Farming on the edge . . . of change
A Conversation with Mike Gale
Mike Gale is the new president of the Marin County Farm Bureau. He also sits on the board of both Marin Organic and the Center for Sustainable Agriculture. Mike and his wife Sally raise grass-fed beef cattle, organic apples, and heirloom tomatoes. Between the two of them and all the farming they do, they have an excellent grasp of the history and future of agriculture in Marin County. Below are some thoughts and gleanings from my conversation with Mike.
Mike has recently become president of our Marin County Farm Bureau (MCFB), and I asked him what his plans are as president:
"I would like to let people know that the ranchers and farmers in West Marin are serious about our work here. We put in long hours. This is our home and center of our family life. We operate the business of agriculture and we need to make a living, just like people with other careers. Our homes depend on how well we do, our families depend on us, and those that enjoy the food we grow need us. Farm Bureau and the other organizations that Sally and I belong to all help to keep us in business."
Driving through the agricultural pastures and valleys of West Marin at first glance showcases a pastoral wonderland of contented lazy cows and diverse and timeless landscapes. Behind the curtain of these scenes are hard-working men, women, and kids engaged in the day-to-day acts of keeping their farms and families going. Casually, one sees the beautiful exterior, and we sometimes miss the blood, sweat and tears that form the body of agriculture. I asked Mike about some of the issues on his mind:
"You know, one of the things about our survival is that we need to figure out how to keep farming with all these pressures on us. Our location is a mixed blessing; we are next to a fantastic population for direct marketing, with affluent educated consumers. But on the other hand, we have intense environmental scrutiny, increasing regulations, and the pressures of maintaining a livelihood in "Marin's back yard." These are all real issues and dealing with them takes us away from what we do best: grow food. I am hoping that all the farmers and ranchers can come together through our organizations to talk about and sort out these issues."
Marin agriculture is becoming increasingly diversified, although the trend has been in progress for some years. Organic row crop farmers have been joined by organic dairy farmers, traditional families branching into grass-fed livestock, new entry agriculturists experimenting with cheese, and added-value processors, to name a few. Mike commented:
"Well, as for Farm Bureau, we would like to be inclusive of all of our farmers and ranchers. There are different kinds of farmers here, from the small acreage guys up to the dairies. The key here is for all of us to unite and get together on issues and find some common ground. I know this sounds a little idealistic, but Sally and I both feel that it is a risk we need to take. Farm Bureau could be a place, or a forum, where ideas and issues can be discussed. We are hoping that Farm Bureau will be more things for more people
Mike has a cautious yet ambitious agenda, and I appreciate both his and Sally's time, dedication, and work on securing a future for Marin agriculture. I asked them about the future for farming and ranching here.
"We really believe that diversification will play a big part. We are hopeful for the adoption of new ideas in the dairy community, like joining together with cheesemakers to provide milk for an exceptional regional cheese industry, things like that. Diversification is growing and farmers and ranchers are becoming more open for these kinds of changes. I think that it is important for us to realize that we have all we need to survive by blending these new trends with our family ranching traditions. We are farming on the edge of change, and working together on these important issues can be a bridge. All we need to do now is cross that bridge."
---Steve Quirt, UCCE