The Radical Center

October 6, 2012

Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta once lectured a class I took on public policy. He spoke of the ineffectiveness of politicians who hold extreme views, not just in Washington D.C. or Sacramento, but in cities across the United States. He said where good public policy happens is actually in the middle. He called it the “gray area” and said it’s really “the only place where anything gets done.” The most effective politicians work with their opponents to find consensus. They are the true leaders, the visionaries who can see beyond their own self-interests. The same is true in the local food movement.

CEO Joe delivering beef

Joe Morris delivers the goods to customers throughout California.

Our friend and colleague Courtney White of the Albuquerque-based Quivira Coalition calls it “The Radical Center.” I love that term because it brings to mind the passion and determination often associated with extremes, yet the wisdom and calmness of being centered and balanced. Morris Grassfed Beef Co-founder and CEO Joe Morris was recently awarded the Quivira Coalition’s 2012 Clarence Burch Award, celebrating his work to bring ranchers, environmentalists, policymakers and the public together on issues of food, climate change, and land management. If there ever were contentious groups, they would be the steak loving, property-rights proponent ranchers and the lefty, vegetarian, public lands access advocating environmentalists. Local food producers are both. We are rural farmers and ranchers who depend upon urban, city dwellers to consume our goods. We operate daily in “The Radical Center.” Local food producers can be seen as radical, especially when we compete with the larger, food manufacturing industry. We are a disruptive innovation to the national companies who have economies of scale enabling them to charge less and fund slick marketing campaigns. But we know our customers and they know us. We invite them to our farms and ranches. We are often family and/or employee owned and involved in our communities. We are authentic.

Nominated by the California Climate and Agriculture Network, Joe was recognized for his work in the gray areas Mr. Panetta spoke of to educate groups on our interdependence. I’ve heard him tell vegetarians, “If you drink water, you should care about how grazing affects your watershed.” and I’ve heard him tell ranchers, “If you want to maintain this culture, we need to work with our neighbors to preserve open space.” I am celebrating Joe’s 21 years of finding that common ground and collaborating with so many different groups to create a successful and sustainable model of local food production and distribution. When we started direct marketing Morris Grassfed Beef 21 years ago, we had a handful of customers who were family and friends that loved our beef: the taste, the humane treatment of our herd, and the environmental benefits they knew it provided. Today, we are selling to more than 900 individual customers from Sacramento to San Diego, all people who have opted to be a part of this amazing community. The “Radical Center” is getting bigger and bigger, and that’s a good thing. 


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