From the Missouri River Bottoms to the Sandhills of Nebraska

On December 27, 2014, we drove from my husband’s parents’ place in Columbia, Missouri, to Valentine, Nebraska.

We met my sister and her family at Saturday evening mass, after a 10 hour drive. Celebrating the Feast of the Holy Family was the perfect end to a perfect day. I was with my own family (husband and four children) plus my sister’s family (her husband and 5 children and son-in-law, plus little Clara Marie, my first great-niece, born November 3).

In addition, I was brimming with satisfaction, pride and pleasure, having just driven through the Missouri River bottoms and then across the state of Nebraska. Agricultural production, fed by power, was everywhere I looked. I’m thankful for the human ingenuity and inventiveness that carved something from nothing in what many would consider cold, uninhabitable, inhospitable places in middle America.

I wanted to stop and hug every land owner along Highway 275 and then Highway 20 for their care of the land and their animals! Of course, they do not do these things for my praise, approval or appreciation. They do them because it’s in their interest to do so. That is at it should be.

No centralized planning — no matter how smart the planner — could ever come close to yielding such bounty and beauty!

I hope you enjoy these images as much as I enjoyed the drive. (Thanks for driving, Matt!)  (If you click on a photo, it will open in full-size in another tab.)

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(Photos are in chronological order from just south of Omaha to just east of Valentine.)


I sure do love agriculture!  I’m feeling slightly voyeuristic, though.  If your place is in one of the photos above and you don’t want it to be, let me know.  I’m in the Dalhart, Texas, phone book.  If your place is in one of the photos above and you don’t mind me sharing my appreciation of what you do, thank you.  If you contact me, I’ll caption the photo of your place however you want me to!  Special note to the man on the four-wheeler:  We were driving past at about 65 mph and I had no idea you were driving into my frame.  I only realized it half way through the snap.  Kudos to you, sir!  It’s easy for me to ooh and ahh at the snow when I don’t have to work outside in it!

Attack Your Friends in order to Gain Credibility With Your Enemies!

Extra!  Extra!  Read all about it!  New way of fighting those who hate us is all the rage!  Don’t just read about it!  Jump on the bandwagon!  The sooner you attack other producers, the sooner you will…uhh…well, don’t think about that.  Just do it!


A recent discussion within an Aussie Facebook Group centered on a Wall Street Journal article written by Nicolette Hahn Niman, the wife of the Niman Ranch founder and author of “Defending Beef: The Case for Sustainable Meat Production.”

The title was “Raising Beef Is Good for the Planet.”  I “liked” the article.

The subtitle was “Despite environmentalists’ worries, cattle don’t guzzle water or cause hunger—and can help fight climate change.”  I “unliked” the article.

I should know better by now than to give my stamp of approval on something before I’ve thoroughly read it!  While the article appeared to be a defense of beef production, it quickly became apparent that “sustainable” meant grass-fed.

In any case, the conversation had agriculturalists pitted against each other. Savory Institute disciples criticized graziers who were not following that “all-natural, one-with-nature” method of production.  Conventional cattle growers were on their piece of moral high-ground when comparing themselves to the intensive, “unnatural” feed lotting practices.  Australian feedlotters found their justification in comparing themselves to the huge feedlots of the United States who feed evil corn as compared to the average 2,026-head sized Aussie lots that feed wheat, barley and sorghum.

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One of our Aussie friends tagged us for our input.  Here is what I posted:

Interestingly, we have seen a change in tack from the anti-animal agriculture mob. Of course, they are still promoting vegetarianism through WWF, UN, PETA, Animals Australia, Mercy For Animals, HSUS, etc. But in the last few years, they began to push a wedge between agriculturalists, by getting us to point fingers at each other rather than fighting the true battles that need to be fought.

This conversation is typical of what we now see: don’t blame ME! I take care of my land and animals! Look at <fill in another area of production in which speaker is not involved>. They are much worse for the environment!

But in reality, it’s not grass fed versus grain fed beef; beef versus pork or lamb or chicken; meat versus veggies; American feedlots versus Australian feedlots; livestock versus row cropping; GM versus non-GM; Traditional versus “organic.”

The real battle has always been producers versus non-producers; centralized control versus individual freedom and responsibility. The real battle is communal management versus private property ownership.

The most incredible thing to me is that most agriculturalists know that the hypothesis of man-made global warming is absolute hogwash. And yet we are all still competing in the realm of perception as to who’s carbon footprint is smaller.


I love ag!  I grew up on a cattle grazing operation in southeastern Oklahoma.  My husband and I owned and operated our own feedlot in Western Australia for 10.5 years.  We moved back to the United States in February of 2012 and my husband now manages a feedyard in Texas.  We are proud to be producers, no matter the segment, the management style, or the country!

Unlimiting Resources – Basalt for a High Tech Stone Age

I grew up on a ranch in Oklahoma and first experienced “unlimited resources” while witnessing my dad creating things from virtually nothing.  He made a point of showing all of us kids, for example, how to make a fuse from a penny.

Julian Simon’s book, The Ultimate Resource 2, has been in my collection for years now, and spring-boarded me into intellectual pursuit of like ideas.

It is always thrilling to discover others who not only understand, but take the time to explain why, the Malthusians are wrong every time.  Individuals who know that, with freedom, human ingenuity and inventiveness will solve any scarcity problems we encounter.

I was just as thrilled to read the comments on this post.  It is quite clear that science, math and the arts are inextricably intertwined.  Those who try to separate the “thinkers” and the “artists” quite simply do not understand how life works.

My dad is also the first one to have ever told me about a Stradivarius.  He appreciated good music, despite…quite possible because of…his cracked, rough hands.  I am lucky to have been raised by such an intelligent, hard-working man — with a good woman by his side!

Basalt roving fiber images are as numerous as the applications!

Basalt roving fiber images are as numerous as the applications!

It is with great pleasure that I introduce you to Chiefio (E.M. Smith) and his post on basalt: a very common rock!  Enjoy!

Unlimiting Resources – Basalt for a High Tech Stone Age.

10 Lessons for All of Us from the Plainsky, Nebraskans

No additional thoughts from me necessary. Enjoy!

Photography of the American West

Long Morning, Lusker Ranch Long Morning, Lusker Ranch

I began the PlainSky, Nebraskans project three years ago. My daughter was two; I was finishing my master’s thesis; we had lived in our present home less than a year. But I felt called to the project, energized by it, focused by the prospect of documenting a way of life with which I was familiar, but knew others weren’t. And time was running out.

So here I sit, the project well in hand, the first show opening in nine months, and a companion limited-edition book. So what? That’s not why I did this; I was looking for lessons, not praise. I was searching for cultural memories and ways in which to preserve them, mainly through photographs. Still, what have I learned?

And then, Rachel Larson’s 25 Things list crossed my path. She codified everything I had seen from the honest, hardworking Nebraskans I have been photographing…

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Private Property or Sustainability? You Must Choose!

Private Property and Sustainability

The two are mutually exclusive. We cannot have private ownership AND Sustainable Development.

“WHAT?! Are you crazy?!” scream most agriculturalists I know. “Private ownership underpins sustainable development!” And that is true in the conventional sense of the words. But we are not dealing with our own definition of sustainable.

Private property ownership forms the firm foundation for free markets and capitalism. It is based upon individual freedom and responsibility.

Sustainability and Sustainable Development spring from the United Nations’ Brundtland Commission (1983-87), the UN’s Rio Earth Summit (1992) and the UN’s Millennium Declaration (2000). They are based upon centralized control and top-down decision-making.

It is vital that productive people everywhere understand that private property and Sustainability cannot co-exist. Any efforts to advance our own definitions are in vain. The more we try to claim that lost ground, the worse it gets for us.


A Google search of the word reveals how hopeless our own efforts to define it are. Wikipedia is first on the results page. (The other results are worth a look, too, if you need further proof of the futility of our efforts.)

The first thing Wiki says about sustainability:

In ecology, sustainability is how biological systems remain diverse and productive. Long-lived and healthy wetlands and forests are examples of sustainable biological systems. In more general terms, sustainability is the endurance of systems and processes. The organizing principle for sustainability is sustainable development, which includes the four interconnected domains: ecology, economics, politics and culture. Sustainability science is the study of sustainable development and environmental science.

It gets better:

Moving towards sustainability is also a social challenge that entails international and national law, urban planning and transport, local and individual lifestyles and ethical consumerism. Ways of living more sustainably can take many forms from reorganising living conditions (e.g., ecovillages, eco-municipalities and sustainable cities), reappraising economic sectors (permaculture, green building, sustainable agriculture), or work practices (sustainable architecture)…

Under the “Principles and Concepts” heading, we see:

The United Nations Millennium Declaration identified principles and treaties on sustainable development, including economic development, social development and environmental protection. The Circles of Sustainability approach distinguishes the four domains of economic, ecological, political and cultural sustainability. This in accord with the United Nations Agenda 21, which specifies culture as the fourth domain of sustainable development.

The philosophical and analytic framework of sustainability draws on and connects with many different disciplines and fields; in recent years an area that has come to be called sustainability science has emerged.

Sustainable Development

Sustainable Development, aka Agenda 21, while essentially fertilized at the Stockholm Conference (I encourage a careful read of the 26 principles!) in 1972, was birthed in 1992 at the UN’s “Earth Summit” at Rio de Janeiro.

Sustainable Development is Maurice Strong’s plan to advance “the environment” through local governments all over the globe. Local governments, especially if they sign up as dues-paying members of ICLEI (now called Local Governments for Sustainability), are encouraged to limit what people do on their own property for supposed benefits to the environment.

In the name of nebulous, indefinable concepts such as biodiversity, sustainability, ecosystems, social justice and environment (amongst many others), a small group of people make centralized decisions about what can and cannot be done on an individual’s property.

Inextricably intertwined in the United Nation's Sustainable Development creation is the concept of Triple Bottom Line.  The average person does not realize, though, that society and environment are already accounted for within a free-market economic system.

Inextricably intertwined in the United Nation’s Sustainable Development creation is the concept of Triple Bottom Line. The average person does not realize, though, that society and environment are already accounted for within a free-market economic system.

At its core, Sustainable Development is an aggressive (albeit very clever) assault on private property.

In Defense of Private Property

Private property is core to a free and prosperous, market-based economy. Peruvian Economist, Hernando de Soto, submits that trade will occur in the absence of private property ownership, but capital development cannot.

When no individual owns property, the natural incentive is to take as much as one can as quickly as possible without investing in the future quality or productivity of that property.

If property is owned by individuals, however, incentive exists (in the absence of government welfare or bailouts) to care for the property for both short- and long-term gains, essentially ensuring that the property can be handed down through generations. In my own world, and in talking to many agriculturalists, this is the classic definition of “sustainable.”

Sanction of the Victim

Many companies and industry organizations have endorsed the UN’s programs and verbiage in an attempt to demonstrate to detractors that they are good and that they do not harm the environment. The World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) provides a prime example of private entities, desperate to demonstrate their goodness, voluntarily joining what I would call an extortion group.  I’ll focus here on just one example.

Monsanto joined WBCSD in January 2013. Monsanto’s products allow farmers to be more efficient. By its very nature, efficiency is good for the environment. Efficiency means we produce more food with fewer inputs. Were that not the case, farmers would not voluntarily purchase those products.

Were it not for a profit motive, farmers would have no incentive to become more efficient. Were it not for private property and the surety that we personally will benefit from excellent care of and improvements to our land, no incentive for excellent care or improvements would exist.

The sad irony is that Monsanto is still hated by the people who originally hated them, but now formerly ardent supporters of the company have a basis for criticism.

Monsanto flourished because of a profit motive. They had to develop good products that improved productivity and profitability for their customers in order to be profitable themselves. The natural side benefits of efficiency gains are cleaner, greener surroundings and more time for community involvement.

But in distancing themselves from noble profit-seeking to a focus on “society and environment,” Monsanto has entered the world of make-believe, acting upon the communications department’s theory that perception trumps reality.

The second and perhaps ultimate irony is that, in fear of being beheaded by the King (some future UN-created international rules), Monsanto has compliantly cut off its own head. The UN would never have had the power to control Monsanto, but Monsanto has voluntarily submitted. This is what author Ayn Rand called the sanction of the victim.


Capitalism (necessarily based upon property ownership) improves the world around us. One need only travel to a few choice countries in the world to gain first-hand evidence of this fact.

Agriculturalists – indeed, all productive people — need to stop playing on the game board created by people out to destroy us. We need to focus all of our energies and resources on re-establishing the sanctity of private property and on proudly promoting the concepts of – and positive benefits of – capitalism and the profit motive.

It’s the only path that will yield true sustainability for ourselves, our children and their children’s children.


I love ag.  I fervently hope and pray that good people will come together to once again advance the fundamental principles that allow us to engage in abundant agricultural production which, in turn, frees people up for other pursuits such as art, music, sport and entertainment.

Bridge — A Metaphor For Life

I had always wanted to learn to play Bridge.

I agreed to marry my husband before I knew that his was a Bridge-Playing Family. Bridge was to be an added bonus to a life mate who for me was “practically perfect in every way”!

Of course, I’m still learning the game. (Even competitive Bridge players will laugh and say, “So am I!”) Life circumstances have been such that, for the most part, my husband and I only play when we get together with his family for holidays. During our decade Down Under, that was only once every two years. But, low hours of Bridge playing aside, I LOVE this game!

Last Christmas, I was playing with my husband against his parents. After seven hands in a row without getting more than 15 points between us, my Father-In-Law laughingly commented, “If you were Betty, you would have gotten angry and stopped playing by now!” (Betty is a lady with whom my in-laws play Bridge once a week. She seems to take it personally when “the worm has turned” against her.)

His comment got me to ruminating on the fact that the great game of Bridge also serves as a great metaphor for life. We have only to pay attention.


In Bridge…as in life…we do not always get to play offense.


Play the cards you’re dealt.

Each hand is unique. Each hand has its own challenges, its own potential success and its own surprising defeats. Do not take for granted the good hand, and do not ever under-estimate the Jack-high defending hand. One well-placed single point in your own hand can make the difference between a big win for your opponents and a significant defensive win for yourself.

In order to experience that joy of using your less-than-stellar hand to set (cause them to not make their bid) your opponents, however, you must first engage fully in the game at hand. You cannot blithely throw your cards in, not paying close attention to your partner’s play, hoping to finish the current hand quickly so as to move on to the next hand (which, you’re certain, the law of averages assures will deliver lots of points!). Were you to play Bridge with this attitude, you’re sure to be disappointed with at least one very long evening.

Enjoy defending!

In Bridge, you’re playing defense roughly half the time. If you only show up for the offense part, you’re missing half the game. (See “Play the cards you’re dealt” above.)

Tell the truth

In most card games I’d played before Bridge, lying (aka “strong bidding,” “bluffing,” et al) was generally advantageous. Bidding stronger than your hand justified over the course of an entire game would lead to more control and more wins.

But Bridge is different. While bidding conventions have changed such that (especially) third hands now open lighter than in the past, bluffing has no place in Bridge. It is vital to be honest with yourself and your partner. No good bluffing your opponents when you mislead your partner at the same time.

I learned this the hard way, early on. I’ve not made the mistake again.

Give your partner credit

It’s not all about you. You’ve got a partner. He likely has some points. In playing defense, challenge yourself to assist. Watch for his cues. Set him up. A Bridge partnership will not be successful in defense if each player is out to set himself up. The thrill is in reading the signals, thinking through the bidding while watching the play, and tracking the cards. Communication is more about listening (watching) than about talking.

Give yourself credit

Having said that, don’t be so caught up in supporting your partner that you sacrifice a better hand in your own paw. Don’t be afraid to lead strongly when you know you’ve got the setting trick. It’s also not all about your partner!

Bid the slams

Don’t let fear of the agony of defeat keep you from the thrill of victory.

This is about personal commitment and making yourself constantly work hard to get better. Raise the bar. When you’ve got the points, bid for the slam or grand slam. If you only play for the rubber, you’re missing out on the adrenaline, the tough challenge, the thrill of victory…not over your opponents, but over the lie of the cards.

My family plays Duplicate Bridge for this very reason. In Duplicate, we are not trying to defeat our opponents in the conventional card game fashion (our dealt hand against their dealt hand), but in a more honorable and less luck-prone way. Will we score more points with a given hand than our opponents will score when they play the same hand?

Or really, more aptly, when we’re playing at home, will we score the most points possible? (We analyze the cards afterwards to see how the hand should have been bid, how we should have played it to make our bid or to get more tricks, or how we should have led or played it to set our opponents.)

Eat a few doubles!

“If you don’t eat some doubles now and then, you’re not doubling often enough.” A Bridge player doubles when his opponents get the bid and he believes they will go set. Not doubling enough is reportedly the single largest mistake made in Bridge. It involves risk-taking. All of life involves risk, and this is just a game, for Heaven’s sake! Double!

Be a lifelong learner

It’s tough to get outside our comfort zone. In bidding for slam, we had always used the traditional “Blackwood” convention, which would sometimes cause us to over-bid because there was no way to abandon the bidding at the lower level.

My in-laws introduced a new convention, “1430,” to us. While half-heartedly and clumsily employing this new convention, we messed up a slam or two that, had we used our old convention, we would have nailed. We groaned, we whined, we said aloud that we should just go back to Blackwood.

Is 1430 perfect? No. But it does have a higher percentage of success – because it communicates more information — than Blackwood.

Sometimes, in order to take ourselves to the higher plateau, we have to get worse before we get better. This involves checking our ego at the door, allowing ourselves to take on childlike qualities (we do not know it all!), and learn by doing – and naturally, making mistakes.

I cannot say enough good about my mother-in-law’s open mind when it comes to Bridge. She is constantly learning, considering new conventions, trying new things. She knows that if she is not open-minded to new conventions…if she sticks to her own play and refuses to learn any more…if she is not constantly working to solve one of the infinite number of new problems that arise in this ever-surprising game…Bridge will leave her behind.

And Bridge is simply too awesome a game to allow that to happen.


Don’t stop playing. As the Finding Nemo fish say, “Just keep swimming, swimming, swimming.”

Life and Bridge both have their low points, their slumps, their crushing moments in the face of high expectations. But they also both involve heady highs, satisfying successes through tough thinking and hard work, and unexpected strings of luck.

You can’t enjoy them if you don’t play.



I love agriculture.  But I also love other things, like philosophy, physics, family and fun.  Bridge is the best card game invented to date.  I’d like to thank my husband and his parents for putting up with a neophyte Bridge player for the last 17 years. I’ve learned much more than Bridge from you!

Local Food – Loaded With Questions

In Laura Ingalls Wilder’s The Long Winter, she describes how 18-year-old Almanzo and his friend risked a 12-mile excursion in search of a settler who, it was rumored, had moved to South Dakota a year prior to the other pioneers — and reportedly produced a crop of wheat. The townspeople of De Smet were starving, as blizzard after blizzard (1880-81) had paralyzed everything, including the supply-bearing trains. The young men risked their lives to successfully purchase and transport wheat from a man nobody knew personally, saving the townspeople from certain death.

Question: Did the new settlers “buy local?”

Local Food

Photo courtesy of Trent Loos. Apologies for slight blur. He’s a busy man focussing on things other than smaller print on an airport sign!

Agvocate and radio personality Trent Loos recently snapped this photo at the Burlington, Vermont, airport. After listing local food production businesses, the display concludes, “Why eat local? To promote the Local food S.C.E.N.E. (Security, Community, Environment, Nutrition, Economy).”

This has raised many questions in my mind, so I thought I’d share my queries with you.

What IS “local?”

Is “local” defined as 20 miles from home? 40? 100? 400? 30 minutes? 1 hour? 4 hours? By bicycle, car, plane? Is it defined at all, or is it flexible, like the definition of “sustainable” and “natural?”

Do restaurants that sell themselves as “local” use all local products all the time? Or might they fudge a bit to always provide, say, lettuce? Or wine? Or coffee? Or olive oil?

What do “locals” do in times of drought or flood? What happens if trade routes and trade relationships have been severed?

If a product is “local,” does it have to be produced using only “local” inputs? Seed, fertilizer, water, vet medicine, finance? Labor? Electricity, gasoline, diesel?

Do “local” foodies engage in Internet buying and selling?

Is it okay to sell to tourists? Does it matter how much CO2 was emitted in the drive to the “local” provider?

Can “local” food be served on trans-continental or international flights?

Would Vermont-based Cabot Creamery be able to provide locals with good quality, low-cost cheese were it not for their factory-efficient mass production… and the fact that I can buy it at Wal-Mart in Texas?

Is it okay to promote yourself as “local” in one locale while marketing all over the country?


Baffling Support

Many modern-day agriculturalists applaud the “local food” movement. Perhaps it is a desperate desire for more consumers to understand and appreciate what it takes to produce. Maybe it’s a longing for childhoods, when federal and state regulations had not put every small packing plant out of business.  Some might operate under the assumption that such support makes them appear cleaner, greener, more “one with nature” and therefore more appealing to urbanites.

Whatever the reason for supporting it, farmers and ranchers should understand that the local food movement is anything but a friend to modern agriculture and consumers. In order to advance, “local” food must denigrate tried and true production practices.  In addition, it is a slap in the face of continuous human improvement — refrigeration, transportation and distribution, food safety and preservation, ag engineering, genetics, artificial insemination, etc.

Due to individuals making private decisions rooted in the pursuit of profit, production efficiency has improved dramatically over the past two centuries. Along the way, our air, water and landscapes have become cleaner and safer and more beautiful.

Turning back the clock to a romanticized subsistence agriculture era is an emotive abandonment of reason and will only detract from security, community, environment, nutrition and economy.


I love to garden, I’m not afraid to shovel manure, nor do I shrink from killing my own fish or animals for meat. It’s extremely cool to grow your own food and to understand where food comes from. But it’s entirely another thing to criticize modern food production that has been responsible for the unprecedented supply of fresh and safe food we now enjoy. Each category promoted in the “local food SCENE” display does exactly that. I take issue.