Sustainable Ranching and the Cowboy Museum in El Triunfo
The new Museo de Vaqueros del las Californias in El Triunfo – The Cowboy Museum – is an intimate, yet gorgeously expansive look at the 300 years of families, traditions, skills and tools that bind the Californias of Mexico and the United States in ways that no war or border can erase. It is a celebration of the great vaquero / cowboy culture that was born in Baja California, moved north with the cattle to Alta California, and still thrives today throughout the western United States.
The museum exhibits are punctuated with the fantastically beautiful paintings of La Paz artist Carlos César Diaz Castro, who created ten paintings and two murals to help tell the vaquero’s story, as well as stunning photos of present-day vaquero life by renowned Baja California Sur photographer Miguel Angel de la Cueva. As with its sister museum in El Triunfo, Museo Ruta de la Plata / the Silver Route Museum, one of the museum’s most compelling exhibits is the oral history section, in which members of local ranching families share their stories, histories and anecdotes.
But perhaps one of the most interesting themes running throughout the museum in small plaques and chalk drawing prints is that of sustainability. Interwoven with exhibits of criollo pigs and cattle brought from the Iberian Peninsula, is the explanation of Transhumance, livestock practices with minimal environmental impact that the Spanish brought with them to the New World that involved the environmentally sustainable practice of seasonal livestock migration. This practice is now a cornerstone of regenerative cattle ranching, and you don’t have to go far from the museum to see it in action. Christy Walton’s innovacionesAlumbra, an alliance of sustainable businesses in Baja California Sur, is the owner not only of the Cowboy Museum, but also of Rancho Cacachilas – about an hour’s drive from the Cowboy Museum – where modern day cowboys are fast at work restoring the land.
Florent Gomis, a Frenchman who came to Baja to study the Ecology of Desert Climates, is the Director of Sustainability at Rancho Cacachilas, and Transhumance is at the heart of his efforts. “In Baja California Sur as elsewhere in the ranching world, livestock has been blamed for the destruction of the land. In reality, the cattle aren’t the problem, it’s the management of the cattle.” Florent explains further. “Before there were vaqueros, herds of herbivores were motivated by predators to keep moving from place to place and that movement kept the land from being overgrazed. What we are working to achieve here at Rancho Cacachilas is the restoration of the impact that wild herds of herbivores once had on the land. These wild herds would continually move location, giving lands time to recover from their impact before their return. Here at Rancho Cacachilas we manage animals in groups and keep them moving, letting the land they had previously occupied rest for at least a year.”
While cattle are typically decried as destructive, Florent sees them as part of a restorative, creative process. “We really view the cattle as gardeners. When they move to a new grazing area, their hooves break the hard-packed dirt, allowing water and minerals to infiltrate the land. The cattle’s dung and urine are full soil-revitalizing carbon and nutrients, and as the cattle graze they trample these riches into the ground, resulting in the regeneration of the land. In a relatively short period of time we have seen these eroded, barren lands become covered in vegetation.”
The benefits of Transhumance don’t stop there. “One of the really cool things about this process of regenerating the soil is that it also regenerates the rain cycle” explains Florent. “Lots of vegetation on the land has a cooling effect on the atmosphere, causing clouds to precipitate on the land. So from what was once this vast cycle of death – overgrazing, monoculture, fertilizers and pesticides – you get this great cycle of life. The cows create nutritious soil so chemicals are not needed, the soil retains water and supports vegetation, the vegetation improves the soil, attracts more rain and feeds the cows, and the rain replenishes the whole, holistic system.” Florent notes that at Rancho Cacachilas, the same amount of land that could previously support only one cow, will soon support four. Moreover, with the increased vegetation for the cattle to eat, the ranch’s need for nutritional supplements for the cattle has dropped dramatically, resulting in substantial savings.
Rancho Cacachilas aims to be its own kind of Cowboy Museum. They’ve taken the lessons from the past, applied them to the present, and plan to share what they’re learning about managing cattle in the specific conditions of Baja California Sur with ranchers throughout the peninsula. The past comes alive at the beautiful new Cowboy Museum in El Triunfo. The past is alive down the road at Rancho Cacachilas.
When Christian Liñan decided to open his third restaurant in La Paz in 2017, he resolved to work only with 100% traceable, sustainably-caught local seafood. That made his seafood supply chain logistics pretty simple: he bought totoaba from Earth Ocean Farms in La Paz and oysters from Sol Azul in San Ignacio. That was it. “I have at least 15 different recipes for totoaba” he notes.
A combination of the pandemic and interminable neighborhood renovation forced the closure of that restaurant, but Christian’s commitment to traceable, sustainably-caught seafood has spanned decades and was not snuffed by a mere change of circumstance. His talent was recognized by COMEPESCA, the Mexican Council for the Promotion of Fisheries and Aquaculture Products, and as of January 2023 Christian is the Baja representative of COMEPESCA’s wildly successful program Pesca Con Futuro / Fishing with a Future. Explains Christian, “Pesca Con Futuro started in the Yucatan peninsula in 2017 and became a highly successful, high profile coalition of chefs, fishermen, producers, marketers and distributors, all committed to responsible, sustainable, in-season consumption. They all agreed to abide by the rules that promote biodiversity of species in Mexico and avoid overexploitation, thereby guaranteeing the future of fishing and aquaculture in Mexico. The 120 eminent Mexican chefs in the Yucatan peninsula who committed to Pesca Con Futuro have had such a huge impact as they are able to transmit the concept of responsible consumption and sustainable fishing and aquaculture directly to consumers via their menus and cuisine. It is truly impressive to see what they have achieved.”
COMEPESCA didn’t tap Christian to be the Baja representative of Pesca Con Futuro just because he’s a chef with an interest in sustainability. Nor did they choose him just because of his degree in Marine Sciences from CIBNOR in La Paz. One of the key reasons they chose him is because he has witnessed firsthand the importance of engaging the full chain of players in protecting marine species. In 2009, fresh out of CIBNOR, Christian joined Noroeste Sustentable (NOS) in the upper Gulf of California (Sea of Cortez). At that time the fisheries of the upper Gulf had thousands of pangas, each of which was catching roughly three tons of fish daily, mainly with gillnets. There was no management system or operating agreement among the fisheries or with the distributors, with the result that all those thousands of tons of fish were just being dumped on the market and collapsing prices. Fishers were taking home only 6 to 10 pesos per kilo of fish and fish stocks were being rapidly depleted. It is therefore not surprising that some fishers were tempted to traffic in the highly lucrative totoaba swim bladder trade. The totoaba is an iconic, endemic marine fish species of the upper Gulf. Its swim bladder is highly prized in some parts of Asia for both its purported medicinal properties and as a status symbol. As totoaba swim bladders can sell for as much as USD 80,000 per kilo, they became known as the “cocaine of the sea” and attracted the same cartels in Mexico and China that traffic in such illicit substances.
Violence came to the upper Gulf, and to say that it was a complex and dangerous work environment is a severe understatement. And humans were not the only mammals that suffered from the totoaba swim bladder trade. The totoaba shares its habitat with the Vaquita porpoise, the smallest dolphin in the world. The illegal gillnets used to trap the totoaba caught and killed huge numbers of Vaquita, which rapidly became critically endangered.
It was in this environment that Christian and NOS started the Fish Less and Gain More campaign. Through incredibly hard work in the communities they were able to create an agreement among the fisheries to catch and sell fewer tons of fish, with the result that prices rose from 6-10 pesos per kilo to 20 pesos per kilo. To protect the Vaquita, they also enforced the ban on gillnets, as well as the ban on fishing in the Vaquita’s habitat. It was all going extremely well, until it wasn’t. “Unfortunately there was really no way to enforce the agreement across all the fishing communities of the upper Gulf, with the result that some areas simply ignored the agreement and ultimately after two years prices collapsed again. Gillnetting in the Vaquita habitat resumed. The NGO and donors that had supported the program decided to close it. I was so sad and frustrated.”
Which is exactly why the Pesca Con Futuro program excites him so much – all the key players in the seafood supply chain are engaged, not just the fishermen. With chefs on the front line creating demand among consumers for eco-friendly caught, traceable seafood, the fishers, distributors and marketers realize that they have to get in line with market expectations. But, notes Christian, “It is almost impossible for fisheries to get sustainable certification.” That is why Pesca Con Futuro is a champion of the Fishery Improvement Project, FIP. “The FIP is a group of organizations and people who work collaboratively to achieve the sustainability of a fishery in the shortest possible time” notes Christian. “It is a clear and simple way to share good practices and teach about traceability. Organizations that participate in credible FIPs are considered reliable sources of supply and allies of sustainable products.” The list of FIP projects in Mexico can be found at: https://fisheryprogress.org/
Christian continues, “Sustainability is the responsibility of each of us who make up the consumption, production and supply chain, a task that must be permanent. At Pesca Con Futuro we link the different actors in the value chain, making various support tools available to them to achieve informed and responsible purchases of sustainable seafood.”
Christian believes that sustainability’s time has come for the seafood market. “In the 1990s consumers were all demanding “light” products. In the 2000s it was organic produce, and now in the 2020s the public is really turning its focus to sustainability. Pesca Con Futuro is here to both increase that awareness, and to make sure that in Mexico in general and Baja California in particular that sustainable seafood practices are widespread and sustainably-caught, 100% traceable seafood is widely available to the public.”
What about that totoaba he was cooking with at his restaurant in 2017? It represents the future he hopes to see for all of Baja. Pablo Konietzko, vice president of COMEPESCA and the founder of Earth Ocean Farms, a state-of-the-art facility in La Paz which raises the totoaba explains. “In 2012 we got special permits from SEMARNAT, the agency in charge of protecting marine species, to fish for totoaba breeding stock in the upper Gulf of California. Since we brought in those first fish we have kept meticulous records such that we can fully trace the bloodline of every fish from the hatchery to the table. It is impossible for someone to imitate our fish or pass off wild totoaba as EOF-raised.” Not only is Pablo raising totoaba for the seafood market, he is helping the totoaba to recover in the wild. Notes Pablo, “For the past 7 years we have held totoaba restocking events in Bahia Concepcion in the Gulf of California, near Mulege. We have successfully released over 175,000 juveniles into the sea, and we will continue the program each year.”
Christian could not be more thrilled to be working with Pesca Con Futuro in Baja. “It is truly an honor and a privilege to do this” he says. But the work falls to each of us. Next time you order seafood at a restaurant, ask if it was sustainably caught, and if it can be traced. Only in this way can you be sure that your favorite seafood will continue to be on the menu not only for you, but for the generations to come.
Eco Educator Paty Baum with current Joven Ecologístas de Pescadero (Youth Ecologists) group
Sometimes the most non-conventional people get that way through the most conventional of means: they learn it from their parents. So it’s not so surprising to discover that eco educator, punk rocker, beach dweller, film maker, turtle protector, surf breaker Paty Baum’s parents were hard-core union supporters who regularly took the kids to marches and protests, or that her father was a professor of revolutionary literature. The surprise is to discover that kids of local migrant workers here in Todos Santos and Pescadero are doing yoga, reading the ocean for rip tides and currents, documenting the impact of change on the biodiversity of their town, and going on kayaking and camping adventures. And that’s just a tiny piece of what Paty has achieved since she moved to Todos Santos in 1995 and started her non-profit Eco-Educadores Verde y Azul de BCS.
Bringing creativity and education into the lives of under-served youth has been a calling for Paty since her first days as a freshman at Lewis & Clark College. One of her first moves on campus was to join ACTION, a type of urban peace corps program, where she taught photography to inner city grade school kids. She then went on to work for the Multnomah County Urban 4H program for two years where she developed and implemented semester-long workshops for inner-city grade school kids in photography, leathercraft, ceramics, nutrition and fishing. That was just her day job.
The Neo Boys with Paty on Drums. Click photo for YouTube video of The Neo Boys playing at The Long Good-Bye in Portland.
Being a classically trained clarinetist, Paty naturally became the drummer for the all-girl Portland punk rock band, the Neo Boys. They played the local club scene for several years and developed a cult following so loyal that K Records will soon be releasing a double album of live and studio recordings by the Neo Boys entitled Sooner or Later. The Neo Boys may have broken up in the early ‘80s but all these decades later the fans are still clamoring for more! And when she wasn’t on stage or with the 4H kids Paty kept the education/punk rock themes all rolling together on her weekly radio show The Autonomy Hour on Portland’s community radio station KBOO, teaching the masses about the great punk music of the time. Then she met Gus Van Sant.
The Neo Boys. (Paty at far left with her arms crossed.)
Van Sant was working on his second film, Mala Noche, and asked Paty to do location sound for the film. She found the film-making process so incredibly fun that as soon as she wrapped with Van Sant in 1986 she wrote a script, shot it, and submitted it as her application to the film program at San Francisco State University. They loved it. She’d gotten too busy with life to continue at Lewis & Clark College, but film school completely absorbed her and she graduated with a BA in Film Production in 1990. And she didn’t waste any time making a name for herself after that.
Her first film in 1990 was 122 Webster, a 12 minute, black and white, 16 mm documentary that she co-directed, co-wrote and co-produced with Daniel Robin. A portrait of Daniel’s heroin-addicted roommate Bobbie, the film was incredibly well-received. It was screened at the 1990 Sundance Film Festival, was part of the 1995 Lalapalooza Music Festival national tour, and was shown in venues as diverse as the Cork International Film Festival in Ireland, The Ann Arbor Film Festival, the Humboldt International Film Festival and the Big Muddy Film Festival in Illinois. But even before 122 Webster was making its rounds Paty was already completing her second film, The Cleansing Machine. It won Best Documentary at the 1992 Humboldt Film Festival and played all over the world. The Fins were particularly crazy about it and tried to get Paty to visit with the film but she just couldn’t make it.
Now it’s a known fact that many surfers try to pretend like they derive the same satisfaction from their non-surfing pursuits as surfing, and will make valiant efforts to resist the urge to live at the beach and surf every day. Just one look around Todos Santos will tell you that for the true-surfer-at-heart, resistance is futile. Paty surfed all through her Oregon and northern California years, then came to Todos Santos on vacation on the advice of a friend. After that it took her 8 months to wrap up her life in the US and move into a trailer on the beach at Los Cerritos. She didn’t leave for 12 years.
Paty moved to Todos Santos in 1995 and for the first few years she was happy to just run the Todos Santos Surf Shop at Cerritos and talk surf all day. She created a nice place for people to camp with a composting toilet and it was all pretty blissful. But local folks were leaving a lot of garbage on the beach, and that was definitely killing the paradise buzz. So her first effort with local kids was born out of enlightened self-interest. She wanted people to stop littering so she launched a campaign to make them conscious of their incredible natural heritage and help them understand the value of clean beaches, conservation and recycling. Somewhat to her surprise, the local kids really embraced the campaign and Paty was inspired once again to put her considerable energy into local youth. In 2003 she created the non-profit Eco-Educadores Verde y Azul de B.C.S., under which was formed the Joven Ecologístas de Pescadero (JEP) group.
Funded by grants from various sources, over 300 kids have matriculated through the program to date, and have worked in a remarkable variety of field settings including sea turtle conservation projects, beach and arroyo clean-ups, identifying and growing native plants, studying the impact of deforestation, and mapping the Sierra de La Laguna watershed. (For a detailed analysis of Paty’s experiential learning efforts in Pescadero, please see the article on the program written by Andrew Jon Schneller of the University of Arizona: Environmental service learning: outcomes of innovative pedagogy in Baja California Sur, Mexico )
The JEP group is currently participating in the production of a field guide to endangered sea turtles of the region that highlights the
JEP Kids on Field Trip with Paty
work and successes of twelve years of community-based turtle conservation in BCS (Paty is the co-founder of three community-based sea turtle conservation groups in BCS). The kids are involved in all aspects of the book, from data collection to art. Says Paty’s student 14-year old Maria Guadalupe (Lupita) Martínez, “I have had some great experiences on our trips with the JEP, and have gone places that I never would have gone. It was particularly great seeing turtles nesting on the beach at night, then counting and releasing hatchlings in the nursery.” 15-year-old Adalberto Guadalupe Ramírez Gastelúm is also excited about his contributions. “We drew lots of turtles and I discovered that I am an artist. I did not know that my drawings were so good, that I have talent!” The guide created by Paty and her students, as well as the accompanying environmental education curriculum, will be distributed to the Mexican public school system and NGOs, such as Grupo Tortuguero’s network of grassroots turtle conservation groups throughout Mexico.
JEP Kids on Isla Espiritu Santo Kayaking and Camping Trip May 2013
When Paty was doing her work with the 4H inner city kids in Portland the highlight of the year was a trip to summer camp where the kids got to stay in cabins and do things like archery, softball, hiking – the fun things of summer. Similarly, this summer Paty was able to take her JEP students on a weekend of kayaking and snorkeling at Isla Espiritu Santo, a trip that was paid for almost entirely through a fundraiser organized by Paty and Amigos de El Pescadero, AC. Says Paty, “Our benefit was a great success, not just for the $1500 we raised through Amigos de El Pescadero and numerous individual donations, but for the students’ self esteem, and the communities’ support from all sectors, including the sub-delegada of Pescadero and the Red Cross.” Needless to say, the kids had a blast at the Island.
Part of the summer program this year includes yoga with Kim Wexman of Baja Zen every Saturday morning,
JEP Kids Doing Yoga with Kim Wexman at Baja Zen
followed by a trip to the beach. Kim, who donates her time says “One thing that stands out to me when I teach the Mexican kids here yoga vs teaching teenagers in the US is that while the US teens may be more flexible physically, they are not as able to meditate. The beautiful students that Paty brings are great meditators. They get very deep into it and this section of the class truly seems to resonate with them. I really, really enjoy doing this class with them. They come with great energy. Of course what Paty is doing with these students is incredible. They all seem truly inspired and eager to learn. Paty is an amazing person.”
Kim Wexmen with Some of the JEP Saturday Yoga Kids
And Paty’s students definitely are inspired. Says 15-year old Carlos Alberto Ramírez Bujín, the son of migrant workers living in Pescadero, “I want to continue studying and go to university. I want to be a lawyer, so I can help people whose human rights have been violated.” And the great thing about inspiration is that it is a renewable resource that people can continually provide to each other. Paty was so inspired by her students, their eagerness to learn, and their excitement in embracing environmental stewardship for their communities that she went back to school and is now completing her thesis for a Masters in Environmental Education at the University of Guadalajara. Says Paty, “It has been an absolute thrill and privilege to work with these students for all these years. To see them documenting their activities and expressing their field learning experiences through not only traditional science-oriented field diaries and data collection tools, but through so many creative outlets like journal writing, poetry, art, photography and video has been phenomenal. Their ability to document and share what are often life-changing experiences is having a real impact on their schools and communities, and has the potential to influence regional and international conservation efforts.”
One punk-rocking film-maker with a passion for surfing, clean beaches and eco-education and a generation of local kids is inspired, energized and ready to be activists for their communities. Paty’s parents are most definitely proud.
If you would like to join Todos Santos Eco Adventures, Amigos de El Pescadero AC and others as a sponsor of Paty’s field trips or other efforts, please email Paty at .