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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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A picture may speak a thousand words, but it only tells half the story.

Paso Robles Daily News should be ashamed of them selves. As a mater of fact, I’m pretty sure they are ashamed of their reporting because they won’t even assign a by line to the article that just may ruin a man who has had an impeccable reputation in the agriculture industry for 53 years. I can’t even personally call out the reporter who so poorly wrote an article that has broken a man’s heart. They have made unfounded accusations of animal cruelty based on half the story. They didn’t even try to contact the man who stays up nights and works long hours to make sure his sheep are okay. Instead they relied upon the opinion of a couple who happened upon some sheep that were in distress. They did little to help the shepherd who was with the sheep. Instead, they were quick to grab a cell phone video – correction about TEN cell phone videos of sheep in distress.

There are a thousand things this couple could have done: Called the Sheriff’s Department to contact the owner of the animals. Contact the Community Services District where the sheep were leased. ASKED THE SHEPHERD WHAT THEY CAN DO TO HELP! Please explain to me how shooting a video is going to immediately help these animals that they claim to be so concerned about!!??

Cal Coast News at least contacted the rancher who owns the sheep. Reading their article, I was at first a bit shocked to hear the rancher close the article with this quote, “Those people you are talking to are nuts and do not know what they are talking about. It was the storm that hurt them.” He’s right about one thing: Those people who shot the video have no idea what they’re talking about. You see, it’s estimated that only 1% of working Americans are actually involved in production agriculture. So an even smaller percentage of Americans actually know about sheep production!

The couple with the cell phone taking videos were part of the 99% of our population which, most, blissfully believe that their food comes from a grocery store. Truth be told, this couple probably caused more distress for the sheep. These sheep are used to being moved by only their shepherd and his highly skilled team dogs. By minimal human pressure. So the sight of this hysterical couple probably frightened the sheep even more.

I’ll tell you a few things that I personally know. I know that when I do a BING or GOOGLE search of the term “sheep”, you’ll see tons of images of baby lambs, fluffy herds of ewes dotting green hillsides probably somewhere in Ireland, and even a few rams with horns. Not a single photo in the top 100 images on either site of a freshly shorn ewe that has a lamb on her side. I know that when my sister and I were 4H leaders, we brought home several lambs for our kids and were heart broken one day when we received a phone call that one of our kid’s lamb died. No reason, just died. I know that when I was in Shandon FFA, we had a flock that belonged to the school and every year (spring time as a matter of fact) when we sheared the ewes, they looked thin with big bellies and protruding spines. Apply this same logic to humans. What’s the best way for a woman to lose weight after a baby? Breast feed. What does a woman look like a few months after she gives birth? Certainly not the same as she did prior to getting pregnant! These ewes are processing their feed straight into milk for their lambs at an incredibly high rate – just like a nursing human mother does. Things in pictures and videos aren’t always what they seem.

And I know this rancher, personally. He’s a kind and caring man. He’s Basque and from the old country. I did not contact his family for content nor do I have their permission to write about them. I don’t need to. I know him from the Catholic Church I grew up in seeing him often on Sundays. I know him because I grew up with his two sons and daughter. I know him because he’s been a highly respected cattleman and shepherd for over 50 years in our community. It’s a treat to get stuck in a rural traffic jam just to see that it’s one of his bands of sheep moving to their next pasture. Slow and steady, we all patiently wait and watch in awe to see the sheep mindfully cruise down our County roads. A man, a few dogs and a thousand sheep moving miles with no problems.

This rancher has experienced a tragedy based on nature alone. Shortly after shearing his sheep, they were moved into a new location where rain and winds far exceeded what was forecasted. In a drought stricken year, this was the perfect storm. Now he is being forced to deal with a manufactured tragedy from poor reporting and an ill-informed woman with a cell phone video. Coming from a ranching family who is personal friends with this rancher, my heart is breaking for his loss.

I beg you to listen to both sides of the story, to understand that ranchers are among the most compassionate people you will meet and that our animals are part of our family. My thoughts and prayers go out to you and your family, JB. Best wishes for a full recovery for your family and your herd.

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