Current ApprenticeSandra Gavillot
2013 New Agrarian Program apprentice at the James Ranch
In Sandra's own words...
When I was ten years old, going to school in France, I went on a weeklong field trip with my class to the South Central region called Auvergne - famous for its quality agriculture. During that week, we hiked on top of extinct volcanoes to look at the fertile pastures and the many different types of cows. We visited a small family farm, watched a cheese maker slowly mix the curds and peeked inside an aging room full of Cantal. As young learners we found out that Cantal is one of the world's oldest cheeses and that unless we continue to appreciate it, the art of making this particular cheese may disappear. I remember having spent all my pocket money for the trip on that cheese. I brought home at least a couple of pounds. I spoke so highly of this field trip for years to come to my mother that she continued to buy Cantal whenever she could find some. As a family we have grown to love it.
Today, as an adult I am sad to learn artisanal Cantal is in even greater peril. Individual cheese makers with savoir faire and respect for the environment are being replaced by robots and managers who prefer non-holistic shortcuts to save time and money. Lack of education leads the consumers to participate in lowering standards with lower prices as their excuse. What is happening to Cantal in France is also happening everywhere else in the international food industry.
I believe providing one's own community with quality, local products leads to a greater awareness of where the food comes from and stimulates more interest in food in general. Granted individuals receive an education on how our food choices affect the rest of the world, I am optimistic they would choose a product that actually improves not only their health and their environment but also their whole community - and therefore would receive a full circle of benefits.
Access to a diverse array of local products is unfortunately harder than it should be. I would like to change that. I want to position myself so my lifestyle benefits my environment and my community. I would like to participate in providing excellent foods and better food education, hence my interest in this apprenticeship.
I did not grow up on a farm or a ranch but I have always been deeply connected to the environment. I was born on a small French island off the coast of Madagascar, called La Réunion - a popular stop-over on the spice commerce routes. The spice and rum trades created an interesting diverse population who learned to co-exist peacefully. The volcanic island was a great playground with steep unpopulated mountains, countless waterfalls and surf waves along the coast. Spending so much time outside, it was impossible for me not to appreciate Nature and feel comfort in it.
I moved permanently to mainland France early on, to the South region called Provence. I was fortunate to live in a region bathed with sunshine where slow quality lifestyle reigns. The pleasures of walking in the hills with sheep herders and farmers keeping up the same traditions as centuries ago were plenty. That is where I cultivated a passion for artisan-made regional foods. Even as a teenager I was very aware of the difference between a good product and bad one.
I went to High School in the US and went to Northern Arizona University to receive a degree in International Hospitality Management with an emphasis in Sustainable Tourism. My idea at the time was to start my own sustainable business or help developing countries create a sustainable plan for their tourism industry.
Being in Northern Arizona and falling even deeper in love with the outdoors, I took many Outdoor Leadership courses. This led me to go to Argentina as a volunteer wilderness Park Ranger. I spent weeks with no running water or electricity hiking the trails, restoring campsites, educating about Leave No Trace. After returning from periods in the wilderness I would share a house with other rangers and lived a busy rustic life. The chores were endless but necessary and satisfying. Cutting wood for hot water, making bread, trading meat for vegetables, connecting with neighbors for assistance...all those tasks taught me about community living and self-sufficiency.
I continued my travels across South America, and stayed a little longer in Bolivia where a civil war was brewing. Crossing a tall mountain at sunrise with indigenous Bolivian women carrying their babies on their backs, to by-pass a blockade of dynamite, made me realize how unbalanced the world's economy is. It is simply too easy for a rich developed country to sap all the natural resources from another country and leave them dry and poor. The protest was an attempt to resist the fast moving machine called globalization.
The more I learned about the world the more I realized how little I knew and understood. I kept traveling all over the world, near and far, remote and urban, as an observer, taking notes on what I liked and what I wanted to fight against. Making the world a better place seemed like such a daunting task, so I have decided to start small, by taking care of everything close to me. Eventually I would love to own a small farm, where I feel somewhat self-sufficient, that produces enough to contribute to the community, and that restores the environment. Hopefully my farm could also be an educational center and encouragement for others.