Sunday, April 12, 2009

To Make a Prairie--Part IV, A Culture of Advocacy

Since the book came out a little more than a month ago, I have begun to hear about ranchers and grass farmers who are finding ways to raise their livestock while bringing their land back to health. Readers call and tell me about a man they know who is following the Holistic Range Management methods of Allan Savory or that a small group of producers in a local region have made the transition. (Here is a 2005 posting by prairie blogger, Claude-Jean Harel on a producer using these methods near Saltcoats, Sk.) Most of these landowners are not able to identify the birds on their land but they say they are seeing some native grasses and forbs return to their pastures and they are sure that the wildlife is benefiting.

These reports about the people who are raising our food are a source of hope, but just as important are the choices the rest of us make as consumers and engaged citizens. I sometimes catch myself thinking of the agricultural producer-consumer equation entirely within economic terms, forgetting that people are moved, inspired by more than financial incentives and dis-incentives. Any successes we have had on environmental issues in recent years--whether it is the recovery of the bald eagle, protection of whales, improved forestry methods, elimination of pesticides and other toxins--have come from advocacy, fervent defense of the otherwise defenseless.

Much of that leadership has happened in places other than the Great Plains, in larger centres where the population base has more readily fostered a culture of advocacy. Prairie people have, sometimes with good reason, been suspicious of the environmental movement, concerned that outsiders were going to be telling us what to do with our land. Traditional urban-based environmental advocacy doesn't work here, but what might be helpful would be a respectful alliance between people who produce our food--who after all want to do their best by the land they use--and the people who eat it. Not sure how exactly that plays out, but I have a hunch that a prairie-grown culture of advocacy might start with the voices of our artists, writers, and musicians.

In the mean time, I want to get out there this summer and visit some of these farms and ranches I have been hearing about--particularly grass farmers who are restoring land once under crop. If you know of any producers who are finding more ecologically sound ways to graze their land, drop me a line at I am making a list and it is getting longer all the time.

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