David Zirnhelt is looking forward to the Manitoba Grasslands and Forage Association’s online presentations in November, including Diana Rodgers’s documentary, “Sacred Cow.” (Quesnel Cariboo Observer File Photo)

David Zirnhelt is looking forward to the Manitoba Grasslands and Forage Association’s online presentations in November, including Diana Rodgers’s documentary, “Sacred Cow.” (Quesnel Cariboo Observer File Photo)

Ranch Musings: Sometimes there are great moments of remembering

Columnist David Zirnhelt reflects on our food system

David Zirnhelt

Observer Contributor

One of the great benefits of isolation and staying in place, brought to us by the pandemic, is time to reflect, observe and enjoy.

Let me set the tone here by an extensive quote from the famous American agrarian writer and poet Wendell Berry, who at the very end of his book, The Gift of Good Land (1981), wrote this about trading off technologies and the impacts of what they bring: “that is not to suggest that we can live harmlessly, or strictly at our own expense: We depend upon other creatures and survive by their deaths. To live, we must daily break the body and shed the blood of Creation. When we do this knowingly, lovingly, skillfully, reverently, it is a sacrament. When we do it ignorantly, greedily, clumsily, destructively, it is a desecration. In such desecration, we condemn ourselves to spiritual and moral loneliness and others to want. This is about how we feed ourselves and others and at what cost.”

A few weeks back, I exited an impromptu drop-in by neighbours who had been kayaking on the lakes below our ranch. These were our adult children’s contemporaries, so I didn’t think they would know I departed for a part of an hour to my desk and a conference call.

As I left, the group had a great laugh because a 10-year old grandson remarked that I probably left because someone must be talking about “soil” in the next room, thus necessitating my exit.

Upon being told of why there was the laughter when I departed, I too saw the humour. However, the grandson had obviously picked up on what was important to me and made that a great moment.

A recently published book by Tom Philpott called Perilous Bounty: The Looming Collapse of American Farming and How We Can Prevent It, a scathing indictment of Big Ag, suggests that outsiders to agriculture see that our need to dominate nature has made some of us rich but will not feed our grandchildren.

Midwest farmers are going to drive off an ecological cliff (with huge water and soil consumption), the author says, but before that happens, readers/citizens need to advocate for a more balanced approach to farming and ranching: fewer Confined Agriculture Farming Operations and more mixed crop/livestock farms; less monocultures and more cover crops; more local markets and fewer subsidies that promote transnational corporations.

I confess, I haven’t read this book, but it will soon be on my bookshelf.

In the meantime, the Manitoba Forage and Grasslands Association has planned four online presentations during the month of November. This is a rebranding of their recent annual in-person conferences.

They will feature many great speakers in the field of regenerative agriculture, including a first presentation by Diana Rodgers of her documentary called “Sacred Cow,” which explores the important role of animals in our food system.

She asks whether there can be a healthy, sustainable and conscientious food system without animals. That seems to me to be a fundamental question.

David Zirnhelt is a rancher and member of the Cariboo Cattlemen’s Association. He is also chair of the Advisory Committee for the Applied Sustainable Ranching Program at Thompson Rivers University Williams Lake.

READ MORE: RANCH MUSINGS: Technology and visions for the future in food and agriculture

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