Drugs & Addiction

Aggies and Speedballs; Shawna and Her Recovery

I’ve always admired Shawna. I remember her as being quick witted and having huge smile with a personality to match. She was full of energy and had a presence that demanded attention. She was never one of those kids that wanted to be the center of attention – she received it because she was working her ass off along side of us. I loved seeing her at fairs and shows and seeing her do well.

The first I’d heard of Shawna falling on hard times was when she was in the local paper for theft. There was her mug shot. Undeniably, the sweet girl that grew up on a ranch and in the show ring and on a softball field, was officially involved in the wrong crowd. None of this made sense to me. Her parents had done all the “right” things, supported her in the “right” lifestyle. Shawna’s friends and support group were the same people who were my friends and support group and surely, WE wouldn’t allow this to happen.

Truth is, drugs are everywhere. And they’re way more available than we would like to admit. Although Shawna drank alcohol in High School, she knew nothing of drugs until she was 19. She visited a friend at college and commented on her sudden weight loss. It wasn’t long into the visit until the friend was doing lines off the toilet lid and offered some to Shawna. Shawna obliged. Oddly enough, while Shawna enjoyed the feeling of her first high, this wasn’t what hooked her.

About a year passed before Shawna tried drugs again. She witnessed another friend doing drugs and was admittedly curious. The friend was adamant that she not try anything they were doing and insisted that she stay off drugs. Tenacious Shawna finally wore them down, and the beast was awakened.

I asked Shawna, when she was in the middle of her addiction, if she thought about quitting. Her response was clear. “Every day. I felt stuck. Every time I’d get high, I wanted to quit.” Shawna’s recovery is very closely tied to her Faith. Every day when she wakes up, she has to make a conscious decision to spend the day sober. Right now, she has surrounded herself with healthy, positive people. She said that she’s praying constantly and listening to Christian music. Her sobriety is very delicate and it got real complicated about a month and a half ago.

Shawna had been complaining of chest pain and blamed it on softball and something to do with her ribs. She toughed it out for a long time until she finally went to the hospital where she learned she had a massive lung infection, empyema, and pneumonia. She was admitted to the hospital for two weeks where she was in ICU for a week after surgery. For a brief period, she was even on life support complete with feeding tubes and a ventilator. The incision on her back where they drained and removed the infection is about 7 inches long and looks like a zipper from the 21 staples they used to keep it closed. Three tubes were inserted between her ribs to drain the fluid and infection. Her pain was indescribable.

As hospitals do, they hooked Shawna, an addict in recovery, up to Morphine. How else were they supposed to control that kind of pain? She said that being in the hospital and having access to those kinds of drugs was the worst thing ever. She said, “I loved it and it really scared me.” Shawna was back on drugs, but this time, it was Doctor’s Orders. As doctors and nurses do, they’d ask her to rate her pain on a scale of 1-10. She said she never gave them less than a 7 although at her worst, she was probably a little over a 5. An addict’s mind will choose drugs if they can get away with it. And she did.

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After she was released from the hospital, her regular doctor took over her prescriptions. Once she saw what and how much Shawna had been prescribed, medications were once again limited to doses where Shawna could’t get high. She told me the story of a Veteran who had been in the doctor’s office at the same time. She said he was recovering from several major surgeries and was also asked to rate his pain. He was clearly suffering and only rated it a 3. Reality check. Shawna admitted that her high pain ratings were the drug addict talking and she had to choose sobriety once again.

Shawna was laying on the couch at a friends house a little over a week ago. She was in a dark place and not feeling well. The rolodex of drug dealers started spinning in her mind. A friend called and invited her over for a BBQ. Shawna declined saying she would stay home and rest. Truth is, the next call she was going to make was to get drugs. She hit the ground and on her knees, she started praying. She called her friend back and was honest for the first time. She told her friend to come get her, right now, because if she didn’t, Shawna was going back to using drugs. Her friend sped across town and was grateful for the phone call and the opportunity to help. Shawna has always been afraid to reach out. This was a breakthrough.

I asked her how she’s doing now. She said she feels good again. Part of recovery is often, relapse and she admits she over did it on her pain medication since she’s been home from the hospital. She’s off all medication now and is back to reminding herself, every moment of every day, that she wants to be sober and healthy. Drugs aren’t part of the life and future she sees for herself.

When Shawna went into the hospital, she was initially put into a twilight state to aid in her rest and healing. While in this state, she posted rants on social media, spoke to people who had passed away years ago and was generally delirious. Her family finally took her phone away so that she stopped this very public, self-destruct mode she was in. Many people messaged me and approached me in public to ask about what was going on with her. I was quick to tell them that her hospitalization had nothing to do with drug use or relapse or addiction. Flukes happen and while addiction didn’t land her in a hospital bed this time, it did rear it’s ugly head.

Her spiritual mentor from Bethel House asked Shawna if she had prayer requests. As always, Shawna asked them to pray for her Soul Mate :), she asked for a quick healing from the infection and for the return of her strong mindset. I will join in the prayer for these things for Shawna. We talked this morning about many things and she sounded like the girl I have always loved – quick, happy and funny. She was so proud of herself and that breakthrough moment where she knew she was going to choose drugs but instead, chose to be around healthy friends. I encouraged her to remember that moment and call on it for strength when she is in a dark place again.

Addicts are good people. Read that sentence again. I understand that statement is confusing. They were’t born as junkies and thieves and liars and the person that broke your heart a thousand times. I’m not telling you to trust them and believe while they are in the throws of their addiction but I do believe Shawna when she said that she thought about quitting every time she got high.

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I believe Shawna and my friends, Sarah and Karin, when they say that they will never go back to drugs and that lifestyle. Sarah, Karin and Shawna are good people, who made a bad choice, that took them away from the good life for a while. But they’re back. As their friend, I choose to participate in the positive part of their lives. I thank them, every time I can, for coming back and for being a part of my life. I have always enjoyed them and their sobriety is a blessing to me too. I do not understand how they got to the point where drugs were the answer. But I choose to not make that the focus of our friendship. I love them all for a thousand reasons. Drugs are no longer a part of their life and if there’s anything I can do to help keep them sober, they know I’m here for them.

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Drugs & Addiction

Aggies and Speedballs; Cindy’s Story

A nightmare scared me awake, Tuesday night. I dreamt that I couldn’t read a single note that I took while visiting with Cindy and Shawna for our second meeting. It took me several minutes to calm down and realize, it was just a dream. This project is haunting my dreams.

I arrived at the house to find Cindy hurrying to finish her nightly duties. She asked me to jump in the truck. I reviewed with her the preparation questions I’d sent her previously that day and we excitedly discussed the positive response to our first installment – over 1,000 views and several people we didn’t know reaching out to tell their stories and ask for help. Cindy said Shawna was home and that she might be able to join us. This would be the first time I’d been given the opportunity to speak with her directly. As much as this is Shawna’s life and her story, this is Cindy’s nightmare too. We were preparing to talk about one of the worst nights of Cindy’s life – the night she found Shawna dead.

Cindy and I drove around a bit trying to get baby Jayde to sleep – to no avail. Too much excitement for an affectionate two year old. But that’s okay. I have a soft spot for sweet little dark haired girls and this gave Cindy and I a few moments to chat, casually. At one moment Cindy said of enabling Shawna, “The more I tried to help her, the more I was killing her.” We are our own worst critics and hindsight is always 20/20.

When we finally sat down to chronicle Cindy’s perspective of this nightmare, I reminded her of a story she told me about finding Shawna, dead, down at the barn. Dead. No pulse, not breathing. Dead. I asked her if that was the worst night they had while Shauna was addicted. She agreed but followed up with the thought that they were all terrible. Cindy remembers it as a night before they went to court. She had fallen asleep in a the chair in their living room. She recalls startling herself awake and nearly falling to the floor thinking she needed to get to bed. When Shawna was going through rough times, Cindy and Sean would pull the keys out of their vehicles at night to help prevent Shawna escaping the ranch – this was one of those nights. Cindy noticed her truck was gone and immediately went to search for Shawna, fearing the worst.

Down the hill and in front of the farrowing barn, Cindy’s truck was parked but running. She opened the door to find Shawna, passed out with a needle still stuck in her arm, the truck heater on full blast. Cindy said that Shawna always hated needles. Cindy started screaming her name and “Don’t leave me!” amongst other things. Shawna didn’t respond. She had no pulse, she wasn’t breathing. Shawna was dead.

Cindy stepped up on the running board of the truck to pull Shawna out. She tripped on her house shoe with one arm around Shawna. They fell to the ground together and that was enough to force a breath into Shawna. Cindy did every bit of CPR that she knew – probably for five minutes. Shawna started showing signs of life so Cindy wrestled her into the truck to take her to the house where Sean could help.  By the time they reached the house, Shawna was regaining consciousness, angry and yelling for Sean.

Cindy and Sean helped Shawna reorient herself. It was apparent that she was going to be okay and another trip to the hospital wasn’t necessary. Once Shawna was coherent enough to gather her thoughts, she asked her Mom, “Why did you wake me up? I wanted to die. I can’t get off this stuff. This is too hard. I want to die.” Cindy slept in the bed with her daughter that night.

I asked Cindy if Shawna remembers that night. She laughed when she said, “Oh yes. I remind her of it constantly.” I asked Shawna the same question. “I remember most of it. It was really hot that day and the strangest thing was that I had the heater on full blast in the truck. I was that high.” I asked Shawna what she injected. She said it was heroin. Really strong heroin. She recalls knowing that this particular dose was so potent that she knew it was dangerous and it would probably kill her. That didn’t matter, she shot up anyway.

Shawna remembers taking the truck, heading down to the barn, shooting up and the next thing she remembers is her mom screaming for her to wake up. She remembers being angry at Cindy because she wanted to die. And the truck. That heater running in the truck on that hot summer night.

Cindy told me of other nights where she wouldn’t sleep at all. She’d hear the dogs barking and would pray it was Shawna coming home. But after checking her bed and checking the house, no Shawna. This happened often.

Frequent trips to the hospital became normal too. Once a week for months on end. Dehydration, stomach flu, food poisoning. Many trips were the result of trying to detox on her own. The trip when Shawna had food poisoning, the hospital gave her Morphine. Shawna said that she was excited at the thought of getting good drugs without having to find them. She now had a new avenue to pacify the cravings and to get high. Some trips were fake, but most were for legitimate reasons. Shawna remembers on one particular occasion being so weak and dehydrated that she fainted as she walked through the hospital door.

We talked about when Cindy knew that she was going to have trouble with Shawna. It was in high school, when Shawna started drinking. She’d sneak out down their long dirt road to get picked up at the gate so she could attend the parties all the cool people were going to. At the time of our meeting, Shawna still seemed frustrated that she had to sneak out and that she was so sheltered that she wasn’t allowed to go to these parties. Cindy would catch Shawna time and time again. Discipline included taking things away, even not allowing her to show her pigs – something Shawna loved very much. Nothing worked. In fact, the discipline drove Shawna to misbehave more. Ditching school, later nights, more parties, drinking whenever she wanted to. Nothing was going to stop her. Shawna acknowledged that until years later when she began losing the things she worked hard for on her own – the race quad, the nice truck, the good job – that the consequences of her actions began to hit home.

Talk of discipline and consequences started an interesting conversation. Cindy pointed out, “We teach our children to fear us by our reaction to what they tell us.” Shawna said she clearly remembers the time she told her mom that she’d had sex for the first time. Even though Shawna was 18 and legal to make her own decisions, Cindy lost it. She was incredibly upset thinking of all the things she had been through and not wishing the same for Shawna. But Shawna took it as her mom was mad at her. That she’d, once again, gotten herself in trouble. Looking back, Cindy says she wishes she would have been able to talk to Shawna about the consequences of sex and let Shawna come to her own conclusions about the gravity of her decisions. Cindy also recalled how upset she was when Shawna started smoking cigarettes. We all joked about how she’d probably trade everything for Shawna’s worst decisions to be sex and cigarettes.

Part of Cindy’s mission in telling this story is to help other parents to recognize early signs of drug use and to show them where to get help. I asked Cindy and Shawna what parents can look for. They both commented that paraphernalia is an easy one but drug users are often paranoid and crafty so they won’t leave it out where they’ll get caught. Nonetheless, look for folded up foil in trash cans and around their living space. And count your spoons in your silverware drawer.

I asked how fast the weight loss happened. Shawna became bashful and said that her weight is a big trigger for wanting to use drugs. She was as thin as 92 pounds at one point. But she used for over 8 years. She was skinny for a long time. Weight loss is an indicator but not always a good one.

Cindy and Shawna agreed on a few reliable tells. Look for alliances with strange people. Shawna said she didn’t even like the people she was hanging out with and getting drugs from but she’d defend the friendships to Cindy so that she could keep getting high. They said to pay attention to excessive time in the bathroom, locked doors, covered windows, any type of isolation from family and usual or close friends. Shawna said she’d lock herself in her room because she was high and she didn’t want to share her drugs with anyone.

Cindy recalls those days as odd; Shawna would be crashing around in the bedroom cleaning, rearranging, organizing. Shawna barely remembers how she’d pass the hours but it was seldom something productive. Shawna’s youngest sister, Stephanie, used to comment when the house was extra clean, “Oh look, Shawna must be high.” What mother wouldn’t want to come home to a clean house? Under these circumstances, Cindy would have traded anything for a messy house and to not go through what was about to happen. Cindy knew that this meant another week or longer of sleepless nights, praying that Shawna would survive her addiction.

Cindy mentioned that in her battles trying to save Shawna, she learned a lot, and some profound things about herself, in particular. She didn’t realize how judgmental she was. She used to see kids on drugs and think, “What kind of parent lets their kid get addicted to drugs? My kids are never going to do drugs.” She finished by saying, “Boy did God open my eyes!” She learned to never judge again. She learned that no matter how hard you try and how many things you do right, sometimes bad things happen to good people. She hopes that parents with children in the darkest of times, look at Shawna and know that recovery is possible and that sometimes we win this battle. And then, sometimes, we don’t.

Shawna and a friend celebrating a Round Robin win.

Shawna and a friend celebrating a Round Robin win.

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Drugs & Addiction, Uncategorized

Aggies and Speedballs; A Normal Family’s Struggle with Drugs and Addiction

Few things are more daunting in life than a blank page with a blinking cursor on a computer screen, staring back at me. One of those things the notion that someone has asked me to tell the story of her battle against drugs and addiction. She wasn’t addicted. She had never taken a drug in her life. Her daughter, on the other hand, had engaged in 10 years of drug and alcohol use and abuse. The second trip to rehab finally worked. Shawna Dallaire is finally clean, sober and living a life to be proud of. A life her mother fought so hard to save. Sobriety is a choice Shawna makes every day. She wakes up every morning and reminds herself that, today, she chooses not to do drugs.

On a quick road trip to the valley last Saturday, my phone lit up with a Facebook message from Cindy Dallaire. It simply stated: Would you ever be willing to come out to our ranch and sit down with me and write an article about our drug epidemic? My answer was simply: YESSSSSSS.

My experience with drugs starts and stops with being a spectator. I’m proud to say that I’ve never done an illegal drug in my life. In my mind 20‘s, sinus surgery and wisdom teeth removal, each landed me a prescription for 90 Vicodin plus a refill, of which I took a total of six in the days after each surgery. The rest of the pills were stolen out of my medicine cabinet. I could speculate on who stole them but that’s unnecessary and irrelevant, except for the fact that this tells you that drug use and abuse is everywhere. Other than these doctor supervised, prescribed medications, I’ve abstained from recreational drug use. Alcohol is another story. I may or may not have a problem with alcohol. This is a subject I quietly struggle with.

On the other hand, I’ve watched countless friends as they battle addiction. High school in Shandon may have given me insight that I didn’t need but it was insight nonetheless. Shandon High may have been where I first understood that people took prescription pills, amongst other things, to get high. An idea in my perfectionist’s mind that seemed ridiculous and just strange. Prescription drugs are to be used when your doctor tells you to, not just because you want to. They have a purpose and that purpose is not to get high. This idyllic thought may stem from the fact that my brother, Aran, has a seizure disorder that requires him to take heavy doses of sedatives. I’ve seen, since I was 3 1/2 years old, what prescription drugs can do to a person and this is not something I’d willfully do to myself.

Alcohol was a different story completely; plenty of fun and definitely illegal at my high school age. Weed scared me because I’m allergic to most everything that grows in the great outdoors, so the thought of smoking anything, much less doing drugs, seemed insane. I could nearly see myself in the hospital, hooked up to some breathing machine, my parents standing over me with the look of judgment and disappointment as I knew they’d never smoked a thing or taken a drug in their lives. If they lived through the late 60‘s, for God’s sake I could make it through Shandon High School without doing drugs.

I’ve listened, most every night since I was 16, to Loveline. Laugh if you’d like – I know it doesn’t make me any kind of an expert on the topic of drugs and addiction. However, I’ve heard countless times Dr. Drew giving advice to desperate parents and friends, even to the addicted themselves, to go get help. He talks about what the drugs do to the human body. He tells stories of how profound addiction is and how difficult it is to break the habit. I admit that I’m very curious. I don’t want to try drugs – but addiction is one of the most interesting things in the world to me. New Co-Host, Mike Catherwood, has said time and time again, he loves drugs and alcohol more than he loves his wife, his family and more than life itself. Although I cannot wrap my mind around this, I believe him. This two hour glimpse into addictive behavior, 5 nights a week, quenches a bit of my curiosity but I often find myself wanting to understand what makes addicts tick.

Enter, Cindy and Shawna Dallaire.

I know Cindy and Shawna because quite literally, I grew up knowing them. Cindy took my Senior Pictures. I babysat the girls for Cindy and Sean on more than a few occasions. Sean Dallaire was a premier show hog breeder in our area and recognized even on the national level. Sean was a big deal. Our livestock judging team would practice on his hogs. He was an industry leader. His three daughters, Shawna, Sarah and Stephanie, were his constant companions and heirs to his knowledge and legacy. They were a busy family, highly engaged in a wonderful rural lifestyle where children are educated, engaged and carefully mentored as future leaders. As an industry, Agriculture talks about how engaging children in 4-H and FFA programs keeps them safe and out of trouble. We elude to the idea that drugs and trouble do not exist in this lifestyle. I’m afraid we are only lying to ourselves.

I arrived at Cindy’s house late Sunday night. She was caring for her grandmother and granddaughter in addition to her usual ranch, wife and mom duties. Covered in poison oak, a bashed hand and an exhausted but appreciative look on her face, she enthusiastically welcomed me into her home. There aren’t words to describe what I felt in that moment. I was nervous, excited, scared, humble. All those feelings went away when Cindy’s granddaughter, Jayde, crawled onto the couch next to me, then into my lap, silently gave me a hug, then snuggled under my arm until Cindy sat in her chair opposite of me. Cindy shared her shock at Jayde’s openness and affection toward me. I smiled and took it as a sign that I’m welcome here and that it’s okay to tell this family’s story.

And so it began ..

Cindy was visibly nervous and overwhelmed. She kept repeating, “I have so much to tell you. There’s so much to say.” We agreed that I could record our conversations so that I didn’t get anything she said, wrong. My first question was, how did she know when Shawna was in trouble? When did this start? Cindy was frank with me. She was honest and assumed blame any opportunity she could. She told me about when Shawna was in high school and started drinking. Looking back and after Shawna had addressed the crowd at the Lighthouse, it was apparent to all that that alcohol made Shawna feel accepted amongst her peers. Her peers thought that the Shawna that partied was fearless and fun, she was the ultimate party chick and that Shawna was cool.

Alcohol was how it started but it certainly didn’t end there. This writing is the beginning and an introduction to the Dallaire family’s struggle with addiction. This is the first blog in a series of writings I’ll be posting about the Dallaires. They are good and normal people. A wonderful family stricken by drugs and addiction. I’ve asked Cindy what she wants to get out of this exercise. Cindy wants other parents to know the signs of drug use, how to help their children if they become addicted, and to empower the community to take an active role to stop the inflow and sale of drugs. As a writer, I will attempt to expose the human element within addiction, the gaps between drugs, recovery, rehab and sobriety, and I will try to change the face of a junkie from the scary, dirty homeless person, to the drug addict I knew; beautiful blonde, athletic, smart and loved.

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Ten Thoughts on Cliven Bundy, the BLM and Me!

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In contemplating responses to last night’s blog, it seems there are a few points I need to make more clear. I’ve also come up with a few morsels for you to chew on:

  1. I am a Flag Waving, God Fearing, Star Spangled Banner Loving, Red Blooded American who reads her Imprimis from Hillsdale College, monthly. (Google it.) I believe in our Constitutional Rights. I believe in the Rights the Constitutional Amendments have given us. I will defend my Rights and this Nation to the death if that’s what’s asked of me.  I will obey the laws that have been laid in front of me. If I feel laws or politicians are infringing on my rights, I will take action to change what I can. (See numerous posts about CWA, NRA, Property Rights, Water Rights, and Second Amendment Rights.)
  2. In order to have a place at the table in negotiations, you must be in good standing with all parties at the negotiating table.
  3. Several statements have been made that the Government has been manipulating grazing contracts for years, that the Government can’t be trusted and that the Government is breaking the rules, perjuring themselves and violating their own contracts. If all these statements are true, you probably should not depend on the Government as your business partner, your livelihood and your sole source of income.  Ranchers in California have had a second source of income for years. This may be the future of Ranching across the rest of the US.
  4. If you tell the Government to expect a fight, expect the Government to come armed.
  5. If you tell Protesters to have Funeral Arrangements in order, expect the Protesters to come armed.
  6. If you act like an uncivilized redneck, you will be treated as such.
  7. You can beat the Government in Court and at negotiations.  My family has successfully negotiated with the State of California when a gigantic pipeline bifurcated our ranch. I will not disclose details but I will tell you that we got everything we asked for.  And we are not the only family to successfully negotiate.  Settrinis won.  Chiltons won.  The list goes on.  Don’t give up.
  8. STOP selling your property to Land Conservancies, Land Trusts and any entity with the word “Government” in the description.  You are giving away your rights to that property – no matter what they tell you (See point 3).
  9. Bundy v BLM is EXACTLY why ALL elections matter.  (Thank you Marie!!)
  10. If you didn’t vote in our last election or don’t make a habit out of voting, your opinion means nothing to me.

As mentioned, I didn’t start this blog to make friends. I certainly have no grand delusions that everyone will agree with me, all the time.  I sincerely hope these ten points were, at least, a little thought provoking.

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Vegas isn’t the only excitement in Clark County

I’ve spent my life on the edge of popular opinion. Although we are much a product of our environment, a lot of my opinions lie in opposition to that of my parents or employers. Within the Ag Community, I get more than a few startled looks and angry responses when I suggest that agriculture would be a far healthier industry if we stopped accepting subsides from the government (Go ahead. 🙂 I’ve heard it all. You’re not changing my mind.). It’s taken me a solid week to sort out my thoughts in Bundy v BLM.

When Bundy v BLM recently hit the national airwaves, I believed, like many others that Cliven Bundy was getting screwed. I still believe he got screwed – 20 years ago. Many of the details in this case are hazy. Many can be left for personal interpretation. And if you listen to the stories about Mineral Rights and proposed Solar Farms, it’s enough to make the hair on the back of any Rural American’s neck stand on end as it wreaks of Agenda 21.

Here we are, a week into national headlines and the Bundy Supporters have declared victory because the BLM has retreated and Bundy’s cattle have been returned, save for the unconfirmed number of head killed when contract cowboys attempted to gather. But victory for how long?

No doubt this story has been steeped in Constitutional Rights Violations. Government Agencies are seemingly performing the work of Agenda 21. And this is the last cattleman standing in Clark County, Nevada. I want to be on Cliven Bundy’s side.

I want to believe that this is another case of government overreach and I believe it is. I want to believe that Bundy did everything he legally could in order to keep grazing the land his family had been on since the 1870’s, but I don’t believe he did. I want to believe that our judicial system is always on the right side of justice and that the right party always wins, but I know that’s not true.

My discomfort lies on several facets of this story: 1. We have glorified a man who refused to recognize the federal government. He is not acting any more civilized than a tattooed gang member engaged in a turf war. 2. 20+ years of rulings in Federal Court have been against the Bundys and for the most part, there has been not a peep from all these ‘protesters’. 3. If the government was not involved this case and it was classic, Tenant v Landlord, the politics of the protesters would be exactly the opposite. 4. If the Bundys hadn’t made threats, including bodily harm, against the Government in 2012 when they last tried to evict the cattle, I highly doubt that the government would have shown up with the 200 armed forces they came with.

My questions are: What will the Bundys and their protesters do now? File a motion in Federal Court stoping the eviction? Probably not. Will the government now stand down and allow Bundy to continue grazing rent free? Nope. Not gonna happen. Will other cattlemen take to this form of vigilante justice and will the West be Wild again? I have no idea. Only time will tell.

I guess I’m still not taking sides in this case. In my heart, it’s wrong all the way around. Another case of complicated facts, poor response and knee jerk reaction. I wish more people were like the Chiltons and others who have taken the high road to beat the Government at their own game. Hopefully the Bundys will take this opportunity to band together with other ranchers who are having their grazing rights diminished in the name of endangered species. Maybe they can file a class action suit demanding that the BLM be dissolved and the rights be turned over to respective states as Bundy says is his ultimate goal.

For now, I’ll continue to uncomfortably follow this story and hope that no one or no more cattle are hurt in the process. Nothing good is coming from this debacle and I have a feeling it’s going to get worse before it gets better.

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Frankenberries

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I have a fantastic mix of friends. All walks of life, all religions, all education levels, from cities across the US and definitely working in a vast array of professions.  A dear friend from the Great Northwest posted a picture on Facebook, of what she described as Frankenfood, expressing her concerns that they may be GMO and longing for the “the deliciously imperfect, knobby, gnarly, fun shaped strawberries I grew up with that smelled so, so good?”  My friend, Laurel, went on to say that she had purchased the berries from a “high brow organic co-op” and I gleaned from her comments that she had far higher expectations for her produce from such an esteemed establishment.

This post and our ensuing exchange made me think long and hard about food labeling in general.  For the last few years, we as an Ag Community have been working to educate the consumers of our products loudly stating that one of the major problems facing Ag is the uneducated consumer.   As a member of CWA, we spend time educating children and adults as part of our three armed approach to outreach.  It now seems contradictory to me when I hear an outcry from producers that don’t want to be forced (albeit by regulation) to label our products.

A US Appellate Court just handed down a ruling stating that packaged meat should include source information including the country of origin.  What if consumers knew that the relatively cheap package of preformed, frozen hamburger patties weren’t American Beef but that they could find American Beef in the fresh meat section instead?  What if consumers knew that there are only eight Genetically Modified Organisms currently in agriculture production?  Would our transparency build a trust with our consumers?  Would preference win over price?  Would the Ag community get paid a higher premium for American made products? Could transparency be a win-win??

The rising popularity of Farmers Markets is one indication that the consumer we label as uneducated really does care about where their food comes from. 

If we printed on Laurel’s package of Frankenberries, NON GMO, CALIFORNIA GROWN, PICKED ON APRIL 4TH, 2014, I believe she would have felt more comfortable rather than resorting to Facebook with concerns about what she was consuming.

My friend Laurel is smart.  She’s originally a California girl but moved to the Seattle area where she is now a renowned wedding photographer.  She’s educated. She has a valid opinion about what she consumes as part of her diet and I believe she should!  As members of the Ag community, we have the privilege of daily chatter involving different farming methods, regulations governing those methods, products and production practices for those different methods.  Do we have the right to deny the same information to the consumers we claim are uneducated?

Sometimes the first step toward common ground is the hardest. Sometimes that step is the most fruitful.

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Looking back toward the future of Agriculture

I sit in my parents’ house tonight like I have countless nights before. Dad and I shared plenty of wine. He got a phone call from an old farmer, Phil, that left this part of the country quite a while ago. Dad talks to Phil about the good ol’ days. My generation would be much wiser if we only accepted that there’s much to be learned about those days.

Phil, who left for Oregon probably 20 years ago, planted pistachios long, long before pistachios were part of a marketing campaign that included the Kardashians, Million Dollar Superbowl Spots and Gangnam Style. Matter of fact, Phil’s motivation to plant came even before disturbance in the Middle East durning the Carter administration drove prices of pistachios through the roof. A few forward thinking farmers like Phil realized that there was plenty of climate just like that of the Mediterranean right here in San Luis Obispo County – maybe we could even echo some of their agriculture. And echo we did .. Pistachios went in and Phil was able to take advantage of political volatility that had a profound affect on food prices. Now his grain farm serves as residence for some grapes and his grain tanks are part of the farm’s agritourism attraction.

Think of the crops that are prevalent and abundant in California that we find, literally, half way around the world. Now think outside of Ag. They have oil, we have oil. They need water, we need water. They are politically volatile, so are we. Change often comes in funny looking packages. I suppose it’s our choice to embrace it, or fight it. Phil chose to embrace it. I’m not sure how he wanted his story to end. I do know that he’s happy on his ranch in his new corner of the world.

Time with my family is always precious. I measure it in moments, hang on to it like it’s sliding off a cliff and remember ever detail possible. Generations before us and generations long gone hold the keys to the future. If we don’t listen, the keys are never passed and we are left pounding on the Future’s Door.

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