New Agrarian VoicesLearn about the impressions and experiences of each year's cohort of apprentices in their own words.
Samuel Moreno, APPRENTICE, Coulter Family Ranch
I have learned and gained a multitude of knowledge, skills, and experience from this apprenticeship. I started the year with head knowledge about regenerative agriculture, rotational grazing, and how life works on a ranch, all based on books, podcasts, or videos. Now, however, I have knowledge that includes specific skills; I have put into practice many things that I had only seen or read about before. Electric fencing was only an idea for me before, and I now have significant amounts of experience utilizing electric fencing and fixing/troubleshooting every aspect of it. I did not have much experience around animals, but as a result of this apprenticeship, I know how to interact with them, care for them, and move them from one location to another. This apprenticeship has also helped me develop an eye for small things that are not noticeable to the untrained eye: how grass is growing, where the animals have been, animal behaviors, and a sense of becoming one with the environment. Prior to working on a ranch, I was not particularly good at directions without a GPS. Now I have firsthand knowledge of where things are in terms of north/south/east/west and how to figure out where I am in relation to specific landmarks or properties. Additionally, I have developed immense appreciation and respect for my mentors; they stand out in this community (and this is not always viewed in a positive way) with their commitment to this land and their regenerative practices. Casey and Lacey are always seeking to grow and improve from year to year. Personally, I have gained physical and mental endurance as a result of working here. Furthermore, I have picked up a new sense of adaptability to situations. I don’t always know how a plan will work out and need to be flexible. I have grown in dependability, since I want my mentors to always feel that they can trust me. After observing my mentors and their life up close, I have seen how a family does regenerative ranching and how they balance work with family life, too.
I am so thankful to Quivira, because this apprenticeship opportunity opened the door for a future job for me. In 2024, I am headed to the James Ranch in Durango, Colorado, to pursue a job in artisan cheesemaking and caring for a grass-fed dairy cow herd. James Ranch Artisan Cheese was affiliated with Quivira in the past, and I am grateful that Quivira staff helped me establish connections for this new venture. This is a different path than what I’m doing now, but the experiences of this past year caused me to realize that I like being in closer contact with food production and interactions with consumers (I don’t ever see the final products or the consumers now). There will be new challenges and unknowns with cheesemaking, but I am looking forward to developing new skills and overcoming the obstacles that will arise. I am hoping to continue to balance ranch work and family life as my own young family grows. I have seen the benefits this last year of putting in hard work in a learning opportunity; it has opened doors that I couldn’t even imagine last year at this time.
This year has contained many highlights for me. I truly enjoyed participating in various regenerative agriculture events with local groups. It was great to meet other ranchers in the area who think similarly. At one event hosted here at the Coulter Family Ranch, we were able to show the group how we were grazing and different tools/systems we had in place. I even did a short presentation for the group demonstrating how we configured our four wheeler to better help with efficient electric fencing. Another perk of this year was connecting with my mentors. Casey and Lacey are quality people who care about the ranch and their family. My wife and son got along very well with Lacey and the kids, and they spent many hours together, which was so beneficial for both families. I enjoyed connecting with my
coordinators as well. We had a wonderful time when Luka came to visit and stay at our house, and I have had meaningful conversations with Julie and other Quivira staff as well. The stockmanship clinic in July at the Mannix Ranch was a welcome break from routine and a fantastic opportunity to reconnect with other interns and learn effective tools and strategies for working with the animals. Honestly, a huge highlight of this year was simply the ability to move animals from one location to another; I couldn’t have done that eight months ago! It has been incredible to see my progress this year. I feel like I have transformed from a complete greenhorn to a pretty decent ranch hand, and my confidence that I can do ranch tasks well has increased. I have loved seeing all of the wildlife around here as well: birds, elk, antelope, and all of the bountiful life in the pastures, from little creatures to big ones. Making connections in the local community has been beneficial as well. My family and I attended a church in our town, and my wife and son also met others at the library, the local store, and other locations in town. I think we have adapted very well to this brand new environment, and our openness to embrace the experience has paid off. One last highlight of this year was to see how my health has improved. At the beginning of the apprenticeship, I had an extremely limited diet, and now I have returned to eating almost all types of food! My physical strength has increased significantly, and I have noticed improvements in my mental health from spending hours outside each day.
Even though there were lots of highlights, this year was not without its challenges. Weather conditions, particularly the cold, were difficult for me at times. At the beginning, when I was starting to learn everything, things sometimes broke or I made mistakes, and I had to keep going despite these setbacks. One recurring challenge was grasping the vision of my mentor with limited communication, especially in the process of moving animals. Toward the end of this apprenticeship, it was a challenge to stay motivated and engaged in this opportunity as I approached the final days and looked forward to my next opportunity. Even with all of the challenges, I have learned and gained so much, have many fond memories and highlights of this apprenticeship, and I look forward to a future in regenerative agriculture, thanks to this starting point.
REFLECTIONS AFTER THE FIRST MONTH
Since I was a kid I’ve always been around agriculture, from participating in my family’s olive orchard harvest to the annual pig slaughter. I always enjoyed these experiences and dreamed about becoming a farmer someday, but I didn’t know how to connect that dream with my reality. Seven years ago, I came to the US from Spain, and my health started to decline. I have never been so sick and, sadly, so helpless. No matter what medical strategies I tried, my health continued to worsen. I decided to approach my struggle with another perspective, and started to pay attention to the food I was eating and the agricultural processes behind it.
I discovered most of the food produced and consumed in America was completely different from what I was used to eating in Spain. So many food-like products are consumed by us without us realizing what is in them and how they were produced.
Little by little, I have made changes and, with the support of my wife, I strive to obtain the best possible food I can, from planting our first bucket garden to regularly buying meat, eggs, and other goods from local farmers. I am thankful that today I can say my health is in a better spot. But my journey is barely starting. I am compelled to not just buy and support food systems that promote health; I want to have my boots on the ground and participate directly in the process of raising food the right way, mimicking nature.
What I hope for this apprenticeship is to experience firsthand what regenerative ranching looks like, not only the most glamorous aspects of ranching, but the less fancy aspects too. I want to have a realistic image of what it takes to run a ranch. I want to experience living in remote rural America. I want to participate in this apprenticeship to provide a foundation for my future in agriculture. Personally, I am looking forward to the satisfaction of being able to provide good food to people who have had difficulties with food or food restrictions in the past. I hope to grow in endurance, perseverance, and how to live happily with limited resources.
I am very thankful for the opportunity I have in front of me with the New Agrarian Program. I have quality mentors and a setting in which I know I can learn and grow. I look forward to seeing all of the transformation that will take place in my life in the next few months.