Tony Vagneur: Farmers, ranchers have been going green for centuries

Tony Vagneur
Saddle Sore

According to an Aspen Times report, there’s been a big flap over at the school about politics, climate change and unhappy parents. That sounds about how it was when I went to school in Aspen, although it’s tough to remember what might have been the big deal instead of climate change. But you know, it was something. It always is.

I have a photo of a certain school board meeting, 1950s or ’60s, I can’t remember for certain, showing superintendent and local boy Lowell Elisha, and others, including my father, who thought the concept of outdoor education should be implemented in the schools. My dad, who brought it up with the board, thought it was a great idea and I remember him talking about it a lot at the dinner table. The school finally adopted the idea, although surprisingly, it was not an easy sell — some entrenched parents were stridently opposed to the idea.

We get cranked up today over climate change, and no matter what you believe, there are arguments on both sides, although there is a tendency to shout (or shame) the other side down rather than the exchange of ideas. Either side can claim scientific backing, although it would appear that the closest some people on this — or that — side ever get to “science” is looking it up in the dictionary.

Lying under the surface, however, are other statistics (is/are statistics a science?) that are eminently disturbing and of which, it would appear, the overall populace is unaware.

In today’s world, approximately 76,000 farms/ranches in this country produce 80% of the food and fiber that feeds America and also help enormously to balance the trade deficit. Agriculture and its related processing and distribution is, no matter what Silicon Valley thinks, still the largest industry in the country. Out of an estimated U.S. population of 329 million, 76,000 people are responsible for all of that? If you think huge corporate farms are largely responsible, think again. Ninety-six percent of all farms and ranches in the United State are family-owned.

To quote cowboy/hunter/philosopher Hank Vogler, “These producers’ average age is higher than most retirement communities. A little flu epidemic could grind food production to a halt.” By my estimation and under the right circumstances, the human world, as we know it, could be in dire straits sooner than the oftentimes predicted 12 years from now.

If you remember, it was only a few years ago when many in the Roaring Fork Valley were approaching near panic when closed roads were preventing food delivery to grocery stores and restaurants in the valley. This one incident pointed out how quickly an emergency can arise out of the blue from factors beyond our control. How long can your household last without a trip to the store or eatery?

Around big cities and liberal western communities, there is a notion that the middle of the country, those farmers and ranchers in Iowa, Nebraska, Montana, Wyoming, Idaho and dare I say it, that miniscule few of us left in Pitkin County, don’t get it, don’t get the big picture. For those who think that way, maybe we don’t get it in your terms, but without us, it wouldn’t really matter who gets what.

Green jobs, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, are classified as, “jobs in business that produce goods or services that benefit the environment or conserve natural resources” or “jobs in which workers’ duties involve making their establishment’s production processes more environmentally friendly or use fewer natural resources.”

According to a 2010 survey done by PR Newswire, “Park rangers were the clear leader when consumers were asked to choose green professionals. However, there was no statistically significant difference between the second greenest profession, dietitians and cattle ranchers and farmers.”

Today, “green” jobs in the agriculture community are increasing at an ever-faster pace, not only in this country, but world-wide. The raising of green-foliage plants and maintenance of grazing lands are two of the greatest contributors to the storing of CO2 in the earth.

Before we write off that guy in bib overalls with a stalk of grass hanging from his mouth, planting hundreds of acres of green crops or a similar guy astride his horse, pushing cattle through mountain pastures, maybe we should re-think who actually “gets” it.

Those farmers and ranchers don’t just talk about “carbon,” climate change and draconian measures we need to take, they’re actually doing some things that, with continued and further technological advances, can help us cool the Earth. If that’s what we really want to do. And along the way, those same guys will continue to put food on our tables, giving us time to consider our role in the planet’s future.

As Yogi Berra once said, “The future ain’t what it used to be.”

Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at