New Agrarian Voices

Learn about the impressions and experiences of each year's cohort of apprentices in their own words.

 

 

 

 

Carlyle Stewart, APPRENTICE, Milton Ranch, Montana

REFLECTIONS AFTER THE FIRST MONTH
May 2022

How did I arrive at the decision to make a career switch to agriculture? How does a minister and recent divinity school graduate end up cattle ranching in Central Montana? Both are questions I’ve heard from friends and family, followed shortly thereafter by perplexed looks of concern, but also genuine curiosity. I hail from the Detroit Metro area, a town located at the far edge of Oakland County. A place too developed to be rural and too green to be urban. I had no agricultural connections in my youth, but I always felt a deep connection to land and the natural world, when my friends dreamed of status and lavish lifestyles, I dreamed of large plots of land, cows, good horses, community, the self sufficiency of an agrarian lifestyle, and what Wendell Berry calls good work”. It’s safe to say I was at odds among my suburban peers. 

As far as my memory travels, the mental image of my adult life always involved agricultural work. But it remained safely there, in my mind, as the people in my environment discouraged any path that didn’t guarantee financial stability. I cannot pinpoint the exact moment my interest in Ag came to be. But maybe it was solidified one rainy spring day in a grocery store parking lot, when my 13 year old self sat awkwardly atop my bicycle looking down in my bag, confronting my own mortality. I wondered, “Where the hell does this come from, and why cant I grow or harvest it myself?”

From then on my interest in Ag was more like a leisured seasonal bloom that arrived whenever I had the inkling to reflect on what actually made me come alive, and faded when I fell back into the grooves of conformity and comfort. Some seasonal volunteering and part time work on a local horse farm was my initial exposure, soon thereafter my mere interest exploded and completely took hold of me; guided by my innate passion for land conservation, animals, food systems, and my spiritual beliefs; which to make it plain, consist of an inner knowing that connection to land and our food sources is also connection to the Divine. My interest has also been guided by a concern for the current state of our species. There is no question about the harmful effects of industrial Ag and the degradation of ecosystems and soil all throughout the world. The more I have learned about climate change, the fragility of global supply chains, food insecurity, and the increasing human dependence on fossil fuels; I can’t help but feel that this world we’ve created, although driven by human ingenuity and technological innovation, is also profoundly unnatural. 

Theres so much I want to learn and I know it cant all be done in one year, but my time thus far at the Milton Ranch has brought me to a place of alignment. This apprenticeship has already exposed me to stock handling, monitoring, holistic grazing techniques, the basics of soil health, and pasture management among other things. To where it will lead I don’t yet know. I am still quite new to this work, but I hope this apprenticeship will continue to expose me to the many aspects of running an operation. Most of all I want to build my confidence, competence, and practical skillset. I hope to learn from my mistakes and to gain a clearer picture of what my goals are and what is possible. I am inspired by the humility displayed by the most experienced ranchers, all who have assured me that the learning never stops. 

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