Agriculturist Turned Pastoral Scholar Part IV - Catholic Rural Life

Agriculturist Turned Pastoral Scholar Part IV

Duane Short • January 24, 2018

Ethical Food and Agriculture

Where is the middle in agriculture that I desire? Is there a place where participants in a dilemma actually listen to each other, talk to each other, really hear each other? Does this utopia exist, or is it a pipe-dream? During a bout with some illness last week, I watched the documentary Rancher, Farmer, Fisherman,” produced by the Discovery Channel. I wish I could remember how I discovered the movie so I could give proper acknowledgement, but alas age has diminished my memory. (That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.) As the title aptly describes, it is the story of a rancher, a farmer, and a fisherman and how they responded to ecological and environmental concerns.

The rancher, Dusty Crary, is from Montana and ranches on the front range of the Rocky Mountains. He is the fourth generation on the ranch. He became concerned about maintaining the beauty and diversity of the area. He recalled flying into Denver, Colorado and observing from the airplane what had happened to the front range there. Development and urbanization had destroyed the natural ecosystem. Grass and vegetation had been replaced with buildings and concrete. Dusty wants to pass along the ranch, and the areas around it to future generations. He forged alliances with ranchers, hunters, environmentalists, and government agencies to protect the area. They established conservation easements across a wide swath of private lands adjacent and near to public lands. Hundreds of thousands of lush grasslands and prairie is now protected for future generations to enjoy.

The farmer is Justin Knopf in Kansas. Justin is the fifth generation to farm the land. His ancestors survived the Great Dust Storm, they are very aware of the power of nature. Justin received an agronomy degree from Kansas State University and became aware of a research farm in South Dakota. Based on his studies and the research at the South Dakota farm, they implemented no-till farming on the operation. They regularly monitor soil health and also utilize precision farming to customize their farming practices. Justin made one statement that is so obvious, but overlooked. Tillage is not part of nature. The only times nature turns the soil is a catastrophic event such as a volcano or an earthquake. Grasslands and prairies thrived for thousands of years on their own. Man’s interference through tillage has altered the soil a great deal. Justin’s stated philosophy is regenerative farming. He wants to improve the land and soil for his children and grandchildren. That was obvious when after heavy rains, the neighbors’ fields all had standing water and runoff. Justin’s fields were just like they always are. If you did not know of the heavy rains, you would not have guessed it from his fields. No standing water, all the rains had soaked into the soil.

Last, but certainly not least is the fisherman in the story, Wayne Werner. Wayne fishes for red snapper off the coast of Louisiana. Extreme over-fishing had reduced the red snapper population to dangerously low levels. He brought commercial fishermen, recreational fishermen, charter boat operators, governments and researchers together to develop a system of quotas. It took several years to develop and is still a work in process. A committee of members from all Gulf Coast states meets several times each year to determine the individual quotas, attempting to balance the needs of each group that fishes for red snapper.

What is the common thread between the three? First, these are large, commercial operations. They are not weekend farmers, ranchers, or fishermen. Each depends on their industry for their livelihood. That demonstrates that operations of all sizes can provide input and be a part of the solution. They are not part of the problem as some would like us to believe. You don’t need to be a “small” farmer, rancher, or fisherman to practice ecologically and environmentally sound practices and make a difference.

Second, everyone accepted each other’s participation and input. Everyone agreed on the situation and the desired outcomes. An environmentalist appears in the film and notes that they are often-times perceived to respond with a prohibition on anything and everything that alters nature. He came in with an open mind and understood that prohibiting activities was not realistic. Everyone checked their egos and stereotypes at the door and entered into the discussion to realistically solve a problem. It’s not about them, or their group, it’s about protecting nature. It is an occasion that when someone says, “I am with the government and I am here to help,” they really mean it. Government is not the enemy and the research they conduct is critical. The recognition of a common goal is vital and realistic expectations are necessary.

We can utilize these examples as a model to follow. Invite all stakeholders, even (especially) those that don’t agree with you. It is only through honest, open and collaborative work that problems can be solved. Unfortunately, those aspects are in short supply in our society at the moment. Let us in agriculture break that trend and work together. Let’s show the country and the world how to work together to honor and protect God’s gift of creation.

Editor’s Note: In the same spirit of concern for God’s creation, the latest CRL Magazine issue looks deeply into the problem of “preservation.” In rural communities preservation is an especially important issue and has many facets: family, tradition, religion and resources. Through personal experiences from across the country, we show how the rural population of Native Americans is working hard to preserve their culture, spirituality, sacred foods, agricultural techniques, land and water. Click here to read more about the magazine.

–Duane Short is a lifelong agriculturist and Master degree student. He and his family live in Hamilton County, Iowa.

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