Old West, New Markets

The controversy is an old one: ranchers eke out a living doing work that is important and will never be easy. Conservationists do not approve of the pesticides, growth hormones, and environmental issues associated with ranching. There doesn't seem to be much of a common ground.

The Western Sustainability Exchange (WSE) is taking a shot at finding it, though. Founded in 1994 by sustainable-development pioneer Lill Erickson and her partners, the organization has started a series of programs aimed at making ranching and food production financially sustainable as well as eco-friendly. One of WSE's most popular events is its Harvest Celebration Dinner every fall in Chico (this year on September 24), but the Livingston Farmers Market is also a well-known program (and at 180 vendors, it's big, too); this year it runs from 4:30 to 7:30pm on Wednesdays from June 2 through October 6. The group is also trying to develop premium beef markets with its Steer to Steak program, through which ranchers can sell sustainably raised cattle, and it's connecting local food producers to restaurant chefs, concessionaires, and grocers in its Market Connection and Farm to Restaurant Connection programs. Through its Young Entrepreneurs Program, WSE helps children learn how to develop and sell products at the farmers market.

To see a full list of WSE events, and to find out which local restaurants participate in the Restaurant Connection program, visit westernsustainabilityexchange.org.