February 26th, 2010



Today is Go Texan! Day.

When I told Graham this fact this morning, he grumbled that it isn't even football season. "No, silly. This has nothing to do with the Texans. Rodeo starts this weekend! The cookoff starts tonight! The parade is tomorrow!" My concession to the holiday was to throw on a suede jacket over my clothes.

Half the city (usually the people who didn't grow up here) has no idea what Go Texan Day is, but that's ok. They eventually notice that everyone's dressing a little funny and traffic is high around the Reliant Center and there are horses in Memorial Park and think, oh yeah, Rodeo.

I acutally bought tickets this year for the carnival. Partially because I think it'll be fun, and partially because I'm interested in some of the non-carnival parts of the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo this year. Mainly the agricultural stuff.

You see, for the last few years, my family has been debating and discussing the future of the ranch. We have a modest cattle operation, which involves growing a lot of hay for those cows, and some oil and gas income. As my parents get older and think a little more about retirement, we keep going round and round about how to make the place a little more profitable. For the most part, the cattle that leave our ranch are grass fed, with no antibiotics and no pesticides. We do use some fertilizer, so they can't be certified organic, but they're cows that have had a pretty healthy life. We sell all of the bull calves and some of the heifers at auction, and theoretically the proceeds from those sales keep the operation running. What happens to them after that, we don't have control over.

We'd like to move to stuff that better utilizes the ranch and a) is better for people, and b) capitalizes on people's want to have healthy beef and/or other foods.

This is where the Livestock show comes into play. I'd like to hit the livestock show and check out the various pig and beef raisers around the state and pick their brains on what works and what doesn't. I'd like to see what new technology is out there for a small production. I'd like to see a few of the lectures on feral hogs, native vs. improved grasses, and other talks during the Texas Ranching and Wildlife Expo. I'd like to check out a few of the heritage breeds of animals that are being raised successfully in Texas, and see if any of them would meet our needs.

The Rodeo is a huge, huge event. I think there are good million people who go through the course of the three weeks it's ongoing, and it's a larger event than the Texas State Fair up in Dallas. It has the silly food vendors with various fried foods on sticks, there's a birthing center, where animals ready to pop are on display for kids to see, there are milking demonstrations, and of course, there's the actual rodeo with the bull riding, barrel racing, and calf scramble.

I think that the relationship that Americans have to agriculture is really interesting. Most people don't really pay all that much attention to where their food comes from. Most people live in circumstances where food production isn't really thought about. Occasionally, there will be some sort of outbreak of e-coli, and tomatoes or spinach or some beef is pulled off the shelves, but by and large it's not part of their daily lives. Some of us think a little more about it, and we want food that is produced organically or with few chemicals or humanely. But often, thinking in those terms is really expensive, and there are too many people in this country for organic, sustainable food production to be a viable option for everyone, for every food. There's a lot of criticism of "big food" and a lot of it is justified, but at the same time, for everyone to eat, agricultural innovations and science have to progress to keep up with the population that doesn't individually grow and kill it's own sustinance.

The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo is a very Texas approach to food production. Thinking big, thinking primarily about animals, thinking of our history and unique culture, and thinking with innovations in technology. Agriculture is a really important part of our economy, but it's also an important part of our identity.

I'm a ninth generation Texan, but on top of that, I'm a ninth generation cattle rancher. I forget that from time to time, living most of the time in the city. But as my parents get older and need more help from my generation in keeping things running, I need to learn more about it, and I need to put my own stamp on it.