Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Cake and Kohlrabi

Does anyone eat broccoli anymore?  Or grow cabbage for slaw, or Brussels sprouts?  (OK, so I'm not that worried about the consumption of Brussels sprouts.....not my fave in the vegetable category.)  The reason I ask?  Because flat after flat of perfectly lovely cole crops are growing in the greenhouse, not being hauled from Hurst Greenery to garden centers or grocery stores.
Late Flat Dutch Cabbage heads
 Nope, we've mostly had requests for Late Flat Dutch cabbage...and kohlrabi.  Not kidding!!  Kohlrabi!  Last summer, Millie tried repeatedly to interest anyone dropping by in the kohlrabi she had picked from her garden. No takers.  They may be delicious...someone told me kohlrabi can be used like a potato, but what I've read puts its taste somewhere between cabbage and broccoli stems.  Another source says it is sweet like an apple and yet another puts it on the vegetable spectrum between radishes and young turnips.  My interpretation of all these opinions?  One of two outcomes: 1) Kohlrabi has no taste and therefore is chopped up into chunks and used as a generic "mixed vegetable"whenever a mixed vegetable is called for, or 2) Kohlrabi is NEVER eaten, but grown as a curiosity by gardeners who just like something different in the row.  I do know that most of the orders for kohlrabi come from eastern Nebraska. Perhaps there is a great local kohlrabi cuisine in the ethnic heritage of our neighbors to the west.
Here's a Kohlrabi
At any rate, Charlie came up this afternoon for garden plants and carried off not just broccoli, but also cabbage and cauliflower for their garden.  He told me Thursday that the ground was hard, hard, hard, but he's hoping for some measurable rain Sunday night or Monday to help settle his new transplants.  When I drove home around suppertime, he and Millie were headed out to spend the evening in the garden.

He's not alone in wishing for rain even as the planters roll. Earlier this week, the air was thick and the sunsets wreathed in smoke.  Aaron and Gabe manned their machines to mow around the greenhouses, Gabe in his bucket hat, Aaron on the zero turn John Deere.  Both boys wore masks, but that did nothing to slow the accumulation of dust and grit in their ears. Aaron has mowed what passes for our lawn only twice this dry spring.  He's good enough at math to figure out what consequences a dry summer will have on the sum of his summer income.

Blake has spent an agony of mental anguish on our inability to grow grass over the years.  Neither weed, nor feed, nor benign neglect ( we are really good at that!) seems to make one iota of difference. The curse is unbroken in 2016.  Aaron looks more like Pigpen following an afternoon of mowing at Spruce.

 There's nothing like an outing to the theater after a busy week of work.  The Liberty Theater boasted full houses for both Friday and Saturday for a showcase of energetic and exuberant dance on the stage, applause and smiles and laughter and encouragement for the homegrown talent from the audience.  So many proud picture taking parents and grandparents!  I love being part of the crowd at the kids' events, watching them learn to practice and memorize, developing skill and judgment and confidence and grace whether the arena is sports or dance or a spelling bee or Battle of the Books.

Blake and I enjoyed a delicious and civilized meal on Ann and Matt's patio this Sunday evening: steak and seasoned potatoes and pasta salad with angel food cake and strawberries for dessert.

Speaking of cake, Thursday is Blake's birthday! Even though he's going to be out of town that day, the crew at the greenhouse has generously offered to celebrate with him in absentia ..with his birthday present from his mother, Millie's exquisite angel food cake! Blake does not appreciate our thoughtfulness nor trust our intentions and has already acted to protect his interest by scheduling a different delivery date for the cake..

..when he will be around to get the first piece.....

So wish Blake a happy birthday if you see him this week....

...and come out and buy some broccoli....

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Poison, Poems and Prairies

 He's young and slender and dressed all in black.  We're sitting in the 'green room' backstage at the Gem Theater at 18th and Vine in the historic Jazz District of Kansas City.  "This is Alex", the woman with the headset tells us, "And he's going to recite a poem." I don't remember the title of Alex's poem, but it was appropriate to the event being a lusciously descriptive list of the good things cooking in a traditional Southern kitchen.  He exhibits a cultivated intensity, attaching gravity to beans and collards.  We are taking food seriously too, having got to the theater early so Blake can do a sound check; this poem and a couple of chunks of cheese are as close as we are likely to come to supper until this NPR event, Going There, How We Eat, is over and we are invited for a glass of wine and some "curated" food at a reception across the street.

This isn't our first rodeo. The occasion is part of a live-event series for National Public Radio hosted by the weekend host of All Things Considered, Michel Martin. Kansas City is a logical locus for the  focus for this show: “How We Eat” will include both live discussions and a virtual panel of Twitter contributors.  It has been our experience that an invitation to represent the "conventional farmer" viewpoint on a "diverse" agricultural panel is a chance to be the "skunk in the garden party", as Blake represents himself to moderator Michel Martin.  The diverse part is readily apparent in the green room.  Here's the "tomato whisperer", who grows heirloom tomatoes and hosts tomato tastings.  There's a young entrepreneur who went back to her cooking roots after the 2008-9 bust left her jobless. The MacArthur grant genius and grand old man of perennial prairie grasses, Wes Jackson, sits down with us two unrepentant growers of annual crops to talk about the Fall.  No, not Adam and Eve.  The Fall, according to Mr. Jackson, is when one of our hungry ancestors scratched down to bare earth.  From that, 'twas but a wide and slippery slope to the cultivation of  wheat and corn and rice, crops that require the hand of man to plant, to harvest, to thrive, crops that turned humanity not into farmers...but "weeders" in Mr. Jackson's parlance. "I don't know why farmers don't like me,"he says. Yeah.  Perhaps it’s because you consider agriculture a 10,000 year old mistake leading to “soil loss and degradation, ecosystem destruction and high energy use”, while farmers like us tend to believe we marshal limited resources in an economical fashion, utilizing brains and technology to grow maximum food and fiber with minimum “unnatural’ inputs. Blake and I are not unfamiliar with his lifework and enjoy the chance to respectfully spar with someone famous in his field, even though I cannot help but think of the Wizard of Oz as we talk about being  “imprisoned by our technology.”  If there had been a genetic shortcut to a perennial grain, would Mr. Jackson have made that deal with the technological Devil?

 One of the other panelists describes herself as the "farm steward" of the  acreage where she "forages" for sustainably produced fruit, vegetables, herbs and other edibles to sell to her customers.  Nothing value laden in that description, right?  While she insists her intent is not to be confrontational, her description of pesticide use is difficult to construe as anything but antagonistic no matter how mild her manner.  Question: "As I understand it, you're critical of conventional farming. You are all organic...." Answer: "...it's just very practical.  If I just say it out loud that we dump poison on our food or use poison to protect our food...." This is a person familiar with chemicals, with modern medicine. Yet she sees no incongruity between confidence in the science of today's medicine and fear of today's technologies in agriculture.  Growing organic and eating organic is certainly a choice. But it is not necessarily better for the land, the farmer, or the people eating any more than relying on homemade herbal poultices is a better remedy for my headache than a chemical medicine like ibuprofen.

No wonder a self proclaimed conventional farmer using every conceivable tool, genetic, mechanical, cloud based, can feel like he's being picked on.  Blake, the poster child for our version of family farming, takes advantage of every inconsistency in the arguments of the anti technology advocates to defend and promote two fundamental ideas:  1) that the ultimate goal is to feed people and take care of the land, and 2) that there will be a farmer willing to produce whatever the market wishes as long as there is freedom to do so.  This is a conciliatory gesture that most of this audience in Kansas City can rally to: that growing food and buying food and eating food for every budget, taste, and philosophy is far too big a challenge for but one set of rules.

 Michel Martin, the host, steers the group by asking questions that cut through cliche in a way that is pithy and not judgmental.  For instance, a question for Blake: "Why (would) you even feel the need to say you're unapologetic about it (being a conventional farmer)....you know, large-scale farming is in part one of the reasons why this country has been the best-fed nation in the history of the world". For Wes Jackson ringing the doomsday bell about  the outlook for an agriculture based on conventional crops: "How many years do we have left?"  About organic food: "How much would it take to switch to organic?" And I cannot imagine an audience anywhere but in the Midwest approving the notion that folks ought to know what their slaughtered beef looks like.  

 In the end, we skipped the line for the curated food across the road in the Jazz Museum, opting instead for a couple of sandwiches at the Love's Truck Stop just south of St. Joseph.  The wind whipped up a cloud of gravel dust ahead of a squall line visible north on I-29.  There were three cars at the gas pumps and two tables of huddled diners inside. Were the sandwiches we ate in the car at 11 pm as delicious as the tasty greens in Kansas City?


I remembered how one of the panelists complained that "food was just fuel...it allows us to keep working.  We don't think of it as history or culture."  But that is exactly the strength and glory of our food system: It is big enough to do both jobs and carry them off well.  Some of us farmers grow cash crops to feed the makings of a chicken sandwich at a truck stop at midnight.  And some of us grow the chef's herbs for a meal savored and celebrated and memorized.

And a very few, like Alex, call it poetry.....

To hear part of the discussion, listen here:

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Is the Spring Coming? Come to Open House and See!

“Is the spring coming?" he said. "What is it like?"...
"It is the sun shining on the rain and the rain falling on the sunshine...”
When I do not think my own words sufficiently artful in pinpointing the feelings or painting the picture I desire, I do not shy away from adopting some from writers of a more poetic bent. I look up quotes...sometimes to reinforce a phrase half remembered, sometimes to express an essence I can’t quite reach.  What is spring?  It is yin and yang, the turmoil of the winds rushing now north with warmth and moisture, now howling south with the sleet and chill from lands where spring has not yet ventured.
“Spring work is going on with joyful enthusiasm.”
In greenhouse world, spring work has been plodding along for months on the more or less predictable schedule we set out when the plant orders came in: sorting a load of plugs, filling flats with potting mix, matching the cuttings to the customer, counting, always counting. To describe this process as ‘joyful enthusiasm’ is indeed to imbue our daily tasks with both more orderliness and nonchalance than is detectable in anyone’s attitude!  We have productive days and frustrating days, but one week before the equivalent of Hurst Greenery’s Opening Day, the greenhouses are splitting at the seams with a patchwork of texture and color.  We humans may be weary, but the burgeoning of spring will not be denied.
There was only—spring itself; the throb of it, the light restlessness, the vital essence of it everywhere: in the sky, in the swift clouds, in the pale sunshine, and in the warm, high wind—rising suddenly, sinking suddenly, impulsive and playful like a big puppy that pawed you and then lay down to be petted. If I had been tossed down blindfold on that red prairie, I should have known that it was spring.”
Even a mild winter in this hard hearted  Continental climate brings weeks of drear and dark and whining winds. The first hint of warming sun melting a heavy frost changes the scent of the land perceptibly.  The first rain releases the soil from bondage and pockmarks the most compacted winter walkway with the castings of awakening earthworms.
“It always amazes me to look at the little, wrinkled brown seeds and think of the rainbows in 'em," said Captain Jim. "When I ponder on them seeds I don't find it nowise hard to believe that we've got souls that'll live in other worlds. You couldn't hardly believe there was life in them tiny things, some no bigger than grains of dust, let alone colour and scent, if you hadn't seen the miracle, could you?”
“He smelled cold water and cold intrepid green. Those early flowers smelled like cold water. Their fragrance was not the still perfume of high summer; it was the smell of cold, raw green.”
“The point is that the pleasures of spring are available to everybody, and cost nothing.”
Ah! Now we come to the crux of the matter.  Indeed!  The pleasures of visiting our greenhouse this weekend for the annual Open House are available to everyone and are free, free, free!  Come see what we’ve been planting, watering, and caring for since February!  We have potted up almost 7000 planters, a total we cannot even believe. We are fitting each additional flat in jigsaw piece by piece. The earliest tomatoes are just about ready for those who feel lucky.  By Saturday, the greenhouses will be full to overflowing, not an unusual situation for early April, so, bring your camera, your phone...and kids, too.
Whatever the weather on Saturday, we  promise spring inside….

“In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt.”

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Seeing Red

 The red pickup is taking us north for the last time.  No invoice in the console, no trailer full of Hurst Greenery plants bumping behind us. Just Blake and me lurching across the ruts on I-29, fighting the loosey-goosey front end of this 15 yr. old warhorse and looking for its replacement on the Woodhouse Dodge website.

If I sound regretful and more than a little sentimental, you'll just have to excuse me.  When we bought this candy apple red three quarter ton four wheel drive quad cab six speed back in 2001, it was Blake's pride and joy.  We took it for a test drive to lunch and pondered the cost of new and red over our Runzas and onion rings.  Red came out the winner, and the old '94 Dodge retired from plant deliveries to a pampered future as Ben's main ride in high school.
The red pickup got the full treatment: the ball for the fifth wheel, a set of running boards, and a heavy duty grill guard which came in handy earlier than anticipated when Ben's practice session with the gear shift somehow left the truck in neutral.  The first object in its path happened to be a 1000 gallon propane tank.  While this incident has become legend in our family,  it would surely have gone viral had it occurred during the age of iphones.  Instead, the next owner of the red pickup will never know that the concave bow to the grill guard is the result of something less humdrum than your average deer/truck collision………. and way more flammable.

Who can account for all those miles? Thousands of them accumulated between Westboro and Lincoln or Westboro and Omaha with a trailer full of flowers behind it.  While I don't remember when the tire blew the rear fender apart, I can tell you with confidence where it happened: west of Lincoln and east of North Platte.  A map of the blown tires Hurst Greenery trucks have experienced would show a concentration of disasters along I-80 somewhere west of the 97th parallel.  Historians say the frontier began on the other side of the 100th parallel: truck drivers know the Wild West starts just a little farther east.   Blake and I tested that hypothesis one long summer day, loading our trailer with hardy hibiscus and deliveries scheduled from Denison, Iowa to Kearney, Nebraska.  I rode shotgun lo those many miles with my shoes off and my feet up on the dash.   It was a grand adventure…... driving historic two lane highways like U.S. 20, U.S. 30, and U.S. 6....for the first six hours or so.  Then, we began to get nervous, counting the miles and the hours til closing time....and blew out a tire.
That was long ago and far away.  Before the monster hail storm that shattered the windshield and cratered the brittle dash.  Before Blake replaced one befogged headlight lens with three or four self tapping screws (Hurst Greenery was built with cordless DeWalt drills and stays together with 5/16" screws.) Before the right rear view mirror collided with....something.  But after I broke off the switch for the driver's side door light with my tennis shoe one harvest day while I was watching trucks dump with the door open. After the fan began to scream like a banshee. After several election cycles worth of losing bumper stickers.  Whilte trip by trip the steering wheel lost all but the most tenuous of connections with the front end of the vehicle. The final insult was the salesman asking if we were bringing our rumbling old red Dodge to market on a salvage title.....this travesty about the vehicle Blake published a paean to called "My Cherry Red".  
Now there's a big brown Longhorn in our driveway.  It has all the electronic gewgaws required to keep my husband hitched to the outside world of phone calls and emails and podcasts.  It has heated seats and vented seats and lord only knows how many cup holders.  The grandkids are already in love because what kids love are new things. Levi tells us he doesn't like cars, he likes trucks and has a truck in his garage; Kenzie moved his car seat to the Longhorn for the short drive to church Easter Sunday.  Gabe and Abbie joined him for the ride back to Spruce for Easter egg hunting.

Live it up, Longhorn. Now you're sitting pretty in the driveway.  But in a week or so you'll go to work.  And the coffee will spill and the bugs will splat and the dust will pile up on all that fancy trim. The odometer will whirl like a windmill and the interior will be redolent of cold fast food, not ArmorAll.

Welcome home.


Tuesday, March 22, 2016

By the People

"Shall I wear my fake leather jacket? Or my fake leather denim jacket?"

"Wha-at?" Aaron and I are getting ready to attend a reception up on Capitol Hill, in the Hart Senate Office building, and I'm asking his opinion.  The notion of a 'fake leather denim jacket' tickles him  enough that we repeat it several times before I decide on the plain ol'fake leather jacket for this first evening out of our trip to Washington, D.C. After careful consideration, he decides to upgrade from his travel attire to a fresh polo shirt in deference not only to any dignitaries we might come upon but also the significance of being in our nation's capital.  Our walk up the Mall is evidence of his earnestness and sincerity:  we talk about General Meade, the Taft Carillon, and the construction on the Capitol dome, while he frames various interesting architectural elements in the viewfinder of his phone.  Traversing the lobby of the Hart building opens another strand of conversation: about the massive Alexander Calder sculpture called Mountains and Clouds, the earthquake of 2011, and where the missing "clouds" are stashed while the entire installation is reinforced.  "Stabile-ized"so to speak.
Sure enough, Aaron sees two different influential Senators at the AgriPulse reception and is introduced to a former Secretary of Agriculture, John Block, from an administration so antique to Aaron's age cohort as to be not merely historic, but legendary.  The only way to top this intro to Washington DC is to stop at Johnny's Half Shell for supper (downstairs from both CSpan and Fox News DC Bureau) where there's a big crowd this Monday night.  Aaron and his Grandpa each clean up their bowls of lobster while straining to eavesdrop on yet another Senator's politically charged conversation at the neighboring table.
A walk down Pennsylvania Ave. is an exercise in geography and history.  Here on Freedom Plaza Pierre L'Enfant's grand scheme is easier to understand even if the spider web of radial streets strikes a sensible Midwestern boy as needlessly complicated.
Aaron chooses to be photographed in the "Red Room" of the White House after learning that the Oval Office was not included in the original building. And that's about as close as he gets; we can see the President's home from the far side of Lafayette Square and can pose for a picture on the only spot of dead grass available to tourists for an unobstructed view.  Aaron was unperturbed by the distance, being way more interested in the guys wearing the Secret Service vests just beyond the yellow tape.
This mix of current events and historical perspective is a hallmark of the Washington DC trip Missouri Farm Bureau puts together for the 70 to 80 members that attend. Like most tourists do, our group mingles with the crowds at the Lincoln and war memorials on a clear and quiet night.
 Per Aaron's request, we spend time in the Smithsonian museums examining meteorites and human origins, precious jewelry and gold nuggets, the physics of flight, and sea air operations, before tumbling round and round in a flight simulator.  He sits attentively through briefings about regulatory overreach, the economics of trade, and updates on a critical vote on GMO labeling:  issues of continuing concern for anyone in agriculture but not necessarily on the top ten list for 12 year olds.

In the Library of Congress, we are nose to the glass close to Thomas Jefferson's own books, his references on plants, on architecture, on philosophy and religion.  Senator Roy Blunt has his office in the same rooms Harry Truman used when he was a Senator and later, during the 82 days he was vice President. Time compresses in places like these, and the bright line between history and current events blurs.

Not every small town kid gets to eat breakfast with Congressmen and hear them call the folks around the table by their first names. Most folks would be surprised at the familiarity and frankness with which these elected officials speak in front of this particular group.  This get together doesn't feel like the bomb throwing, fist pounding version of Washington we see on the news every night; rather, we hear that this group of representatives works for common ground, aims for civility, and does cross the party divide on occasion. At least the ones that show up for breakfast with the Farm Bureau.
 To be twelve is to be old enough not just to learn historical facts, but to begin to feel a sense of history, to appreciate the past and compare it to the present.  To touch and visit our landmarks and monuments; to meet, even briefly, those who represent us and govern our country, is to become a participant in our nation, not a bystander, and thus to help bear the burden of the past and future. It's too soon to say whether Aaron will be a better leader because of this experience. But he will be a better citizen....

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Not Free Enough

It was right there on the label.


Because we have several family members who have celiac disease, I was thrilled to discover another cereal from a mainstream manufacturer to add to the various Chex rice and corn cereals.  Even a full spectrum of Chex flavors like vanilla, cinnamon, and chocolate leaves one longing for variety.  I thought I was getting ready to provide a real treat, a breakthrough in breakfast.  While I tend to cast a jaundiced eye on the eating public's current infatuation with all things gluten free, it's an ill wind that blows no good.  This latest fad makes it easier to find foods labeled gluten free without reading through all the fine print.  One need not hunt up a specialty health food store to find certain foods. Cooking and shopping for a person with celiac is both more convenient and less risky.

Except for when it isn't.  

Turns out that the oats in these new products meet these requirements:

"FDA labeling rules allow the use of oats as long as the finished food contains less than 20 parts per million of gluten, the standard applied to any gluten-free product."

"Prior to approval of the FDA’s labeling laws, only specialty gluten-free oats grown and processed in a precise way to prevent cross-contamination were permitted in foods labeled gluten free.

Due to the scarcity and higher cost of these specialty gluten-free oats, food manufacturers making gluten-free products are utilizing mechanical and optical sorting processes to separate stray wheat and barley from the oats prior to manufacturing. This includes General Mills’ Cheerios and Quaker’s gluten-free oatmeal."

Ok. So here's my interpretation of these developments.  First of all,  there are and have been actual gluten free oats for oatmeal and baking that will not make a celiac sick.  I have some in my freezer right now.  But, you don't have to read between the lines to figure out that oats produced in an uncontaminated environment are too expensive to attract moms who believe going "gluten free" is somehow better for their family's diet but will never know whether "gluten free" means 21 ppm or 200 ppm because their health does not depend on it.

(I get a kick out of the use of the term "scarcity".  Clearly, clean facilities currently exist to process oats to ensure they are free from barley and wheat, the main gluten culprits.  Are they running three shifts? Are they bidding up the price of oats in their area?  If they are, then there may be a temporary shortage of oats while the market adjusts to the increased demand.  But if General Mills and Post don't think the families of America will pay more for truly gluten free oats, then yes, I reckon there will continue to be scarcity.  Thus has it ever been.)

My excitement over the new gluten free additions to breakfast was short lived.  Turns out the FDA label requirements for defining gluten free are insufficiently rigorous: a sensitive celiac will get sick from eating the new Honey Bunches of Oats or Quaker Oats. The label Gluten Free isn't worth the cardboard box it is printed on.  A food label is intended to provide useful and helpful information.

Until it doesn't.

Talk of labeling reminds me of the current kerfuffle about GMO labeling.  We have a greenhouse customer who wants to know what to tell her clientele about our vegetable plants.  Some of her customers want to know if our tomatoes and peppers are GMO (they aren't) and if they are organic. (nope, we use a specially balanced chemical fertilizer to ensure our plants stay green...not purple!) Sure, it's OK to ask us these questions, but how on earth would these would-be gardeners know if their vegetable plants were GMO? Can they tell by looking?  By tasting?  (I certainly wish I would never consume another cabbage looper with my broccoli from the garden.) Whether the foods purchased at the grocery are labeled GMO or not labled GMO, no one is going to get sick or be hurt when they partake.  They will never know the difference between a slice of toast spread with GMO margarine and one spread with non GMO oleo...if such a thing existed.  No one has a GMO food allergy.  No scary warning label like the ones that proclaim baldly CONTAINS: MILK or NUTS or EGGS or SOY.

But the GLUTEN FREE label so carelessly plastered on the boxes of cereal does make people sick...it does make a mockery of the food safety and information imperative that labeling implies.  If a food label cannot be trusted, if it only exists as another marketing tool to differentiate one similar product from another, if the label doesn't keep people healthy, then what's the point?

NUT FREE should mean no nuts...safe for people allergic to nuts.

And GLUTEN FREE should mean no gluten...safe for celiacs...not just a way to participate in the latest food fight.

THAT would be truth  in labeling.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Where the Wild Things Are

"All I'm trying to do is raise food."

"Getting up in the morning and going to find the worst wreck is my job."

"The Klamath Straits drain settlement should have taken two years, not eighteen."

"They are terrified the Delta smelt will go extinct on their watch..."

"Like storm fronts and droughts, bad stuff hits the west coast first and heads toward Missouri sometime later. We’re now learning some of the lessons that you’ve known for years. In fact, I seriously considered calling my talk this afternoon: “Boy, it must suck to be you!” "
That last quote is Blake's, spoken as a farmer from the humid Midwest to the farmers, ranchers, irrigators and those representing them at the Family Farm Alliance conference last week. The other quotes are just a sampling what I heard around me from producers and those who work with them in the delicate balancing act that is agriculture in our arid Western lands. To grow food and fiber there is to face a daunting minefield of interests and an ever changing landscape of stakeholders with goals far removed from the homesteading and economic development promoted by the water projects, dams, and canals built by the Bureau of Reclamation in the twentieth century. The continuing and historic drought is but the most obvious obstacle; it is the one tenth of the iceberg on the surface. Under the water lurk the competing interests of Native American tribes, birds, fish, bears, butterflies, and the legions of attorneys and government agencies claiming to have their best interests at heart.
It is a complicated and dysfunctional world. Take that little fish, the Delta smelt. While being named an endangered species for more than a quarter of a century, its population has gone from bad to worse. There is no reason to hope that those responsible for its well being understand how to help the fisheries recover. While the pumps that supply water to agricultural users can be shut down if one single smelt is detected, the agencies counting the fish have killed 120 in order to "count" them as "data". The farmers can only watch as water allocations gyrate wildly from 90 percent reliability to 40 percent. Allocation this year will be zero. Again. Farmers who "watch as water goes by to the ocean" and 200,000 acres of farmland goes fallow are justified in questioning both the science and the process. "What....", asks a water district manager, "What if the extent of the 'best available science' are statements that begin 'we think....we feel'? We need a revolution in how the agencies (like the EPA and Fish and Wildlife) function. They are overwhelmed. They need a new way to implement the act; they are locked into a conservative...and destructive mode with a 26 year record of failure."
To farm and ranch in the West is walk a log bridge with saws going at both ends. It is to work in some of the most isolated and inhospitable landscapes or to be in the bullseye under a microscope waiting for your life to explode if a cruise missile of a court decision drops in from nowhere. All farmers and ranchers share their days with the birds of the air, the critters above and below ground, seen and unseen. Most of us needn't worry ourselves with an accurate enumeration of the voles, field mice, red tailed hawks, killdeer, ground squirrels, snakes, toads, bunnies: fauna of the fields and forests, fair and foul. But to farm around a signature species like the sage grouse is to engage in a delicate game. The folks of the Family Farm Alliance are quick to emphasize the partnership and collaboration between state and local officials and folks on the land. "State wildlife officials are the local country doctors of species conservation. " Compare this assessment with the case of the sage grouse in which the "people listing the grouse had never seen one". On a ranch where sheep graze over a 150 mile spread, one enumerator counted 12 grouse, while the rancher counted more than 180 and filmed them to boot. His maxim: "Where there's a herd, there's a bird." 
sheep and grouse pasturing together in Colorado
The disparity is no laughing matter.  Wolves and grizzly bears in Wyoming have met every criteria for recovery. They remain listed despite the $5500 per bear price tag the state pays to manage them. How can anyone, whether local, official, or Federal court, hope to make informed decisions about the welfare of wildlife and the land when we cannot agree on the data or a measure of success.
It's March in Missouri, the month when skeins of geese trace across the wind blown clouds, when the wild turkeys gather in the far corners of last year's soybean fields and bees venture from their hives on the warmest of afternoons. A foolishly premature butterfly crossed my path the other day and the rural routes tell (and smell!) of the skunks that left their burrows before they were truly awake. If one lives and works in the open country, these are the sights and sounds that enrich: the bounty of the flocks a reflection of the richness of the land. It's March, a month of wild gyrations of temperature and wind, a schizoid wobbling between winter and spring. We expect it; we deal with it; we grumble about it; we stumble through it into April when the normalcy of the calendar will reassert itself and planting of field and garden commence.

My neighbors will go to the fields without a ruling from Fish and Wildlife; we need not wait on a court's interpretation of a Biological Opinion. There may be too much moisture...or there may be too little, but the shortfall will be an act of God, not of man. Our neighbors in the West will continue to do the heavy lifting where the struggle between scarce water, wildlife and farmers is joined. They will deal every day with the "worst wreck", seek collaborative solutions and encourage voluntary species conservation in order to "connect the dots and work for solutions" and to "perpetuate the greatest story of America."
usually planted to wheat, tomatoes, or melons

Almond trees in bloom