from the grass roots

There are good stories to be told about the contemporary state of sustainable rangeland management. To begin with, there is a growing body of knowledge – amassed through research and experience – about what to do and how to do it. Of equal importance, there is a growing willingness among all involved – from land owners to producers to processors to retailers – to put that knowledge into practice. And the combination of knowledge and practice is producing successful results.

Yet these stories are not being told in such a way as to become part of the larger narrative of sustainability. Academics principally do their telling to other academics in journal articles and conference presentations and the like; processors and retailers do theirs through advertising and public relations programs aimed at consumers; while land owners and producers have few, if any, means to tell their stories to anyone.

Jay O’Brien, Amarillo, Texas
Adam Issacs, Canadian, Texas
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Delbert Trew, Alanreed, Texas

Why does it matter? Because stories build narrative, and narrative is essential, narrative being the root source of human history and culture. Sustainability is not a goal, but rather a way of doing, a state of being that requires the participation of the whole of humankind across all peoples and down through the generations. As such, sustainability is a process, not a product, which means that it cannot be sold through advertising or made acceptable through public relations campaigns. It can only be realized through the participation in narrative.

Grass – in some ways the humblest of plants – is the nexus between sunlight, soil, and water, springing as it does from the root and spreading rhizomatically, building the physical narrative that is the rangeland itself. It also provides the perfect model for telling the stories that build – in the same way – the narrative of sustainability. The individual people who are invested in sustainable rangeland management – land owners and producers, processors and retailers, academics and ecologists, social activists and artists, users and consumers – these are the roots. Their individual stories – the blades, or leaves – can be shared by means of short, self-created videos offered on YouTube – which can be thought of as the rhizomatic network, the whole forming a system from the bottom-up rather than from the top-down, a system democratic with a small d and catholic with a small c.


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