Wednesday, February 3, 2010


WARNING! A Smokey "self indulgent pontification!"
The USDA is a large, unwieldy, bureaucratic, political devil, but,"it's" local public servants can be down right Angels.

I frequently complain about and criticize the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). It is a politicized, bureaucratic, and often serpentine mess. Yes, the Washington based political wonks that manage this behemoth are often nothing short of idiots. But, I would like for us to take a step back, look out the window, far beyond the carpet lined office, and tell you about the oft forgotten men and women who work for the various agencies and departments of the USDA.

You see, once upon a time, the USDA was not only a proponent of the farm, but a valued source for methodology, economics, and stewardship. The "County Agent" was a member of the community, valued for his or her knowledge, ready to provide advice and education on planting, water resource
management, production, conservation or any manner of innumerable subjects. In recent times, they
have faded from the conscious of many. The bureaucratic "red tape", political wheeling, and, to some degree, the USDA's loss of mission has cast a pall that sometimes casts a shadow on these agents. AND too often, they themselves are ignored or forgotten by "the parent".

I recently attended a major national event by the Grazing Lands Conservation Initiative (GLCI). The theme of the conference was "To heighten awareness of the economic and environmental effects of grazing lands". I went to this event with quite a bit of skepticism because the main sponsors were the various departments of the USDA and from the Department of the Interior (DOI). "Probably a grand propaganda event" I was thinking. Boy was I wrong!

The GLCI event was four action packed days of learning sessions, break out groups, and totally geared toward sustainable livestock management. Most of the speakers were the aforementioned "County Agents" and do they know "their stuff". I came away impressed with not only their scientific knowledge, but also with the depth of their "on the ground" experience. As the old saying goes: "they all had dirty fingernails". There was not a single policy or political wonk to be found. In fact, most of the attendees were equally divided between these government employees and individual ranchers like myself. Everyone, and I mean everyone, in attendance had one goal in mind, sustainability. (Ok, enough of the conference stuff...visit the GLCI site if you want to learn more.)

My real point is as follows. In getting our family ranch re-started I have pestered and cajoled my local USDA agents mercilessly. In every instance, they have responded professionally, timely, and courteously. In fact they have "bent over backwards" to help, provide assistance, or get the information I needed. Representatives of the NRCS, SRM, and ARS have not only provided information, but have personally visited the ranch to inspect and gather help ME. These men and women have taken soil and water samples, surveyed and measured, and provided detailed recommendations. They then call regularly to see how things are going or if I have any new issues. Whenever we have had a success, they were right there celebrating with me and when things haven't gone as planned, they said "let me make some calls and I will get back to you with a possible solution"...and they did. For all of this I have paid...NOTHING!(if you don't count my income taxes):)

I thought I was just lucky that my county had some out of the ordinary USDA folks. The GLCI conference opened my eyes. I quickly learned that no matter where you are from, these "boots on the ground" professionals all have the same help and serve the individual

So, while I do not trust or respect the USDA as policy friendly toward the "little guy", I do trust my local County Agents. When it comes to actually caring about the success of the local farmer or rancher, these men and women are absolute ANGELS.

More Info:
"HOPE on the RANGE Video
By SRM (Society for Range Management)

Photos courtesy of NRCS

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

I'd Like to Buy the World A...Glucose Meter

The 1971 Soda Pop commercial filled our hearts with love and made the makers of diabetic supplies rich.

So, what are you drinking right now? Did you know that recent studies show that the average person drinks 50 gallons of soda a year? That is a little more than 533 twelve ounce cans per year and comes out to a daily average of nearly 18 ounces per day. Soft drinks are one of the largest single sources of calories in the diet of every American accounting for up to 7 percent and for teenagers, even higher at approximately 13%. What does this mean? To put into perspective, these numbers reflect roughly 60,000 EMPTY calories per year...calories that provide little or no nutritional value, but are often stored as sugars in our bodies.

Soda is one of the largest contributors of caloric intake in society today. As we all know, extra calories mean extra weight and that leads to health problems. Problems related to the heart, tooth decay, and Type 2 Diabetes (formerly called "Adult Onset").

OK, so nobody ever said that soft drinks were a health food. But a highly debated 2004 Harvard study concluded that in addition to the bad things we already know about sodas, they may be directly contributing to the nation's increase in diabetes. Since 1980, the incidence of type-2 diabetes has more than doubled  according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and now represents about 6% of the total population. AND,  about the majority of that increase has come in just the last 10 years.

No one is saying that our thirst for the carbonated "sugar shots" are the sole cause of the nation's growing number of jello butts and spare tire bellies. But, it is hard not to correlate the huge increase in diabetic incidence to the rise in obesity.

The bottom line here is that you need to analyze everything you eat and drink. You do not have to give up sodas entirely, but enjoy them responsibly and save them as a rare they were originally intended.

Diet Sodas Linked with Health Risks  

Zero calories, same great taste (and heart risks)

And a Companion Piece from the Wellness Tips Blog
Diet Intervention for Overweight and Obese Kids