"As an industry we love to attack vegans. And some vegans make it a point to attack us. I have been guilty of it myself. However it is pointless. Both sides are equally passionate about our beliefs. We’re never going to change each other’s minds by making personal attacks, insults and using poor research. If anything, it just reaffirms our stereotypes."
Megan Brown first came to my attention on Facebook. She owned a tea cup pig and liked to talk about it. I traced her to her blog - www.thebeefjar.com - where she advocates about food as well as 'agvocates' about agriculture. She's a self-proclaimed farm girl whose family has been tilling soil and raising cattle in Northern California for generations.
But somewhere along the line, she went astray. She became fascinated by a disappearing strain of hogs called red wattles. To the mortification of her cattleman father, she started sneaking them onto the ranch. He's coming around, though, grudgingly accepting his errant daughter's new passion in life.
She applied to be one of the Faces of Farming and Ranching through the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance. She just missed the cut which is a shame. Her lively, new-generation take on modern ranch life certainly would have put an interesting twist on what so many urban folk see as a staid and somewhat boring and poorly understood pursuit. Too many of them see ranch life as the dominion of old, white guys who chew tobacco and spurn city life as the devil's own pursuit.
Reading about a young woman who loves agriculture and has a hands-on, dirty-boots-and-blue-jeans attitude about it would certainly upset their bad, GMO-laden apple cart concept.
Trying for a face-to-face or telephone interview, I've been chasing a few minutes with her for over a year. Trying to match travel schedules didn't work. With her over-active lifestyle, getting her on the phone was a problem, too. Last week, I emailed a set of questions to her. . .seemed to be the best way to get it done. She answered a few days later, apologizing for the delay because a hectic ranch life sometimes interrupts the best made plans.
Q. Let's start by talking about your life. Are you a (A) hog farmer, (B) cattle rancher, (C) 'agvocate' or (D) aspiring politician?
A. E, all of the above. My first love will always be the cattle - they have sustained our family for generations so obviously I have a deep love, respect and passion for cattle. The pigs started out as a hobby but it’s developed into far more than that. I absolutely spoiled myself on red wattle meat and can never go back. My friends and family feel the same way and have demanded I get bigger so I can supply them with meat.
This enabled me to quit my town job and make enough income to dedicate myself fully to the ranch. In terms of being an 'agvocate,' I believe that everyone who is involved with farming and ranching is an advocate for our way of life. It is in our best interest to show and tell what we do so others don’t. And someday when I am older and have far more experience I hope to take this message into politics.
Q. What is this thing you have with Doug LaMalfa (R), California's first district congressional representative?
A. I’m glad you asked! Congressman LaMalfa has based his campaign on being “one of us” and urges his constituents to reach out to him on social media. I started reaching out and engaging him with valid concerns and questions, several years ago and I got little to no response. If you market yourself as being accessible and an everyman to get elected, you should follow through and act that way when you are in office.
Congressman LaMalfa could do a much better job and I think it is important for our community to realize that. He’s been flying under the proverbial radar for so long, I think community members need to start drawing attention to his actions so we can improve our leadership and representation. Plus as a fellow farmer it is embarrassing to me to see how flippant he is about our environment, it makes us all look bad during a time when farmers and ranchers should be doing all we can to show how much we depend and care about it.
Q. About your agvocating - do you focus on animal welfare, women in agriculture, the gloriousness of raising pigs or the delightful times spent herding cattle?
A. I attempt to focus my agvocating on as many aspects as I can. I am lucky that I have so much to share. I find I tend to focus on whatever is the hot topic at the time. Recently it feels like being a woman in agriculture has been getting more attention. I have had several publications and writers contact me about what it’s like to be a women in agriculture. I tell them no matter what gender you are, production agriculture is a challenging career.
It also depends on the time of year. In the summer I tend to be around the cows constantly, and the winter I am more focused on the hogs. I think it all evens out in the end though.
Q. Has your father accepted your love of red wattles or is he still an old school cattleman humoring you?
A. Oh I think he’s given in to the hogside, I mean darkside. I did ask him about it and instead of complaining like he used to, he just kinda shrugs and mumbles. It’s taken 3 years to convince him that I am successful and serious about my hogs. But now, he refuses to eat pork that I didn’t raise and he helped me install my new watering system in my hog pen. And anytime he has a friend over, he starts extolling the virtues of red wattle hogs, so at this point his actions speak far louder than his words.
Q. What do you feed your pigs? It looks like chocolate chip cookies and cheese Danish. Have you cleared their diet with the folks at U.C.-Davis?
A. I feed my pigs a mixture of things, but the base is a hog chow that I have made at our local feed mill. The grower is 16% protein and the finisher is 14% protein. They also get day old cookies and pastries. The pigs love the extra treats and I love that I am helping with food waste in my area. I think the pastries give the meat a nutty flavor that is really hard to beat!
Q. Let's talk about Silly, your family pet. At first, I thought Silly was short for Sylvester until I found out she was a girl pig. You haven't talked about her lately. At the risk of asking about something that might now be hams and bacon, how is she doing?
A. Silly is doing great! I should clarify that Silly, aka Priscilla, is my pet “teacup pig”. I stopped mentioning her so much on social media because sometimes it isn’t worth the trouble. People love to point out how big she is or tease me about eating her, and after two years of it,
I’m worn out. I now prefer for people to meet her in person, she’s spectacular! She’ll shake your hand, spin left and right, sit, and jump up. She makes quite an impression on visitors.
Q. Industry debating points: Vegans, animal welfare, hormones, all natural, antibiotics, organic, GMOs - pick two or more and rant away.
A. Organic marketing drives me crazy. So much of our population believes that organic means healthier, better, more sustainable - they have been greenwashed. Now, most of us in production agriculture, understand that farming is not as simple as these labels make it out to be. For example, I cherry-pick from all methods of ag so I can use the best technology I can. My land and animals are better because I used multiple niches.
What really gets me is when certified organic growers perpetuate the greenwashing myth. Instead of correcting consumers, they passively let the fallacies pass them by. I see this happening with the RoundUp® video that is going around, the one where Patrick Moore refused to drink a glass of RoundUp®. I certainly wouldn’t drink a glass of organic pesticides - but you don’t see anyone posting videos about that. Often these growers claim that their co-op is the one making the advertising choices, so they really have no control over what is going on. I think that is a cop-out.
I think this behavior just hurts all of agriculture because our consumers are not dumb. Eventually some will figure out that a label doesn’t always make things better.
Vegans. . .as an industry we love to attack vegans. And some vegans make it a point to attack us. I have been guilty of it myself. However it is pointless. Both sides are equally passionate about our beliefs. We’re never going to change each other’s minds by making personal attacks, insults and using poor research. If anything, it just reaffirms our stereotypes.
I think we need to talk about how we can find a mutual respect for each other. Granted, we are always going to have those wildcards, but I think we need to stop perpetuating this false dichotomy. As a cattle rancher, vegans benefit from what I do. If it wasn’t for my cattle and their poo, we’d be using more chemical fertilizers. Also, in my part of the state, cattle people use land that cannot be farmed for other crops. I benefit from the vegans because the waste their food generates can often be fed to my animals.
By sharing how both groups benefit from each other I think we can move past the petty attacks and insults and work for better solutions to common problems.
Q. You seem to have a fondness for food. Several people have spied you hanging around Five Guys. Where else do you go? Are there places you refuse to enter? What drives your lunch, brunch and dinner decisions?
A. I love food. It’s my happy place. When I’m eating, I’m planning my next meal. I love to cook and am pretty good at it! I really wanted to go to culinary school, but I knew getting my B.S. in Ag Business would be a better decision for my future. Since I am a cattlewoman, I am always looking for great hamburgers! I love to do tastes tests so Five Guys, In-n-Out, all those burger joints are always fun to try!
In terms of what drives my eating decisions it’s generally based on a few things. I love to support local restaurants, so with exception of my burger quest, I tend to stick with non-chain places. The only place I refuse to enter is Chipotle, I am not a fan of their politics in ag and, living in California, I have access to way better Mexican food.
Q. Let's assume you're running for office. What's your 60 second stump speech?
A. (um...this was sooooo hard for me to write)
My name is Megan Brown and I am lifelong member of this community. In addition to that, my family’s ranching roots reach back many generations in this area. That is one of the many reason’s why I want to run for office, I want generations of my family to look back and be proud of the role I played in leaving a better community for them. Just like I have been able to do.
This area of California is blessed with many resources that make it an amazing place to call home; from our multiple colleges and universities, to our agriculture and natural resources, to the very people that live here.
We live in a delicate time, where we can use our technology, education and power to leave our world better. I’d like to do that. I’d love to use my knowledge and influence to better our education system, to make sure our natural resources are protected, yet at the same time ensure our local agricultural community can thrive.
I am passionate about Northern California, and our way of life here. We deserve representation that reflects our beliefs and way of life. I know I am that person. Please give me a chance to show how much this area means to me and my family.