Previous ApprenticesSamantha Bradford
A quintessential tomboy from my earliest childhood memories--most of my time was spent scouring the ditches near the house for crawfish or investigating the number of hurricane felled trees in the outer horse pastures, I always yearned to be outside exploring. It was where I felt the most at home. I have been fortunate that opportunities I have had over my lifetime lead me to ranching and that the impact of a natural disaster brought the importance of sustainability to my work.
My journey began with camping. My mother started a Girl Scout troop for my twin sister, friends and me, and a Boy Scout troop for my brother and his friends. Although my mother worked very hard to make sure both girls' and boys' camping trips shared the vast majority of experiences, the same was not so for the council-run camps. After walking around for a day at the local Boy Scout camp where my brother would spend a week swamping canoes, shooting skeet at the shotgun range, holding a groundhog snake and talking with the naturalist about it, Sis and I were loathe to leave for our weeklong Girl Scout Camp. As you might expect I did not take well to the overabundance of craft time and lack of outdoor activities. I'm not sure what exactly did it, but somewhere between the counselors not understanding when Sis and I swamped a canoe and turned it back upright to rescuing a multitude of reptilian wildlife including a Hognose snake from screaming shovel-wielding counselors, I knew Girl Scouts was not for me. Soon after, likeminded friends and I began a Venture Crew (the coed faction of the BSA), which led me to Philmont Scout Ranch. The BSA owned High Adventure Base Ranch with over 300,000 acres in Northern New Mexico. This is where the spark for ranching was fueled.
Over my four years working with the Ranch Department at Philmont I felt myself growing not only in my horsemanship but also in the way I perceived myself. At the beginning of my first year I was still not very confident around horses, having been somewhat intimidated by them even at home. But after that year, things I had initially approached with apprehension such as bridling and shoeing I now took in stride. Each new horse taught me the importance of having an eye for body language. That the ranch boasted a herd of close to 300 gave me more than a large selection of individuals to work with. As my confidence in my skills improved, so too did my confidence in myself. At the end of my first year one of the bosses remarked to me that when I first showed up he was not sure how I was going to do, but that I had grown into someone they could count on. That was the boost I needed to cement that I could do it.
In the following three years I worked my way up to a Cavalcade Horseman. This position gave me more responsibility in the form of a string of 30 horses for the entire season and the management of the weeklong horseback treks. Most notably it allowed me to go on the spring cattle drive up into the mountain pasture... my first real one-on-one experience working with the cows. Watching Rod Taylor, the cowboy-musician but for me Boss, and the other experienced cowboys and horseman move the cattle from the open plain up the boulder-strewn and Ponderosa Pine-filled Crater Trail (the cow trail up the ridge) into the Bonita meadow where they sorted out the pairs, I appreciated the difference between Hollywood's interpretation of cattle work and what was unfolding before me. The relative quietness of the experience also reminded me that I had much to learn.
Another part of my learning experience came from one of my favorite ranch chores: delivering hay and grain to the backcountry. In part because I really enjoy the aroma of the alfalfa and the dance of bucking the bales from the trailer overhead into the hay feeders, but more because it gave me an hour or two each way to talk with another boss, Chuck. Listening to stories of things he had seen on the ranch over the years and how much the change in climate had impacted the ranch since he first came out in the early 1970s. The latter came to be one of the concerns we talked about the most. From the loss of perennial streams over the years, the increasing dryness of the vegetation and subsequent ever-increasing fire danger, to the differences over time in the winter precipitation yield it was not difficult to see the effects of drought in the landscape. I had known that drought was a natural disturbance, but one that I had not experienced firsthand growing up. On the coast, our natural disturbances were of a wetter variety.
Growing up on the Mississippi Gulf Coast I looked forward to hurricanes. To me they meant a few days of camp lanterns lighting the house, cookouts with family and friends before the power went out, sitting on the porch watching the wind and the rain, searching in the horseyard for baby squirrels and raccoons blown out of their nests to bring inside until the winds faded, playing in the flooded street after the rain stopped and walking down Coleman Avenue when the winds died down to see how high the water came up. Typically the only signs that a storm had passed through were a few downed trees, marsh grasses covering the beaches and a part of the road, and generally more water in ditches, along roads, and puddled in yards. In 2005 a storm named Katrina changed all of that.
The combination of wind and surge served to alter the landscape to such a degree that calling it a major disturbance does not quite do the experience justice. It is a very odd thing to watch over 14 feet of water and high winds change the landscape you have grown up with to something nearly unrecognizable. The tall pines and many of the oaks that were such a beloved part of my home landscape were gone, along with all but a few of the man-made structures. The trees that remained had been broken into sharp angry shapes. In the years that followed many of the trees that survived the initial onslaught succumbed to their injuries. The horseyard pastures, which before boasted a healthy mix of pines, gum trees, oaks, open grassy areas and clumps of bushes, had turned into a disheveled mud land as we cleaned out debris to try and make it a safe environment for our animals.
As time passed and one of our pastures remained fenced off from the others due to the volume of unreachable debris, I was able to observe the shift in land health. The area that was fenced off showed a boast of regrowth with small pines, magnolias and oaks but it was very dense with thorn bushes with little grass. The pasture the horses grazed while we cleared other fields was in stark contrast to the area across the fence. The soil had become impacted and many of the younger trees had died. The grasses appeared in pockets. Where on one side of the fence the soil had a moist rich brownish black color, the other side was primarily sand and clay. After several years the differences in these two areas--one with livestock and another without--made me wonder: Where was the middle ground? How could one find the balance where livestock serve to enhance and be partnered to the plant life in the environment instead of harming the vivaciousness of the plants and slowly turning the land into a sandbox?
George and Julie's skill in utilizing livestock to revitalize the land was one of the first things that caught my attention at the San Juan Ranch. I had heard of Holistic Management, but I had not seen the plan in practice first-hand. Ranching in a manner that is sustainable and can leave the land in better health for the future is something that I see as essential in my own life and for the future of ranching. The skills I will acquire and experiences I will have throughout my apprenticeship here at the San Juan are part of the first and irreplaceable steps towards my goal to eventually invest in land that is in duress and bring it back to a healthy if not productive state. Just as my confidence around horses grew during my time working with them--developing an eye for their moods and body language--so too will my confidence grow throughout my apprenticeship as I develop an eye for reading the range and understanding its mood by season and body language. Along with the other skills I will develop during my year, developing my eye to read the landscape is the one I hope will grow the most. Even if I can identify that there is something amiss early on, even if I do not know yet what it is, I am one step closer to a solution. Every day presents another opportunity for something to learn. Already I have experienced how to weigh and vaccinate the cows, what to look for in their early stages of labor and how to tag a calf. And George and Julie's many stories and in-depth experiences that will undoubtedly assist me during the year. Only two weeks in and as much as I have experienced I know it is just the tip of the iceberg.
Samantha Bradford Apprentice Reports
2014-2015 New Agrarian Program seasonal apprentice on the San Juan Ranch
As I gaze across the sprawling valley and rest my eyes upon the snow-capped mountain range, I cannot help but feel immense gratitude towards the fortuitous events that have led me to this breathtaking view that I get to wake up to every morning. My recent journey into the agricultural world was, by no means, pre-planned and caught me completely by surprise in the most wonderful way.
Growing up in Ventura County, California I was surrounded by orchards, vegetable and fruit plantations, but I never once considered being a part of that world. When we were young, my sister and I fell in love with Shadow, the beloved golden retriever from the Disney classic "Homeward Bound". Thus began my life-long love affair with the animal world as my family welcomed our own golden retriever, Sonna, into our home.
As a kindergartener, my dream was to be a veterinarian who moonlighted as an astronaut. Predictably, as I grew older I shed these aspirations for ones that seemed more pragmatic. A key leadership role in my high school's Future Business Leaders of America chapter led me to apply for Political Science and Business Management majors in college, with the ultimate goal of earning an MBA. However, after ten boring weeks of easy coursework, I was ready for a change. A friend of mine was a pre-vet Animal Science student, and in my free time I found myself nose-deep in her notes and textbooks. Once I realized that a career in the animal world was a viable option, I switched as quickly as I could and have not looked back since.
With my sights set on veterinary school, my curriculum consisted primarily of science courses, with the notable exceptions of Professor Rob Rutherford's sheep management, lambing enterprise and holistic management courses. They were my introduction to the joys of raising livestock as well as the intricacies of proper land management. The discussions I had with Professor Rutherford were pivotal in my journey to the world of agriculture, though I did not realize the extent of their impact at the time.
While working in a small animal vet clinic, the politics of modern veterinary medicine made it clear to me that I wanted to work with large and exotic animals. At the same time I became fascinated by reproduction and the various biotechnologies associated with this discipline of agricultural sciences. I decided to specialize in theriogenology, the branch of veterinary medicine concerned with reproduction. As my college graduation approached, my plan was to earn a Master's degree in Animal Reproductive Physiology before applying to veterinary school. Not only was the subject of great interest to me, but the expertise would have given me a leg up in a fiercely competitive group of prospective veterinary students.
Since most of the graduate programs I was considering involved livestock, I decided to take a year to WWOOF (Worldwide Working Opportunities on Organic Farms) to gain the work experience I lacked with large animals. So I packed my love of sheep, a childhood obsession with Riverdance, and my bags and boarded an Aer Lingus flight headed to Dublin, Ireland.
During my nine months immersed in a beautiful country and culture, I fell completely and irrevocably in love with farm life. One rare sunny Irish day, I had to clean out a pen after a sow and her eleven piglets had been living there for a couple months. Whilst shoveling out the knee-deep pig manure and rocking out to music blaring from my Ipod, I realized that there was nowhere else I wanted to be.
Unexpectedly and quite rapidly, I developed a deep sense of belonging in the agricultural world. I found myself taking advantage of the opportunities that WWOOFing provided and working well beyond the required hours as a volunteer. Not once, even on the grey bleary days that can plague the country, did I wake up dreading my work, mainly because it never felt like work. It was a life that I truly and thoroughly enjoyed.
Despite my newfound bliss, I was frustrated to no end when I surmised that the Irish government dismally underrates its organic agricultural sector. After seeing how unappreciated benefits to the health of the land, animals and people that organics offer, I brought my frustrations back home with me to California where it spurred me to convince my family to support local organic farms and to build waist-high garden boxes to grow their own vegetables with ease.
I felt very unsettled upon my return once I realized that my plans to go to graduate school had lost their appeal. While I know that theriogenology would have been a field that I enjoyed, I could not ignore the lure of an industry that I feel so passionate about. I began seeking out internships and jobs in the sustainable animal agriculture world that would position me to one day claim ownership of my own sustainable farm.
After coming across the description for the San Juan Ranch on the Quivira Coalition website, I knew that this was my key to becoming an integral part of the sustainable agriculture world. Though I found the website through Google, I was reminded of those formative conversations with Professor Rutherford about the importance of proper land stewardship, conversations in which he often referred to the Quivira Coalition as a pioneer group for the future of sustainability. Seeing the hits on a simple Google search exposed interests that I had put aside in my pursuit of a DVM.
What struck me most about this apprenticeship is that it is geared towards young adults such as myself - those without an agricultural background but with aspirations to be a part of a world that is dominated by those who grew up in it. At my first visit, the warmth with which George and Julie welcomed me solidified my desire to grow and learn with them as my mentors. Their vast knowledge of leading a holistically managed life that brings together their love of the land and animals greatly inspires me. I am confident that I will gain a fantastic education in animal husbandry, preservation and promotion of biodiversity, and whole ranch management. The skills and life experience I will gain during the course of my seasonal apprenticeship will ultimately help me achieve my dream of owning and operating a ranch that benefits the land and community while nurturing symbiotic, beneficial relationships between many different species of organisms.
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.
Drew Cole Apprentice Reports Drew Cole Capstone Summary
March 26, 2012
Over the past couple months I have been mulling over a phrase --Land Advocate. How can I become a land advocate? Is this my calling? My image of a land advocate is someone who strives for an intimate relationship with the land, goes out and observes changes in the land, and reminds others of their connection with the land. I want to ask folks one simple question: "How did you interact with land, soil, and plants today?" I hope this question is thought-provoking. Maybe not at the moment it is asked, but as they move forward in time, they will recall this simple question. Perhaps they will feel called to their gardens, fields, and wilderness in a new way.
My interaction with land and soil started with the place I grew up --the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. This large valley was filled with just the right resources and people to nurture my interest in environmental studies. My childhood brought me up-close and personal with the creatures that roamed in my backyard woods and excited my curiosity in biology. This drive to know what was in my backyard--and later the entire valley--grew as I got older.
My growing passion for soil began in high school. As a member of the Envirothon team, I was introduced to basic soil science and land-use, as well as forestry, aquatic ecosystems, and wildlife; I chose to specialize in soils. Here I developed an appreciation for the earth beneath my feet. This vital substance that is so often abused and viewed as a lifeless medium became my focus throughout high school and my first years of college. Along the way, I was encouraged by teachers to research and to delve into the subject.
I found myself one hot August morning in my backyard attempting to dig a soil pit (which my mother was convinced the neighbors would think was a grave), and after a morning of digging, found myself no further than five inches into the ground. I wondered why the soil was so compacted and dead looking; what was missing? There was grass growing over the top and it was not a well-travelled area. The steadfast compaction I observed confused me, but it boiled down to the type of soil. It was high in clay and low in organic matter, and on that August day its small compacted pores held little water, making the earth hard as concrete. Though the pit never materialized, I found myself wondering about the physical and chemical make-up of all types of soils. At Massanutten Regional Governor's School I was allowed to create my own year-long research projects. I focused on soil and grasses during my time there. Some mornings were spent in the cool North Fork of the Shenandoah River monitoring water quality, while other days were spent observing nodules on the roots of soybean plants in a farmer's field. My teacher, Cathy Hughes, taught agro-ecology, and helped me understand the connection between soil science and agronomy.
I found myself interested in an alternative college experience, not a land-grant education. I discovered Warren Wilson College in Asheville, North Carolina. My experience at Warren Wilson expanded my interest in environmental studies, but it also ignited my consciousness surrounding sustainable land management. At Warren Wilson each student participates in the Triad program, which interconnects academic, work, and service learning. Students are not only engaged in an academic course of study, but they also work for the college on campus work crews while finding avenues to serve the greater community beyond the campus. I worked as a member of the Warren Wilson College Farm for two and half years and gained firsthand experience with cattle, swine, poultry, and direct marketing. I had the opportunity to apply my studies readily to my daily work, and spent much of my free time talking "ag" with others. My friends and I lived and breathed the rhythm of the college farm. As a summer intern, I experienced for the first time the inner-workings of a farmer's life. It was no longer just chores and "do-the-work-expected-from-you." Daily chores needed to be done, but the farm's success required every student to invest more fully, to make a conscious effort to understand every detail. It was learning how to revive a sick animal or to decide whether to end its pain and life. It was watching the corn grow and cover the bare soil. It was moving cattle to a new paddock of fresh grass each day. It was camaraderie of like-minded individuals pursuing the same objectives: to nurture the land and animals.
At this point, I knew land management was something I wanted to pursue. I wanted to know the details behind each operation and the management decisions that were likely to be made. I wanted to go out and improve agricultural land and communities, and to remind folks of where their food came from. I was drawn to how animals could be used to improve soil quality and provide healthy food. I was a cattle crewmember for a year and half and later student crew boss before graduating. I learned a great deal about myself while working with livestock, and how important it is to respect their lives and, later, sacrifice. I decided to major in environmental studies with a concentration in sustainable agriculture and a minor in chemistry, and after graduation, I found myself wanting to pursue a potential career in land management.
The New Agrarian Program apprenticeship is another step forward towards becoming a land manager and land advocate. I feel called from the east to see what sustainable ranching holds and find connections between sustainable farming and ranching. Industrial farming has removed much of its self-sufficiency by choosing not to incorporate animals into their crop rotations. I want to mend the biological disconnect and see where ranching can take me as an advocate and manager.
I am here in Colorado with a love for hard work and a drive to have an intimate connection between the soil life beneath my feet, and with the ultimate goal to learn how to use cattle to feed that beautiful complex thing called soil. Today, I am pursuing to become a land advocate here the San Luis Valley. I will be touched by a new landscape, one I hope to get to know intimately, learning from those who have watched the land change. I will take their stories along with me as I move on to a new place and cultivate a new connection with a new community and landscape.
Martha Skelly Apprentice Reports
My start in agriculture began in the rural ranching community of North Park, CO. I spent my childhood riding my horse and constantly jumping off to look at a new plant or interesting rock. I may have spent more time at the barn than in my house and raised horses, goats, pigs, and rabbits through the local 4-H program. As a kid, North Park was a thriving region, and its people were connected to the land by making their livelihood from it. Spending my days surrounded by nature and the closeness of this rural community started a love and passion in me for the way of life that is only achieved through working and living off the land. Over the years, I have seen first hand the decline of family run ranches in the area, resulting in the disintegration of economic and social conditions in my community. It has been heart wrenching to see a livelihood I greatly value be replaced by large corporations.
I earned a degree in Geography from the University of Colorado at Boulder. I spent summers hiking through the woods to collect data on forest diversity for the U.S Forest Service, riding up above 8,000 feet to gather cattle from their summer grazing pastures, and living in a mountain cabin with no running water or electricity. After graduation, I started work as a GIS (Geographic Information Systems) intern for a software company in Boulder and was eventually promoted into an office manager position. Although I enjoyed many aspects of my job, I longed to return to a life in agriculture and the outdoors.
I made the jump and moved to Australia to work on a cattle station in the Outback. During this experience I was introduced to many sustainable methods of ranching and living off the land. The cattle were 100% grass fed, as Western Australia did not have the industrial and marketing infrastructure to send cattle to feedlots within the region. We produced our own electricity, collected rainwater to drink and lit fires to heat water for showers. Being a part of these practices led me to think more about the progressive opportunities sustainable ranching may provide to people. I found myself returning to the U.S. rethinking the importance of family agricultural enterprises and rural communities, and I realized sustainable agriculture is a solution for preserving America's Western heritage and land.
I love the creativity and resourcefulness, the fortitude and realism that go hand-in-hand with ranching. A challenge is always presenting itself and you never stop learning. A life in agriculture is character building, you develop strength and independence. I aspire to be this type of person, who develops these traits cultivated by a life connected to the land. It fosters qualities that society should value, and the world needs people who have this sort of balance, practicality and dedication.
The story of what has happened in my home community of North Park is hardly unique. I see the CARLY ranch apprenticeship as an innovative solution to help address this problem seen throughout our country. From the moment I read about the program on the Quivira Coalition's website, I knew it was the opportunity I have been seeking. Quivira's collaboration with apprentices and mentors creates a unique learning environment to not only develop hands on skills and leadership abilities but to also pass on agricultural wisdom and traditions. For there to be learning opportunities for young people that include more than just chores or "cowboying " lays a foundation for our future generations to create a professional life in agriculture. Learning the ideas, business concepts, financial planning, and knowledge behind sustainable management decisions is an essential part of successful ranching and a key component of why CARLY is the next best step for someone like me.
I am continually drawn to hard work on the land, and the unique connection it enables one to have with the earth and the animals that societies depend on for their livelihood. One of my favorite jobs is sorting cows. My mentor and friend, Larry Davis always told me, "It is like a dance, you and the cow always move off each other." It is a beautiful and graceful act, to work off the cow's shoulder makes such a difference in the ease of how cattle are handled. These and other sharp images are ingrained in my memory, like watching a bull stir up dust while the sun sets or bottle feeding a calf as it tries to suck on my knee cap, fingers, and everything else it can find. The emotions I feel when so close to nature, life, death, and livelihood, make me want to continue doing `this', forever.
Amy Wright Apprentice Reports Amy Wright HMI Article
December 2009-October 2010
Where I Rode, and What I Ride For
I like complexity and quiet in cowboying. Ranching can be complicated, but the new leaders of the industry should be equipped to conserve both the land and culture of the West. I've been lucky enough to work on some big old beautiful outfits in Montana, Wyoming and Argentina. I was luckiest to find some good horses, friends and neighbors. Along the way I had a few real generous teachers. Soon I hope I'll run my own place - keeping the horseback traditions and applying the best practices of progressive management. For a guy like me this apprenticeship is a chance to go forward.
The San Juan Ranch is an honest old beautiful place. George Whitten and Julie Sullivan are the best kind of teachers. Their ground on the flats south of Saguache, Colorado and up in the foothills of the San Juan Mountains might not be one of those romantic spreads, which is a good thing. You can't disguise the humble fact this is a real ranch. Down in the chico brush these meadows raise the finest tender beef: organic, grass-fed and affordable. Here in the big open valley George and Julie offer this unique curriculum in learning on the land.
I came here to study some unusual methods of ranch management, grazing planning, beef production, grass-based finishing and marketing. Owning or managing any piece of land is a high privilege, and one to which I aspire. Wallace Stegner wrote, "Ranching is one of the few western occupations that have been renewable and produced a continuing way of life." I like the kind of progressive ranching that keeps the ancient traditions contemporary, growing livestock for the good of the land. I admire the careful old ways the best buckaroos handle their cattle a-horseback. They remain proud enough of their skills never to compromise and modest enough never to tell. You can heal the land with livestock, but not by just talking about it. It happens here at 8,000 feet above sea level in the best kind of a classroom in the San Luis Valley.
I grew up in Cambridge, Massachusetts. I studied architecture and urbanism at Yale. Directly after
graduating there I moved into a tipi in southern Montana where I was designing a house for my mother. After a while I had a little black gelding. I was just riding him bareback around the county, finding odd jobs and cooking in a café when I landed on a good ranch near Roscoe. They hired me on, just as I was. Soon enough I bought a saddle and a rope to throw at a cow whenever I got the chance. I never planned on being a cowboy but before too long I had more horses, colts and cow-dogs.
A cowboy might need to just wander for a spell, and if I did roam around a little I was lucky to find myself always learning. I hitchhiked across the country. I rode an old bicycle across Italy. One winter I was in Argentina riding with some gauchos, working grass-fed cattle on the Pampas. When I came home that spring I spent a month herding 1,500 weed-eating goats restoring oilfields in Wyoming. I rode on some big roundup crews. I spent months riding alone watching cows and calves in the high country of Montana and Idaho. I managed another herd of goats for weed control on ranches across central Montana. I started colts under some top hands. Most of those jobs never felt like work. I always had the horses and a dog or two right there with me. But we've been traveling enough for now. I'm pulling the shoes off my horses this week. The dogs are glad to stretch out and sleep in the winter sun. I'm ready to settle down and study for a while.
George asked me today where was the best place I ever worked. I said, "I don't know, some places were more beautiful and some places had better people or better horses. But you could never stick around anywhere too long." I said, "I hope this place turns out to be the best one." We were just rattling down the road in his old Suzuki, dogs in the back, late in the day west across the big valley. We'd been feeding cows, planning our winter pasture rotations and roping a dummy calf in the driveway but we had to go bring that old blue flatbed truck home with some hay before the cold tomorrow morning. The cowboy romance of ranching makes a rugged old myth, but I'll take the complex reality. The best part of any place is the quiet way we get along, all of us neighbors on the land.
Sam Ryerson Apprentice Reports
April 2009-April 2010
In Amber's own words...
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.
Amber Reed Apprentice Reports