Modesto Bee editorial: Pope, farmers have more in common than they know

From the Modesto Bee editorial board:

Two stories caught our interest this week that centered on folks who might not seem to have much in common – Pope Francis and some Central Valley farmers.

The first story was a look at the document first leaked, then released, by the Vatican containing Pope Francis’ plea for all of mankind to take better care of Earth. Forcefully, he condemned exploitation and unbridled consumption of resources that we all depend on and should share.

With a degree and a work history in chemistry, Pope Francis apparently wants to make the estimated 2 billion Catholics worldwide understand that they must do more to protect what he considers one of God’s greatest gifts to humanity – our planet. He noted the pollution man creates daily is destroying the Earth and endangering everything that lives on it. He calls for changes in our lifestyles and energy consumption.

How does that connect to farmers?

The day after we read of the pontiff’s encyclical, we read a story from Modesto Bee reporter John Holland about a program to help protect threatened tricolor blackbirds. By agreeing to delay harvest of a feed crop that provides a favored nesting site for birds, Valley farmers will likely save thousands of nests, eggs and fledglings. That could make a difference for a species that once numbered in the millions but now is feared to be less than 150,000.

The nutritional value of the harvest will be degraded by waiting, but a payment of $600 per acre from the federal Natural Resources Conservation Service will help offset the loss.

We don’t know if this act of stewardship will help the environment, but it can’t hurt. All things, after all, are connected.

We applaud both the federal program and the farmers. But they’re not the only examples of environmental consciousness found on farms. Not even the best.

Take the methane digesters at Fiscalini Farms, west of Modesto, or on the giant digester at Joseph Farms in Atwater. They gather up a substantial amount of manure (it takes a lot of cows to make all that cheese), remove the methane and use it to generate power.

Methane is a far more potent ozone killer than carbon dioxide, so keeping any of it out of the atmosphere is a good thing. When using it in place of fossil fuels to create electricity, that’s even better.

The cheesemakers at Joseph Farms and Fiscalini have figured out a way to do that.

Others farmers have installed solar panels to generate electricity, and others have replaced diesel pumps with electric pumps.

In his encyclical, the pope takes to task all who deny the obvious changes in our climate and their cause: “The attitudes that stand in the way of a solution, even among believers, range from negation of the problem to indifference to convenient resignation or blind faith in technical solutions.”

Those farmers who are protecting blackbirds, who are finding a way to keep methane out of the atmosphere, who care more for their land than they do for short-term profits – and we believe that describes most farmers – are doing what at least one man of God thinks they should be doing.

When you’re doing God’s work, you don’t always have to wear a backward collar or a robe; sometimes mud-caked boots and ballcaps work, too.

See the editorial on the Modesto Bee site here.

 

 

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