Bas Aja, a rancher and native Arizonan and Executive Director of the Arizona Beef Council provides us with some thoughts about the food continuum and how it includes not only the people who raise food but everyone, including the consumers.
My, have times changed down here on the ranch. Our previous generations of ancestors were concerned about floods, droughts, fires, losing livestock to predators, markets, and the condition of their animals. Well, we still concern ourselves with all of those items but we now include the 3-C’s: Conservation, Care, and Consumers.
After 100 years in the livestock business in Arizona, we have grown and we need to grow even more. With my family spending that many years in the same area, with the same type of animals, and 7 million Arizonans asking about our food animals and the land, we are bound to be affected by the need for growth and transparency. We now find ourselves answering questions about items we once took for granted. Sure, we took care of our animals, but now we ask: What can we do better? Sure, the beef and protein we produce is safe and nutritious, but now we ask: What can we do better? Sure, we took care of the land, but now we ask: What can we do better? This type of introspection was difficult at first. Somehow thinking that our grandfathers and grandmothers were not doing the best job is a difficult place to be. But once we understood that they were doing the best they could with the information they had, it easier to ask these questions.
We are all part of the Food Continuum – my family, your family, every rancher, every farmer, every gardener, every grain elevator, every grocery store, every hunter, every farmers market, every crop and soils scientist. All of us are part of the food system. It was not always seen this way but for us here on the ranch, that’s how we now see it. We have a triple bottom line that we must meet to be successful: 1) We must be environmentally resilient; 2) We must be socially sustainable, and 3) We must be economically sustainable. The food system under which we produce must meet these three goals in order for us to maintain our ranch, maintain food production, and maintain consumers.
My family is very important to me so I understand how your family remains vigilant about the food you feed your family. We recently rounded up and worked our cattle with family. Of the many experiences from that day, the way in which we handled a calf that had a hernia in its lower abdomen stood out. We sorted off a 450-pound calf and it did not go to market with the rest of our high-quality animals. We took the animal to the farm, individually restrained it in a chute, performed a palpation and medical review, finally determining that it was going to be difficult and medically dangerous for the animal to grow until it reached 1,200 pounds. The animal was purchased by a local person who determined they might harvest it and best use it for themselves. It was healthy and wholesome, but for us it didn’t fit our program, it had a hernia and it would be better for its quality of life if it was harvested sooner rather than later.
Caring for our animals is very important to us, so much so that we don’t hesitate to delay. The thought of doing what is best for our animals isn’t a conscience one. It is so ingrained in our way of life, we just jump into doing what needs to be done. It’s the right thing to do. As we fulfill our role in the food continuum, we naturally keep conservation, care, and consumers top priorities.
Gathering cattle with my family in Rainbow Valley, Arizona.