enduring images for me would be the Amish farmer, the Navajo Indian horsewoman, a grizzled old rancher, a biochemical scientist and a Californian earth mother type sharing a question and answer session. All completely different people, all with the same core values of restoring and retaining the health of the land. It sounds dreadfully politically correct and it would be were it not for the fact that it works immensely well.
Suffice to say it was an stimulating and fun three days, I made a lot of friends, sadly all of whom will probably be fleeting. It will be interesting to follow Quivira's progress over the years.
More on the Quivira Coalition: