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Friday, November 11, 2011

Connecting with fellow New Agrarians at the Quivira Coalition conference

The progressive ranching movement is part of a larger movement of new agrarianism, a forward-looking, well-connected, well-educated, migration back to the land. It is moving at the speed of the internet.  It is about healthy land, sustainable agriculture, and local food, not in the linear sense of producing products but in the more holistic sense of a way of life.  As such it stands in sharp relief against the backdrop of industrial agribusiness.  The movement's philosophical roots are diverse, but the concept of the new agrarianism has its modern roots in the writings of farmer-philosopher Wendell Berry, and among the movement's adherents in the western ranching community, in the writings of conservationist Courtney White.

In the Southwest, this movement has a home: the Quivira Coalition, a collaboration between ranchers, conservationists, agency personnel, and scientists, led by White, the Coalition's executive director.  Every year this diverse assemblage convenes in Albuquerque at the Quivira Coalition's annual conference, organized by White and la mayordoma Catherine Baca, culminating in the Radical Center Awards (in four categories for each of the aforementioned  groups forming the Coalition), and the prestigious Clarence Burch Award which recognizes the greatest collaborative successes in the West with a $20,000 honorarium to further their efforts.

I spent this week at the conference, as I do every year, manning my trade show table and being inspired by success stories of ranching and collaboration and building resilience.  This year I had opportunities to speak with kindred spirits from almost every state in the West.

Shining Horizons Land Management tradeshow poster.

The conference opened with an all-day workshop by Jim Gerrish of American GrazingLandsServices.  Jim left a successful career in academic research to ranch in Idaho with his wife Dawn, and is the author of Management-intensive Grazing, Kick the Hay Habit, and many articles in the Stockman GrassFarmer.  Most of his material was familiar to me, and essentially the same as what I’ve been writing about in recent years.  Sometimes it seems lonely when you are doing things in a new and different way, so I appreciated the validation of my ideas.  That is true for many of the progressive ranchers in the conference, as all of them are doing things differently from most of their neighbors.

Severine von Tscharner Fleming, producer of The Greenhorns film, gave an introduction to the young farmers movement and especially its culture, which is diverse, inclusive, mostly young, mostly well educated yet mostly poor, and a little hedonistic – at least with food. Severine and the Quivira Coalition's Avery Anderson are co-chairs of the National Young Farmers' Coalition advisory board

The bulk of the conference was the inspiring first-person narratives of new agrarian farmers and ranchers, including the consummate New Mexican farmer, biologist, and educator Miguel Santistevan; Bryce Andrews of the Clark Fork Coalition’s Dry Cottonwood Creek Ranch; California farmer and performance artist Nikiko Masumoto of Masumoto family Farm, who recieved a standing ovation for performing a poem about farming and the new agrarian movement; New York City rooftop farmer Annie Novak; Sarahlee Lawrence of Rainshadow Organics in central Oregon, and author of River House; Lilian Hill of Hopi Tutskwa Permaculture; Tyfanny Herrera and Rochelle Vandever of the Navajo Nation’s Ojo Encino Ranchers Committee and Hasbídító youth organization (past Clarence Burch Award winners); and my friends Jeff Gossage of the Medano-Zapata Ranch in Colorado, and Ben Forsyth of Three Rivers Station in Western Australia.

New agrarian collaboration: Amy Wright (Quivira Coalition / Blue Range Ranch) and Matt Barnes (Shining Horizons Land Management) wrestle a calf roped by Jeff Gossage (Medano-Zapata Ranch) at a Blue Range Ranch branding. Photo by Elaine Patarini
Ben Forsyth showing Ben Norton his floodwater harvesting earthworks on Three Rivers Station, Western Australia.

Rangelands, April 2011
Tuesday evening I attended the Southwest Grassfed Livetock Alliance's annual meeting and dinner -- and not just for the delicious foood.  SWGLA membership has tripled thanks to the efforts of exective director Laurie Bower and president Nancy Ranney of the Ranney Ranch.  I was honored to hand out reprints of the Rangelands article on the grassfed livestock symposium that I co-organized with colleagues in the Society for Range Management for the SRM’s annual meeting in Denver, which featured Bower and some SWGLA producers.  I am proud of that for two reasons: we brought the vitality and inspiration of these cutting-edge ranchers into the SRM, and my summary article about the resurgence of grassfed livestock production in the American West is the first that I know of in the peer-reviewed literature (an earlier version was posted on Shining Horizons, December 2010).

Julie Sullivan mentoring
Zeke at San Juan Ranch.
Among those producers are George Whitten and Julie Sullivan of Blue Range Ranch, previous winners of the Burch Award, longtime mentors in the Coalition's New Agrarian apprenticeship program, and less officially my own mentors. They spoke to a standing-room-only crowd about mentoring aspiring agrarians.  After their talk, many of us participated in the New Agrarian Career Connection, where beginning farmers and ranchers met with potential employers in a speed-dating format. 

Tuesday night, two of the country's leading conservationists led a discussion with a large crowd about climate change, mitigation and adaptation, focusing on the Southwest.  Bill McKibben's efforts have included the formation of the globe-spanning, spearheading the movement to reduce the global atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration from a current 393 ppm back to 350 ppm, which scientists consider the maximum concentration for life on Earth to have the potential to remain essentially as we've known it.  (Prior to the industrial revolution the concentration was less than 300 ppm.)  Bill DeBuys focused on mitigation and adaptation in the Southwest, which is ground zero for climate change in North America, with the future climate now expected to resemble the severe drought of the 1950s which was fatal to so many ranchers, and the mega-droughts that led to the collapse of the Ancestral Puebloan civilizations centered around Chaco Canyon and Mesa Verde.  (Reconstructed climate history data show that the period between the droughts of the 1950s and 1990s was actually abnormally wet.)  DeBuys, one of the region's great authors, signed my copy of his newest book, A Great Aridness.  He also recieved the Radical Center Award for Research at the conference.

Guy Glosson at a stockmanship workshop
at Blue Valley Ranch.
I was also pleased to see my friend Guy Glosson recieve the Radical Center Award for Ranching.  Guy is the long-time manager of Mesquite Grove Ranch in Texas.  The award was also for his work teaching stockmanship skills to many of the new agrarian ranchers over the years.  He learned the art of low-stress livestock handling from stockmanship guru Bud Williams and has presented this method at numerous workshops in the U.S. and Africa, including one that I organized with the Middle Park Conservation District at Blue Valley Ranch near Kremmling, Colorado.

Three Rivers Alliance
Kik Gadzia at the Republican River.
The culmination of the conference was the Clarence Burch Award, which was taken home (and to the bank) by the Three Rivers Alliance in the Republican River Watershed in the plains of eastern Colorado, southwestern Nebraska, and western Kansas. The watershed has seen excessive groundwater pumping over many years, and now many farmers in Colorado are having to relingquish water rights which means that a lot of farmland is becoming perennial pastureland. Some of the farmers and ranchers in the watershed are learning about Holistic Management through the Savory Institute and Kirk Gadzia of Resource Management Services.  Kirk, one of the original members of the Quivira Coalition, is a kindred spirit, friend, and mentor as well; I wrote my first holisticgoal during his Holistic management In Practice course five years ago, and I was honored to give a talk at one of his workshops in the Republican River Watershed this past summer.

Matt Barnes at the Republican River.
Photo by Jenny Stricker

The Quivira Coalition is the leader of the sustainable ranching movement, the meeting-place of the radical center, promoting resilience in the American West and beyond.  I am proud to be part of it, and am looking forward to next year's conference on solutions for feeding the world in the context of population growth and reversing the world's most pressing problems: declining global carrying capacity due to land degradation, biodiversity loss, and climate change.


1 comment:

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