New Agrarian Voices

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





Zeb Siegel, APPRENTICE, Richards Ranch, CA

FIRST Reflections
January 2023

Human life has been built around agriculture for thousands of years, and to this day we still remain largely an agrarian society. Much like our ancestors, my interest in agriculture was led quite literally by a gut feeling; the need for sustenance and love for food. I was born and raised in a 20th century bustling urban city with little exposure to the agrarian origins that preceded and with little connection to the food that I consumed. My exposure and affinity for food was gained over countless nights cooking with family and friends and the actual growing of food was limited to seasonal help in my mother and grandmother’s backyard gardens. In typical urbanite fashion, I went to school and entered the workforce without ever considering a career in agriculture. “Regular” 9-5 jobs kept my belly and wallet full, however failed to sustain my heart, body, and mind. 

Longing for a deeper connection to my daily work and to humanity at large, I followed my gut and turned to food production as I sought out a meaningful and reasonable existence. With some luck and a ton of ambition, I stumbled upon a tiny ranching operation in northern California that was involved in what they called “restoration” farming. The ranch implemented proactive measures that harmonized land with animals in ways that sought to solve a variety of problems caused by our current economic and cultural conditions. The undertakings and philosophies practiced also presented solutions to many of my own personal issues and helped to bring the nourishment of heart, soul and body that was so lacking in my life. Simultaneously, I became part of a community who shared my values, worked towards a better future and supported me personally and professionally; all of the boxes were checked; “good work” was found.

Wendell Barry et al in tow, I leveraged varied opportunities to expand my abilities and knowledge within this niche community; studying, practicing, working on farms and in adjacent industries to better myself as a human and as a worker. I was able to gain experience and hone my competence in diverse ways while hustling, sometimes three jobs, to earn a living. Animal husbandry made clear the connection between land stewardship and controlled grazing. Orchard work showed me the decades long investment it takes to produce quality fruit. Construction offered lessons in function and design needed to develop lasting infrastructure. Growing vegetables provided for countless learning curves as seasons and locations varied widely. I settled into the world of market gardening, enamored with the rinse/repeat cycle and work-a-day grind entailed in that forum for 6 years. Something was missing, was I compromising core values in my pursuit? The exhaustive measures taken to protect, nurture and produce year round fruit and veg, combined with a vicious tri weekly production timeline seemed ultimately extractive and exploitative. Even in small scale implementation of best practices, human domination over nature to produce marketable produce did not align adequately with my principles, and ultimately did not “pencil out” in too many ways. There remained too wide a gap, a disconnect, between work and life, between value and values. I was looking for, and continue to search for, a livelihood in which work and life can truly balance.

This apprenticeship offers a re-entry point into ranching, a long way back around to personal and historical agricultural roots where I can re-align my work with my ethics and kick that darned veggie habit. I look to the Quivira Coalition as a pathway toward growth and improvement with a particular emphasis on large scale land management and stockmanship, as my breadth of experience has been limited to small areas of land and have not included cattle management. The development of skills and knowledge and the exposure gained through this course is extremely valuable to my career in agriculture. This program offers experiential and technical education that supports farming as a legitimate livelihood, while providing assurances and accreditations that are often lacking in the trade. I hope to follow the path laid by humanity before me: from apprentice to journeyman, journeyman to master, from master to mentor- an evolution through learning and service.

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