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Previous Apprentices

Justine Sanfilippo
2014 Apprentice - James Ranch Artisan Cheese

In Justine's own words...
Justine Sanfilippo Web
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.


Claire Persichetti
2014 Apprentice - James Ranch Artisan Cheese

In Claire's own words...
Claire Photo
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.


Sandra Gavillot
2013 New Agrarian Program apprentice at the James Ranch

In Sandra's own words...
Sandra Gavillot Web
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.

Sandra - Final Report

Patrice Tueu
2013 Apprentice - James Ranch Artisan Cheese

Treu Photo Web
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.


Josh Lang
2012 apprentice at the James Ranch

In Josh's own words...
Josh Final Web
Growing up in Cary, North Carolina brings back great memories. Lochmere is the neighborhood in Cary that I call home. It is very much a neighborhood for raising kids. I have many fond memories from there, like biking the two-mile stretch of neighborhood with my best friend, fishing and canoeing on Lochmere Lake, and hanging out with many neighborhood-school friends. Attending public school allowed me to participate in an interesting convergence of people and ideals, and I consider myself very fortunate to have grown up in this way, surrounded by so many different people with a variety of backgrounds and experience. Although my interest in food did not originate from my interactions in Raleigh and Cary, my neighborly and compassionate qualities certainly did. I believe this initial set of core values, combined with my personal attribute of skepticism has motivated me to dive into the world of sustainable agriculture.

After exploring Cary and Raleigh through high school, I decided on Appalachian State University to continue my education. It was at this liberal arts school, nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains of NC, where I was really exposed to the myriad of global issues that impact all communities. In the Sustainable Development program I found myself immediately drawn to food systems, and more specifically to the world of ecologically sustainable farming. I finished the program in 2010 with a strong impression that local food systems create healthy economies, environments, and people. Contemplating my "next move" during my last year of school kept leading me back to a not-so-common career path. I decided if I wanted to make a real impact I ought to show people how effective small farms and local food systems are. The next step involved striving to understand how to manage a small farm business while simultaneously continuing to learn about the food systems of the US...

I began the 2011 year as an apprentice at Beausol Gardens, in Pittsboro, North Carolina, where I learned how to create and manage a 3-acre vegetable garden and CSA. This was an important introduction into agricultural business management, as I got to see how the numerous aspects of vegetable production fit together in a play between working with nature and ensuring a profitable harvest. When my apprenticeship ended in September, I had an opportunity to move to Los Angeles and took it. There I gained experience in marketing and distributing agricultural products, while assisting in maintaining connections between 15+ farmers and artisans and 40 families in a home-delivery CSA. These two local food system perspectives - Beausol Gardens and the CSA out of LA - allowed me to see the range of customer appeal and the numerous approaches to consider as I contemplate starting my own operation. During this 16-month period, the focus on land stewardship as an answer to the dwindling acres of open space unfolded before me, and eventually led me to the Quivira Coalition.

The Quivira Coalition's New Agrarian Apprenticeship Program connected me with Dan and Becca James, at James Ranch Artisan Cheese in Durango, CO. In one respect, Dan and Becca are stewards of the land, and have taken seriously the responsibility of improving the ecology on their land, working to maintain wildlife habitat, and managing their livestock in such a way as to enhance and protect the quality of the soil. In another, they are rather business-minded and have chosen to turn their milk into artisan cheese, which can add significant value to a dairy business. Among the many things I'm hoping to learn as their apprentice is the extensive process of producing and maintaining James Ranch Artisan Cheese, from ensuring a healthy soil to telling new customers the story of their special cheeses.

Josh Lang - Final Report
Jo Myers
2011 apprentice at the James Ranch

In Jo's own words...
Although I grew up in an agricultural community in central Idaho, much of my time was spent on the Salmon River. My parents owned and operated a whitewater rafting company, and I was fortunate enough to spend the first 23 years of my life exploring, learning, teaching, and eventually guiding on this river. Learning in this outdoor setting taught me many things that a traditional classroom could not, such as a sense of stewardship for the land and a passion for teaching others about the splendors of natural places.

My time spent on the river has shaped the way I see the world and has been the foundation for my life goals. It inspired me to travel to New Zealand and across the western United States in pursuit of new and different rivers. It prompted me to attend Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado to study Environmental Science and to pursue a Master's Degree in Environment and Community from Antioch University Seattle. It motivated me to work on the Upper Sawtooth Basin Sockeye Salmon Recovery Project conducting limnological research, to collaborate with private landowners on various stream restoration projects, to develop watershed based outreach and education projects, to improve shoreline uses and policies, and to help restore marine ecosystems and native species.

It has been through these experiences that I have learned to see our environmental challenges as complex systemic problems within our society. I believe that many of our environmental and social issues are directly related and stem from a lost connection to the local landscape. When our necessities come from within our own community, we become more invested in insuring that the environment and our neighbors are properly cared for. We become interdependent, as opposed to independent. However, as we source more and more of our needs from distant places, we lose the incentives and desire to properly care for our own environment.

During the past few years I worked for Puget Sound Restoration Fund managing a community supported oyster farm on Bainbridge Island, Washington. The purpose of the oyster farm is to engage island residents in water quality improvement projects and connect them directly to the benefits of a healthy marine ecosystem by growing and eating local shellfish. It was here that I was able to observe how locally gown food can directly and tangibly connect people to place, and I began to realize what an important and powerful tool food can be to encourage a sense of environmental stewardship.

My goal is to return to Idaho and blend my passions -- learning, land stewardship, teaching others, and sharing good food -- by starting a multifaceted sustainable farm, much like James Ranch. There are many opportunities for innovation and evolution within Idaho's food system. I view this apprenticeship as a way to build upon my previous experiences in permaculture design and community supported farming so I can return with a deeper understanding of wholistic farming and the ability to share these techniques with others in the community. I am honored to be a 2011 CARLY Agrarian Apprentice, and I look forward to continuing to explore how locally produced food can connect communities to their landscape and to one another while contributing to a vibrant local economy.

Jo Myers Final Report
Amber Reed
2010 apprentice at the James Ranch

In Amber's own words...

Amber James Web
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. I was thrilled to have been chosen as the first CARLY apprentice at the San Juan Ranch. I knew from the moment that I entered the CARLY program in 2009 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 through CARLY 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 communit

Amber Reed Final Report