Monday, September 17, 2012

Teachers & Instructors That Make a Difference in Life

This Idyllic Scene is from times long past in Cal Poly San Luis Obispo 
First time I visited here was back in 1973. I was on a College Tour with other Students. The Ag Instructors that accompanied us were James Dyer and Glen Casey. My own Ag instructor Robert Rutherford stayed behind. Someone had to run classes back at school. I didn't know a whole lot about Mr Casey. I do know the first time I met him he reminded me of country as having same look and build as country singer Tom T Hall. Had a bit of a deep growly voice like him too. *smile*

Mr Casey was back and forth to El Cajon Valley High School in the early 1970s periodically filling in to substitute for either Jim Dyer or Rob Rutherford. He eventually got his big chance at actually becoming head of an Ag Program over at El Capitan High School in Lakeside California. Another thing I remember about him is that sometimes even though both Ag Schools were often in competitions, he help out students in a teaching capacity with helpful suggestions whether you were one of his student or not. He also remember him razzing me on that college tour all the way to Modesto after we stopped in the San Joaquin valley town of Atwater at a Filling station for gas and I got one of the downtown Atwater maps as a momento of sorts. 

James Dyer

see footnote
Mr Dyer was my Ornamental Horticulture teacher. While I had a fascination with plants already, that was my first intro into the real science behind plants and production of plants utilizing the latest Greenhouse Propagation methods at the time. Mr Dyer was always energetic and age was never a hindrance. I have friends who lived, grew up and still have family in Japatul Valley just east of Alpine CA and south of Descanso CA. They chuckled one day long long after Mr Dyer had retired, they said he had caused some accidents with the tractor and the family were looking for ways to keep him off it. I have to laugh and almost cry on that. Mr Dyer I'm sure wanted to retire at his age which was probably past normal retirees, but he was also not one to Vegg like most retirees. He was  the kind of  example of someone who loved life and wanted to keep going, but only being shackled to an older body was the only thing which held him back. 

Dr Robert T Rutherford

see footnote
Mr Robert Rutherford was my very first Ag Instructor. He taught first year course called California Agriculture which was a requirement before you chose a specific Ag subject later. He came from American Graffiti country of Modesto Ca. His best claim to fame was raising Sheep. In fact sheep was the project I chose for my required Ag business Project. One late summer one of my sheep broke through the paddock gate and knocked over the grain barrel. We didn't know it until it was too late and she died of being bloated. Mr Rutherford came to my house with his Datsun pickup truck to haul off the dead yearling lamb, then smiled and said, "Well, welcome to the sheep business". Some times those types of experiences are a learning ones. Knowing what I do now I would have taken more time to keep her grass fed on as much as she could handle up on the top sport field at the school across from our house. There were a few notable things that shaped my mind & thinking back then.

Once while we were learning some greenhouse management techniques, potting soil & seed preparation for some Atlas Cedar we had collected with Mr Dyer, we had just finished mixing by hand a large pile of potting media which was blended with sand, organic matter and some popcorn looking Pearlite product for aeration of the soil. Mr Dyer had us place plastic sheet all over this large potting soil hill and bury the edges with soil so as to create a completely enclosed air tight pocket space inside.  We learned that the potting soil had to be treated so as to kill all pathogens so that germinating seeds wouldn't die from something called "Damping Off". But to do that he had to use a very deadly poisonous gas, which was so deadly, that breathing in a whiff of this could kill a human. WOW that spooked me. Later I was talking to Mr Rutherford about this concern I had and his response was, "Well if you have a better way find it" - again with a smile. Actually a few years later I did find a superior way which I use to this day as I mentioned in my experience with Tecate Cypress seed germination which the conventional horticulture textbook literature said would only be only 35%  * cough - cough * germination success rate. I actually figured this out 3 years after graduation that there was indeed a better more holistic way of replicating nature.

See: Seed Germination & Old School Ideology vrs How Nature Actually Works
Mr Rutherford made the class fun. In my class we had this red haired girl named Kara who always seemed to need an extra bump to get the coin to drop down to turn on lights if you know what I mean. *smile*  Mr Rutherford could actually be patient with someone like that, where most everyone else would roll their eyes with impatience. His idea of tact when challenged was employing the ability of telling someone where to go, yet making them feel glad they were on their way. And as always his ability to break up a boring  stoic atmosphere with a jab at humor. Once we were watching countless slides of the world's different breeds of sheep and he was explaining where they were from and their unique qualities. It was interesting but at the same time lengthy. The next slide revealed an Asian sheep breed called "Karakol" and  Mr Rutherford pointed at the slide and pronounced the name properly for us as Kara - kool , then pointing a finger at the girl student Kara, said , "No, that's a 'Kara-Un-kool". Although class was fun that way, he was tough in the sense that he made people do the homework and by that I mean get down, dig and scratch for finding answers for themselves which better burns things into the memory banks. 

Even back then Robert Rutherford was a forward looking sustainable agricultural advocate, who also appreciated the environment. But I would never have labeled him one of those Eco people who respond with emotion and as opposed to knowledge and foresight. Some well meaning people out there holding up protest signs for a cause quite often hurt their causes by not educating themselves. Mr Rutherford always stressed knowing something and making sure of your position, otherwise you look like a fool. This takes me to some events of just what happened to him a couple years ago. I alluded to this in yesterday's post.
Cal Poly back in the Fall of 2009 had a controversy over the invitation of Michael Pollan who wrote "The Omnivore's Dilemma" plus famous for the documentary "Food Inc" and was going to speak to over a 1000 people, but it disturbed some of the Alumni which just happen to be Industrial Beef Producers and heavy contributors and donors to the college. So they threatened to pull funding contributions, but that wasn't all. They wanted Robert Rutherford to stop teaching this course he helped develop in the 1990s called "Issues in Animal Agriculture"

Read more here:

The big bad issue for Harris Ranch was supposedly over Rob Rutherford's using two unofficial textbooks in his class which were, Mike Pollan's "The Omnivore's Dilemma" and Eric Schlorrer's "Fast Food Nation". They claimed that alone explained his bias against their industry. Rather than bore you with quotes, read these stories as reported in the local journals yourself.

Harris Ranch Cattle Company 

Official Slogan

"Beef the Way Nature Intended It to Be!"
(seriously, this slogan is on their website)

The was one quote I loved and it's illustrative of the way things are done everywhere in our world of Corporate Business, Politics, Science, Religion, etc, not just this specific incident.
"When asked if Cal Poly is beholden to donors over an issues of academic freedom, David Wehner said he couldn't respond to that question"
Like the News articles all said, Rob Rutherford stepped down of his own choosing. He even said this in email to me and I'm sure like the article's stated quoting him, he's nearing retirement and wants to stick around in this area. Although, like Jim Dyer, I can't imagine him slowing down much either. 

I'm glad I got to know all of them and had their influence on Holistic approaches to things. The Ag courses were like an Oasis compared to all other academic requirements.  I'd still love to get hold of an
FFA brand of jacket. Most comfortable coat I have ever worn. Wore my original until it shredded apart in the 1990s.

Albert Feil
Of course the story wouldn't be complete if I didn't mention another important influence on my life and that was my swimming coach Albert Feil of El Cajon Valley High. He was in some ways more like a Dad I guess.  I know I disappointed him my last year of school for reasons even he still doesn't fully grasp. There were huge home issues with my biological father at that time. Even the last two years of his life we never spoke. Unfortunately I'll still have nightmares if he's in my dreams. spooky! But I always respected Coach Feil even if he were puzzled by some of my decision making. At least he let me practice my Ag & Landscape theories on his property on weekends. *smile*

There were other more important influences in other areas of my life, but these people above are what influenced my thinking on the vocational level in regards to Agriculture, Landscaping, Gardening, Ecology, Environment and just generally understanding the inter-connectedness of everything on our globe. It's discouraging to see that the conventional science and general political & religious leadership on this planet just doesn't get it. Many of these personal thoughts and understandings will be revealed at a future time on the other blogs.

Reference footnotes:

James L Dyer - California Agricultural Teachers Association



  1. Very interesting background you had, and some great influences there. I remember the better professors I had for what they were, and the worse ones for causing me to drive and triumph over their biases, or what they were bad at. Including employers!

    The story about Cal Poly and the speaker that noted some of the poor practices in cattle, food operations - wow. That Harris Ranch photo says it all. Makes me hurl!

    1. Actually most of those Harris Ranch Feedlots are worse than than. If you take a drive up or down Interstate 5 in that western region of the San Joaquin Valley, you will have to roll up your windows between Kettleman City and Coalinga.

      Even then you will still be force to breath Fecal dust and battle the flies.

      I've battle for years over someone else's biases and my own from the conventional ways and techniques I was taught. But all of them were/are truly good instructors. The sad thing is when they are gone they take a wealth of knowledge with them.



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