Current ApprenticesJustine Sanfilippo
2014 Apprentice - James Ranch Artisan Cheese
In Justine's own words...
I hail from Syracuse, a small city located in Upstate New York, where the winter months feel eternal, and the hazy days of summer are the most welcome of guests. Unlike the majority of apprentices of James Ranch past, I am not a product of the agricultural world. I grew up with the belief that food started and stopped under the florescent lights of the grocery store. That is not to say that there weren't delicious and wholesome meals on the table each evening, just that there wasn't an emphasis on who our farmers/ranchers were, where our food was coming from, and how the animals had been raised.
When I graduated from high school in 2006, I began taking courses at a nearby junior college, whereupon I unlocked my passion for working with underrepresented populations, and strong desire to create social change. Soon after, I transferred to Cazenovia College--a small, liberal arts college in New York's bucolic Madison County--and enrolled in the Mental Health Counseling program. While studying at Cazenovia, I worked full-time as an educational consultant in a community outreach program, at a non-profit. My job consisted in working with and providing support to college students with psychiatric disabilities. It was an invaluable experience, to say the very least, which opened my eyes, mind, and subsequently my world. Day in and day out, I observed that the students on my caseload struggled in gaining access to real food. This is true for a number of reasons, but primarily because of the students' socioeconomic statuses. In tuning into this problem, and growing to understand the connection between food, mind, and body, I saw an opportunity to make a difference, and started a community garden. The students and I worked tirelessly to construct raised beds, plant fruits and vegetables, and keep the garden up and running. The small garden proved to be viable.
Somewhere down the line, I grew disenchanted with my coursework and being bound to a desk from nine to five. More often than not, I caught myself dreaming of a life that would allow me to be outside, working with my hands. And then a moment of clarity: I didn't have to be a Social Worker if I wanted to touch the lives of people around me and create change in the community. So I chose to leave school and the non-profit in order to find what was important to me and who I wanted to be on the world's stage.
In taking a step back, I got a job as a barista in a local cafe. Being a barista allowed me to think more clearly and freely than ever, all the while cultivating a deep sense of community. And to be quite honest, I feel as though I learned more about life and people in the cafe than I had in school and at the non-profit. In addition to pulling espresso shots, I volunteered in Cornell Cooperative Extension's CommuniTree Steward Program (hands-on education and technical experience in urban tree management), completed an organic gardening course, and worked at a plant nursery.
I was called to the mountains in the summer of 2013 and climbed my way through New Mexico, Colorado and Utah. It was a time of self-exploration that ultimately led me back east to Leonardsville, New York. There, I became an apprentice to Renate Nollen--an artisan cheese-maker from Amsterdam--of Dutch Girl Cheese. Without a doubt, the two days per week I spent working there was the hardest work I'd ever known, and as the weeks turned into months, I developed a genuine appreciation and love for the balance between art and science that is cheese-making.
As a result of my experience with Dutch Girl Cheese, I came to understand that cheese-making extended far beyond the two disciplines; cheese making is a deep connection to the time of season, land, animals, farmers, and community. I also understood that in order to truly learn the trade and become an artisan cheese-maker, I would need to completely immerse myself in all things cheese. I've been craving an experience in which I would learn the art of cheese-making, from the pasture to the table, and my current apprenticeship with James Ranch Artisan Cheese is fulfilling my quest to immerse myself in the entire process.
2014 Apprentice - James Ranch Artisan Cheese
In Claire's own words...
As a child growing up in Portland, Oregon, I dreamed of living on a farm. When my parents were unmoved by my pleas to move from the suburbs to the country, I tried other avenues. I was convinced that if I wrote to the mayor I could get the law changed to allow livestock in the city. Where, you ask, would I keep my horses and cows and goats? Easy, I was going to graze them in the neighborhood park. Unsurprisingly, these plans never panned out, and while my dream of keeping livestock in the city faded, my love of animals and the outdoors only grew stronger with time.
My first real introduction to farming came when I was a freshman in college. I attended Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania with the intention of studying environmental science. Although my degree was ultimately in geology, through my course work I came to learn about the harm wrought by industrial farming. From that point forward I began to see the connections everywhere between the food we eat, the health of our bodies, and the health of our land. These insights suddenly cast my childhood aspirations of living on a farm into a whole new light: farming, when done correctly, is not some romantic notion. Instead, it is important, necessary, and urgently needed work. Luckily for me, associated with Dickinson College is a 50-acre organic farm. After my first time volunteering in the fields, I was hooked.
I worked all four academic years on Dickinson's farm. I loved working the land, the feel of the soil in my hands, the excitement of seedlings poking their tender leaves out of the soil, and the satisfaction of bringing in the harvest. But, through it all, my passion for working with animals remained the strongest. Dickinson had a flock of sheep and chickens, as well as small herd of beef cows, but I knew that I had found my niche when in the summer of 2010 I went to work for Sar-Ben Farms, a member of the Organic Valley Cooperative, in St. Paul, Oregon. As strange as it may sound, I fell hard in love with dairy cows.
I continued to work for Sar-Ben during the summer of 2011, and then following my graduation in 2012, took an apprenticeship with Dickinson College Farm. It was incredibly valuable to see the entire arc of the growing season from beginning to end and it gave me the opportunity to become truly immersed in the rhythms and nuances of the land and the seasons. Working on Dickinson's farm reaffirmed the things that I love about farming: the satisfaction of a hard day's work, the joy at seeing the land thrive under your care, and the pride gained from providing a community with wholesome, responsibly raised food. By the end of apprenticeship, I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that I wanted to pursue a career in agriculture. However, I decided to spend the following season away from the world of farming and instead decided to pursue my love of being in wild and remote places by hiking from Mexico to Canada along the Pacific Crest Trail.
The experience of hiking for 5 months through some of the most beautiful country in America was incredibly powerful. At the same time, however, it was tempered by the knowledge that the only way that I could survive in these remote places was by relying on anonymous, industrial food. The juxtaposition between the wild places that I was travelling through and the factory-farmed food that I was eating weighed heavily on my mind and reaffirmed my desire to be a part of sustainable agriculture.
I am so excited and grateful to be working for the James Ranch and learning from them how to be the best possible steward of the land. My childhood dream of living on a farm has to finally come fruition; and while it is certainly different from the romanticized notion I had when I was young, the reality of the work and rewards involved in producing quality food that restores, rather than degrades, the land and the people it supports is better than anything I could have imagined.