Kilimanjaro is clear today

Sunrise and sunset, I’m gazing at Mount Kilimanjaro. Kili, her name here in Moshi, Tanzania, is a modest woman.  She often covers herself with clouds, sometimes head to toe like the devout Moslem women on Moshi streets. Their first call to prayer comes at first break of dawn, far before Kili can be visible or any sensible Tanzanian is up and about.  But soon after, I climb up to see if my muse is available for viewing.  This is a little before seven and coffee from her flanks is my morning companion. Lately, Kili has been far from shy; she’s almost brazen.  Yesterday she hardly covered herself all day long.


Coming back from the dry barren hills above the Kikavu River, I watched her all the way home.  For two weeks I have been working with an irrigation cooperative known as UWAKICHI which organizes a valley on the sunny Northern side of Kili.  Water flows in torrential rivers from the mountains of East Africa, but the lower elevations are dry as a bone.  But when the water is channeled from the river to the land, the land becomes lush.

It’s the perfect time to visit Kili.  It’s July—winter in these southern latitudes, but not yet the dry season. I’ve escaped mid-90s temperatures in Arkansas for the low 70s, just above 20 C.  Twenty centigrade (68 for Americans) seems to be the cutoff for natives here.  Any lower than 20 and it’s just too cold.  They like it hot.

I’m staying at a Lutheran Hotel.  Strange oxymoron, that. I don’t think of Lutherans as running hotels. Patels yes, Olsons no.  And it’s a Lutheran Hotel which doesn’t allow alcohol.  Strange when Martin Luther made his own beer and loved good wine.

That hasn’t stopped the Germans from visiting.  The hotel was filled with German tour groups the first few days.  Then German Lutheran pastors descended.  Many were decked out in the colorful African shirts that only tourists wear.  After they left, every day has been a different nationality.  First Japanese, then Chinese, and yesterday Koreans.

None have joined me to just gaze at Kilimanjaro.  Many stop by and look for a few seconds, but then they are off to some other tourist activity.  They always miss the best views because they can’t wait for the clouds to clear.  One sunset, when Kili was gradually revealing herself, a Japanese and a German both stopped by to look several times.  But they had no patience to wait.  Eventually she showed her whole western side, but they weren’t there to see it.

The Germans and Japanese were mostly older couples and young women.  The Chinese were families. Lots of children happily playing in the hotel gardens.  Not much different from the village children who wander in and out of our training sessions.  The only difference is the laughter of the African children.  They seem always happy, laughing, joking, hugging each other.  Easy to see why Africans have so many children.

No children in the Japanese or German tour groups.  Just as they have few children at home.  Small wonder the Africans and Chinese are taking over the world.

One group conspicuously missing are Americans.  A few lone Americans have turned up.  No American tour groups.

The aging Americans, Germans and Japanese are perfect visitors for Kilimanjaro.  According to ancient legends, the white snow of Kilimanjaro is the resting place of the gods and spirits of the ancestors.  It is where you go when you die, not a place for the living.

So I won’t climb to the top.  I’ll just enjoy the snow stretching far down its sides, wondering whether the doomsayers are right that the snows are disappearing.  They seem pretty enduring.  I think they’ll last awhile.

Pesticides, RNA⇒DNA and wilderness

Enjoying beautiful June weather–and its been the best this year–is destroyed by a spray plane flying over.  But after this week we will have fewer. The Governor has signed a regulation outlawing the pesticide dicamba.  Last year I lost several trees to drift of dicamba.  No telling what it did to my health.

Pigweed is a weed most crop farmers will have to fight at some point. Pigweed has developed immunity to chemical pesticides.  Conventional farmers try every new chemical they can find to rid their fields of this pest. Organic farmers know that no weed is resistant to a sharp steel blade and use tillage to eradicate the weed.wildnessIn 2016 and 2017 farmers in the Delta have resorted to a very volatile chemical, dicamba, because nothing else works on pigweed.  The problem with dicamba is that it drifts to neighboring farms and kills the neighbors’ crops.  Unless your crops have been genetically modified to resist dicamba, they will be destroyed along with the pigweed.

Pigweed is a fascinating species in the genus Amaranthus.  This genus is also known for grain amaranth–which is high in lysine, an amino acid found in low quantities in other grains. Amaranth grain is free of gluten, which makes it a viable grain for people with gluten intolerance.  The many wild species of amaranth provide a pool for disease and pest resistance which can be used by plant breeders to improve grain amaranth.

Unfortunately for conventional farmers, the diversity and adaptability of the pigweed amaranth has overcome the best chemicals modern science can produce.

One research group has shifted the tolerance of pigweed to dicamba about three-fold in only three generations.  So dicamba will soon have to be replaced with other pest control techniques.  The co-evolution of herbicides and weeds makes some farmers get on the pesticide treadmill. Farmers who rely on pesticides are forced to use more and more and increasingly toxic chemicals to control insects and weeds that develop resistance to pesticides.

Pigweed’s ability to adapt makes it a resilient species in conventional farming systems.  No matter what chemical disturbance is thrown at it, it adapts and overcomes the disruption.

In ecological resilience circles, pigweed’s ability to adapt is known as conservative innovation. Pigweed innovates to meet the new disturbance, but its innovations conservatively maintain the other characteristics which make it adapted to farmers’ fields: short life-span, extremely high growth rate and seed production and ability to withstand overly dry or wet conditions. These qualities reflect the redundancy and ecological integration that resilient systems are also known for.

Resilience research not only explains the co-evolution of crops and weeds it also provides explanations for the changes in species which traditional Darwinian theory cannot explain.

Traditional evolution theory explains change in species as occurring by gradual accumulation of random mutations.  The fossil record does not bear this out.  Instead species appear to make radical sudden changes after staying the same for long periods. From trilobites to dinosaurs to worms, nearly all species have been shown to remain the same for eons only to abruptly change into a new species. These sudden changes after eons of stasis is known as punctuated equilibrium.

Resilience theory explains punctuated equilibrium with the quality of all resilient systems called self-organization. Self-organization turns a collection of interacting elements into an individual, coherent whole. This whole has properties that arise out of its organization, and that cannot be reduced to the properties of its elements. Such properties are called emergent.

We see this routinely in human systems.  Communities which bounce back most quickly after disaster are ones which are self-organized and do not wait for outside assistance. The creative destruction which characterizes economic change is based on emergent self-organization.  All the elements for production of automobiles were known long before cars were invented. When they were organized into a new system, the horse and buggy were consigned to the dustbin of history.

Many times in human history the same invention has been made in many different parts of the world at about the same time. Though certainly an inventor was involved in each case, the invention occurs by self-organization of the different components in the inventor’s mind.

Punctuated equilibrium at the species level is self-organization of an existing species into something better adapted. To better adapt to its environment, a member of a species reorganizes itself to create a new species. If the change results in more surviving offspring, the new species supplants the old species.

A mechanism for this self-organization has recently been revealed. One possibility relied on a paradigmatic shift in our understanding of genetics. For many years, genetic researchers accepted a simple dogma: DNA was a string of genes which were copied onto messenger RNA.  These are know to travel to the ribosome where proteins were made. Then it became clear that when DNA was copied into RNA, many sections were not translated into the protein. These sections, called introns, had to be edited out. The remaining sections, exons, are spliced to become the RNA from which proteins are made.

Later, the genome project showed that there are only 20,000 genes but at least 100,000 different types of proteins in the human body, and probably many more. Also many of the proteins in humans have subtle differences from other creatures. How could so few genes make so many different proteins?RNA splicing

Researchers finally realized that DNA was just a library. A form of RNA selects from DNA whatever exons it needs to form the desired messenger RNA which is then turned into proteins by the ribosomes.

The very same sequence of DNA can be considered an exon or an intron, creating a tremendous variation in the construction of proteins between different cells. Also, the points at which the cut is made is not as fixed as it seemed at first. Specific types of cells, such as those from organs like the brain, the kidney, etc., have multiple alternative splicing patterns.

Each type of cell is a self-organized system which recreates itself.  RNA changes the proteins produced depending on the cellular environment. RNA selects from the available DNA to create RNA which is adapted to the each cellular environment in the body.  If a new RNA is more successful than others, it can be incorporated into its DNA library.

When this new conservative innovation is created, it can be inserted and saved in the DNA library by an enzyme known as reserve transcriptase (RT). Reverse transcriptase was discovered independently by two researchers in 1970.  It is most famous as the mechanism by which the HIV virus infects humans.

A role for reverse transcriptase in evolution was made by many researchers–most influentially when Cairns reported his observations on ‘directed mutations’ in bacteria in 1988. James Shapiro had shown in 1984 that the appearance of mutations corresponding to an araB-LacZ cistron fusion could not be accounted for by models of random hereditary mutations. Through a precise statistical analysis of the formation of mutants, Cairns and his collaborators demonstrated that in the case of a nonlethal selective procedure, the time of appearance and the distribution of mutations are different from the random ones observed by Salvador Luria and Max Delbrück in their famous 1943 paper and they suggested that bacteria were able to choose the mutations that they should produce. The mechanism that Cairns favored was the reverse transcription of mRNAs permitting bacteria to adapt to new nutrients. The way in which the variant favorable forms of mRNAs were selectively recognized was not precisely described.

Cairns’s article initiated a flood of publications and a huge debate in which many eminent molecular biologists participated. Not only did Cairns’s observations show the limits of one of the iconic experiments of molecular biology, but they were shaking one of the pillars of Darwinism – the randomness of mutations. The debate lasted for seven years, and a consensus was reached that the mutations were not directed, but resulted from an increase in the rate of mutation of specific genes, and a rapid diffusion of the favorable mutations by conjugation.

Cairns himself afforded the strongest experimental arguments against an involvement of reverse transcriptase by showing that some of the adaptive mutations were due to suppressor mutations, unlinked to the gene (LacZ) under selective pressure.  Still to be discovered is why specific genes are stimulated to increase mutation rate.

Regardless of the mechanism, the many new mutations produce proteins which then self organize into new pathways which enable bacteria to adapt to almost any change. Directed evolution tools have been used to improve synthesis yields of desired products, limit or expand substrate specificity, alter cofactor specificity, and improve stability over a wider range of temperature and pH. Reverse transcriptase is not needed to explain rapid evolution in bacteria.  However, in organisms with a nucleus (eukaryotes such as pigweed and humans), RT may be involved as a mechanism of increasing mutation rate.

Reverse transcriptase is being discovered more and more widely in animals and plants. Self-replicating stretches of eukaryotic genomes known as retrotransposons utilize reverse transcriptase to move from one position in the genome to another via an RNA intermediate. They are found abundantly in the genomes of plants and animals. Also in many eukaryotes, including humans, another reverse transcriptase is telomerase. It carries its own RNA template which is used as a template for DNA replication.

Remaining to be discovered is whether newly organized RNA can be incorporated by RT in germ line DNA in eukaryotes so that it is passed to the next generation.  We do know that the genomes of many eukaryotes, particularly complex multicellular forms such as mammals or flowering plants, consist mostly of sequences derived from mobile genetic elements (transposons) which are inserted into the germ line. Also well established is that transposons have been a recurrent source of coding sequences for the emergence of new genes. Increasing the activity of transposons coupled with selection, has enabled “directed evolution” in the eukaryote yeast.

We don’t yet know if this is the way pigweed evolves to be resistant to pesticides. More broadly, we don’t know how the vast changes occur that create new species. What does seem likely is that stressors stimulate production of multiple DNA changes, probably through transposons.  Then the protein products of these DNA changes self-organize providing fodder for selection of a better adapted species.

Some are not sure we really want to know the answers to all this because that opens the door to controlling evolution.  But this research can’t be stopped.  The good news is that only resilient organisms and species survive. Resilience requires fitting into existing systems. Any new species will only survive if it fits.  As long as new species must survive in the natural world, non-complementary innovations will not survive.

The problem is that humans are creating conditions where non-resilient innovations survive.  Infectious organisms thrive in hospitals when they would die in the natural world.  Pigweed thrives in cultivated fields, but dies out in more natural conditions. So we must set aside wild areas.  Thoreau said it best long before we even knew what DNA was: “In Wildness is the preservation of the world.”


Elephants and rural development

The first time I looked an enraged elephant in the eye, I was standing outside a compact car with snow capped Mount Kilimanjaro in the distance.  He was on the hillside just above us.  His glaring eyes were red and his ears were spread wide.  We jumped in the car and took off.

The elephant had good reason to be mad.  The cooperative president who was with me wanted to divert the water from the elephant’s national park to irrigate farmland for his cooperative members.  Though I go to Africa to help cooperatives like his and I know his farmers need water, there is no way I could agree with him.  It’s a dilemma everyone in rural development faces.  The rural poor often want to get rid of wildlife.  And they are succeeding.

The earliest estimates put the number of elephants on the African continent around 26 million.  Today there are less than 400,000 with at least 100 more being killed every day.


Elephant slaughter began to drastically increase in the 1950s when many African regions gained independence from colonial rule.  The European love of wildlife was not passed down to the new African states.

Poaching elephants started increasing even more this century with the growth of a consumer class in China increasing demand for ivory. In 2012, the price reached $1,000 per pound in Beijing.  Two tusks of a male elephant weigh about 250 pounds.

In 2016, the price per pound had risen to $1500/pound and National Geographic reported that poaching is so intense “that in 10 years’ time we could lose 50 percent of Africa’s remaining elephants.”

Rhinoceros horn is even more valuable: $25,000 per pound.  The only rhinos you can see in Africa are in fenced enclosures with several guards for each rhino.

In a couple of weeks I head back to Kilimanjaro to work with another cooperative.  Fifty years ago wildlife roamed where these cooperative members farm.  I’ll help their farms become more productive and profitable.  I just wish I could do the same for the wildlife of Africa.

Everyone wants to help starving children in Africa have better lives.  We are succeeding and African nations’ populations are booming. What will keep them from continuing to decimate the wildlife of Africa?

A partial solution is to commercialize wildlife.  Wildlife numbers are actually increasing on well-guarded reserves where tourists pay big bucks to see elephants and zebras, giraffes and rhinos.  I’ve been to several of these reserves in Malawi and Kenya. I’ll soon be in others in Tanzania. So they get a little income from me.  Wish I could do more.

I’d like to believe that we could establish and support big enough reserves to not just protect elephants and rhinos but also the thousands of lesser known species which face mass extinction. I’d like to think that people will soon realize how essential the biosphere is to our survival.

But I’ve seen the destruction of wildlife and whole reserves when a weak central government confronts the vast demand for elephant tusks and rhino horns in China.  I visited one reserve in Mozambique where the lake was dry because the water had been used for a Chinese goldmine and all the animals killed or put in cages.

What’s needed is a powerful government which values wildlife.  To some extent we have that today in South Africa and Namibia.  Namibia had 7500 elephants in 1995 and has more than 20,000 today.  Unfortunately Namibia is mostly desert so it can’t support many elephants.  When will the other countries of Africa wake up and protect their wildlife?



Balance and inner peace promote and require creative destruction

“Harmony and balance” seem like good goals. You may be attracted to yoga and Taoism because they are philosophies of harmony and balance. Balance is something most of us strive for in our lives, our work, our relationships.  Unstable, unbalanced people are usually to be avoided.

We are attracted to concepts like balance of nature and climax communities.  Many of us like to think that balance and stability are good and natural in the world and its ecosystems. Once upon a time, this view was promoted by eminent ecologists such as Eugene and Howard Odum once viewed the mature climax community, e.g. an oak-hickory forest in the American Midwest, as a steady-state system which is far more sustainable than a growth-oriented ecosystem.  Many modern agroecologists seem to also see the most sustainable system as a well-developed, stable, mature system which recovers from disturbance and adapts to change.


But disturbance and transformation and change underlie the ability of us and our ecosystems to achieve stability and balance.  In fact, stability and balance of our bodies or an ecosystem are the net result of the ongoing adaptation and change of hundreds of subsystems. These subsystems are constantly adapting and changing to enable you to feel balanced and in harmony.  Your body is constantly repairing itself and regenerating itself and fending off microscopic attack.

The calmness and inner peace which most religions urge us to achieve are attitudes which enable our bodies to fend off and adapt to disturbance. But none of us and no ecosystem can just maintain the status quo forever. All people and all ecosystems have adaptive cycles characterized by phases of rapid growth, mature stability, release and disorganization, and reassembly and reorganization leading back to rapid growth, stability, release and reassembly ad infinitum.

In fact, too strong a focus on stability can undermine personal and ecological resilience.  This was learned first in forest management.   A stable, mature forest in which fires are suppressed will eventually become a raging inferno which scours the landscape.  The result is often massive erosion and destruction of seeds and roots.  Artificially maintained stability of the forest results in reduced capacity of the system to regenerate.  An unstable ecosystem, with small fires and other disturbances occurring every year, maintains a variety of systems from meadow to savanna to forest.  Disturbance is required to maintain the diversity needed for resilience.

In our own lives, we often don’t want to see our children grow up, we don’t want to change occupations, we don’t want to change our habits.  Yet the healthy person, just like the healthy ecosystem is always adapting, changing, growing.

Every system has a temporal dimension which requires both phases of rapid growth and phases of disassembly.  The mature forest seen as a natural climax community by early ecologists and held up today as a model for sustainable systems by some agroecologists was known by both aboriginal Americans and Australians to be a much less productive phase than the grasslands and savannas which precede it.  Consequently they each regularly burned their landscapes creating more open areas for pasture and deeper soils through the incorporation of manure from the increased populations of ruminants.

Disruption and disassembly is required to induce a new growth phase.  When ecosystems are allowed to be composed of a series of growth and disassembly-release phases, they are usually more productive, increase soil quality and water conservation capacity, and store more carbon than systems permitted to progress to steady-state maturation.  Aborigines found that the technology of fire enabled them to maintain their ecosystem primarily in a growth phase.

Today’s ecosystem managers are similarly using technology to continue rapid growth phases instead of settling for mature, steady-state phases.  Paradoxically, the disruption and growth phases must be balanced lest they destroy resources (soil and water) instead of enhancing them.  This often happens when greedy managers convert the increased productivity into extracted profit.

The conventional wisdom in many sustainability circles that stability and balance are good and growth is problematic should be leavened with the reality of ecosystems.  In fact, trying to maintain stability and a climax community may actually erode resilience.  By keeping one particular system stable, the resilience of the larger system may crash.  U.S. agricultural commodity policy–promoting stability while decreasing diversity, redundancy and flexibility—is widely believed to undermine ecological resilience of our agricultural system.

The inability of some to escape the siren call of stablity has led to a misinterpretation of ecological resilience in most sustainable agriculture circles.  Resilience in sustainability circles is often the materials science sense of ability to bounce back from disturbance and maintain key functions and components.  In that sense our commodity production system is very resilient.  By maintaining commodity support payments through effective lobbying efforts, the system continues to bounce back and retain all its key functions and components.

As resilience becomes a term more widely bandied about, we can be sure the materials science definition of resilience will be most attractive for those trying to uphold the status quo—just as ag administrators in the early 1990s declared that “everything our college does is sustainable agriculture.”

Some sustainable agriculture advocates are also intent on preserving particular practices and systems.  As such advocates become more familiar with adaptive cycles and ecosystem resilience, may they embrace the creative destruction at the heart of all resilient ecosystems.

Just as you, in your search for harmony and inner peace, may come to realize it is an attitude which promotes the most creative destruction.  You may even see that inner peace requires creative destruction.

Resilience for mountain farms means tradition and innovation

Mountain farms have a unique character.  Often one family has made a living on the same piece of ground for generations.  An example we can all learn from is a farm in Clay County, Kentucky, where the same family has been farming since the land was settled 140 years ago. bowling vegetables

Like most resilient Eastern Kentucky farms, it was established along a river and includes bottom land and gentle slopes moving to steep forested mountains.  When we visited in June 2016,  the farm was well groomed and teeming with life.  Beyond the barn is a long greenhouse  full of luscious blossoming plants.  Beyond that is a wide pasture, where sheep, cows, and goats are grazing together in their little cliques.  A young goat wildly rampages between the species on some youthful adventure.  A truck pulls along the drive and a young man steps out and makes his way towards the barn.  He’s got the comfortable smile of somebody who has known the deep, lasting comfort of building a good life.  His way of speaking is slow and easy, with a distinct accent that is shared by many people that have spent their lives in the hollows of Eastern Kentucky.

Redundancy: cousin to cousin. Will Bowling’s people acquired the land when Squire Hensley bought a sizeable plot in 1870.  Will’s parents moved to the farm when one of their cousins decided to move on. “He was getting out of farming right as my parents were getting in.”

We talked to Will on the farm house’s expansive front porch, which has seen generation upon generation of people resting their feet and backs from the Kentucky summer sun. The house is a classic southern colonial style home.  Like many farm houses in Eastern Kentucky it was built when homes weren’t built to maximize profit for the builder, but to last for generations.   It’s been on his mom’s side of the family for at least five generations.  The farm that Will bought down the river is the other end of the old family farm, purchased originally by Squire Hensley in the late 1800s.  Squire Hensley had seven daughters, and as they grew up, he gave them each a parcel of land to be able to start a life for themselves.  Will was able to purchase the plot that he and his wife own from another cousin.  “It got broke up in the second generation, but we have either end of it anyway…but it’s mostly my cousins, distant cousins, that own all of the adjacent land.”  Most of it is still in farm land, but most aren’t farming themselves.  The bulk of all of the old familial landholdings are producing corn and soybeans.  The plots are leased out to yet more cousins while the landowner cousins have other jobs. They consistently get 180-200 bushels of corn per acre from this rich river bottom land.

Fifteen to twenty years ago, tobacco was the primary crop in Clay county, as with nearly all counties in Kentucky.  Since the 1930’s the tobacco allotment program stabilized the price of tobacco and ensured that farmers could receive vouchers and have more secure access to markets.  As the voucher program was done away with, many farmers in Eastern Kentucky scrambled to find a means to make a living.  Many of them, including some of Will’s cousins, started raising beef.  The Bowling family started growing beef as well because that is what they saw many people doing, but they quickly adapted their opertion as their skills grew and they saw better markets for other types of livestock. When Will was a kid, he helped his dad grow tobacco, but almost every time he went out to work in the tobacco fields, he would get nicotine poisoning. It was naturally a better choice for him to concentrate on livestock and vegetables, especially with the tobacco program ending.

Many farmers transitioned to cattle to try to fill the void left by tobacco, but the Bowlings had land limitations. “It didn’t take long to figure out that you weren’t gonna make a go at it with 60 acres of pasture trying to run a cow/calf herd.”  They started out trying to cut back on input cost to make up for the lack of land to support a sizeable enough herd.  They got into rotational grazing, but then they also started experimenting with multi-species grazing.  They began direct marketing in 2006 and went completely in with a fully diversified range of meats in 2011.

This diversification of livestock was part of the land stewardship experiment that Will has taken a big part in conducting.  “We tried to substitute biology and animal impact for inputs and tractor time.” Will says in his thick Kentucky accent.  Many people mistake the slow, easy way that Southern people speak for lack of intellect, but Will is a true Southern iconoclast with a solid background in the sciences and a few years of conservation under his belt. His day job is an elk researcher.

When Will and Maggie first came to the farm, they really didn’t know much at all “which was probably a good thing” Will says, looking out at the sheep and cattle. They had always had a big garden and a milk goats, and a few chickens. “I grew up fur up’na head of a holler, you had to pipe sunshine down to it.”  It’s where his dad’s family had been for a while, mainly doing subsistence agriculture…but they had certainly never done anything on a commercial scale so they “didn’t have a lot of knowledge but we didn’t have a lot of bad habits to break, either.”  They came in without much bias and without any preconceived notions about what is best practices for livestock management. They did a lot of research before they launched the livestock operation and were able to look at practices and policies of farmers everywhere. They went to their neighbors and had talks with the county extension agent and the contacted other people in other regions via the internet.

In the field past the house a lone little goat is running around and trying to get the sheep to play.  The sheep are content to placidly graze and look up in indifference, minor annoyance at most.  They use a surprisingly low amount of hay because they have a pretty decent rotational grazing plan.

In 2005, only the second year of having grazing animals, they broke the field up into paddocks and started a rotational grazing schedule. Their cousin had the fields broken into three pastures, but they broke them into considerably more.  Generally, they move the cattle every day.  The goats, because they aren’t such a strain on the land and require less food, are rotated every week and a half to two weeks.   Their goal in rotational grazing is to be able to reach a point where they don’t have to bring any hay in from outside the farm. They’ve transitioned away from making hay for the cows in the past five years.  In the beginning, they were feeding their livestock hay for 180 days out of the year.  They had really dry years then and also didn’t really know what they were doing.  They overgrazed initially because they didn’t know what to look for.  “We were grazing just like everybody else around was grazing but they were also still feeding their cattle hay for 180 days, which ain’t a good way to make money- I can tell you that real quick.” They started really looking into the economics of the operation and realized that if they managed in such a way that they could grow more grass on the farm, they’d be able to save all of the hay money and actually see a decent profit margin.  Last year was a long winter in Eastern Kentucky and there wasn’t as much spring grass growth as the Bowling crew would have hoped so they had to use more hay, but the year before was a marked improvement from when they had started.  There was only seventy days of the deepest part of winter and the driest, hottest summer days in which they had to haul in hay from other farms.  They’ve almost tripled their stock density since ’04 when they started, but have learned how to manage their herds for maximum soil fertility and minimum negative impact.

They have just finished the fencing work on the new farm plot on Will and Maggie’s land and they’ll be moving a lot of the herd over there. Between opening that new property and planting native warm seasons grass in next couple of days, they’re hoping to be able to depend solely on their own grass stock.  The field behind the farmhouse is low and a bit dry but Will is hoping that by next season, it will never look very bare again. They’ll be putting in a blue indian grass (Sorghastrum nutans) mix on nine acres.  Blue indian takes the heat better than what is currently growing out in their pastureland and he hopes that by diversifying the feedstock mix, they’ll be able to weather drought years more smoothly and affordably.  Everything they have in the fields now is cool season pasture grass.  He’s hoping that the warm season grass will be “…something that should be kicking in right about now and taking us through the summer slump” of his cool season grasses  If the nine acre test plot works, they’ll probably plant some more.  The farm isn’t vast, with only 90 acres of pastureland between Will and Maggie and his parents, but there is a limited amount of bottomland on the two parcels.  His main concern about changing the hay types too quickly is that it takes the land out of production for nearly two years to establish the grasses.  Even 9 acres out of 40 is a significant hit to take, so they’re hoping to gradually improve grasslands over time.

Will and his wife Maggie and his parents have a few goats and sheep, though they’ve transitioned away from having as many goats in recent years.  They’ve had goats since 2006 and they did really well.  They got sheep in 2009 and they seem to work better with their climate and management style.  One of the reasons that you’ll see more sheep in the fields is that they are hardier in the first year.  During the first year of life a goat is fairly fragile, and they are much more prone to premature death than sheep.  “Seems like they (sheep) are pretty well bulletproof.” The first three weeks of a goat kid’s life is really tough, but as for lambs, Will remarks; “When they get up and get that first drink of colostrum, they’re, like I said, they’re bulletproof.”  Will finds that sheep are low maintenance and are easily sold on direct markets.  They still keep a few goats because of continued demand. Their goats are primarily the Kiko breed, which he says don’t ever put on much weight. The other downside to goats is that processing fees are such that they really couldn’t charge what they thought to be a fair price to the customers. After processing their goats would only be able to procure around thirty pounds of meat per head.

Diversifying into vegetables.  Will’s parents began the switch to vegetables when they built a greenhouse and grow “tons of vegetables for our own use.”  However, Will and Maggie were the first to try market gardening.

Will’s day job is wildlife biologist. His knowledge of elk and other wild animal populations spurred him on to be mindful of possible deer pressure on his vegetable crops.  The first thing he did was design and build a highly economical electric fence setup to dissuade deer from getting into the garden and destroying the produce. “We’ve got stupid high deer density up at our place, but it (the fence) is going really good.”  They were doing a bunch of elk trapping and collaring.  They were sitting in a blind with other researchers on his property with thermal goggles on and he says he counted 22 deer walking all around his garden.  Somehow, he hasn’t had problems yet.  He built a 6 foot-high fence with high tensile wire.  Four strands of high tensile electric wire wrap along the six foot posts which surround the garden.  Then mounted two lines of poly-tape, the kind he uses for livestock paddocks at a 24-inch distance from the fence at 36 and sixty inches.  He nailed two fiberglass posts to each fencepost and put an insulator on it to build an offset fence without having to drive more fenceposts into the ground.  The polytape dances and shines in the wind and it works well to disorient the deer.  At 36 and 60 inches, the deer get confused as to how to get past these moving lines and still clear the high tensile wire and apparently haven’t succeeded in jumping the fence.

They had some of the tools to build the garden fence, but for all of the supplies, they only had to spend about $350-400.  Two acres is a lot of land to cover with so little money, and Will is very happy that they were able to pull it off.  Their success was dependent on protecting the crop from wildlife.  He loves high tensile cable. “It’s cheap, and it goes up fast.”

Maggie, his wife, is a full-time farmer.  Will is not quit ready to give up his day job and take the leap to full time farming.  They are at the scale that if he were to wake up one day and decide to leap headlong into farming full time “I wouldn’t lose any sleep about it.”  Their biggest obstacle right now is their inability to produce enough to meet demand.  “It’s blown my mind how receptive folks have been to buying food from us.”  They aren’t paying for any advertising but people are seeking them out.  75-80% of his customers can be tracked back to four or five other customers, who are very supportive and always recommend them. They’ve had folks drive 2-2 ½ hours to meet up with them.  He sees this as a bad thing, because it means that there aren’t strong farms where they are living.  “You shouldn’t have to drive 125 miles to buy from me.”  They have more than enough opportunity to sell in their immediate area.  They tried to stick to only selling within a 40 mile radius of where they are growing food.  Since that time, they’ve added drop off points in other counties.  Recently, they started delivering 55 miles away because several people were reaching out to them.  There wasn’t anybody else consistently selling year-round.  Will finally relented and said that if they were able to get enough people to have a solid minimum volume to make it worth going out there.  Within 24 hours, they had pulled together enough people to make Harlan a regular delivery spot.

One of the other advantages that they have is that they are able to provide almost any vegetable one would ever want, they also mill cornmeal and of course have meat and eggs. “You can do your grocery shopping with us.” They also have a friend who has bee hives, they wanted the bees for pollination.  They’ve offered to sell the honey for them but they haven’t been able to because their friends are already selling honey as fast as it can be produced.  They may start doing molasses as well.

When it comes to vegetables, “We do about everything.”  It’s a 2-acre market garden.  “We’re raising everything you would expect to see in a well-stocked farmers market stand.  They are thinking of giving up a few crops because they only have limited time and personnel and don’t want to overextend themselves.  They’ll be transitioning away from sweet corn for instance because it takes up a lot of space for the amount of crop that they actually yield. They grow mostly annuals, but Will and his wife Maggie have planted about 15 apple trees that they hope to be able to market in a few years and his parents have apples, peaches, and pears.   Many of the perennials, such as his father’s blueberry bushes, are mainly being used within the household but they are definitely looking in the direction of growing more such crops to market in the future. Two notable future perennial crops to will would be asparagus and rhubarb.

They have a really good customer base and getting rid of product has not been a problem so far.  The biggest problem has been not being able to produce enough to meet the demand of their loyal customer base.  They direct market almost everything.  The biggest outlet is their online farm store.  They update the store weekly throughout the season, selling both veggies and meat products.  They have around 200 people on the email list who will make online purchases.  The Bowlings have central drop-off locations throughout the area and their customers will meet up with them there weekly to pick up their produce.  There are no minimums or limits on what people can buy. Some order weekly, biweekly, some spend $5, some spend $65.  “A pretty good mix” he comments.  They sell in farmers markets as well.  Especially profitable is the Hazard farmers market.

Maggie and Will do a bit of wholesale tomatoes, peppers, and melons; things that they can produce easily and in large quantities while being able to take at least a small hit.  They sell to a few restaurants as well as to Manchester Memorial Hospital.  “We like to have a good mix of folks and a good mix of customers, it’s what makes us more comfortable…to have a wide variety of folks purchasing from us rather than us just being tied to one market.”  He would have a hard time sleeping so easily if they didn’t have such a diverse marketing mix. His idea for the buying club was a bit of a mashup between Joel Salatin’s Metro Buying Club and what a group in the Bowling Green Kentucky area called The Weedeaters do.  “The Weedeaters are doing straight-up email lists.”  He was worried about not being able to keep track of emails so he set up a subscriber list but has the customer make the purchase on the website to track it better.

During the first year that they started growing vegetables, they didn’t start a CSA because they live in an area where people don’t have a whole lot of money.  They pictured the commitment to a CSA subscription to be an undue burden on people. They were also worried that they wouldn’t be able to produce on a time schedule dependable enough to do weekly subscription based sales.  His wife Maggie grew up on a market garden and had been working as a site coordinator for Grow Appalachia.  They were on a new piece of property that had grown up and they didn’t want to overcommit themselves.  They did have the buying club set up out of the gates.  A few months before the season, they started getting the word out with Facebook and word of mouth.  The farmers market in the county also started that year so they had access to two outlets as they “muddled their way” through the first season.  In recent seasons, they prefer to concentrate on wholesale and their buyer’s club.

The main drawback with farmers markets is the amount of time that it takes to set up and travel to and from the markets.  Also, with he and his wife being the only workers, it takes a lot of the time that they could be spending out in the fields. They get more volume with the buyer’s club than with any farmers market in the area and they can have the bags pre-packed, so they can show up at the site, hang out a little while, and be able to get back to the farm in timely fashion.

He sees more people in the area getting into market gardening and farming and direct marketing their crops, though they seem to have one of the larger operations. “There seem to be one or two people in about every county who are trying to direct market.”  Home gardening has always been a big thing in Central Appalachia, but many have expanded into market gardens in recent years.  “It’s really interesting that in 08 and 09 when the financial markets were melting down, there were places getting plowed up and planted that I’d never seen being planted before. But there’s also been a lot of push by some folks like Grow Appalachia…going around and spreading the idea of growing a garden, and if you are already gardening, teaching you how to increase your production.” On a commercial scale, he’s seen more people doing it now than five years ago.  There aren’t as many people doing meat.

Most of their clientele shops with them because it’s local food.  The local food movement has been late in arriving to Kentucky, but the last couple of years has seen an upsurge in people wanting locally produced, naturally grown food. “If you didn’t grow up in a garden, chances are your grandparents gardened or something like that.  For the most part, some people still remember what real food tastes like…they know what you are buying at Wal-Mart in February may look like a real tomato but don’t taste like it.”  There are also many local and regionally adapted varieties that can’t be bought on the supermarket shelf. People recognize this and that leads to pretty enthusiastic support of locally produced veggies.  Will doesn’t solely grow heirlooms, however.  If it makes sense economically to grow an heirloom, if it provides an appropriate yield and can be sold at a decent price, then he will naturally opt to grow a local heirlooom variety. Their main motivation is taste. “A lot of the heirlooms, that’s where they shine out.” but they also order seeds from Johnny’s seeds, a company that is a national favorite for market gardeners.

Will sees Kentucky food laws as “pretty draconian” though there have been some new laws passed in the past few years that allows for cottage foods.  Will recalls a study that he saw of each state and how affable they are to cottage industries, and unfortunately, Kentucky was at the bottom of the list.  Will’s wife’s family was from Ohio, where the farmer can process 2,000 chickens a year on-farm.  In Arkansas, one can do 20,000, in Kentucky, 0.  The closest poultry processor to the Bowling family is two hours away.  Having to pay $4 a head for processing and paying for gasoline and time to transport them so far makes it difficult to want to make any sort of living doing a small-scale chicken operation.  Fortunately, the Jackson County Regional Food Center is going to be bringing the mobile poultry processing center back.  Will is excited about the prospect of only needing to travel thirty minutes and being able to only have to pay a fraction of the price that he would be paying at other processing centers.  This will make poultry profitable again, and he’ll be able to pass some of the savings on to the consumer. He has been pre-selling chickens and has already sold a couple hundred.

Old Homeplace Farm’s (as Will and Maggie named their business) online market is appealing to younger people.  So many farmers in Eastern Kentucky see that most of their customer base is middle-age and older.  Will believes that this is possibly because younger people are too busy or preoccupied on weekend mornings to be interested in going to the farmers markets.  He recalls that he would be more likely to be fishing or hiking on a Saturday morning than going shopping at the farmer’s market. Will’s customer base seems to be a bit younger.  He credits this to the online farm store, where young people are more comfortable shopping online than many of the older generations.  They use the online resources to make sure that they are providing appropriate products and services.  Every fall when the field work slows down, they circulate a survey to all their online customers. They can answer anonymously, so any feedback is going to be an honest, unfiltered representation of customer opinion.  Nearly everybody in the surveys were asking for perennial crops, so they know that once they start growing perennials, they will be able to sell them.  Before they even purchased the first seed for the first season, they put out a survey to see what kinds of crops that people want.

There is a growing number of younger farmers as well as development organizations that are building a future for Kentucky food system.  Will credits much of their success with the relationships that he and his wife have built with young farmers in the area.  Before he was growing vegetables, he was able to visit with other young farmers that were already in production.  One of the biggest helps was with price setting.  He didn’t have much of an idea of what prices to ask for with many of his products but he was able to reach out and get help from the other young farmers in the region.  Another big help for farms and food systems in Eastern Kentucky has been the Community Farm Alliance.  They have launched the Appal-TREE program which is responsible for the Farmacy program, cooking programs, lunch programs for school children, as well as farm development assistance.  They’ve done a lot of farmers market support grants and done trainings for farmers market organizers.  Will got involved in CFA in 2010.  They’re focused on direct marketing and produce/livestock production as opposed to commodity crop agriculture, so the group is still building sustainable farms today, some decades since their inception.

Eastern Kentucky has a culture that is very tied to family and place.  Will’s family and farm is evidence of this, five generations later there are still family members on the old homeplace, working the land. Will recognizes that in most places in the rural South falls victim to “brain drain.”  That is, many people who grow up in a rural setting end up moving off of the farm and towards city centers where they can get educations and jobs other than farming.  Will went to college, but he knew that he would be coming back and a lot of what decided what he was going to major in.  He wanted to get a job that would not only ensure that he was able to go back to Eastern Kentucky to work, but that he would be able to come back to the old home of his family and have a job.  Wildlife conservation work was a suitable pick, and he feels very thankful that he was able to find employment.  In his field, “several thousand graduates a year, but not that many jobs that come open.” Many people that he grew up with went to college with hopes of returning home to be gainfully employed but weren’t as fortunate as Will.

Will was also fortunate to have the family farm to come back to.  Having a community and family to come back to is important to him.  He contends that most people around Eastern Kentucky also feel a sense of kinship to the land.  Being able to make a living off the land or at least to provide enough sustenance to feed one’s family is a cornerstone of Appalachian culture.  He sees this as a very important cultural characteristic and one that he sees only growing stronger in the future.  He worries though that Eastern Kentucky may end up becoming like Missoula Montana or Eastern Tennessee, where well-to-do people see that there is cheap land and buy it up to build vacation homes.  Will doesn’t see this as being an imminent danger, but it is something that worries him a bit.  He worries that there may come a time when people who are trying to cultivate crops on old family land will have a rough time of it because property prices would skyrocket if the hills were littered with timeshares and summer homes.

There is a tradition that is so strong in Eastern Kentucky, Will says he didn’t even know that it wasn’t commonplace until he went to college.  Most cemeteries have a meeting day once a year where the whole extended families and community members will get together and have sermons and music to honor their dead relatives.  They hold big gatherings in the cemeteries and then go on home to the old homeplaces to share a big dinner.  People from surrounding states will come back to the family graveyard and visit the old ancestral homeplaces.  Even people who have left feel deeply tied to the land. Will noticed that when he was in college, all of the Eastern Kentucky folks seemed to gravitate towards each other, so many of his friends shared his traditional values.

Health and resilience. In his work in wildlife biology, Will does a lot of data modeling.  This gave him a few more insights into the situation with the agroecological resilience of Eastern Kentucky compared to their health and poverty outcomes.  Looking at county-level data in farm and food systems throughout the Southern states, areas that show high levels of resilience- that is, areas where farms and food systems are able to survive and thrive in the face of disturbances- show much higher health outcomes and much lower poverty than areas that don’t show high resilience scores.  Eastern Kentucky is the exception to this strong trend.  They have farms that have survived for over a hundred years, they have farmers that do a lot of direct marketing and don’t use very many chemicals.  Despite this, health outcomes are very low and it’s one of the poorest regions in the United States.

Will notes that “the map isn’t the territory” or that a model isn’t a perfect representation of reality.  He’s a analytic thinker and before proffering any answers as to what makes Eastern Kentucky different than most of the other surveyed areas, he offers some potential explanations.  One is whether the other highly resilient areas are more rural or urban.  He believes that this may color the outcomes. He sees that there are lower average health outcomes and income in rural areas.  He wonders if the indicators that show that Eastern Kentucky has a resilient food system are adequate to “tip the scales.”

Will does see that even though there are people from all across the economic and social spectrum who buy from him, but the one unifying aspect is that most of them care about their health.  They also see a lot of people who have SNAP and WIC benefits coming to the farmers markets.  He does acknowledge that there is a large portion of the population in Eastern Kentucky who aren’t concerned with healthy living and that can tip the scales.  “a lot of people who are keyed in on public benefits as a lifestyle aren’t going to be as  concerned with fresh food as a lot folks who aren’t on public assistance…those are the ones who are going to be gardening.”

Connectivity and innovation. Will gets a lot of information from the internet, but they also subscribe to trade journals and have a background in biology and research.  He and Maggie also look at things that SARE has done and they also try to make it to several conferences throughout the year.  They have a passion for learning.  He sees how it also helps him economically to be connected to other farmers, journals, and association. “On this farm, there are no sacred cows.” he said, acknowledging that one of the things that leads to the farm’s success is that no single production practice is beyond question.

The Bowlings represent the leading edge of resilient farming systems in Eastern Kentucky.  However, Eastern Kentucky agriculture cannot be understood without factoring in the influence of coal mining.  Such will be the topic of our next essay.


Regrets, we’ve had a few.  The latest is an acronym.  Yesterday we got word that our paper on resilience theory was published.  The paper explores how systems evolve under the pressure of disturbances such as climate change. Some call this resilience. We propose that eight qualities determine that resilience or evolution.  In that article, they are summarized by their initials: CLARDIET.


This morning I woke up convinced I should have used a much more timely acronym to summarize the theory.  CLIMATED.  To get this acronym, you only have to add D for Diversity at the end of climate.

The C in the model refers to connectivity.  All resilient systems are highly connected to other systems. Look at any lasting ecological system and you’ll see each individual is highly networked with other species.  But they maintain independence along with that connectivity.  Any component which is too dependent on any other component will die when that component dies.  Toyota car production in Japan plummeted 62.7% in March  2011 after a tsunami wiped out the sole source of a crucial part.

The L refers to locally self-organized.  Resilient systems organize themselves.  They are not organized from outside.  Regions which recover most quickly after a disaster are those where the local people are self-organized and begin their own relief efforts.  Many failures of international rural development efforts and federal antipoverty programs illustrate the lack of this quality. Such efforts are often organized by well-meaning people from outside the system with little to no input from local people.

The I is for innovation.  No system can change unless it has the capacity for innovation.  Biological systems evolve through changes in their genetic material (the DNA/histone complexes which are your chromosomes).  If these changes help the species survive and thrive, they will be passed on to the next generation.  Any business will fall behind which does not have the capacity to quickly adapt and change.  Just ask the buggy makers who didn’t evolve into automobile makers.  But innovation in resilient systems is always conservative.  Innovations do not fit within the existing system will fail.  Da Vinci invented a helicopter, but it took 400 more years before the a larger system existed in which a helicopter fit.

The M in the old acronym is Redundancy, which includes Maintenance.  Resilience systems replace themselves.  No agricultural system will be resilient if new farmers don’t come into the system. No individual farm is resilient unless its equipment is carefully maintained.  Maintenance requires that replacement parts be at hand or easily manufactured locally. The smooth functioning over time of any system requires that redundant systems be present to replace and maintain components of the system.

A is for accumulation of reserves and infrastructure.  Resilient farms are more likely to have wells and reservoirs for irrigation, increasing soil quality, storage for crops, and processing equipment.  Resilient ecosystems accumulate the reserves and infrastructure they need to survive.  A resilient tropical forest has huge reserves of nutrients accumulated in its vegetation, just as a resilient prairie has huge reserves of nutrients stored in its soil and vegetation.

T is for transformation.  Resilient systems regularly transform themselves.  Nations which languish under the same leadership for generation will stultify and decline.  A healthy temperate forest will have fire as part of its natural cycle of renewal.

E stands for ecologically integrated. Unless a system is integrated with the local natural ecology it cannot long survive without massive and continuous inputs from outside.  The failure of Northern Europeans in Greenland was due to dependence of sheep, cattle and hay. The native Inuits resiliently relied on fish and seals which were still abundant when climate cooled and not enough forage could be grown for ruminants.

Diversity is the quality designated D.  The diversity of resilient ecosystems is unbelievable–try to count the thousands of species in any shovel of healthy soil. But sometimes an increase in diversity can destroy a system.  Introducing kudzu into the U.S. South seemed sensible to those who wanted a fast-growing specie palatable to grazing animals.  Until it began to grow over and smother existing species.  Who would have expected the harmless rabbit to wreak such havoc in Australia.  Diversity only contributes to resilience when it is complementary to other component system.


Here’s the article we just got published:

Does Amarillo Texas love local more than any other city?

“People in Amarillo love local food and local businesses.”  “The more local you are, the more Amarillo customers like you.”

At first glance, Amarillo Texas doesn’t seem like a bastion of local food.  Amarillo is the biggest town in the dry and dusty Texas Panhandle. As you approach this High Plains city, such title does not seem to fit the treeless, monocultured landscape surrounding Amarillo. Then, as you get to the edge of Amarillo, you come upon a display of ten Cadillacs buried with their noses in the ground and their tails waving to new arrivals.  That’s your first indication that Amarillo has some interesting people. Interstate 40 slices through town to reveal the usual chain stores at most interchanges. But get off the interstate and the you find the truth of the city. We soon learned once again that resilience and sustainability depend on the attitudes and qualities of the people not the ecosystem where they live.


The first thing we found is that the dominant grocery store chain is local.  It’s called United and has 13 supermarkets in Amarillo with six as big as Walmart.  They try to buy all their produce from local farmers.  The farm providing the food is cited at point of purchase displays.

The dominant convenience store chain is also local and buys local food. The present owner’s father began Toot’n Totum with one store in Amarillo in 1950. Today, with 68 stores, the Amarillo company has as much as 80% of the convenience store market share in Amarillo.  Toot’n Totum has expanded by out-competing and then buying out stores belonging to national chains.  They bought 12 Jiffy Food Stores in 1969, four Circle K’s in 1985, 15 7-Elevens in 1988, 11 Diamond Shamrocks in 1995, 10 Phillips66 stores in 2004 and 10 Express Land stores in 2013.

Toot’n Totum isn’t the only locally-owned convenience store chain in town. Pak-A-Sak coordinates 21 stores from its headquarters in Amarillo.  In 1978 Dale and Joyce McKee opened the first Pak-A-Sak convenience store in nearby Canyon, TX. Now their three sons, with help from the third generation, runs the local chain from Amarillo.

In 2010 Pak-A-Sak followed Toot’n Totum’s lead and bought out stores of a national chain. Pak-A-Sak bought two primarily drive-thru Starbucks locations and turned them into Pak-A-Sak Expresses.

The Starbucks locations were available since a local coffee company 1s preferred by Amarilloans.  Roasters was opened in 1992 to bring the finest coffee freshly roasted to Amarillo.  They have several locations and also provide coffee for local burrito stores.

Tex-Mex food is another area where Amarillo folk prefer a local company: Sharkey’s—named after longtime chef Sharkey Gonzalez.  Chipotle found out when it floundered in the Amarillo market. Chipotle’s business model (a fast, casual, build-your-own concept instead of full service) is virtually identical to Sharkey’s so they were going head to head for the same customers.  Chipotle’s sales nosedived after being established in 2014. Locals predict Chipotle will soon leave town, citing lower prices and more personal service at Sharkey’s.

Sharkey’s has locations in two other nearby cities.  Chipotle appears to have not learned its lesson in Amarillo since they recently (February 2017) opened a store in Abilene, near the Sharkey’s location. Sharkey’s is also planning a second store in Amarillo.

In the Mexican fast food arena, Amarilloans also prefer the local businesses.  Taco Villa is a local chain with stores throughout west Texas and just across the border in New Mexico.  Taco Bell and Taco Bueno just can’t provide the local connection.

Italian food is another area where Amarillo prefers locally-owned businesses.  Macaroni Joe’s is a locally owned and operated establishment and has been serving its customers since 1999. Macaroni Joe’s focuses on the same dining experience offered by Olive Garden, a national chain.  Olive Garden attracts visitors coming through on I-40 while the locals vastly prefer Macaroni Joe’s.

The owners of Macaroni Joe’s have used their local notoriety to establish stand alone business focusing on barbecue (Joe Daddy’s), tacos (Joe Taco) and catering (Joe’s Catering).

Fine dining is not a crowded sector in Amarillo, but chef Dillan Mena has transformed Midtown Kitchen and, most recently, Ember Steak House to become focused on local food.

Amarilloans’ preference for local food is also seen in specific products. Tascosa Hot Sauce has been in the area since 1957 and made in a small building near downtown Amarillo.   It’s a family business makes about 280 gallons of hot sauce a day.    That’s about 1,800 jars a day.  One of the unique things about the product is it’s made by hand. It originated in a small, family owned tortilla factory, Tascosa Tortilla Company. Tascosa Hot Sauce began commercial wholesale distribution in the mid-90’s and has been Tascosa-ing’ taste buds all over the country ever since. They’ve shipped the product to over 26 states and internationally.

The source of local food for these business are a handful of producers who stress greenhouse production combined with some outdoor growing.  Ronnie Kimbrell is a pioneer and leader among these growers.  He established and managed the Amarillo Farmer’s Market until 2016.  How and why he did it all is a topic for another essay, but his story is as fascinating as the overall Amarillo dedication to locally-owned businesses.

The Resilience Project came to Amarillo because our quantitative index of sustainability and resilience showed the Amarillo area to rank among the highest in the South.  Our in depth study of the city supports the principle that resilient cities support locally-owned and operated businesses.  These businesses must be self-organized by the residents of the community.

Similarly, communities which bounce back from floods are the ones where locals organize themselves to deal with disasters.  Self-organized systems are the hallmark of resilience to any disturbance.  In food systems, that means locally owned processing and marketing will dominate.  They sure do in Amarillo.