Current ApprenticePatrice Treu
2013 New Agrarian Program apprentice at the James Ranch
In Patrice's own words...
It's been said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.
I tend to think that most of what each of us will attempt in life takes the form, in some measure, of imitating people and ideas that make sense to us on a personal level. Since this may often be a subconscious act, perhaps the "flattery" of that old proverb gains a kind of sincerity, an innocence, the less one is aware of doing it.
But then again, how often do we get to seriously reflect on whom, on what ideas, we wish to imitate? For me, the decision to apply for the James Ranch Apprenticeship through the New Agrarian Program has been just that: the opportunity to seriously reflect on the ideas upon which I'd like to base the next part of my life. I'm excited about the chance to consciously take to heart the lessons - both practical and ideological - that will be part of this apprenticeship.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. I should tell you how I got here.
I grew up in rural southeastern Wisconsin on my parents' hobby farm. In a way, this experience was nothing but ordinary - seven kids and a whole lot of farm chores - but these days I cherish as extraordinary the fact that I got to spend so much time out of doors. Weeding and hoeing in the big family garden, shoveling out the chicken coop and picking strawberries in the field, even mowing the lawn, have since served as a bottom line for what it feels like to work hard and find a kind of satisfaction in having dirt under my fingernails. More than anything, my childhood gave me a feeling of the joy of sunshine and rain, and of being out in it.
After high school, right around the time I realized I'd have to learn to support myself, I got a job in a fast food restaurant. I thought it would be as good a job as any, and met with a big surprise. I gained fifteen pounds in a couple months, stopped being happy, and for the first time (of many) I clearly recognized a stronger provocation than the call to simply follow in lockstep with this society's conventions. I could not earn a living or live a life soaked in fry grease, and I saw that it would be important for my mind and my health to break away from mainstream living and eating habits. Being a thoughtless mimic of society's standards was not going to work.
The next job I had was a turning point for me in overall awareness, and the beginning of my allegiance to sustainable agriculture. I began working at an organic CSA called Springdale Farm, where owner Peter Seely's commitment to sustainable practices on his land opened my eyes. His farming practice was and is based on an awareness of the intensely interconnected ecological cycle that has its basis in the living elements of the soil. I came to understand that we all are part of what is ultimately a closed cycle of nutrients and energy that has sustained all living things for all ages. Thus, in order to be a responsible individual, I must be aware of how my food choices affect the land from which my nourishment comes.
Since working on Springdale Farm, I've completed Bachelor's and Master's degrees in Philosophy. During this formal education, I maintained involvement in organic food production by working on organic vegetable farms, at farmers' markets, and spending time with local growers wherever I happened to be living. Through it all, I've come to think that a really good way to live responsibly, to live well, is to become part of the community of farmers who conscientiously provide the best possible food for their community's tables. Meanwhile, I've also grown in my appreciation for fine cheeses, and have come to think that dairy farming may be a right fit for me in the growing local foods movement.
By organizing the James Ranch Artisan Cheese apprenticeship, the New Agrarian Program has given me the ability to find out in earnest what it looks like to be a conscientious dairy farmer. The Quivira Coalition's commitment to regenerative farming and land management education helped me recognize my need to find a teacher who can show me what a good farming operation looks like from the ground up.
The apprenticeship format of the New Agrarian Program allows me to consciously imitate someone - really a whole family of people at the James Ranch - who really put their ecological, social, and aesthetic values into practice. One of the practices I most admire is the holistic decision-making process that is used at the ranch: the James family always takes into consideration the effects that their operation will have on their family and community, domestic and wild animals, and of course their land and the ecosystems of which it is a part. I am interested in Dan's understanding of agricultural land and water management, particularly rotational multi-species grazing, because this kind of management can actually restore health to an environment. In addition, Dan James' low-stress animal handling methods, his practice of animal husbandry that follows the seasons (the cows have calves only in the spring) and his maintenance of an entirely grass fed herd all hold great appeal for me.
On top of all that, and well designed business, marketing, and infrastructural systems to boot, Dan James is a master craftsman who artfully produces the best cheese around from milk so high in quality, so carefully handled - all of it raw - that there is no better artist from whom I could learn the cheese making craft. I think that I've found myself in the perfect place to learn what I seek about both farming and, well, how to craft a good life.
Since we're all going to imitate something, and since I believe there's nothing really new under the sun, I'd like to do something as old as, well as old as cheese making, and to do it in the best, the most careful and conscious way possible. Thus, I hope my explicit decision to imitate the James family's way of farming is better than flattery, rather, it is the choice to learn to do something well.
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