Monday, January 11, 2010

Undue influence in your public education, and then some good news

© 2010 Joshua Stark

The Fresno Bee reports on an issue that won't die, the appearance of improper pressure by Harris Ranch on Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo.

It appears that the managers of Harris Ranch think that their additional funds entitle them to pressure faculty through the administration, and to influence (or decide) who gets to speak at the campus and under what format.
Last year, the company sent the university a letter in which it threatened to withdraw its $500k grant when it heard that renowned author (and UC professor) Michael Pollan was going to speak. Pollan's attacks on grain-fed CAFO (centralized animal feeding operations) models for agriculture are well-known, as is his support for small, multicrop farms over large, monoculture ranches (and if you haven't read "Omnivore's Dilemma", please do!).

It's no surprise that Harris Ranch would be mad about these topics and perspectives, and so it's no real surprise that they also criticized a Cal Poly faculty member, Prof. Rutherford, for his similar views.

Yeah, none of it is a surprise. But, contrary to what news media might want you to believe, you shouldn't have to be surprised to be outraged or disgusted.

Had this happened to a private university, I'd still be mad, but I wouldn't feel a personal affront. However, my taxes go to pay for this university, and I'm willing to bet that many Californians pay the same percentage of total income as Harris Ranch to our public institutions.

On a related note, and having received no funding from Harris Ranch (or you all, for that matter), I'd like to link to a great article in this month's Mother Earth Magazine (they haven't paid me, either) on the benefits and potential for grass-fed beef. Here's the quotation that stood out to me:

"Churchill says that on properly recovered land, he can finish about two steers per acre. That is almost precisely the acreage it takes to grow the grain to finish those same steers in a feedlot. This whole system makes economic sense, acre by acre."

What?! That's tremendous news, a happy surprise, and flies in the face of what we've been told in recent decades about the efficiencies of feedlots. And, when you add to this concept the idea that grass requires lower feed costs, far fewer antibiotics and vet. care, and much less transportation and processing, plus native habitat restoration, there really is no reason to stay on the grain-fed path.

And you can now add to the costs of feedlots the undue pressure that they put on our universities.


native said...

Just signed a new lease with an old friend and 4th generation rancher next to my little place there in Priest Valley Josh.
This is a 7,000 acre ranch and the owner listened to me very earnestly about my (pesticide free) method of no till planting, "good" fungus seed impregnation, and how after a three year experiment with this no till method of planting, the Jolon Ranch now is very nearly Russian Star Thistle Free!

These large corporations have gotten to the point of ridiculous with their instant gratification mentality concerning the vicious cycle of their Profit Margin.

I would venture to guess that they are emulating the corporate Vegan Movement which also comes onto State Campus to enlighten students with their philosophy's as well, and it all just has the smell of Big Politics to me.
The little people like us who also make up the largest sector of their consumers, just get stretched and pulled back and forth in between both extremes.

I really like the idea of a large ranch, like the one I just signed that lease with, diversifying and letting a few organic companies work several smaller portions of the ranch. This being the alternative to the old way of running several thousand head of cattle from one large company, that will do nothing less than destroy the entire ecosystem of that place in about 5 years time.

My friend there also has enlightened me to a new grass that was developed up in Oregon, which takes three years to fully develop after planted.
After the three year cycle of re-growth the root system is so firmly entrenched that it will continue to replenish itself (even in drought) and can be harvested as hay (or turned to the cattle) as much as three times a year!

I will definitely keep my eye on this as it develops as they have a fenced off 100 acre test spot right now.

Getting back to Harris Ranch, I do not buy any of their products and I suggest that every one of us little guys do the same!
And lets start supporting the small and local organic ranchers and farmers every time we go to purchase.
This is the very best way to knock some wind out of the large corporate sails, just don't purchase their products.

Josh said...

Wow, native, that's some tremendous work! Frankly, I'd love to come down and check out your place some time (insert picture of man holding his pants pockets turned inside-out)...

Has anybody in gov't. looked at your seed and till methods? Perhaps they would work under an IPM regime, (or replace the current one!)

The instant gratification mentality is a carrot & stick approach, with the stick being sterile seeds and copyrights on DNA.

You make some great comments, and are making some great inroads, as well, into sustainable economies and habitat restoration. Maybe you should write a book like Joel Salatin?

As for the grass, I'm sure you know this, but the native California bunchgrasses are also very long-lived, drought resistant (drought-loving?), and were used to being browsed and walked around by thousands of large animals (tule elk, deer, and grizzlies, and earlier, sloths, and mastodons and saber-toothed cats). That Oregon grass sounds very good and promising, too!

NorCal Cazadora said...

Funny, I think there actually WAS a kerfuffle about Pollan speaking at a private university. In Oregon. I could be wrong, but that really rings a bell.

I love that they're so threatened by Pollan. Does no one understand the concept of martyrdom?

Josh said...

Great point, Holly. I love martyrs, everybody loves martyrs. And underdogs. But, folks in power tend not to be able to control themselves over stuff like this. Perhaps it's a characteristic of wanting all that power?

NorCal Cazadora said...

True dat.