New Agrarian Voices

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





Chelsey Moe, APPRENTICE, B Bar Ranch, Montana

Final Reflections
November 2022

The first and only thing that comes to my mind as I begin this reflection piece is, “I still despise fencing. I’ll do the darn thing, but I haven’t stopped cursing like a sailor while building it.” Whether it’s losing every single step-in off your four wheeler after hitting an overgrown irrigation ditch or realizing just how little upper body strength you have after pounding hundreds of T-posts, you begin to develop a major lesson in applying “patience” to your daily endeavors. You can also holler aimlessly at the wind and spook every living creature on the prairie within a two mile radius. (I only recommend this tactic if you’re absolutely sure there are no other humans around.) When there are other humans around, these types of struggles become infinitely more humorous if you allow your inner critic to accept that you made a mistake, confirm no one was hurt (aside from your pride), and laugh about it until your stomach aches. This particular strategy came in handy after I failed to listen to my coworker, Shea, when he very clearly stated that he was about to turn the electric fence on. I learned that 7-8 kV will somehow unleash the highest vertical jump I’ve had since high school basketball and the sensation of electricity somehow leaving my mouth, fingers, and heart is one I’ll never forget, and never stop giggling about. Moral of the story, I did not have time to reach over the fence to grab that extra spool of wire lying on the ground. 

All fencing failures aside, this apprenticeship has most importantly been guiding me into a state of independence that I never knew I had, all while learning to accept that needing others is imperative to my growth. For as long as I can remember, I have put myself in an incredibly narrow and unyielding box. “You must remain a capable woman, be tough and gritty, and never need to depend on anyone else but yourself.” I went through years of chasing seasonal jobs on horseback, thinking that I could prove myself by becoming a tough-as-nails cowgirl, but always felt I was lacking the fundamental requirements that would somehow make me worthy of those aforementioned qualities. I excelled in physical labor jobs because I never wanted to come across as “weak” or “incompetent.” This in turn created a one-dimensional side of myself that consequently solidified an internal narrative that my only skill was just that, physical labor. What I’ve come to realize is that it is perfectly acceptable to be tough and gritty while also being compassionate and vulnerable. I’ve learned that feeling some sense of humility in life can be helpful but also harmful if left unchecked, and that leaning on the support of others is crucial as I learn to disassemble and understand my hyper-independence. 

I hadn’t considered the impact the New Agrarian Program would make until I was thrown into the Big Timber community. The area is saturated with Quivira apprentices which allowed many opportunities to participate in social gatherings. These gatherings often consisted of a wholesome dinner followed by a few guitars, a fiddle by none other than Brady Lux, and everyone singing along to the songs that were performed. It was an impromptu brunch prepared by Leah and Jesse Pinkner, water skiing on Roger and Betsy Indreland’s boat, or jumping into a waterfall at Big Timber Canyon with the crew. The memories created here somehow feel like a movie reel in my mind, each one equally as important as the next, unearthing that long, sought-after determination of finding “home.” For once, I think I may have found it.

I was also presented the opportunity to look after my own herd this year. When my mentor, Mihail, asked me if I’d be interested in being responsible for a custom grazing herd we acquired in the spring, I accepted with an immediate “yes”, being careful not to show my hesitation and insecurity about babysitting a bunch of yearling steers for the next few months. The first few moves onto new feed involved a relatively easy process of taking down and setting up fence on one of our pivot irrigation pastures, flowing from one wedge to the next. It wasn’t until the weekend of July 4th when I needed to move the herd to the adjacent pasture, directly east. “Easy enough”, I thought, bound and determined that this process should only take about an hour. As I was preparing their new pasture and feeling naively confident with what I had accomplished, I paused to gather my bearings before I headed back over to the herd. As I gazed to the west, I noticed that all 300 steers were moving in my direction. They had happily found their way through a break in the fence, bawling and “huckle-bucking” (Mihail’s term for happy cattle) with joy as I just froze with disbelief. This story ends with one stuck four wheeler and 6 hours later, I had successfully moved my herd onto their new pasture. 

Fast forward to a few months and plenty more failures later, I came to adore this herd. Time spent with them taught me how to slow down, pay attention, and fall in love with the land I was surrounded by. This particular herd was forgiving for a beginner like me, never demanding much other than some ungrazed pasture. I became mindful of what plants the cattle tended to gravitate toward and became curious as to what that meant in terms of nutritional wisdom of an animal (thank you Fred Provenza). I attempted to keep a watchful eye for any ailments or illnesses but learned early on that it’s not as simple as spotting a limp, that I often bypassed respiratory symptoms for “lazy cattle.” I would like to develop a keen eye for animal health, that of which can only be harnessed by consistent exposure and training in the field or educational processes. 

After this apprenticeship, I will be moving to Livingston, MT as I have absolutely fallen in love with the community surrounding this area of Montana. Currently, I am unsure about my next step but I am hoping to continue to meet like minded people in the agricultural community and open my mind to potential opportunities on a farm or ranch setting. What I do know at the end of this experience is that I don’t know much, but this apprenticeship was monumental in gaining insight toward the future of agriculture and what my role might be within it. Whether it’s cursing while building fence, falling in love with another herd of goofy cattle or realizing my worth, I will forever be grateful that I took a leap and wound up in Big Timber, MT.

May 2022

My experience in agriculture began at a young age on our farm in western North Dakota. Our land was homesteaded in 1919 with my dad taking over in 1963. My arrival into the world meant that I would catch the tail end of these experiences as my dad retired from farming just before I entered my formative teenage years. However, I still have fond memories of riding with my dad in the combine for hours on end at harvest time, making the endless trips to the local grain elevator or racing down the gravel road on my bike just to deliver his coffee and lunch as he spent days in the field. 

After high school, I chose to make use of my summers throughout college by traveling across the west and working seasonally on dude ranches. These experiences fostered my love and appreciation of the land as I spent many hours on horseback, oftentimes teaching my guest riders about each and every wildflower, which berries were safe to eat, how the animals interacted with the land and how aspen tree bark could be used as sunscreen, to name a few. I knew I wanted a life in which I could help preserve these lands and see them thrive.

My connection to the land and the plants and animals that inhabit it has been in my soul for as long as I can remember. It has taken me many years to start to see this path forming, but it has become increasingly apparent that my place is in the world of agriculture, in some shape or form. I can only imagine that this apprenticeship is further guiding me as to what “place” that is. I have only  just “scratched the surface” in terms of figuring out my life’s purpose. Maybe the point of this apprenticeship isn’t so much about finding my “purpose”, but to build on community and create meaningful and lasting friendships. I can report that even after just one month at B Bar, I have felt an overwhelming sense of gratitude for the people I have met as they have created a safe place for me to be myself as a whole.

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