July 2004

Time to support small farmers and ranchers

By Galen Larson

A lot of my articles are negative. Sometimes, I guess, one should find something positive to write about. So this is going to be a positive article on our Western Slope environment.

We are the last frontier of small ranches and farms. The Denver Post reported recently that small farms are rapidly losing out to large corporate agri-businesses. Not all farms are owned by the corporations, but often the owner/operator is indebted to them because of what he grows, fertilizes and reaps.

The small farmers and ranchers, on the other hand, have more control over their land. They are finally awakening to the self-supportive measures their fathers and grandfathers employed. With vision and perseverance they find they can be in control, marketing their products locally and then statewide, even nationally on the Internet. They once again see themselves as saviors of the environment.

Farmer John’s sausage and Cattlemen’s Choice are corporate names without the person. But when Billy mixes prime beef in his home-owned market, his neighbors know who he is and what he stands for. They see him every day and can drive by and see the steaks and roast on the hoof.

Cindy raises chickens and gives them the run of the place, feeding them natural grains grown by John Brown down the road, ground and mixed by the neighboring mill, owned by her grandfather’s friend. They are all proud of their independence and ability to bring chemical-free food to their neighbor’s table. They and the environmentalist should be working hand in hand to prevent the misuse of their birthright – clean air, good soil and a healthy lifestyle. It benefits everyone and saves the farm from the mold of residential growth.

We need small farms and ranches. That’s where we get our healthful food and clean water. The irrigation systems, though not perfect, are using less and letting nature purify the water instead of the stagnant ponds flowing into our rivers and streams from feedlots and giant hog farms (a misnomer). When the politicians speak of farm subsidies, they are not talking about our neighbor’s 600 acres or less. Our tax monies are going to the corporate agri-businesses that use chemicals made from fossil fuels, wreaking havoc on the land, water, wildlife and of course us poor humans. Have you ever wondered why we have so many health problems, from cancer to ADD and asthma? Eat some chemical-grown fruit or vegetables, eat hormone-grown beef, take a pill to relieve side effects, then take a series of other pills to relieve the side effects of the side effects. Talk about life in a hamster wheel!

(Positive, Galen, you promised positive.)

Well, the positive is we are becoming aware and refusing to be fooled. We consumers have to support our local producers. The cost may be a few cents more, but it pays later through better health. The small beef producers are sticking their necks out to raise and provide healthy, wholesome meat products. The produce-growers are putting sweat equity into their chemical-free vegetables. Every time we pay that few cents more for naturally raised, grown and harvested food, we have done two great things: We have made ourselves healthier and we’ve supported our neighbor.

Look at the alternative. Our corporateraised beef is full of hormones and antibiotics, but not enough, evidently, to prevent e-coli or listeria. Our salads are seven to 10 days old before they hit the stores and are sprayed with a retardant to keep them from spoiling. We get Grade 2 potatoes, onions and tomatoes; the No. 1’s go to the fast-food corporations. Makes your mouth water, doesn’t it? We must have scared hell out of the corporations. They saw the handwriting on the wall as to organic food and quickly petitioned the USDA to accept the standards for organic that they proposed. They just have to screw up every good idea.

If we are to save the land for our children, we have to support our small local producers and they have to come together with the environmentalists before our land is covered with manufactured homes, concrete and big-box stores. My grandfather owned a butcher shop and bought local beef. At that time there was no refrigeration, just blocks of ice in a cooler.

I have a picture of the meat hanging behind the display case: no flies, nothing moldy or spoiling. He made his own sausage and hot dogs. His standards were his customers and his integrity. He and he alone was responsible for his product – not some bean-counter trying to cut corners to squeeze another dollar out of the product. Neighbors bought vegetables from neighbors and grocers bought local produce and fruit. Bananas and oranges were about the only things shipped in. Years ago, while tending bar in a college town, I overheard a student touting the conveniences of today’s shopping. Everything in one place under one roof, he said.

“Huh!” snorted an elderly gentleman. “When I grew up, my mother called the grocer, butcher, drugstore, gave them her order, and they delivered at no charge right to her door and she told them to charge it. Now that was convenience.”

Remember when you heard, “Can I pump your gas, wash your windshield, check your tires and oil and sell you gas for 19 cents a gallon?”

But the corporations found out we are more easily trained than our dogs, so now we pump our own gas, wash our own windshields, put in our own oil and air, load our own groceries, go through the self-serve checkout, pay promptly with a credit card and pay extra. And we don’t even howl, just sit up and beg for more.

Ah, progress, don’t you love it?

Galen Larson is a rural landowner in Montezuma County.