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Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Is Agriculture Viable? [NWSS, Baxter Black, Colorado Country Life]

My thoughts are revolving around some things I saw this last weekend, relating to the National Western Stock Show and Baxter Black, the cowboy poet.

We attended the National Western Stock Show as alpaca exhibitors for the first time this year. Having just come away from the experience last weekend, the images are fresh in my mind. We have been in the alpaca industry for several years now, have been to many shows, and as Coloradans are not unfamiliar with the 'Western culture'. With all these factors, I was surprised by a few things.

The "Western Culture" is Alive and Well!
The buildings and lots were near bursting with animals and people! Though it could be a bit frustrating waiting your turn at the gate to enter the lots, or navigating through the throngs of people in the aisle ways in the buildings, the active scene really showed that there are LOTS of ranches and farms out there and people who are interested in country / agriculture and livestock! So if you wonder if you are a "hick" and not part of the maintstream, this shows that 'country' is going strong! From the money flowing in the NWSS vendor area and by livestock exhibitors, I would say that the there is money to be spent by those who love the ranching way of life!

People WANT TO Know About Agriculture
Droves of people, ranging from 'newbees' to other livestock ranchers, came through the alpaca pen area and wanted to see, touch, and know more about them! I had several very enjoyable conversations with visitors, teaching them more about alpacas, the fiber they produce, and alpaca ranching -- even finding a few kindred spirits that I knew could place themselves in the 'alpaca lifestyle' and ENJOY it as much as we do! There is a reason for this desire that goes beyond rarity. People find alpacas not just approachable and 'cute' but also attainable -- especially with their personalities, versatility, size, and support by the alpaca community of fellow breeders. The comments by the visitors were positive and enthusiastic!

Education is NECESSARY to help people fully realize the benefits of agriculture (farming, ranching, "country living") and how alpacas can give this to them.
There are still some 'city slickers' that were enthralled with the looks and personalities of the alpacas but did not understand how fiber (the alpaca 'wool') was converted to yarn, and even how yarn or any other clothing thread was used to make garments and clothes. This makes me think to years ago when a friend said her daughter once asked her what fried chicken was made from and was shocked to find out it was from chickens! I was raised in a semi-country / semi-suburban environment by a father that also regularly hunted, so I saw early on where food 'came from' and witnessed the circle of life. Our children are raised the same way. But, we do not currently raise our meat, so I found myself bemused when our son protested that the cattle left outside the pens with straw but with a dusting of snow on their backs and in sub-freezing weather would be too cold. Also, as I spun the alpaca fiber into yarn, you could see people's faces light up with a joy at seeing something be created in front of their eyes! Understanding how the alpacas' fiber was spun into yarn and then used to create the very garment I was wearing was a thrill to many.

Baxter Black?
How does this all include Baxter Black you wonder? Well, I had just read a brief article about him in the Colorado Country Life called "Cows, Corn and Poetry". Baxter Black is a well known poet cowboy -- talking about real life things among country folk. But I was most impressed in this article by his staunch support of agriculture AND appreciation of how it benefited all of the U.S. The article let Black develop his support for agriculture with direct quotes as he thanked the small percentage of people of farms/ranches that produced the food for the rest of the nation and even provided for one of the last few exports America had. It was my clear impression that he steadfastly portrayed 'country folk' as good, honest people that are the cornerstone of our country.

Bring It Together...
At the Stock Show, I realized in the midst of the swirling eddies of people -- from fiber enthusiasts in their hand made garments, to the city slickers with their neat clothing (clean shoes) and lots of gear, and the cowboys and girls in their boots, spurs and hats -- that this is a great environment for bringing it all together!

I Challenge YOU!
So, that is my challenge to myself, and I present that to both fellow alpaca breeders and any 'newbees' thinking of getting in the business:

How are you going to make your (maybe potential) alpaca farm the best ambassador to others?

How are you going to make your business the most well rounded to reach out to the cowboys/cowgirls, the farmer, fiber enthusiast, and the city slicker?

Why is it not just good for you -- your 'country heart', your zen, your well-being, or whatever you want to call it -- but for your business, for the alpaca industry as whole, and even really for the country that we work towards this?