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2013 Drew Cole

2013 Apprentice

I like to think that the agricultural lifestyle found me and not vice versa. As with all processes in life, it did not happen instantly, and for the past six or seven years, the ever intoxicating call of the natural world expanding through my veins grew, until I could not ignore it any longer. The journey to where I am now was not a smooth one; I did not wake up one morning and choose to move to a farm forever. I did not grow up with aspirations of running cattle through chutes and wading through their manure. In fact, my initial decision to go into agriculture came through a desire to discover my internal self, not define my external one. And even though these mental barriers stood in my way, when it came down to working on farms in Italy, I found myself alongside the farmers shaking my fists at the inept government. When the weather grew hotter, and the work harder come spring, I found nothing more relieving than reaching the garden with a manure-filled wheelbarrow after pushing it up a steep muddy slope. When I was on a cattle ranch in Canada I found myself interjecting "eh" at the end of every sentence. I found that I could learn more about who I was through a relationship with a lonely horse named Griff than I ever could through a mere rejection of society. And here I am at the San Juan Ranch with only a week under my belt and already I catch myself praying for rain at every passing cloud. The point here lies in the fact that the ranching and agricultural lifestyle was something that simply synced with my internal person, when my internal person was most longing for something to grab hold of. Once I understood this grip, the tables turned, I did not fight it and have been trying my best to work alongside it.

And now back to the basics. My name is Drew Cole and I was born and raised in the Bay Area, California. Though California was my home for much of my life, I like to think that I really grew up on the previously mentioned cattle ranch in Alberta, Canada. I temporarily left Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh my freshman year to help out on my friend's place near a small town (basically a general store) called Twin Butte. If the negative forty-degree weather didn't open my eyes to a new life, the pride and value the community put into their work certainly did. From there I went back to school and graduated three years later with a degree in creative writing and a minor in film and media studies. I long flirted with the idea of heading into the film industry, as I loved the creative process and the effort involved in making such a complex art form. Yet, that siren's song of nature drew me back toward horses and the outdoor working life and I packed up my bags and headed off to WWOOF in Italy. I helped out on a range of farms, and it was my first real introduction to the natural process of raising vegetables, olives, and livestock in the humid Italian climate. It was in Italy that I learned of the ancient wisdom of raising a farm. One place in Abruzzo had three hundred year old olive trees that gave a window into the past and pruning them offered a unique chance to be in touch with that.

This was a very important insight for me because it combined a long-standing interest I hold in anthropology with the real, physical and present world of agriculture. If you were to sit down and ask me what I wanted my answer would change every day. My quest for knowledge grows so frequently it's hard to keep up, like when you start one book then pick up another before the first one is finished. As I reflect on this, I realize that maybe my true interest lies in gaining as much knowledge as I can in as many places as I can, and the ancient wisdom I found within the caring of olive trees offered the type of knowledge I desire. The agricultural wisdom, passed inadvertently from the dawn of human civilization in the Fertile Crescent to modern day ecologists, feels timeless and engrossing. I feel the pull of this ancient knowledge and want to explore it in as many ways as possible. This thirst is what made the San Juan Ranch apprenticeship really stand out as a rare and incredible opportunity. Not only are George and Julie willing and passionate about sharing their wisdom, but so is the entire Quivira Coalition, as they aim towards the simple but oh so difficult goal of making the world a better place. I feel honored to be a part of it in the ways that I can.

After my time in Italy, I spent several months working on the Off Island Ranch near Del Norte (also in the San Luis Valley). It was through my time and connection there that I learned about the Quivira Coalition and the San Juan Ranch apprenticeship. I think the strongest thing that drew me to the San Juan Ranch was the opportunity not just for education, but education served with passion and commitment to the subject. For a long time I had felt like a vagabond chasing this secret of agricultural life that everyone knew but me. The one thing left out of my agricultural experience was someone willing to give me an education in the whole of the business, rather than using me as simply a worker. The way George and Julie welcomed me the first time I visited, I knew that this would be a place to water my mind and hopefully cultivate some knowledge. The integrity of the operation shined, as it appeared the commitment to the San Juan's moral value held strong even in the face of adversity. I came here to learn from the land and I came here to learn from the people. I came here because in a world becoming ever more complex the value of using agriculture for the benefit of the land rather than as its antagonist will be valuable for humanity for years to come, and I hope one day to be able to pass that on.