CLI’s “Cowboy-in-Chief”, Joe Morris, just won a major environmental award. Here’s his acceptance speech!

Address to Quivira’s Clarence Burch award banquet—November 2012


Thank you.  Tonight I am greatly honored to be standing in front of you all, whom I admire so much, receiving this wonderful award.  I feel deeply grateful and a great sense of humility, for I know that in a perfect world this dais would be over-crowded with my friends, many of whom are here tonight, who have taught me, who have inspired me, who have struggled with me to understand what must be understood, and who, along side of me, have built the soil and cultivated the roots of this “radical center” community that we have been honoring and celebrating here these last three days.


When I heard that I had been selected to receive the Clarence Burch award I immediately understood the compulsion of Oscar award winners to thank everybody under the stars for whatever role they played in helping advance the winner to the podium.   Their time almost always runs short because the list of those who have helped them succeed is almost always very long.  It has dawned on me that while the saying most famously is that “It takes a village to raise a child!” it is also true that “It takes a village to do almost anything of real value in this life.” And nature teaches us that this is entirely true: we are all connected; we do not succeed alone.  I count you as members of my village, and I am grateful to you and for your own very important work.


I cannot stop there, though, for I feel the award winner’s compulsion to list a few people I would like to specifically mention and give thanks. 


First, I would like to thank The Quivira Coalition Board and Avery and Courtney for selecting me as one of this year’s Clarence Burch award winners and even more for your outstanding work to draw together the “radical center.”  Your work, particularly this conference, is always educational, always inspirational and always fun.  I have profited greatly from attending this conference, and I will be back.


I would like to thank Andy Dunigan and his family for their generous support of the Quivira Coalition and our collective work.  I had the pleasure of spending a morning with Andy and hearing a bit about his grandfather Clarence, and I am honored that my work is considered to be a meaningful contribution to the work of that great man.


I would like to thank Renata Brillinger of the California Climate and Agriculture Network, and my friends Steve Dorrance, Sallie Calhoun and Grey Hayes who have worked closely with me over the years and very kindly nominated me for this award.


I would also like to mention my grandfather, John Baumgartner, a contemporary of Clarence Burch and a great leader of the ranching industry, who introduced me to the traditions of the California vaquero and nurtured in me an abiding love for land and animals and the people who care for the ranches. 


My mom and dad, who are here tonight and have not missed a Quivira conference since they began, and I am thankful to them for listening to my dreams as a little boy, for encouraging me to pursue them as a young man, and for supporting me in that pursuit in so many ways.  They have been tireless leaders in their respective communities, and their example of hope and faith in the goodness of life has had a profound effect on my own approach to living, loving, work and play.


I would like to thank my Uncle Peter, my sisters and brother who have been with me the whole way and have offered their creative and even financial support, as well as enthusiastic pats on the back and good advice, all of which is most appreciated.


I would like to thank Julie, my incredible wife and fellow dreamer, my biggest cheerleader and greatest support through all the challenges and successes we have experienced along our way.  Her cheery disposition, warm laugh and love for fun belie the deep wisdom she has shared with me throughout our lives together.  I could not have made it here without her.  And Sarah and Jack, our two kids who I am delighted to have with us here tonight, I thank for all their hard work on our ranches and hope the burgers and milkshakes made up some for the long hours.


And I would like to thank my many mentors.  The litany of their names and the ways they have helped me and inspired me is too long to read tonight.  Suffice it to say that their wisdom and inspiration has made an enormous difference in my life and my capacity to learn, to change and to serve the needs of the land, our animals and our community.


However, I must note my thanks to a few people who have had a profound influence on the way I think, what I believe and how I am a steward of the land. 


Allan Savory, for his paradigm changing work and clear sightedness, for the simple, elegant tools of holistic goal and testing guidelines and the insights about the relationships we are managing on our ranches. 


Tom Dorrance and Bud Williams for helping me to see my relationship to animals in a new way.


And Jeff Goebel and Bob Chadwick for their consensus building work that makes the proverb, “Two heads are better than one!”, really come true.


In business they say one needs to discover one’s unfair advantage; it is clear to me that my early and unapologetic appreciation for the genius of these men’s work has been for me an unfair advantage—one that I gladly share, to be sure—and without which my career in ranching and community building might never have happened and surely would have not been as effective.


I stand on the enormous and generous shoulders of all of these people, and I am forever grateful.


So what is next?


We have climate change; we have droughts; we have failing ranch communities.  We also have an excess of carbon in the atmosphere, but this, as we know offers a surprising opportunity to enrich our organic matter impoverished soils.  We are in need of rapid and creative learning and change.  We also have inspiring examples of people who learn rapidly and make change effortlessly.  We also have neighbors who are apparently unable to make this change in spite of these examples around the world and sometimes just across the fence.   


Can we address the root cause of this inertia?  How do we create the needed change? 


I would say that the cause of our inertia is that fearful state that produces a “water-tight” seal around our brains.  I don’t believe, however, we need to wait for the evolution of our brains.  Rather I suggest we use the brains we have in a better way.  It has been noted a number of times during this conference that we have the knowledge to do the things we need to do.  I believe we also have the knowledge to help ourselves and our communities use our brains better.


A few of us in California, in collaboration with Peter Donovan and the Soil Carbon Coalition, propose to do this.  We are looking for ranchers who are interested in the idea of holistic planned grazing but have not been able to move themselves to do it on their ranches.  They are out there and we propose to find them, organize them a bit and encourage them to do a trial on their ranches:  Rancher to Rancher trials.  Without beginning with a workshop, we propose to get groups of these ranchers together around a barbecue grill and with a bottle of beer—after all, look what it did for Colin!  My greatest teachers taught that a cow or a horse must be allowed to learn.  We propose to give willing ranchers this same courtesy.


 In common language and in a relaxed environment we can use the tools of holistic management and consensus building to help people articulate the holistic context of their lives and the possible tools that might help them be successful given the current conditions of their land.  The commitment of the ranchers would be to PLAN to graze a small paddock—or a lot on their ranch—according to the time needed for recovery of plants, the litter needed for soil cover and the needs of the animals and cowboys involved.  We would intend it to be fun.  We would plan for it to produce success for the ranchers.


There would be a simple guide to monitoring: some ranchers might opt to include a soil carbon-transect; others might find observation of the ecosystem processes sufficient.  A creative tension would be created between the current conditions and their description of the best possible conditions for their paddock.   It is this sort of tension that the brain feels compelled to resolve; it is the basis of the creative process.


In our meetings not only would there be food and beer but things would be structured so that people would not only learn, we would learn to move beyond our fears: we would learn to learn in light of the ever-changing circumstances of life.


The result we hope for would be that we become more creative on our ranches to support the needs of our families and to address the “wicked” problems on our land and in our communities. 


And this, I believe, is one way to move our land and people toward that America—or World—that is possible.  My hope is that (a) it is consistent with the mission of the Quivira Coalition and (b) that if you have learned something tonight that would help us be successful, that you would let us know your advice.  It would be more than welcome. 


We are so creatively powerful when our minds are relaxed and open to new possibilities.  It is then that we can see new paths: new paths of marketing our beef or talents; new paths of managing our animals and lands that are more fun, more beautiful, more profitable; new paths for creating healthy and peaceful communities; new paths for addressing our differences and fears; new paths that we need to find because the well trodden paths are not getting us where we want to go. 


These new paths might be less traveled, but there is good company to be found upon them.  Be hopeful.  Thank you!

















About Community Links International

Community Links is an environmental, service-learning, immersion, volunteer, and international educational organization.
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