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2009 Amber Reed

2009 Apprentice

My interest in agriculture started early. At three years old, my mom found me lying in the dirt under a goat to help her kid nurse. This seems to be a pattern. Lately, I've been kneeling in manure, mud, and snow while trying to get calves to suck their mothers here at the San Juan Ranch. Just today one of the calves that we've been nursing along danced around throwing out his back legs. That is a beautiful thing. I am thrilled to be the first CARLY apprentice at George and Julie's. I knew from the moment that I visited nine months ago that this was the place to learn how to become a conscientious, resilient, and sustainable rancher. I plan to use the knowledge that I gain here in the San Luis Valley to start my own place in the next five years. I expect to spend these two or three years learning how to create a sustainable and economical operation from dedicated ranchers and farmers. Through the CARLY apprenticeship, I hope to become an ambassador and leader for sustainable ranching.

For starters, I was born in West Virginia and then moved to a homestead in Maine with my mom and step-dad when I was seven. My sister was born on the porch four years later. Growing up in Wellington, I learned to carry hot water for baths, check the sky for Orion on the way to the outhouse, and trim kerosene lamp wicks until we got solar panels (the house is still off the grid). We ate porcupine pot roast in the winter and fresh veggies from the garden in the summer. In our self-sufficient household, I entertained myself by making things, reading, hypnotizing my bantam chickens, and wandering around in the woods. I would search out old cellar holes and overgrown stonewalls where I found interesting plants like Ostrich Ferns and Jack-in-the Pulpits to bring home and plant in the yard much to my mother's delight. Even when I lived in the city years later, I noticed when Bard Owls were mating, Ocotillo was blooming, or quail were hatching. During the summer I would go back to West Virginia, and stay with my dad where we went mountain biking and ate a lot of buckwheat pancakes.

After high school, I went to Europe and worked for WWOOF (Willing Workers On Organic Farms)in France and Italy. I also worked on two independent organic dairies in France and Switzerland. There I learned how to milk goats and cows, make cheese, fertilize olives, and bake apple pie. When I returned to Maine, I went to Bowdoin College and majored in Environmental Studies and Visual Art and minored in Biology. I spent the 2001 fall semester in Brazil learning about Amazonian Ecology and Natural Resource Management. On the Amazon Delta, I conducted an independent research project on the pollination system of a cashew-like tree, Anacardium gigantium. My project also focused on native sting-less honeybees that pollinate flowering trees and plants and can be cultivated for honey, forest productivity improvement, and economic alternatives to slash and burn agriculture.

During the summers, I lead canoe trips in the remote Northwoods for Darrow Camp in Maine and Camp Widjiwagan in Minnesota. These trips ranged from one-week trips in the US to longer expeditions into Quebec, Labrador, and Ontario. Both camps used wooden canvas canoes and a traditional style of travel. In 2004, with my co-leader I planned and lead an exploratory canoe trip with 6 teenagers from a train drop in Quebec through the wilds of Labrador. The following year, I became the Assistant Director of Darrow Camp during the transition between Executive Directors.

A few years after college, I joined Teach For America and taught Algebra in Atlanta for a summer. TFA placed me in Charlotte, North Carolina where I taught Biology at a crowded inner city school. The following year I worked as a Special Education Paraprofessional in Leadville, Colorado at the Middle School. Before coming to the ranch this spring, I was a Read-To-Achieve teacher for Kindergarten and 1st grade in Leadville. I've enjoyed working with such a wide variety of students over the past three years, and I've learned a lot about different types of leaders who can adjust their style to fit any situation.

Some of the other things that I've done over the years include: being the artist-in-residence, snowshoe hare exterminator, and cook at the Kent Island Scientific Field Station, waiting tables in a yurt without running water, grooming Nordic ski trails, researching various ant species' relationships to Fish Hook Barrel Cactus in Tucson, working at a boat yard building wooden lobster boats (Pulsifer Hamptons), wrapping Christmas trees in the snow, and pulling tons (literally) of Alsa Craig onions for the Common
Ground Fair in Maine.

Ranchers and farmers must be adaptive and observant; therefore, they thrive when they understand the specifics of their land. I believe that sustainable agriculture is the most important component of conservation, and grass-based ranching is the most efficient use of our natural resources and the healthiest, happiest system for animals and people. I want to be part of the movement forward with ranchers and farmers who are innovative, skeptical, and care deeply for their land, animals, and communities.