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2013 Apprentice - James Ranch Artisan Cheese
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.
2012 apprentice at the James Ranch
In Josh's own words...
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.
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
2010 apprentice at the James Ranch
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. 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