This makes me sad. From the exchange of letters between CalPoly and Harris Ranch, Harris Ranch closes its letter with this:
Dr. Baker we still harbor significant concerns about the direction of the College of Agriculture at Cal Poly. And while we appreciate the last minute changes to the upcoming Pollan event, we believe this matter to be indicative of the disconnect that in our opinion currently exists between College of Agriculture at Cal Poly and the agriculture community. We challenge you to convince us otherwise. Finally, we hope you – and especially Dean Wehner – understand this Pollan issue is bigger than the executives at Harris ranch… it’s bigger than Cal Poly alumni involved in the animal production industry. This whole mess is having a profound impact not just on Cal Poly, but rather, on Ag schools across this great nation. We believe this is a wakeup call to those in academia. [my emphasis]
I went to CalPoly SLO. Took ag classes while I was there. Perhaps it has changed in the years since, but I tell you what. There is no disconnect between CalPoly academia and the agriculture community. There were two types of people in my classes, the sons of growers who were going back to the farm to become foremen and the sons of pickers. (No, not many daughters.) We went on multi-day field trips to my classmates’ farms. One of my classmates had never eaten store-bought meat until he got to college. (He thought it tasted awful.) Another one of my classmates was designing an industrial-sized carrot peeler for his dad’s farm, to better salvage and market carrots. Four years later I saw my first bag of “baby carrots” in a store. My classmates wore Wranglers with no ironic calculation. I once walked behind a pair of them who were strolling and talking; one was casually lassoing and releasing the other’s foot, in stride and in pace. The ag colleges at CalPoly are teaching ag kids.
The distance between CalPoly ag academia and the larger ag community is one personal phone call. That’s on the peer-to-peer professional level that the CalPoly dean describes in his letter. But it is also on the parent-child level. The ag community is as close to CalPoly ag academia as they are to their children; reports on lectures and teachings come out of classrooms and local knowledge about what is happening in the Valleys flow back in.
Which is why that last paragraph made me sad. He is right about the disconnect, but that gap isn’t between ag academia and the ag community. The disconnect he’s feeling is of conventional agriculture community losing their children. The next generation doesn’t want to farm like them anymore. I’ve eavesdropped on several conversations of growers and other ag professionals wondering who will replace them. They say that their kids laugh at the idea.
I can’t help but feel for the old generation. They achieved a lot! They made agriculture SO EFFICIENT. They lived better through chemistry. They seized the promise of the Green Revolution. They turned production into a science. They ran on the crappy efficiency/land consolidation/overproduction treadmill, and if they’re still standing, they were the best and hardest working. They built the system they live in everyday, understanding its reasons and being reassured by its familiarity. The good people, the hardworking people like them, live around them and accept the life. Why wouldn’t their children want it? Why would their children want to go to a talk by the man who is undermining the ag life they all know?
This poor guy. He probably does want CalPoly to go back to Before All This Sustainability Crap. But the urgency for him and his friends isn’t whether their beloved college hosts a lecturer. That is a symptom of the problem, which is that the kids would listen to Pollan in the first place. He’s right. It is infecting ag colleges everywhere. The real cause of the emotion and urgency is that their kids are leaving their way of life, which coincides with going to college. Even if their kids do (against very hard start-up barriers) find a way to farm, they may well farm like dirty hippies, which is Not The Same. I want the end of big ag in the Valleys as much as anyone does. But I still see why that ending is painful for the people who thought they were doing right when spent their lives turning farms into factories.
My personal take on the CalPoly/Harris Ranch/Pollan dust-up? I think everyone has behaved well. I think it is perfectly reasonable for Harris Ranch to say that they don’t want to give half-a-million dollars to a school that hosts lectures saying that what Harris Ranch does is wrong. I have no problem with the Pollan lecture being expanded to host a panel afterwards. CalPoly didn’t disinvite Pollan and doesn’t seem to be punishing out Prof. Rutherford. Seems to me that all sides are standing on legitimate ground.