New Agrarian Voices

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





Montana Caise, APPRENTICE, Indreland Ranch, Montana

Final Reflections
November 2022

In years past when my friends would gush over the autumn season and its blatant superiority to all others, I remember my stubborn denial and insistence that spring was undoubtedly my favorite. The strength of my conviction has wavered since, and Montana seems bound and determined to break it for good. The crisp morning air as I putt around on the 4-wheeler going about my irrigation, happy and playful livestock as they relish the respite from the heat of summer, the revival of green across the landscape as the fauna makes one last push toward the sun and into the soil, the flares of oranges and reds in the trees around the homesteads and along riparian areas, the gentle warmth of the sun on my skin… Gratitude reigns in my heart these days. 

Growing up in the Midwest, Spring and Fall always felt more like brief transitions than independent seasons – they never lasted long enough – and while this partcular fall season has been the best in my memory, the underlying feeling of transition is still difficult to deny. And so it is, as I approach the conclusion of this year of apprenticeship I am tasked with a “final reflection”. A daunting task, if you ask me. How does one wrap 8 months of experiences into a couple pages of somewhat cohesive thought? 

Looking back and asking myself “What have I learned?”, many days the answer feels like: Not much. On any given day I go about the tasks before me one step at a me, one fence post at a me, one irrigation dam at a time. An exponential to-do list, an endless journey toward some infinite destination – the work is never done in the agricultural world, and the idea of a 40-hour work week laughable. Work like this, tied to the land and the seasons, it ebbs and flows, surges and settles into rhythms, but it is never done. This feels like a journey I’ve been on for… ever. Like a life I’ve always known. Indeed, in some regard – perhaps it is. There’s something quite primal and arcadian about this type of life; a life revolving around the care and stewardship of the land and livestock that so plentifully provide for us in turn. I may be relatively new to it, but deep down I know I am not new at all. It’s in my very DNA. 

So what HAVE I learned? 

– Patience. Resilience. Tenacity. Affectionately known to me as grit. Whether it’s long days of trailing or working cattle, fixing and re-fixing fences, loading and unloading pallets of 50lb bags, or steadily irrigating your way across hundreds of acres of pasture all while ravaged by flies and the summer heat and festering in sweaty irrigation boots… these are recurring daily lessons. 

– Pressure and Release: A fundamental concept of low-stress stockmanship and good horsemanship, I can’t help but contemplate how it carries over to other realms; land stewardship in the cycles of grazing and rest, in my personal life as I flirt dangerously with exhaustion and burnout in the search for a balance between rest and production, in my relationships, knowing when to push or use restraint. Small, consistent pressures and changes seem to be key, and whether its beaver mimicry in riparian zones, the revival of ranchland or farmland, or the transformation of an industry as a whole – restoration is a process. One bite at a me, right? 

– Endless, child-like curiosity and wonder – arguably Roger Indreland’s specialty. Even when most others in the room look to him as a source of expertise and advice, he’s often the one listening most intently and asking an abundance of questions, without reservation. Riding around with him is never a hurried affair, as he pauses frequently to point out a plant or stoop over (often spilling a shirt pocket full of notecards in the process) to investigate a collection of dung beetles, or just to share whichever musing he has at the moment – and usually concluding with a big sheepish grin. 

– Observation and attention to detail – arguably the most critical skill of a successful rancher, monitoring cattle health and condition, forage, water, equipment, learning to read the landscape, knowing where to set a dam or place a clod of sod in order to divert water most effectively across a pasture, reading cattle behavior… I am only just beginning to develop these skills, and to fully grasp what an incredible and admirable undertaking it is to know a place so intimately. 

– Creativity – it turns out there are a thousand ways to fix a fence, in a pinch. When it comes to the game of “how can we make this work with what we’ve got?” I have no doubt farmers and ranchers are among the best. 

– Care, and loss. Sometimes your best just isn’t enough. 

– Self-awareness. I have lightyears to go yet, but never have I been more aware of my own presence and the effect it has on those around me. There’s so much to learn from cattle, horses, dogs, etc. Maybe someday I’ll graduate to humans too. 

– Ranching is not a world of perfection – it is a world of constant adaptation and improvement. – Humility. No matter how much electric fence I put up, sometimes it still gets the best of me. For each successful cattle move when things go smooth, there is inevitably at least one (or six) instance when shit hits the fan and I’m left flustered and flabbergasted as to why things didn’t go the way I anticipated. Sometimes these are great opportunities for the aforementioned patience, grit and adaptation, sometimes it’s just better to rest the situation and try again later. 

The list goes on, and most of these lessons could easily be essays in and of themselves. Maybe they will be, because while this is meant to be a “final” reflection, truthfully this endeavor is just beginning. 

This season has not been all “sunshine and ice cream”. There are days when I feel more like cheap labor than anything. Days when it feels like I’m just spinning my tires and not making any forward progress toward my goals or desires; when I question my decision to leave a stable and comfortable life in Illinois in exchange for one in which I make less money than I did as a teenager. Significantly less, ha. In these frustrating moments (or seasons) it’s tempting to point the finger – maybe my mentors could be more engaged or structured at times, or maybe Quivira’s whole New Agrarian program is in need of some improvement… I spent some time in that hole. Ultimately, I didn’t like it. By some fortune, I’m no stranger to feeling stuck and frustrated, and I’ve learned that most of the me the way out of those situations is more in my control than I might initially realize. My growth is my responsibility, after all, and there’s no end to the learning if I keep after it, asking questions and chasing opportunities. As I sit here and look back, it’s difficult to feel anything but grateful for Quivira and the support and opportunity it’s given me, for how I’ve grown while part of this program, and for the network of fantastic individuals I have been so fortunate to meet. Above all, I am especially thankful for Roger and Betsy. If next moves were based entirely on mentors, I would stay here in a heartbeat. Not only have they been great teachers and friends – they’ve been family. For a guy like me who misses his Dad and no longer has the opportunity to learn and grow under his wisdom and guidance, there are no words, no value I can place on what a blessing – how healing it has been – to receive that from Roger.

In the end, have I gained any real mastery of anything? Not in the slightest. But my breadth and depth of skills, knowledge, and overall ability has expanded. Am I fully equipped to manage or start an operation of my own? Probably not, but I’d be willing to give it a shot anyway – I tend to do my best learning “on the go” anyhow. What I do know with some certainty: This apprenticeship has brought clarity to my direction forward, added fuel to the fire to get me there, and surrounded me with good folks to call for support when I inevitably stumble or fall flat on my face. 

I’m excited for what is to come.

May 2022

As a product of a midwestern grain farm, with farmers making up the majority of the family lineage as far back as I am familiar with, it’s hard to say precisely where and when my interest in agriculture began. In my younger days, I relished any chance to ride along in the tractor or combine, and eventually found great satisfaction and pride in being a part of the operation myself. I guess I took that for granted at the time, because a life in agriculture didn’t truly appear on my radar until years later, while trudging through an engineering degree and longfully reminiscing my “good ole days” in the shop, the cab of a tractor, or even a trench full of mud. Even so, upon graduation I felt pulled in other directions and ultimately it took living in a whole new environment in northern Uganda to awaken me to some of the true value of agriculture and its prime potential for the forging and restoration of both an individual’s character and the ecosystems they ought to be a part of. 

It’s been five years and numerous detours since I returned from that experience in Uganda, and much has changed. I now find myself working as an apprentice here at Indreland Ranch in Montana, and let me tell ya – I could not be more thrilled. I’m thrilled to have mentors that I’m sure are among the best, thrilled to work closely with fellow apprentices who fan the fires that motivate me and who bring joy and laughter to even the mundane or miserable moments, thrilled to be working and learning in direct pursuit of values that are important to me, and thrilled to be in a location and lifestyle that encourages me to slow it all down and actively observe the beauty happening around me. 

One of the things I appreciate most about ranching is the breadth and depth of subjects to study – there’s more to learn in this field than I’d ever be able to master, even in several lifetimes. Though I may never master them all, I do hope to finish this apprenticeship with the skills, knowledge, and overall aptitude to successfully manage regenerative operations elsewhere, and perhaps someday an operation of my own. More importantly, I hope to leave here with the courage and confidence to take on those endeavors, and the resilience to march on when I inevitably encounter failure and difficulty. Most of all, and one of my primary reasons for pursuing a Quivira apprenticeship in the first place, I hope to leave this program with a solid community of friends and mentors to walk this road with.

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