Is it all Monsanto’s fault?


The most obvious answer is “yes!”  Consider the story of Monsanto.  The  Ag-Chemical giant has been in and out of court for everything from cancer possibly caused by the wildly profitable Round-Up, to lawsuits they filed themselves against unsuspecting non-customer farmers for inadvertent cross-pollination of said farmer’s crops by Monsanto’s GMO seeds.  Clearly they’re the bad guy. Those seeds, by the way, are modified to tolerate direct application of Round-Up, after which we eat the Doritos, sodas and hamburgers (via feedlot cows) that result, pesticide residue and all.  So whether or not it does cause cancer, it’s no wonder the question is raised; the last time a company promoted pesticide so safe it could be eaten was DDT (also a Monsanto product, by the way), and that didn’t go well.

But before we call out Monsanto as the bad guy in the demise of modern agriculture, consider a day in the life of Hugh Grant, Monsanto’s final and highly awarded CEO.  (Grant announced his departure in March, after Monsanto was acquired by Bayer.)

Grant (suddenly top candidate as bad guy in our story) led Monsanto from 2003 to 2018.  He would have woken up those 15 years with a handful priorities, most of them related to profit.  But does that make him a bad guy?  His 10 million dollar compensation puts a target on his back, but that pales against the 2.27 billion net income he created his final year for shareholders.

And who are the shareholders?

Most of us, actually.  As a part of both S&P 500 and Dow Jones, the value increase of Monsanto stock was likely tucked into your (and certainly my) 401k and IRA to create a diversified retirement account.  So really, we all profited from Grant’s business acumen and profit focus.  Meanwhile, we all got the cheaper food we asked for (at least indirectly by voting with our dollars), so does that make US the bad guy we’re looking for?

Maybe.  But nobody can blame us for investing our money wisely, and trying to save on groceries.  And our buddy Grant was actually obligated by law (and pressured by shareholders, like any corporate CEO) to create maximum shareholder value.   Our hunt for a bad guy comes to an end.  There IS no bad guy.  As far classic storytelling goes, this story stinks!

Or does it.

Classic storytelling requires a protagonist, an unlikely hero who “undergoes change” to overcome adversity.

I think THAT’S us.  We Americans are the protagonist, the hero of our own story.  Historically we have asked for groceries to be cheap, creating a need for the Monsanto’s (now Bayer’s) of the world.  GMO’s and factory farming have replaced poly-cultures as we vote with our dollars, at the cost of soil and human health.

But Americans are a clever bunch.  At our family’s Six Sigma Ranch & Winery, we saw 4,000 guests last year who figured it out.  They came to see grazing cows and sheep-filled vineyards.  And they voted with their dollars to the tune of $19 per pound for bacon, and $48 for a great bottle of Tempranillo.  Is that expensive?  Yes.  But it makes an event out of a meal with friends and family, and steers clear of many issues tied to factory farming.

So the bad news is that we all created the problem.  The good news is that we can switch our purchasing from corporate farms to thousands of transparent family operations and fix it.








Cover the Ground, Change the World


That is my tomato patch. It’s pretty pathetic. In a rush, I planted the plot without improving the soil or covering the ground. I did cover it later, but it was too little too late. Thus, my tomatoes are sad and unproductive.

As opposed to what you find under my tomatoes plants, healthy soils are usually dark. That dark color comes from carbon.  Plants capture carbon from the air and put it in the ground. Carbon also ends up in the soil by decomposition from organic matter (think compost). All this good stuff leaves the soil through evaporation if it is not covered.

The good folks at the Savory Institute speculate that the grasslands of the earth have the potential to absorb enough carbon to reduce greenhouse gas concentrations to pre-industrial levels. They believe Holistic Planned grazing can accomplish this. See

One aspect of this grazing strategy is to increase the number of animals and put them on a small piece of pasture for a very short period of time. They enjoy all the good grasses and trample all the other plants. The trampling covers the ground. No bare soil = a huge carbon sink.

I try to replicate this in my own garden by laying down thick green mulch. The success of this method is evident in my peppers. See below. They enjoyed soil improvement and mulch this season. This is just one contribution to changing the world.




Saving the World, one Grazing Cow at a Time

Cows on Hill

(This piece was originally published in the March 2015 newsletter from Six Sigma Ranch.)

Something interesting happened during the first five years we owned Six Sigma Ranch, and it wasn’t what my university degree in agriculture would have led me to expect.
The previous owner, Russell Rustici, had raised cattle on the property for 30 years, a practice that we put on hold during our first five years while we developed the vineyards. It puzzled me to see that the grass quality in our pastures declined during these five years. Shouldn’t the pastures grow spectacular grass when we let them rest from grazing? The answer to that question, in short, is “no.” And it took quite a bit of research to understand why. Stay with me for a minute…
Imagine a tree. Each year it grows leaves and then drops them to make room for new ones. Now imagine your lawn, likely comprised of fescue and other perennial grass species. You mow it, which removes the old growth and makes room for new growth. The result is that your grass stays healthy.
Now imagine that you don’t mow your lawn. The grass will get tall, but the old growth will crowd out the new growth, and eventually the plants will die. In the same way, land left un-grazed in arid climates like ours becomes a desert. For proof, look at large parts of Africa and the South West of the United States; as soon as human populations push the native grazers out of the picture, the desert takes over. That’s a serious problem.
In short, grass that gets moved (or grazed) stays healthy, while grass that is ignored gets weak and dies. Historically, large herds of grazers kept the world’s grasslands healthy. Predators kept the herds tightly bunched and moving, preventing overgrazing.
Today, moving herds of cattle continue to improve the quality of the pastures at Six Sigma Ranch. And, while it makes sense for the ecological benefits alone to keep cattle on the Ranch, it offers several extra benefits. Cattle make fertilizer for our vineyards, decorate the pastures, and supply our customers with some of the world’s finest pasture-raised beef.


PS.  If you would like to have each new blog post delivered to your inbox, just enter your email in the “follow box” on the home page, or simply email us at or

Farming, Personal Growth

I Learned to Flip a Sheep From YouTube

2014-05-11 17.35.58 copy

Indeed, I learned to flip a sheep from YouTube. (See Picture for my sheep handling skills) We had one that required urgent care while the experts at Kaos Sheep Company, whom we usually call, were not available. So I spent an evening at home watching videos and practicing on imaginary sheep in the air. The next day, I went out and performed the deed, from catching to flipping. It took two tries and was exhausting, but the task was done. When the experts came out for shearing, I got some tips on how to do it better; my method was almost right, but if I had to do it my way all day, I would have been too tired to walk. With an adjustment from an expert, things became easier for me, and less dramatic for the sheep.

My lesson: Seek the advice of experts, even if you feel like you already know what you are doing. Most likely, you can do better.