Supporter Profile: Gary Paul Nabhan

Drakes Bay Oyster Farm Supporter Gary Paul Nabhan is an internationally-celebrated nature writer, food and farming activist, and proponent of conserving the links between biodiversity and cultural diversity. He has been been honored as a pioneer and creative force in the “local food movement” and seed saving community by Utne Reader, Mother Earth News, New York Times, Bioneers and Time magazine.

As the W.K. Kellogg Endowed Chair in Sustainable Food Systems at the University of Arizona Southwest Center, Nabhan works with students, faculty and non-profits to build a more just, nutritious, sustainable and climate-resilient foodshed spanning the U.S./Mexico border. He was among the earliest researchers to promote the use of native foods in preventing diabetes, especially in his role as a co-founder and researcher with Native Seeds/SEARCH. Gary is also personally engaged as an orchard-keeper, wild foods forager and pollinator habitat restorationist working from his small farm in Patagonia, Arizona near the Mexican border. He has helped forge “the radical center” for collaborative conservation among farmers, ranchers, indigenous peoples and environmentalists in the West.

Dr. Nabhan has published several articles in support of the oyster farm.

In a December 2011 editorial entitled “Drakes Estero oyster farm a natural fit”, first published in the San Francisco Chronicle, Nabhan and co-author Jeff Creque argue that the oyster farm is fully compatible with wilderness values:

“The purpose of the 1970 National Environmental Policy Act – under which the National Park Service alleges authority to prepare an environmental impact statement on Drakes Bay Oyster Co. operations – was “to create and maintain conditions under which man and nature can exist in productive harmony.

The 80-year tradition of shellfish aquaculture in Drakes Estero is a quintessential example of exactly such a productive harmony.”

In a November 2012 story at Huffington Post, Nabhan pointed out the irony of the Park Service honoring Hispanic heritage while working to oust Hispanic workers:

“Apparently, the park service does not see the contradiction between honoring Cesar Chavez and evicting today’s Hispanic food producers from a national seashore originally established to celebrate Point Reyes’ working landscape for fishers, farmers and ranchers.Park service policies are now verging on an “ethnic cleansing” of this historic cultural landscape, where the earliest documented cross-cultural encounter between California Indians and Spanish speakers such as Sebastián Viscaino initially took place.

That is regrettable. The national park service and the Obama administration as a whole are missing an extraordinary opportunity to show Americans how working-class Hispanics’ livelihoods are compatible with good environmental stewardship. In fact, the park service should acknowledge just how much our current food security is dependent upon our fair treatment of Spanish-speaking farmworkers, orchard harvesters, oyster growers and fishermen.”

Read the full story here.

Dr. Nabhan published the following guest column in the Point Reyes Light, November 3, 2011. Because it is not available online, it is reprinted here with permission.

Food production and biodiversity are compatible at Point Reyes

 by Gary Paul Nabhan

While many have already conceded that Point Reyes National Seashore staff have fallen short of ensuring scientific integrity, a longer term, more pervasive problem has emerged. This problem affects not only the Lunnys, but every resident of the area: the National Park Service has shirked its responsibility to the gateway communities surrounding Point Reyes.

A key part of the Seashore’s mission is to involve local communities in sustaining a diverse landscape of farms, ranches, fisheries and natural areas that reflect the historic diversity of this particularly Great American Landscape. The Point Reyes landscape has been and still is a cultural landscape as well as a natural one. However, if current Park Service leadership has its way, the cultural community associated with this landscape will become no more than a façade.

While the agrarian landscape has arguably been at risk for over a decade at Point Reyes National Seashore, it has not necessarily been endangered in other parks. I grew up in what is now Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, a place where farming is still welcomed by the Park Service. Along the Cuyahoga River, the Park Service co-sponsors farmers markets and offers 60-year—not five-year—leases to farmers in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park.

When I first joined the Congressionally-appointed National Park System Advisory Board, Park Service staff heralded the Seashore’s Bear Valley Visitor Center as the hallmark of community collaboration. In fact, the visitor center featured the Lunnys’ good work as sustainable ranchers and oyster growers in its own book, Stewardship Begins with People.

Yet look at the erosion in public trust and collaboration that has occurred in the past five years. Seashore superintendents refuse to meet collectively with the ranchers who have livestock inside the park; such group meetings routinely occur at Canyon de Chelly, Cuyahoga, Sleeping Bear Dunes and elsewhere. In addition, the Park Service suspended formal conflict resolution with the Lunnys after months of negotiation, apparently because the Park Service Office of Counsel General demanded that it be terminated, even though one of the facilitators told me that there had been “plenty of room” to achieve a resolution without litigation or eviction.

Worse yet, the Point Reyes community has become so divided that old neighbors will not even speak to one another.

Ironically, the Park Service has been the most reluctant of all federal agencies to participate in collaborative conservation, the most positive and enduring development in the conservation movement over the last quarter of a century. On the contrary, its officials feel that they don’t need to be at the table, unless they are in charge of the table. It is an attitude that flies in the face of the Park Service’s own document, National Parks and Rural Development, which recommends that park leaders stay at the table in a collaborative mode at all costs.

It is time to ask Congress to insist that the Park Service create even-handed guidelines and transparent protocols for food producers. There should not be 60-year leases in one park and five-year leases in another. Congress should encourage the Park Service to develop mandates to better collaborate with farmers and ranchers across the entire National Parks System, and to create an advisory board of farmers and ranchers that would help nip potential conflicts in the bud.

Read more about Gary Paul Nabhan and his work at his blog.