New Agrarian VoicesLearn about the impressions and experiences of each year's cohort of apprentices in their own words.
Kelsey Nelson, APPRENTICE, Mannix Ranch
REFLECTIONS AFTER THE FIRST MONTH
The hard plastic seat of the children’s swing cupped my lanky nine-year-old legs perfectly. My fingers curled around the rough, vinyl rope that suspended the swing from the arbor. It attached just below the grape vine, that although beautiful, would come to be an abounding source of food for our Norwegian roof rat infestation. I could sit in that swing endlessly. Legs pumping back and forth, aiming for that the pivotal height where your butt just briefly leaves the seat. In that moment, simultaneously suspended by excitement and fear, I could forget everything else. Next to me was an almond tree, much less enjoyable to climb than the other fruit trees due to its gnarled and uneven bark. Its fruit was similarly protected. First, by a soft fuzzy shell. Hidden beneath a nearly unbreakable woody covering, a sweet nut tucked inside. I often underestimated the strength of the inner woody shell, frequently bending a fingernail backwards as I tried to pry it open. But the true gem of the yard was the peach tree, which served as my own personal climbing gym and vending machine. A close second to the thrill of the swing, there was nothing like thrusting my hands up through the leaves to procure a sweet soft peach.
Those homegrown peaches were much more than a coveted fruit held together by delicate velvet skin. Canning and dehydrating our prolific backyard harvest provided a steady stream ofintrigue throughout those school-less summer months. I remember peaking around the kitchen corner in earnest as I watched my dad stand dutifully in front of the hot water bath, the occasional swear word just a whisper on his lips as a jar would slip from the grasp of the canning tongs. Those peaches and nectarines I had helped pick hours before, as I wound my fingers around the branches and flung myself up into the canopy, were now sitting halved in airtight mason jars. The adventure didn’t end there. In the coming months, I would forget about those peach halves, glistening in sugary peach juice, cloaked in darkness along the bottom shelf of our pantry. Inevitably summer would end, and the dark, rainy days of winter would descend upon Yolo County. Just as winter became comfortable with its dreary days and early sunsets, my dad would crack open a jar of peaches. And as I sat on the kitchen floor, hands and face sticky with peach juice, eyes wild at the sudden influx of sugar, summertime shot into the sky. The warm mornings, the backyard barbecues, the cool delta breeze that brought frog “ribbits” in through open evening windows, summer camps, and weekend fishing trips up the hill would all come flooding back with the pop of a single mason jar.
When I reflect on my life, the fleeting moments in which I was filled with joy and belonging, all of them involve food or wild places. Often a combination of the two. Enchanting moments from my childhood picking peaches, finding an egg tucked under a hen, and watching tiny seeds turn into vegetables on the dinner table all helped me understand what it meant for me to lead a meaningful life. The many summers I spent in the alpine forests of the Eastern Sierra packing mules and cooking meals over a fire inspired an intense love of wild places. My relationship with the land became the cornerstone of my value system. When I first discovered the story of those practicing regenerative agriculture it felt like I was coming home. I had found my “why.” Land stewardship and the production of ethical food felt like the radical culmination of my values and passions.
I believe that a life built around an intentional relationship with my values will always be meaningful. I chose to pursue the NAP program because I believe Quivira cultivates relationships with ranches that are similarly passionate about land stewardship and ethical food. Many of the stewards I have met are also driven by nostalgic childhood memories and a passion for raising food in balance with nature. Much of our relationship with food has become fragmented and extractive. For me, part of the appeal of regenerative agriculture is the opportunity to reconnect people to what’s on their plate. Small farms and ranches offer an intimacy and opportunity for intentionality that corporate agriculture lacks. The culture around regenerative agriculture is often one steeped in community and respect for the land. Regenerative agriculture offers an agricultural paradigm that feels meaningful to me.
Apprenticing at the Mannix Ranch offers me access to generational knowledge and a timeline of management strategies that would be otherwise unattainable in my lifetime. I am grateful to join a community in where a deep respect for the land is rooted in the business model itself. While this is not a path I imagined for myself whilst sucking down peach juice on the kitchen floor, I could not have envisioned a more perfect intersection of my values than joining an industry revival founded on the production of conservation and ethical food.
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