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Tooley's Trees

Eight-month Holistic Orchard Management Apprenticeship in Truchas, New Mexico


Margaret and Gordon have trained many young people over the years, and then in 2013 hired a New Agrarian Program graduate for an eight-month orchard management apprenticeship. In 2014, Tooley's Trees officially joined up with Quivira Coalition as a mentor for the New Agrarian Program. NAP apprentices with Tooley's Trees will gain skills and experience in all aspects of running a successful tree nursery, including basic soil science geared toward healthy, productive soils; recognizing the difference between beneficial plants and weeds and between beneficial insects and pests;bench and bud grafting; fruit tree and nursery crop production, processing and marketing; drip irrigation installation and maintenance; making, processing and utilizing compost; healthy physical labor employing efficient and safe body mechanics; basic tractor driving skills, including backing a trailer; and a plethora of other skills tied to farming and orchard management. In addition to working in the nursery, apprentices will have opportunities to learn about top-bar beekeeping, vegetable gardening and other homesteading skills.

Start Date: Approximately March 15, 2017

Application Deadline: December 1, 2016

The Farm

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Tooley'sTrees

Tooley's Trees is a family-run, ten-acre tree nursery located in Truchas, New Mexico at almost 8,000 feet elevation, approximately forty miles from Santa Fe and forty miles from Taos. Gordon Tooley and Margaret Yancey, business owners and operators, grow 3000 to 6000 drought tolerant fruit and conifer trees and shrubs in fabric root bags, on drip irrigation, using holistic growing practices that result in healthier plants and soils, higher water quality, and increased beneficial insect populations.

Gordon and Margaret grow many heirloom and uncommon varieties of grafted apples, apricots, plums, pears and cherries grafted on rootstocks carefully selected to match climate and soil types in Northern New Mexico. They believe in selling small caliper trees with well-developed root systems accomplished, in part, through the fabric root bags which allow development of a fibrous root structure. Smaller caliper trees establish more quickly with less transplant shock, and grow more vigorously in difficult sites than large caliper trees.

They started the farm from scratch in 1991 on an owner-financed property, clearing juniper and sage acre by acre to create what today is Tooley's Trees. In the beginning, Gordon and Margaret both worked one or more off farm jobs to pay for the land, develop the infrastructure, build and pay for their home, and develop a wide range of plants for sale.
With a goal of "no bare ground," Gordon and Margaret emphasize the importance of cover crops: both annual and perennial grasses and forbs to protect and add nutrients to the soil, and provide habitat for beneficial insects. In addition to the nursery, they have built a Keyline Plow and hire out with tractor and plow to other farms and ranches, and they offer regular workshops and classes on holistic orchard management and permaculture practices.

Their philosophy focuses on reducing impact on the planet and improving land health and resilience. When they disturb a site, it is for the purpose of bringing it out of stasis and improving its ability to hold water and therefore sustain life in soil, plants, wildlife, and humans alike.

The Mentors

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Margaret and Gordon run a very progressive farm that departs in significant ways from a conventional operation. They live in a passive solar home that they designed and built themselves, with electricity sourced from (active) solar panels, forcing a keen awareness of everyday energy use. They grow a lot of their own food in a home garden, and preserve food grown in the garden for winter consumption through canning and storage in their root cellar. Ecological concerns, good land stewardship, healthy lifestyles and quality of life are top priorities.

Tree farming and establishing stable landforms through stewardship are Gordon's vocation. He grew up on the Philmont Ranch in Cimarron, New Mexico and has an Associate's degree from Colorado Mountain College (Leadville, CO). Before starting the farm in Truchas in 1993, he was a backcountry ranger at Philmont Scout Ranch, a park ranger with Mesa Verde National Park, an estate garden manager in Maine, and an employee of various landscape companies, stonemasons and tree care businesses. He was a nursery manager, has commercially harvested seed and medicinal plants throughout the Southwest and is a certified Permaculture instructor. Gordon currently conducts many plant-related workshops including grafting, pruning and holistic orchard management.

In 2008, Gordon was named Educator of the Year by the New Mexico Organic Commodities Commission. In 2009, he participated in the Forgotten Fruits Summit organized by Slow Foods and RAFT (Renewing America's Food Traditions). This group compiled information for the Forgotten Fruits Manual and Manifesto, now available through the Slow Foods website. Gordon is the Southwestern US grower-member of the advisory board for the Holistic Orchard Network set up by Michael Phillips, author of The Apple Grower and The Holistic Orchard.

Margaret is originally from Boston, Massachusetts and moved with her family many times while growing up. She studied at several colleges and finally graduated from Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio. She worked in construction for twenty-eight years, mostly as a timber-framer (she designed and built with Gordon, their passive solar, timber-frame home!). In 2007 she devoted herself fulltime to the farm. In addition to planting, weeding, pruning, and selling trees she manages the website, edits the paper catalog and does all the bookkeeping for the farm.


The Apprenticeship

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This holistic orchard management apprenticeship is an 8-month, professional training opportunity targeted at beginning agrarians committed to a life and career at the intersection of conservation and regenerative agriculture. The apprenticeship includes hands-on experience in all aspects of running a successful tree nursery, including the following:
    1. Basic soil science geared toward healthy, productive soils and high-yielding plants;
    2. Recognizing the difference between beneficial plants and weeds, and between insects and pests;
    3. Planting bareroot trees in fabric root bags
    4. Weed control strategies; be forewarned, we do a ton of hand weeding!
    5. Bench and bud grafting;
    6. Tree pruning;
    7. Tree fruit production, processing and marketing;
    8. Nursery crop production, and marketing;
    9. Drip irrigation installation and maintenance;
    10. Making, processing and utilizing compost;
    11. Healthy physical labor employing efficient and safe body mechanics;
    12. Basic tractor driving skills, including backing a trailer;
    13. Basic building skills which might include building high tunnels, reapplying poly to high tunnels, building top-bar beehives, building sheds,fencing;
    14. Correct use of products to manage disease, weed and insect control in both "conventional" and "organic" farming, with an understanding of why certain practices are used and why certain practices are either harmful or helpful;
    15. A plethora of other skills tied to farming and orchard management;
    16. Planting, maintaining (and eating from!) a home vegetable garden;
    17. Keyline Plow design and implementation.
    18. Top bar beekeeping
    19. Working directly with customers who may need a lot of help deciding which trees to buy


Enthusiasm and a sincere commitment to regenerative agriculture and land stewardship are more important than experience, though experience with trees and/or farm work is a plus.

This is a full-time, intensive education and professional training program, forty-five to fifty hours a week, sometimes more and sometimes less. One of the joys as well as the challenges of farming is living and working with the rhythm of the seasons, and the work schedule follows the demands of season, weather, and nursery needs.

Tooley's Trees is open to the public on Friday, Saturday and Sunday from late March through early November The apprentice will be assisting customers on those days, and getting time off on Monday, with the rest of the week focused on a variety of tasks on the tree farm.

A typical season on Tooley's Trees includes the following activities:

    March-April: Bench grafting; greenhouse work; digging stock in in-ground fabric root bags; holistic orchard spraying as outlined in Michael Phillips' book "The Holistic Orchard"; planting bareroot stock in fabric root bags; pruning trees, starting the vegetable garden;

    April-Nov: Drip irrigation set-up, maintenance and monitoring (understanding the irrigation system is imperative: this one skill alone will make a huge difference to you if you choose to continue in agriculture anywhere in the southwest); moving stock in above-ground fabric root bags; planting home garden; selling stock to wholesale and retail customers; assisting with deliveries in one hundred-mile radius of Truchas; hand-weeding and mulching; composting; insect, disease and plant health monitoring; maintaining (and eating from!!) home garden; assisting with keyline plow projects; fruit harvesting and processing; summer pruning; budding and propagation methods


A number of other activities may be incorporated into the apprentice schedule, depending on interests: tending to the beehives, additional work in the vegetable garden, infrastructure maintenance, research, keyline plow work.

Our busiest time of year is April and May when we are grafting, planting in fabric root bags, pruning, selling trees to the public, starting the vegetable garden. Apprentices will generally work Tuesday through Sunday. Tuesday's, during slower times in the season will be a day for self-directed study and work on the capstone project. Typically, Gordon and Margaret work alongside the apprentice. As he or she gains skill and experience, he or she will do certain tasks independently.

Spring and fall tend to be the busiest times at Tooley's Trees. August tends to be a bit mellower and is the best time for apprentices to plan visits with family and friends, plan trips, and schedule educational opportunities. The farm gets busy again in the fall with at-times intensive tree sales in September and October. Apprentices will wrap up the season with final projects in October and November, ending just in time for the Quivira Coalition conference in mid-November.

Gordon and Margaret expect the apprentice to learn much over the course of his or her time at the nursery. An apprentice will ideally show up with the following on day one:
    Willingness and ability to follow directions
    Ability to work well as part of a team
    Enthusiasm about plants
    Curiosity and enthusiasm to learn
    Courtesy and honesty
    Ability to be prompt
    Efficient and energetic work ethic with a willingness to learn safe body mechanics
    Attention to detail
    Willingness and preparedness to work in all weather conditions
    Care and appreciation for tools and equipment protocols


Housing: oom and a futon couch that unfolds into a second bed, a fully functional kitchen, electricity, heat, a humanure composting toilet and a shower. Wifi internet is available, although service can be patchy. Apprentices are expected to keep the apprentice housing and area surrounding the Airstream relatively neat.

Stipend: The monthly stipend is determined each year, based on available funding; it is typically around $700 take-home pay. This is paid at the end of each month.

Quivira Coalition Activities: The apprentice is required to attend the annual Quivira Coalition conference, held each November in Albuquerque, NM; conference and hotel fees are covered by the Quivira Coalition. In addition to the conference, the apprentice will participate in an Holistic Management International webinar series geared Whole Farm/Ranch Planning Series. Apprentices are also required to write several reports during their apprenticeship; these reports will go through the NAP Coordinator at Quivira, and be posted on the Quivira website.

Time off: Apprentices will typically get Monday off. Our work pattern follows that of nature; when everything is busy and producing and growing, we do the same. When nature begins to slow down, we also slow down. Apprentices often have opportunities to take additional time off in August to visit family or attend a class or workshop, when the farm schedule can more easily accommodate this time away.

Visitors: Northern New Mexico has a large tourist draw. As a temporary resident, the apprentice may experience that draw through requests for visits from friends and family. The apprentice may also want to express his or her enthusiasm for the program by inviting friends and family to visit. The apprentice should use wisdom and judgment to balance the apprenticeship demands with time available for guests. Apprentices will be asked to discuss visitors in advance with Margaret and Gordon.

Food: The apprentice is responsible for taking care of his or her own food budget, but Tooley's Trees will provide a small additional monthly stipend for food. Additionally, the apprentice will be expected to put time into the home garden and will in turn have full access to garden produce.

Pets: It will not be possible for the apprentice to have pets during the apprenticeship. The apprentice housing is right on the farm, which needs to be maintained as a place where the public feels welcome and safe.

Drug and alcohol use: No smoking or drugs on the farm. Tooley's Trees is a completely non-smoking environment. No partying in the apprentice housing. Apprentices are expected to keep the apprentice housing and area surrounding the Airstream relatively neat.

Tobacco use: Tobacco use is generally not allowed on the premises because it can cause plant disease, and would prevent the apprentice from participating in certain activities.

Health Insurance: The farming lifestyle has inherent dangers. While personal health insurance is not required to participate in the apprenticeship program, it is strongly encouraged. The nursery carries Worker's Compensation to cover injuries incurred on the job. But if the apprentice is injured on his or her day off, gets sick, or has or develops chronic conditions like allergies, these types of issues should be covered by personal health insurance.

Farm Vehicles: All of the farm vehicles are standard transmission. The apprentice will be expected to competently operate these vehicles. Apprentice must have a valid driver's license.

Personal Vehicle: There are no instances (or very few) when the apprentice would be required to use his or her own vehicle for farm purposes. In order to run personal errands and travel on days off, however, the apprentice will need the flexibility of her/his own vehicle.

Living in Truchas, New Mexico: We like to tell applicants a little about the community and area. Truchas is a small town of less than 1,000 people at the heart of the Nuestra Señora del Rosario, San Fernando y Santiago Land Grant, established in 1752. Our farm is a few miles to the west of the town, at an elevation of 7960 feet, with views of the Truchas Peaks and the mountainous Pecos Wilderness to the east. To the west are the Española Valley, the Jemez Mountains and a view of Pedernal Mountain, made famous by Georgia O'Keefe. Truchas has a post office as well as many art galleries. The nursery is close to several trailheads with lots of hiking trails that lead into the Pecos Wilderness.

For services like groceries, bank, laundromat, restaurants, nightlife, library, movies, Santa Fe (about forty miles), Española (fifteen miles) or Taos (about forty miles) offer the most amenities. Los Alamos is also about forty miles away. All of these towns have interesting histories including Native American and Spanish settlement. A really good book to get an overview of the history of the area is Enchantment and Exploitation by William deBuys.

2016 Apprentice

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Garrett Sorber - I am a plant nerd. I say that without shame or apologies. I learned what I was from a young age when we'd visit my grandparent's house. I would wander through the backyard and into the garden, where I was introduced to the mystery and awe of plants. Before me, from my perspective, I saw gigantic tomato plants, towering over me, shading my world as I walked through. Early exposure sparked my desire and interest in the plant world. To this day the smell of the foliage of tomatoes brings me back to my grandpa's garden.

It seems to me that most people don't see the magic in plants. Often plants are the background or the periphery of a perspective and not the centerpiece. I want people to be as excited and curious about plants as I am. I think with a little bit of encouragement and insight the spark can be lit in almost anybody. Working with plants, in their near-infinite forms, is therapeutic at least and life-changing at most. It is a wondrous experience watching all your hard work come to...fruition.

One of the main reasons the Quivira Coalition sparked my interest is I want to help save our world through plants, and more specifically, through agriculture. I refer to "our" world in the sense of a habitable planet for humans. If we indiscriminately destroy ecosystem after ecosystem there will, of course, still be a planet. It'll just be one in which only extremophiles exist and thrive. Justifiable and scientific credibility is attached to the notion that we humans are causing global climate change. However, it is my belief that the damage can be mitigated and decreased. That can be done through proper planning and compassionate considerations regarding our consumption of fossil fuels.

Those of us working in agriculture have an obligation, nay, a public service opportunity to provide some of these solutions. So, being a natural-born plant nerd and a concerned citizen I had to figure out to ease my uneasy soul about my role in the degradation of our planet, and to also make a way for others to get excited and engaged.

But it's not only the global scale where I want to affect change. From the macro-global perspective to the micro-local perspective, injustices and, dare I say crimes, are committed against the poor, the beaten, the broke, the weary and the conventional by the greedy and the powerful. I feel one way to end the injustices/crimes is to take back the means of agricultural production and refocus on a local food system.

With the repositioning of our food source so comes a repositioning of an economic source. I believe that one way we can mitigate climate change and mitigate economic disparity is by getting, literally, every family to have a garden. And not a garden that you pour blue water on twice a week and then till the life out of the soil once Scott's tells you to. I want to get people excited about gardening, planting, eating, thinking, helping. Our planet depends on that, otherwise we may as well just sit on the couch and watch blissfully as our oblivion welcomes us.

We (as humans) have been given this extraordinarily evolved organ that allows speech and emotion and planning, and I say it's high time we put it to good work. This problem isn't just for one person or a group of persons to deal with, like the one-hundred-something heads of state that signed the "Paris Agreement". We need seven billion brains thinking and working on this problem or we're completely and utterly doomed.

Application Process

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Apply: Submit a completed application via the online form or by email by December 1, 2016. The application requires a current resume, three references, and thoughtful responses to a short series of questions. Your application will be carefully reviewed and we will contact you if you are selected for an interview.

Interviews: The New Agrarian Program has a two-phase interview process. Interviews will be scheduled with top candidates between December 7 and December 21. Interviews will last approximately 1 hour by video conference.

Three of these candidates will be asked to travel to the farm for an overnight work visit and interview between January 8 and January 25. A travel stipend will be provided to help with travel expenses.

Award: The top candidate will be offered the apprenticeship position by February 1, 2017.

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Current and Past Apprentices

2015 Apprentice - Josh Raft