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Baxter Black

Baxter Black tackles ag issues with a strong funny bone. Black is an American cowboy, poet, philosopher and former veterinarian.


As we pulled off of California Highway 101 into Gilroy, I was assailed by the pungent odor of garlic. When I rolled down the window my eyes began to water and my nose tingled. A blind man driving down the road wouldn’t need a sign to tell him he had arrived at the Annual Garlic Festival!

If there were any secular or religious worshipers of garlic, Gilroy would serve as their Mecca. Yet it is not alone in its oleic appeal.

I flew into Wenatchee, Washington, one summer. As we deboarded the airplane, the pleasant aroma of the apple orchards filled the air. I began to salivate.

Another time I saw a bumper sticker on a fertilizer salesman’s truck in the agriculturally rich San Joaquin Valley near Bakersfield, California. It read, “I © Ammonia.” To each his own.

Certain smells can bring back vivid memories. I spent a lot of my working life in the feedlots. When I drive through towns like Hereford, Texas, or Dodge City, Kansas, my mind fills my nostrils with scents of front-end loaders cleaning pens, moldy hay, fermenting grain, Terramycin on my fingers, rumen contents and feedyard dust. It’s an olfactory bouquet that still gives me a warm feeling. On the other hand, when I smell freshly mown hay or a farmer out cutting his 5-acre lawn, I roll up the window and grab my allergy pills!

We spent a day at the garlic festival and ate or tasted a panoply of garlic concoctions: sausage, chicken, bread, pork, prawns, artichokes, rattlesnake, ice cream, squid, potatoes, corn on the cob, candy, oysters, honey, caulking, house paint, deodorant, fly spray, time-release suppositories and mouthwash.

It has qualities that are touted, particularly as being “good for the heart.” Although that is disputed, it is certainly a good excuse should the ‘patient’ be shunned by friends and family for having halitosis strong enough to drive a hyena off a bucket of baboon livers.

“Whoops, sorry darlin’. I chew this clove of garlic to prevent artistic fibrillation. I think your bangs will grow back!”

Next morning as we were leaving Gilroy we remarked that we could no longer smell that deep, penetrating garlic odor. Then an oncoming vehicle swerved wildly, and I saw the driver grabbing at his nose.

Maybe, we observed, we had become used to it.

Moral: One man’s hog farm is another man’s garlic shampoo. PD

I don’t think of myself as a dairyman, though my first cow was an Ayrshire milk cow complete with long horns. Goldie was her name. My father milked her in the morning and it was my chore to do the evening milking. I was in the third grade when I began.

My younger brother’s job was to feed the chickens. His nemesis was a big red rooster named Oscar. Brother would have been 6 years old then, and he was no match for Oscar. So we made a deal. I’d carry a stick and keep Oscar at bay while Brother gathered eggs and scattered chicken feed. This was in trade for him holding Goldie’s tail while I milked. In the warm months, he’d slap my bare back with a wet rag to keep the flies off of me. Mother made butter. I recall we had a small electric churn. Brother No. 3 was born, and Goldie kept our family supplied with dairy products.

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To ethanol, or not to ethanol, that is the question.

Whether it’s better to pay less for a gallon of gas and get less miles per gallon, or to pay more and go further on the same gallon? This is the question that motorized man has passed down through the ages. Is the perception of being “green” more important than keeping the price of corn down? It depends on the size of your tank, your tolerance for frequent stops, the coffee at your convenience store, your stock in Chevron or your job at the feedlot.

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I like vegetarians. I like organic farmers, I like mule people, purebred breeders, heelers, bankers, equine practitioners, county agents, BLMers, cat lovers and cowboy poets.

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Never was my observation “It’s easy to be green when it’s not personal,” more obvious than today. As population increases and suburbanization encroaches on previously rural countryside, each new settler or squatter must face their own deleterious impact on the environment.

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How many of you think of the Humane Society of the United States as a benevolent benign group whose focus is to rescue, care for and humanely dispose of the hundreds of thousands of unwanted dogs and cats? So did I. I have always looked at them with respect and lent my support. I am saddened to see their transformation into a radical animal rights group now aligned with PETA and the Farm Sanctuary.

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