Naturally

Stewardship without government
Prediction: you’re about to see some unusual partnerships
forming over land stewardship in the area. In fact, if you’re
looking closely enough, the first of these pioneering mixed
marriages are already quietly making themselves felt.
Stewardship without government

Prediction: you’re about to see some unusual partnerships forming over land stewardship in the area. In fact, if you’re looking closely enough, the first of these pioneering mixed marriages are already quietly making themselves felt.

At the San Benito County Fair last week, I smiled as I passed a battered pickup truck that had a few bumper stickers serving the dual purpose of anchoring its rust and upbraiding that environmental bogeyman – the Sierra Club.

I smiled because I was on my way into the main pavilion to help a few farmers put together a booth for the San Benito County Agricultural Land Trust (SBALT). While I do not belong to the Sierra Club, I’m certainly guilty of concern for the environment. So are the growers whose booth we were working together to assemble.

SBALT offers growers completely voluntary financial mechanisms that give them powerful options for the management of their land. Good things can happen financially when a person with a commitment to agriculture agrees to commit his land to agriculture. That makes the trust a candle for the environmentalist moths with brains enough to realize that environmentally significant resources need not be owned and controlled by the government to remain valuable.

In fact, much of our view shed is privately held as land that remains productive to its owners and to us all through the owners’ property tax contributions. That’s a good thing.

Honestly, we all know most people with deep ties to agriculture or the environment aren’t ready for partnerships, but as SBALT illustrates, some farmers and ranchers are making the first move.

But a few generations of mistrust remain – along with those inflammatory bumper stickers. (Even I think the one that reads “Earth First! We’ll log Mars later” is pretty funny.)

I’m used to the well-meaning jibes from friends who think I’m opposed to sport hunting (wrong), or that I carry the water for any particular group’s agenda, or that I’m some sort of Big Government lackey.

Actually, that last one does get under my skin a little, because it’s pretty obvious that government is ill equipped to run more of our lives. Those folks seem pretty busy with what they’ve bitten off already. And that’s one of the most compelling reasons that we’ll all stop waiting for somebody from government to bail us out and start forming some healthy, productive partnerships.

That’s a lesson for the environmentalists: government can’t help. And perhaps a few farmers and ranchers might need to understand that the way Daddy did it isn’t the only way, and that there may be better alternatives available.

Creative alliances are nothing new. Commercial fishermen, sport fishermen and enviros joined forces to protect waterflow through the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta with some success. We’ll all be better served by looking in some new places for partners in interest.

Mostly, all parties need to start talking before progress becomes more widespread. Our shared values, our ties to the land, are already ample common ground.

Best Bet

In the spirit of partnerships, the best way you can spend this Sunday afternoon is at the Harvest Fair at St. Francis Retreat, just outside San Juan Bautista. From 1-4 p.m., local growers, ranchers, food-lovers and naturalists will get together to show off the things they love. There will be lots of locally produced food, things to do and friendly people.

This is the second year the fair has taken place. Brother Keith Warner, who is a member of the retreat staff, planted the seed for the Harvest Fair, and even he’s expressed surprise at the way his idea is growing, now that its roots are firmly established in the rich soil of some new ideas.

In a delightful way, the Harvest Fair proves my point about how shared interests will ultimately bring us together where they once tore us apart.

Mark Paxton lives in Hollister and works in Morgan Hill. His e-mail address is [email protected]

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