On October 3, only two days after rancher John Cammack had enjoyed a day of fishing with his son under a cloudless western South Dakota sky, a massive frigid blizzard swept through his region, driven by winds gusting to 70 miles per hour.
Only when ranchers began digging out from drifts more than 8 feet deep did they realize the magnitude of their losses. Cammack’s family was lucky. They primarily raise bison, and bison have endured South Dakota blizzards for thousands of years. They also run cattle on their ranch, and were fortunate that their herd managed to find enough shelter to survive.
But they were surrounded by devastation. At last count, more than 43,000 cattle perished in that storm event.
A couple of weeks ago, at a gathering of buffalo ranchers in Rapid City, SD, Cammack narrated a photo presentation he recorded in the aftermath of the blizzard. When he came to a series of photos depicting dead livestock piled in ditches and along fence lines, the room fell silent. Cammack couldn’t speak. Nearly every eye in the audience was averted from the scene. It was simply too painful to watch.
Agriculture is a business. But it’s also personal. It’s about the bond that farmers and ranchers have with the land, and with the animals they raise. It’s about neighbors. And it’s about communities working together.
It’s what I love about being connected with farmers and ranchers every day.
But there is a price attached. And independent producers have paid that price this winter.
Farmers committed to keeping their animals in pastures are also committed to caring for those animals every day of the year. Many of those days this winter have been brutal, and not just in western South Dakota.
Right now, the Artic Vortex has driven temperatures below zero for weeks on end as calving season starts throughout much of the upper Midwest. Northeastern dairy farmers struggle to keep cows milked through each successive Nor’easter. Poultry producers in the Southeast fight to protect flocks from unprecedented ice storms.
Farm-to-table dinners have become popular in recent years as a way for people to reconnect with local farmers. These dinners are usually held outdoors on a warm summer’s evening, where guests are surrounded by verdant fields of crops and lush pastures filled with animals contentedly grazing. I love those dinners because they celebrate the bounty that independent farmers produce.
I just wish that we could find something comparable for this time of year. How about a “Put on some Carhartts and help me haul hay out through the driving snow” event? Probably would be hard to sell tickets for that one.
Next month, I’ll join about 60,000 other folks in an annual pilgrimage to Natural Products Expo West in sunny Anaheim, Calif. I love Expo, in large part because it showcases the entrepreneurs who bring natural and organic products to the marketplace. When wandering the trade show floor at Expo this year, don’t forget the perseverance of the unseen farmers and ranchers who make those products possible.
Note: anyone wanting to assist ranchers impacted by the October blizzard can donate to the Ranchers Relief fund at www.ranchersrelief.org