Ag summit highlights local food
Buffalo – Legislation, wolves, restaurants and ranch humor blended together in the third annual Women’s Agriculture Summit.
The summit, held Jan. 26 in Buffalo, brought together ranching women who heard four great speakers and had the opportunity to network and shop at several vendor booths.
The event was organized by the Johnson County Cattlewoman and made possible by a many generous sponsors.
Look at legislation
Liz Lauck, communications and publications director for the Wyoming Stock Growers Association, presented an informative program regarding current legislative issues affecting agriculture in Wyoming.
Lauck also touched on national issues of concern over the next four years.
“Generally speaking, agriculture does not really expect much from Congress until the budget fight is over,” she said. “We are waiting to see who will be appointed as Secretary of the Department of the Interior, and who will be head of the EPA. With USDA Secretary Vilsack staying, we expect more of the same, and he has been reasonably good to work with.”
Lauck indicated that climate change could be a big issue.
“We are concerned the EPA will be regulating ‘climate change’ rules at their level, not through Congress, so people in agriculture will need to keep an especially sharp eye on the EPA at all times,” she explained.
She added that although EPA has backed off on the dust rule, which would have regulated dust from ag activities, it’s wise to continue to be vigilant.
Lauck mentioned the farm bill, or lack thereof, authorized limited disaster assistance for 2012 and 2013, which includes livestock indemnity payments of $80 million, $400 million for livestock forage disaster and $50 for emergency assistance for livestock. The funding is subject to receiving money from the Appropriations Committee.”
She concluded the speech by urging people to become involved by contacting their legislators or going to testify in Cheyenne.
“Contact the field office of your Congressmen, and be involved at both the state and national levels,” she emphasized. “Keep informed.”
Chefs and ranchers unite
Chef Victor Matthews addressed a topic that’s becoming increasingly popular today: local food.
Matthews, who donned his chef’s uniform for the lecture, has an impressive list of credentials, including numerous awards and 15 competition medals. He was named youngest four-star chef in Louisiana, founded the Culinary Institute of New Orleans and then founded the Paragon Culinary School. He owns Black Bear Restaurant in Green Mountain Falls, Colo.
Though his list of accomplishments is long, one thing is especially apparent – he cares a lot about food and the people who eat it.
“I grew up on a farm in North Carolina, but I was the most un-country of kids,” he chuckled. “I left the farm and trained in North Carolina to be a chef. But after a few years, I looked for really good things to cook, and I couldn’t find any.”
Matthews continued, “I thought back to the farm and all the great food there. One-hundred years ago, a chef would venture out and talk to farmers, ranchers, look at some sheep and talk about what they wanted them to be fed. I realized that wasn’t happening anymore, and it made me realize that the people who raised animals for food and the people who cook the meat aren’t connected at all.”
Where meat comes from
Matthews said he looked at a box of cryo-packed beef and wanted to find out what farm it came from. He talked to the distributor who told him it was impossible to identify where a box of meat came from.
“Then I finally went up the chain of command and got the person who organizes all the beef. Again, it was impossible. If you pass the distributor and go to the processor, again, there’s no way to know about the animals that are processed,” he explained. “There is a huge roadblock between the farmer and the chef.”
The creative chef lamented that the rancher/farmer and the chef are the two biggest pieces of the puzzle, yet rarely get a chance to meet.
“We should be saying ‘How can we work together?’ ‘How can we make our customer happier?’” he said, adding, “so now I am doing all the legwork.”
He agrees it’s difficult for a small producer to provide enough product.
“But if 30 or 40 of ranchers or farmers could come together and form a co-op, that sometimes can work,” he said, adding that if the middlemen are taken out, both the farmer, the chef and the small processor will benefit.
Matthews noted that it’s becoming increasingly important for customers to know their food’s origin, especially in restaurants.
“I’ve found this with steaks that are priced between $15 and $35. Diners like to know where it comes from and how the animal was raised,” he commented. “The more ‘local’ and the more you know about the rancher, the more they like it.”
Matthews, whose Paragon Culinary Institute teaches chefs-to-be everything they need to know about the business, urges more women to become chefs.
“We need real chefs, not celebrities, but real, hard-working chefs who take care of the public,” he said. “People would rather pay more and know more. Chefs want that information. I love the idea of the customer getting high-quality food and the rancher getting more money.“
The Women’s Ag Summit also hosted brothers J.D. and Cody King, who’s award-winning documentary Crying Wolf has earned high praise, especially from those directly affected by wolf re-introduction programs.
J.D. noted that the Greater Yellowstone elk herd has decreased by 90 percent since wolf-reintroduction, and he expects moose will be on the Endangered Species List in two to five years.
“Of course, you have environmental groups now switching from wolves to moose being endangered to get more money,” he explained. “They’ve received a three-year grant to study the decline of moose, but it’s very obvious. The moose declined drastically with the increase in wolves.”
The documentary uses statistics and historical accounts to show the devastation of wildlife and livestock since wolves were re-introduced and covers the duplicity of government officials involved in reintroduction, some secretive.
King pointed out that the latest ploy for environmental groups to gain control of the wilderness is a disease that was already in the re-introduced wolves caused by tapeworms, which is lethal to game and humans.
“Two-thirds of the wolves have it, and the game herds now have it. It’s only a matter of time until it’s believed that it’s too dangerous for humans’ health to go into the wilderness,” he said.
The King brothers are currently working on a new film, Axed: The End of Green.