Cannabis

Local Livestock Manager Remembers When Flow Kana Canceled Animal Grazing Contract Risking Dangerous Fire Fuel Buildup

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Tires actively burning during the Broiler Fire [Picture by Matt LaFever]

To the entire team at FlowKana and Flow Ranch:

It is with disappointment and dismay that I send this message. 

On July 7 when my fire pager toned out for the Broiler Fire, I thought about the grasslands I spent a whole season grazing at the Flow Ranch, and I hoped that your promises about fire safety had been kept. Last year, when you chose not to renew my contract with less than 6 weeks notice, I wrote a few messages (see below) about what I felt was your responsibility as a company and landowner in our county. I asked about a fire safety plan for Flow Ranch, hoping to see an alternative to grazing that would ensure safety for my community. I shared my feelings about being treated like a tractor, a machine that could be parked and not thought of until it is time to be used. I see now that FlowKana attempted to replace grazing with the mechanical option, using the fast and cheap method for fuels reduction. I also see that FlowKana couldn’t even treat the tractor with the respect it deserves, using it recklessly and causing loss of property and extreme stress in a community traumatized by fire.  

You attempted to deal with the fuels problem rather than treat the land as a complex series of relationships that foster life and death. You reduced your relationship to the land to one of control. I wish it didn’t have to happen this way, but my hope is that this fire is a wake up call for all of you, to assess your impact and dig deep for root causes of the harm you have caused. This fire reflects larger truths about your organization, with yet another chapter of bridges burned in this community.

When you first moved in, I was optimistic that some big players were finally on our side. Donations started to flow to non profits, locals benefitted from new jobs, and farmers saw a chance for their small regenerative farms to thrive. I trusted you with my own flock and contract grazing business, thinking we were forming a long term relationship. But you have withdrawn further and further from your original promises and mission, cutting core parts of your sustainability and community resiliency programs, losing an incredible farming community, leaving what behind?

I hope that as an organization you will renew your commitment to cultivating a strong community, to acting with integrity and practicing the values you say you hold rather than serving as an extractive force in our community.  At the very least, I hope you learn to manage the land safely and with respect.

Wishing you a successful damage control,

Ruthie

Previous emails referenced above:”I am not a Tractor,” sent 2/3/20, after my upcoming grazing season was canceled at Flow Ranch:

The healthiest way I know to work through anger and disappointment is to be direct and honest about it. I feel the need to share my reflections on the Flow Ranch management decisions, and the way in which FlowKana conducted that decision making, with hopes that the company will take this experience and learn from it. I take responsibility for building up expectations that may have not been shared by the company, and looking back I see how I could have set myself up differently so I wouldn’t have such a harsh let down. The first year working at Flow Ranch I was told repeatedly that FK is “in it for the long run, the long game, understanding this is the slow and steady model for land management and that it will take years to build back soil and ecosystem and fire safety into that land.” I felt totally engaged by the project, supported by the company, and ultimately felt secure in the next year of grazing.

As you know, farming takes a lot of forward planning, so I typically make my grazing plan in the fall for the next year. I am committed to feeding sheep grass not grain, and so the grazing chart is an essential piece for me to be sure I will be able to meet that goal. I made my plan, submitted the proposal, and moved forward overwintering a large flock of sheep knowing that I would be able to foot the costs of overwintering that size of flock with the contract in the Spring. If I had known that the contract wouldn’t be resigned, I would have downsized my flock to the feed sources I had available, would have altered my budget and plan significantly, and would not have found myself in this predicament today. As it stands, I didn’t get a response until less than 2 months from the start date for the grazing contract. Less than 2 months to replan an entire 6 months of grazing, let alone a significant portion of my planned income. I have spent a few thousand dollars keeping the flock size this large in order to meet the grazing goals of FK. I am now in a position where I am selling off parts of the flock to pay for the overwinter costs, quickly finding land available to graze, and scrambling to find a way to make up the lost income. 

This decision has been devastating to my business and to me personally and it is hard for me to believe in the values FlowKana says they have when I am told that short term sacrifices are being made for the long term benefit. I want you to know that one of those sacrifices being made is me. I’m not sure how or if I will rebound through this year as a shepherd. I should have been more cautious with putting so many of my eggs, my trust, in one basket, and with trusting the words of a quickly growing corporation with an investor model that is satisfied with discontinuing this project. It feels disingenuous to the values I have heard spoken that Flowkana cares about the community, about the farmers, about social sustainability, because you and I know that it takes great care and communication to do that well. Instead, I was led to believe we had a plan and then dropped at the last minute, like a number on a spreadsheet. 
Maybe I should have guessed that this is how business is done in the world of corporate cannabis, with all the right words and phrases being used without actions to back them up. I had a lot of faith that FlowKana was different. Not only am I disappointed in the plan to use fossil fuels to mow 50+ acres of grassland, but the way it was communicated so late in the game without regard to the fact that I had adjusted my model and my plans to meet the supposed needs of the company. I feel slighted, pushed aside as expendable, like a tractor that can just be parked until it is needed and not like the hundred living creatures that need planning and care 365 days a year. Maybe there is a plan to restart the grazing plan at Flow Ranch in the future, but will I still be sitting here waiting eagerly to jump in and commit to it?

I know you represent this company as valuing the voice of the farmer, so I ask you to acknowledge that people are not like tractors to be parked or numbers to be shifted into different columns. People need care and consideration, and if the company is too large or too focused on investor payback to provide that then it needs to stop using language that leads us to believe that is a core value. In a community this small, every single relationship is important, and I wanted to share that your relationship with me has been compromised. 

I am leaving for two weeks, to try to reconfigure what my year will look like and how I will rebound from this major shift to my small operation. I look forward to your response. 

“Flow Ranch fire safety,” sent 1/13/20, after news that my fire grazing contract would likely not be renewed:

Dear Warren,

I am writing today with some thoughts and questions, after sitting with the news that Flow Ranch will not be grazed this year. From my phone call with you, I understand that Flowkana is needing to limit its’ spending while monitoring the industry this year. I totally understand and respect the process of altering the plan based on reality, and it is unfortunate that this project will have to be put on hold until the company is back on course. 

My concern is with how the Flow Ranch will be managed for fire this year. As a person living in the fireshed of Flowkana, a grazer who became intimately connected with that land, and a firefighter who understands the fire danger in this region, I was concerned to hear about the cancellation of the fire grazing plan for this season. I sincerely hope that Flowkana will put fire safety as a top priority for the budget regardless of how the industry is doing, and that while you are sacrificing your vision for carbon sequestration, biodiversity, soil management, and water storage, you will carefully plan for fuel reduction. 

Fuel reduction should not be considered optional for land owners in this region, and while I know that grazing services are a more expensive tool to use, there is no option for a free fire safety plan for Flow Ranch. For the safety of everyone living in this region, I hope you will at the very least mow and weedwhack the land. It is a cheaper option than grazing, though it is one that emits carbon rather than storing it through heavy usage of fossil fuels, which may be a sacrifice that Flowkana is willing to make while the industry finances are better assessed. A quick calculation shows mowing 43 acres at Flow Ranch will emit roughly 41,497 lbs of carbon into the atmosphere, while grazing that same acreage can pull out and store 8,600 lbs of carbon out of the atmosphere and into the soil! If there is still interest in maintaining the original vision of demonstrating your values on the land, I am open to discussing the budget for a fire safety plan at Flow Ranch. 

The amount of money budgeted for mowing and weed whacking the land for baseline fire safety could be allocated differently and creatively if we put our minds to it and commit to reducing carbon in the atmosphere rather than pumping more in for a quick savings gain. 

Thank you for your time, 

Ruthie King

New Agrarian Collective

Categories: Cannabis, Fire, Op-Ed

6 replies »

  1. I am relieved the community is starting to see the truth about Flow Canna. I have been in objection of their presence in my family’s community (Pomo- Potter Valley) since they arrived. It was obvious to me it was all a sham particularly when the fire safety Council member joined the Flow Canna team as their community development vice president. May every member of our community learn the lessons this tragedy offers. And May my friends whose homes burned to the ground be made whole again by the party who is responsible.

  2. Masters of the Universe, Next Generation

    No matter what values are professed in the sales pitch, our Almighty Dollar still rules the land.
    It’s a corporate tradition.

  3. Oh my goodness this “shepherd” is just as bad as her client she vilified. I would think twice about utilizing her services after this statement.

    FlowCanabis is no angel in all of this either.

    Welcome to Mendocino County I guess.

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