‘Gunslinger’ wants to launch a Tombstone podcast

This story was published on Arizona Sonora News on March 31, 2016


Lincoln Leavere, an actor at Old Tombstone Western Town, plans to launch Tombstone Radio sometime later this spring. (Photo by Arizona Sonora News)

TOMBSTONE — Lincoln Leavere saunters through a saloon off Allen Street and takes a seat outside. The Tombstone “gunslinger” leans in to explain his plan: He wants to bring the Wild West into the age of podcasts.

Leavere, an actor at Old Tombstone Western Town, along with a few other partners, hopes to launch Tombstone Radio later this spring as a podcast. The radio station will broadcast stories about the West and music to fit the setting in Tombstone, as well as provide updates on the area’s current events.

“It’s a little bit of history, a little bit of rock n’ roll,” Leavere says. “It’s mostly about having fun in the West.”

So, in the town that thrives on living in the late 19th century, the plan is for its podcast to be able to reach anyone around the world through smartphones, tablets or a connection to the Internet.

“It’s not about turning on your radio anymore,” Leavere says. “Everyone is on their phone or on their tablet and we have to tap into that. Even though we’re a 100-plus year old town, we’ve got to catch up.”

The idea of Tombstone Radio is one that’s been around for a couple years, Leavere says. In addition to the music — a mix of outlaw country, blues and rock — the radio station will have some talk shows and stories about the paranormal. Some Tombstone historians also will make appearances, he says.

He plans to work with Deacon Drawdy, a Tombstone IT worker, for the technical logistics of launching Tombstone Radio. Drawdy — who, along with his brother, also created the first website dedicated to Tombstone nearly two decades ago — will develop a website and an app for the podcast.

Leavere’s goal is to draw more interest to Tombstone and Cochise County and entice people from around the country to visit after listening. He also hopes this will help in some way to bring more movies back to Southern Arizona.

Tombstone Radio logo

Tombstone Radio’s Facebook page has more than 400 likes. (Courtesy of Tombstone Radio)

He’s not too concerned with being able to attract local advertisers for Tombstone Radio, and when he does start bringing in money, Leavere wants to give some of it back to the community. This includes making donations to the animal shelter, the senior center, the Marshals Office and the Fire Department.

Leavere already has plans to promote the coming podcast. In addition to acting in gunfights in Tombstone, Leavere also acts in movies and he’s worked alongside the likes of Johnny Depp, Kevin Costner and Kurt Russell. He also played Butch Cassidy on a Fox News program about the Old West.

He plans to tap into those connections, as well as his network of people in Tombstone, to grow an audience for the podcast. Tombstone Radio’s Facebook page has more than 400 likes, as of this week.

Drawdy has a foot in the movie industry, too. He recently returned from a trip to Los Angeles, where he’s working on a film project.

“We’ve got some street cred to be able to pull off something to get people to follow it,” Drawdy says.

Drawdy hopes that Tombstone Radio also will be made available through Micro FM airwaves that would reach the immediate area of Tombstone. That way, he says, visitors can begin their Tombstone experience as they pull up in their cars to the O.K. Corral.

Leavere also requested use of a train car in town from the Tombstone City Council last month to serve as a “home base” for the podcast and attract interest through foot traffic.

Even if some of the loftier goals aren’t met, the Tombstone actor plans on having a good time making the podcast.

“It’s all about having fun,” Leavere says.

With AZ farmers aging fast, who will take over the farm?

This story was published on Arizona Sonora News on March 3, 2016

Average farmer age

The average age of Arizona farmers has risen steadily over the years. (Graphic by Ethan McSweeney/Arizona Sonora News)

Arizona’s farmers are getting older — a lot older.

The average age of a principal farm operator in the state is 61.1 years old, according to the 2012 Census of Agriculture from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. That age has risen steadily over the past three decades from 50.5 in 1982.

Farmers, officials and students exploring careers in agriculture expressed their own views on why that average age continues to rise in the state and whether that means fewer want to be farmers.

Research conducted by the USDA concluded that because of advancements in health care and technology, farmers are able to work on their land longer than in the past.

“Part of it is that farmers live on their farms so they can phase out production gradually over time,” said Bob Hoppe, an agriculture economist with the USDA Economic Research Service. “This isn’t like a factory job where you quit when you’re 62 or 65.”

Alan Seitz, a farmer in Cochise County, said technology has made working much less arduous for him and other agricultural workers.

“Farming, physically, has been way easier than it has been,” Seitz said. “In some of these operations, you could literally read a magazine while you’re going through a field, whereas historically you would have 100 percent of your attention focused on what you’re doing in the field.”

Arizona’s average age for farmers is also higher than the national average of 58.3 for 2012. While that average will eventually have to stabilize, there is no sign that number is going to level off any time soon, Hoppe said. Thirty-four percent of principal farm operators in the U.S. were above the age of 65 in 2014, according to USDA research.

Sarah Odele, an agriculture teacher at Tombstone High School, believes the answer to why the average age continues to rise may be simpler: Younger generations are not that interested in taking over the family farm.


Tombstone High School’s Future Farmers of America club gives students the chance to get experience in agricultural work. (Photos by Ethan McSweeney/Arizona Sonora News)

Odele, who leads the Future Farmers of America club at Tombstone, said among other things, educational opportunities have expanded for students in rural, agricultural communities. The need to go back to the farm to make a living is not as great as it once was generations ago, she said.

“Things have transitioned in agriculture and you have more options in the whole field itself, too,” she said.

FFA programs at high schools help prepare students interested in agricultural careers. This includes competitions, work-based learning and lab instruction in several areas of agriculture.

Jacob Bohlen, 17, who is a Tombstone High School student in FFA, has no plans to take over his family’s ostrich ranch after he finishes schooling. It’s not something that interests him, he said.

He does plan to stay in the agriculture business by getting a master’s degree in biomedical engineering and genetics.

“There are so many higher-paid opportunities for these kids now,” said Moiria White, an agriculture and science teacher at Willcox High School, where about half of the school’s roughly 400 students are involved in agriculture programs.

Hayden Haas, 18, a Willcox student, is a fourth-generation farmer. He said he plans on coming back and working on his family’s Cochise County farm — which grows corn, barley and pinto beans — after he goes to college and gets a degree.

Due to a strong farming culture in Willcox, Haas said, more students do end up going into agricultural jobs than they would at other places.

“A lot of the families around here are big and have long generations of farming and ranching, so a lot of them do return back, but not all of them,” Haas said.

It’s not always possible, however, for someone to come back and take over the family farm, Haas said.

Luke Todd, 18, another Willcox student, said his older siblings could come back and take over the farm, which would preclude him because the operation can’t support more than one family.


Cattle graze on a ranch north of Willcox.

“I might come back to this area, but … one limit is that there is not the need a lot of time for you to come back and work,” Todd said.

Getting in to agriculture can also be quite expensive.

Between costs for farmland and equipment, weather factors and having the ability to absorb losses, it can be hard for to start in farming without inheriting the land, said Seitz, the Cochise County farmer.

“It’s a tough way to make a living,” Seitz said. “Mother Nature can throw you some curve balls some years that can be very costly. A lot of young folks just don’t want that uncertainty.”

Some farmers also lay some of the blame on the federal estate tax.

Mark Killian, director of the Arizona Department of Agriculture, said the tax makes it far too costly for farmers or ranchers to pass on property to their children.

Currently, the federal estate tax kicks in when someone dies and the value of that person’s property is more than $5.43 million. To inherit that property, a family member would need to pay a certain percentage in taxes. The estate tax exemption amount and the tax rate has fluctuated over the years with legislation.

Killian, who plans on passing on his agricultural business to his sons, called the tax “the number one contributor to getting rid of the family farm.”

“Most families can’t come up with that kind of money and they have to sell,” he said. “So, they end up selling to large conglomerates, and that’s why you’re seeing the average age going up. It’s more difficult for young farmers to have the capital necessary to get started.”


Tombstone High School’s FFA club maintains a chicken coop on its campus.

White, the Willcox High School teacher, is familiar with this issue.

A few years back, she and her siblings faced a tax bill of more than $2 million when they looked to inherit the family ranch they grew up on near Holbrook. An outside operation ended up paying much of the tax cost. “There was the potential of losing the ranch because of the taxes,” she said.

The USDA, however, estimates that just about 0.8 percent of farms in the U.S. would be required to pay the federal estate tax, given how high the value of a property would have to be to meet the federal threshold.

White also points to larger farming operations taking over farming in Arizona, where families no longer want, or can do, the job.

About 97 percent of all farms in the U.S. are family-owned, according to the USDA’s 2012 Census of Agriculture. But the 3 percent of farms considered “large” or “very large” are responsible for about two-thirds of vegetable and dairy sales.

These larger operations can absorb the losses that an ordinary farmer or rancher wouldn’t be able to, White said.

“A lot of times, it’s easier for these kids who do inherit the farm to just sell it,” White said. “It’s a daunting prospect.”


A night at the Tucson Greyhound Park

This story was completed for my Features class


A view of the greyhounds walking to the starting gate from the Dog Days Bar, which is no longer in use.

Eight handlers dressed in all black march their dogs down the dirt track of Tucson Greyhound Park in the post parade for the first race of the night, as the announcer boisterously welcomes crowds to another night of racing in “the fastest sport alive.”

No one is sitting in the grandstands. The clubhouse above sits in darkness. The only person outside is a man smoking a cigarette with his back to the greyhounds, watching the TVs inside the race track’s building.

On this Wednesday night, about 30 people are at the track. Nearly all of them are inside the main betting room, eyes fixed on grainy TV images coming in from greyhound race tracks thousands of miles away. Every minute or so, a bettor would see something on TV and make a dash through the dozens of neon-colored tables in the room for the tellers.

“Oh man, it used to get busy in here,” says Adella Zamorano, a two-decade veteran of the teller counters at the race track.

She and the two other tellers at the counter constantly move money — it’s a cash-only operation — and betting slips for the few dozen track visitors who call out the numbers of races and starting gate positions for dogs racing in Birmingham and Daytona Beach.

Zamorano remembers when hundreds would pack the race track each night. She started working at the track in 1994, when, she recalls, the average crowd size would be about 700 on any given night. Now, that crowd average has dwindled to about 50, she says.

The reason Zamorano gives for the decline of Tucson Greyhound Park is the opening of Indian casinos nearby.

“Maybe we should add some slot machines,” Zamorano says. “That might bring people back.”

While the race track promotes a “sunny and warm” Tucson winter, the temperature dips below 40 degrees for the night. As the greyhounds outside sprint out of the gate for each race, only a few inside will lift up their heads to silently watch.

The decline of racing in at Tucson Greyhound Park mirrors the trend around the country for the sport. Only about 19 greyhound race tracks remain open, according to GREY2K USA Worldwide, a group that advocates for an end to greyhound racing. Thirty-nine states have outlawed commercial dog racing.

At the Tucson Greyhound Park, the races seem to attract more scandals than bettors. During 2015, the Arizona Daily Star published at least four articles detailing alleged abuses at the track, ranging from a trainer drugging dogs to a failure on the part of the race track to report greyhound injuries to the state.

Citing unfair treatment by the media, the track’s general manager declined to be interviewed.

Tom Carter is one who regularly comes out to the Tucson Greyhound Park. He makes the drive down from Sun City, outside Phoenix, one or two times a week to sit at an aqua-colored table inside the main betting room and pore over the Daily Racing Form.

Carter is more familiar than most with the sport. At one time in the late ‘90s Carter owned as many as 85 greyhounds, racing them at tracks around the country.

“I’ve been here during the better days, when they had the clubhouse open,” he says about Tucson Greyhound Park. “Unfortunately, I don’t think that will ever happen here again.”

Now, the race track doesn’t bother to turn on the lights in half of the building and it walled off the clubhouse level nearly a decade ago, according to Zamorano.

Carter, now retired, also blames the casinos for taking away some business, as well as the negative coverage greyhound racing has received.

Carter says “loud-mouthed” activists perpetuate a negative perception of the treatment of greyhounds in racing, amplifying bad apples to make the rest of the sport look bad. His greyhounds, he says, were given heat in the winter, air in the summer and massages and acupuncture when needed.

“They were spoiled,” Carter says. He compares greyhound racing to other sports saying that owners want to “keep their athletes in top shape,” rather than having them abused.

Still, he hopes to see greyhound racing return to some prominence in the sporting world.

“Hopefully, the sport kicks up and gets some new blood in it,” Carter says. “That’s what they need.”

Carter walks outside through a cracked glass door to stand next to the track for a race. The muzzled greyhounds erupt from the starting gate after the bell rings, pursuing the mechanical rabbit that rounds the track.

In a blur, the eight dogs sprint past the empty grandstands, kicking up dirt under the track’s lights. Two greyhounds emerge from the pack as they near the finish line.

It’s a photo finish and Carter hurries back inside.

AZ wineries lobby to loosen regulations as business booms

This story was published on Arizona Sonora News on Feb. 11, 2016


Dos Cabezas WineWorks in Sonoita produced more than 16,000 gallons of wine last year. (Ethan McSweeney/Arizona Sonora News Service)

SONOITA — Todd and Kelly Bostock are busy at work among empty boxes and wood barrels of wine.

The two owners of Dos Cabezas WineWorks are bottling caseloads of wine in a small warehouse off Highway 82, where last year they produced more than 16,000 gallons of their products. A short drive away, dotted across the rolling landscape of Sonoita and Elgin, a dozen other wineries are at work with tasting rooms open to tourists visiting the areas.

Dos Cabezas and the other wineries here are part of a burgeoning wine industry taking shape across Arizona — an industry that has been increasingly flexing its muscle as it lobbies to reduce regulations placed on its business. The latest effort involves legislation that would remove a requirement that larger wineries use a distributor to sell to their customers.

Led by Sen. Nancy Barto, R-Phoenix, more than 30 state lawmakers are sponsoring Senate Bill 1381, which would allow wineries that produce more than 20,000 gallons of wine annually to ship directly to customers. Currently wineries of that size need to go through a distributor in order to ship to customers.

“This is about letting people get access to wine that they want to buy,” said Eric Glomski, winemaker at Arizona Stronghold Vineyards and Page Springs Cellars. He works on legislative issues for the Arizona Wine Growers Association.

Wine distributors in the state have come out in opposition to the bill, Glomski said. Representatives from the Arizona Wine and Spirits Wholesalers Association and Beer and Wine Distributors of Arizona did not return requests for comment.

The bill, which comes from the California-based Free the Grapes, would also require that wineries, both in-state and out-of-state, obtain a direct shipment license if they wish to ship to customers in Arizona. Customers ordering from larger wineries around Arizona and around the country would be limited to 18 cases of wine a year per winery.

This is the latest bill the wine industry has pushed at the state Legislature. In recent years, lawmakers also have rolled back regulations around shipments to customers, wine festivals and other aspects of the wine business.


Kelly and Todd Bostock, the two owners of Dos Cabezas WineWorks, bottle wine in a warehouse in Sonoita. (Ethan McSweeney/Arizona Sonora News Service)

“Over the years, our efforts have been to open up the markets incrementally,” Glomski said. “When our industry was small, we didn’t have the resources or the time or the understanding of the industry to duke it out and try to change these laws overnight. Every year, as our industry has grown — and this bill is an example — we take more chunks out of these [regulations].”

Glomski would like to see all the caps on production eventually removed, he said.

This bill comes a year after Arizona microbreweries rallied behind legislation signed into law that raised caps on their beer production.

Only two wineries in the state produce more than the current 20,000-gallon limit, said Rod Keeling, president of the Arizona Wine Growers Association. Several other wineries are close to hitting that 20,000-gallon limit, he added.

The bill also would give a boost to Arizona wine clubs seeking to buy wines from larger out-of-state wineries in places such as California, said Keeling. He is also a winemaker at Keeling-Schaefer Vineyards in Pearce.

“We want the wine culture in Arizona to be expanded and we think this helps that,” he said.

When Keeling first started his vineyard a little more than a decade ago, it was the ninth licensed winery in the state. Now more than 90 wineries are operating in the state.

“We’re still pretty darn small, but we’re starting to get some really good attention,” Keeling said.

So small that the U.S. Department of Agriculture doesn’t keep data on wine grape production for the state, said Dave DeWalt, the federal agency’s state statistician for Arizona.

DeWalt said wine grapes in the state are a “relatively small commodity” and represent a small fraction of Arizona’s agriculture industry.

blobWine production has risen by more than 53 percent in the state since 2013, according to figures provided by the Arizona Department of Liquor Licenses and Control.

While wine is not among the top 10 agricultural products in the state, it does represent a “growing and significant” area of production, said Julie Murphree, communications director for the Arizona Farm Bureau, an advocacy group for farmers and ranchers.

“It’s one of the strongest potential new growth areas for Arizona agriculture,” Murphree said.

She added that the top two searches on the Farm Bureau’s Fill Your Plate service, which allows users to search a database of products from Arizona farmers and ranchers, are beef and wine.

“More and more people respond every year, and we’re starting to get more and more national attention,” Todd Bostock said.

For the Bostocks, that attention came when the San Francisco Chronicle named them one of the top 10 winemakers to watch in 2015 — the first year the newspaper named someone outside California.

Keeling said, unlike other states that have increased their wine production, Arizona wineries have a “quality mentality.”

The Sonoita-Elgin area, about an hour’s drive southeast from Tucson, is one of the three main wine-producing regions in the state, along with Willcox and the Verde Valley in Northern Arizona.

According to a 2013 study, commissioned by the Arizona Wine Growers Association, wine production in the state is valued at $2.2 million, with about 93 percent of the business occurring in southeastern Arizona.

“More people are looking to purchase land and start wineries out here,” said Lori Reynolds, winemaker at Sonoita Vineyards. “I see really great things coming (for Arizona wine).”

Sonoita Vineyards is the oldest continually operating winery in Arizona, opening in 1983. The winery got its start when Reynolds’ grandfather, Gordon Dutt, a former soil scientist with the University of Arizona, researched wine-growing near Elgin.

The soil composition in the area, he discovered, is a “99 percent” match to what is found in the wine-producing region of Burgundy in France. Following the experiment, Dutt acquired land south of Elgin and planted a vineyard there.

Over the years, Reynolds has seen wineries spring up along the rural roads extending out from Sonoita Vineyard’s 60-acre farm. Reynolds said it’s “exciting” watching new startups bring more attention to the region’s wine-growing prowess.

“Because now we’re not a surprise,” Reynolds said, “and people don’t say, ‘What? There’s wine in Arizona?’”

Being a priest at one of Southern Arizona’s most popular tourist sites

This story was completed for my Reporting Public Affairs class

SAN XAVIER INDIAN RESERVATION — Rev. Stephen Barnufsky shuffles his feet gingerly as he makes his way past the altar and up to the pulpit inside Mission San Xavier del Bac on a recent Monday morning.

Scaffolding looms behind Barnufsky as he slouches over the podium to deliver the daily mass’s homily on the value of humility in faith to a couple dozen faithful.

For 12 years, Barnufsky has led the congregation and delivered sermons inside these historical walls, which, he said, is nothing like your typical parish church.

In additional to being a popular tourist site, Mission San Xavier remains an active Roman Catholic parish serving the Tohono O’odham people on the San Xavier Indian Reservation. It’s not an easy job, Barnufsky, 66, said.

The job balances leading the spiritual mission of the church, working with pilgrims and tourists who come through regularly and contending with the seemingly constant state of construction at the mission.

“To juggle all of that is a challenge,” he said.

Barnufsky, who wears a tired visage and comfortable shoes, works six-day weeks. The large, white calendar in his cluttered office is filled with scribbles on nearly every day of the month with obligations.

The Franciscan priest performs mass each day and four times on Sunday with the help of the associate pastor, Rev. Ed Sarrazin. Barnufsky also performs funerals, weddings and baptisms for the local community in the Tohono O’odham village of Wa:k on the San Xavier reservation.

“It’s exciting but it’s also sometimes frustrating because the tourists will sometimes expect that they can come to the church at any time,” Barnufsky said. “The people who want to come to worship are trying to get in there to pray.”

The mission attracts about 200,000 tourists a year, according to the parish.

He makes time for people who come into his office needing to speak to a priest. He also prepares homilies each day and discharges administrative duties overseeing the mission staff.

Barnufsky also helps with the operations of and raise money for the San Xavier Mission School, which serves K-8 students on the reservation.

Cindy DeBro, parish administrative assistant, said Barnufsky recognizes that he needs to be flexible in this unique role of leading Mission San Xavier. DeBro works with Barnufsky to run the administrative operations of the church.

“He knows the expectations of the parish and he meets and exceeds them on a fairly regular basis,” she said.

All the while, Barnufsky said, he has to dodge scaffolding and workers who are completing the restoration of the 218-year-old church.


Mission San Xavier would receive at least $2.5 million for restoration of its east tower and façade should the Pima County bond question Proposition 430 be approved by voters next month. That money raised would be matched by the Patronato San Xavier, a non-secular and nonprofit group that promotes the preservation and restoration of the mission.

Miles Green, executive director of the Patronato, said Barnufsky — who serves on the Patronato Board by virtue of his position — is easy to work with. He said, however, he knows the parish leaders can get quite “vexed” by the renovation work because it is intrusive on their day-to-day work.

“Clearly they appreciate the work that’s being done, but they also realize that the main mission of the church is to minister to the congregation,” Green said.

The parish also recognizes that they are working in an important site that’s part of the history of Tucson and Southern Arizona, Green said.

Barnufsky said that likely means his sermons reach a greater number of individuals than the typical neighborhood parish priest would. Mass at the mission also brings together a more diverse group of people, he said.

“I’ve been in parishes where it’s just all one ethnic group and that’s OK, but it’s nice to have an ethnic mix,” Barnufsky said, “because, hopefully if they pray together, they’ll get along on the outside, too.”

At a typical Sunday mass, the pews will be filled with some Tohono O’odham and others from nearby parts of southern Tucson. Mostly, though, tourists and visitors, many of whom are Catholic, sit in the church during mass to take in the experience, Barnufsky said.

There are drawbacks to a constantly shifting congregation, Barnufsky said.

It’s difficult to maintain relationships with regular congregants because the mission has so few of them, he said.

“In parishes that I’ve been in before, it’s predictable who’s going to be at which mass,” Barnufsky said. “They form a little of community of their own and you learn their names and know when they’re missing. Here there are new faces every week.”

Barnufsky said he takes every opportunity to engage the local reservation community to visit homes and develop relationships.

He said the Tohono O’odham enjoy religious celebrations, such as death anniversaries. “Those add up over time,” he said.

Those celebrations are opportunities for him to engage them and carry out the original purpose of the San Xavier mission — to serve the spiritual needs of the Tohono O’odham people.


Barnufsky considered the priesthood since he was young boy growing up in Spokane, Washington. Something, he said, he owes to having good role models for priests growing up.

He’s been a priest for 39 years, first working in his native Pacific Northwest before moving to California. Barnufsky came to the desert in March 2003 from Oakland, California to serve at the mission.

He keeps a picture of the Cascade Mountains among depictions of Jesus, the mission and the Archbishop Óscar Romero in his office because it reminds him of home. Barnufsky said if he hadn’t become a priest, he probably never would have left Spokane.

Barnufsky said he’s glad to be a priest and he’s had the chance to experience more of the world because of it — visits to Rome to see the Pope and trips to study in England and Scotland.

He doesn’t know how much longer he wants to continue being an active priest.

A retired priest who lives at the mission continued ministering until he was 80 years old, an age Barnufsky said he doesn’t think he will be able to work at.

Barnufsky said he doesn’t forget the reason he decided to enter the priesthood. “It was a desire to help people in a lot of different ways and draw closer to God. That’s basically the reason I’ve stayed, too,” he said.

“Sometimes your reason for staying is more important than the reason you started,” he said about the priesthood. “When you start, you have high ideals — and that’s true in any profession — and when reality sets in, it’s not exactly like the ideal. You have to ask ‘Why am I doing this? Why am I still here?’ But I think life has been good to me.”