New Agrarian VoicesLearn about the impressions and experiences of each year's cohort of apprentices in their own words.
Ronit Glasgow, APPRENTICE, Sather Farm & Ranch
Deciding to work at the Sather’s was a process — I never was certain I wanted to be part of the NAP program, and I didn’t even apply to the Sather’s. I had some goals for the year, though, my first year after graduating, and being rejected from other opportunities was one of those “blessing in disguise” moments. Or, at least, that’s how I’ve chosen to look at it. Sometimes the blessing has really hit me in the face.
On the very basic level, my goals for this year were pretty much met. That’s the part that can be easy to forget, while I’m working, or making mistakes, or absorbed in new goals and wishes. I wanted to ranch — and I still do — because it combines land management/environmental issues with being outdoors, a bit of animal work, and providing food for myself, and others. When I came out here, I was focused on becoming more competent in day-to-day tasks, common hard skills. While there’s always something else, more skills to learn and improve on, I certainly made progress. And I got a lot more. I’m glad I recognized the trade-off between what I am being paid and my learning opportunities. I usually try to just work work and prove that I’m capable, but remembering that I only agreed to come here to learn a lot kept me sane when I made mistakes and was the reason I did so many “other” things — workshops, visiting other ranches, following Jeff around just to glean information. Learning by doing is something you get at any job. Learning by watching or talking is something you don’t get at every job. I’m really glad for the opportunity here.
I did what I expected — played with cows and tractors, basically. Watched how other people work cows and operate tractors. That went well. As I could have predicted, I’m not enthusiastic about big machinery and I have maintained enthusiasm for cattle and honed in on how and why. My ego took a much needed drop, and my curiosity took a much needed leap up. Great things to happen this year.
It’s the things that I didn’t ask for or know were coming this year, that have really stood out to me. I hardly buy groceries nowadays. I eat whole wheat bread with our wheat, cook with our own meat, lentils, peas, vegetables, honey… I always dreamed of this, but it had dropped off my bucket list a few years ago. As much as I don’t plan on working on a farm (with grains) in the future, I might be addicted. I participated in a 3 day horse clinic that Marisa invited me to before she even met me. It was amazing. Again, I think I might be more addicted to horses than I was prepared to admit. Getting to be friends with Bekah, a full time employee, I’ll never know what this year would have been like without her — without a coworker — but with her, Larslan, MT certainly didn’t make me lonely or feel that isolated. Lastly, I was prepared to do something new, on “just a ranch”. The Sathers really embody what regenerative agriculture is about, though. They are not running cows and moving them when they move them — they’re thinking about what graze period makes sense and what potential the land has and how to get it there. They’re not just “doing regenerative things” with the crops, either — Jeff gets excited about trying new things, but he also wants to pay the bills and everything is an experiment, a balance of what he knows and new ideas.
There is, of course, the question of “did I fall in love with the prairie?” And… yeah. In the process, at least. I don’t think we’re nowhere; we’re just far from an actual airport. I do want to work on a variety of ranches and that includes land that is not prairie, how do trees impact land management? What’s desert like? But I can see myself coming back to the prairie. There’s so much cool ag-adjacent work happening here. It’s hard to miss sunsets, they’re so easy to catch. And even if it’s the same old flat grass for miles, then there will be really cool places nearby. Anyways, didn’t I come out here for the grass?
For the middle of nowhere, it’s surprising that Town has a martial arts place, an art studio, a bike shop, and more. If I have a critique of the area, it’s that I didn’t actually have time to engage and explore thoroughly.
I did up at the farm, though. I might not know every inch of grass and soil (except on one field!), but I know where the trees are, where the creek is prettiest (and the narrowest places to cross). I know the buildings on the horizon miles away. I don’t know the land too deeply, but I’ve been across it all. I think. And I know the people on the farm.
Working with Jeff and Bekah, I observed so many things about them — and about myself, in the process of observing them. A lot of that is just life, we’re constantly learning about ourselves. We made a pretty good team, but there’s always room for improvement. I thought it was fascinating to think about how the 3 of us work together. And I keep thinking about the future. I consider myself a good team player, but how can I be an even better one? How can I be a better employee — I’d like to be able to initiate a positive spiral around communication and feedback that hopefully impacts the quality of my labor, whether I’m at a job 3 months or 3 years. So, this winter, before my next round of ranching, I’ll be giving myself a pep talk. I know it’s hard stuff — ranchers aren’t the best people people, some say, and neither am I! I wouldn’t be here if I was. That’s really been on my mind throughout this year.
I have to remind myself nowadays that I can’t do everything I think would be fun all at once. I’ve decided to spend the winter in the Northeast saving money and hopefully doing things I might not have time for when I come back to ranching next Spring. I still have a sort of checklist in my brain of experiences I want before I think about settling down, and basically the plan is: keep ranching!
If I have a critique of the area, it’s that I didn’t actually have time to engage and explore thoroughly.
I did up at the farm, though. Working with Jeff and Bekah, I observed so many things about them — and about myself, in the process of observing them. A lot of that is just life, we’re constantly learning about ourselves. But I thought it was fascinating to think about how the 3 of us work together. And I keep thinking about the future. Bekah and Jeff are great people, generous, smart, always wanting to do better. And I still saw things they could do better (I thought) — and I struggled with how to initiate positive change. Now, I tend to assume everyone is a great person, but of course, we all have things we could do better. I will most certainly analyze my next boss and critique them in my head. So, how can I help them? How can I help them help me? How can I become a better employee who helps her employer make her an even better employee? Overall, I’m so glad for the team I was part of this year, but there were certainly challenges, and what I’m walking away with is the desire to prevent the avoidable ones by … well, “being better”. Taking initiative to communicate well about it. Supporting the people who in turn will support and/or make things hard for me. So, this winter, before my next round of ranching, I’ll be giving myself a pep talk. I know it’s hard stuff — ranchers aren’t the best people people, some say, and neither am I! I wouldn’t be here if I was. That’s really been on my mind throughout this year.
REFLECTIONS AFTER THE FIRST MONTH
Agriculture is pretty much where my interests and philosophies in life pointed me to. It definitely took me a while to get there, because I was not exposed to much agriculture as a kid. Just the occasional garden or being part of the local vegetable CSA. I didn’t talk to farmers, I didn’t know how the food system worked, all I knew about farming was that keeping plants alive was harder than just planting the seed. I had no idea what soil was (vs. dirt). What I did know earlier on was that: I was going to have a job that I loved, a job that was life, I cared about the environment (and wanted to “fight climate change”) and didn’t like being a consumer, and I liked animals. At that time, I was a picky eater (with vegetables and meat), and I thought climate change was the end of the world and there was no point trying to change it.
This all slowly evolved. I became less interested in cute animals, though I still liked large animals. I became less picky about food tastes, and then very picky about food sourcing. I got really into climate change and became vegan before shrugging climate change off as maybe-not-such-an-emergency? And I realized that soil was key. I had made a point to take time “wwoofing” and had a blast farming and ranching. I loved being that much closer to my food, I liked working outdoors, and of course, those variables were confounded with the fact I was no longer in school. During covid, I reflected and decided that cattle ranching and being involved in regenerative agriculture was the way to go. Here I am.
I want to like it. I want to be part of my own food system, I want to have fun working, I want to be intellectually engaging “with nature”/land management. This year I want to be enjoyable, and I also want to focus on learning/practicing practical skills. I’ve identified ways in which what I want to do or learn might not happen on a “more regenerative” ranch and am excited that at the Sathers I will be automatically learning a lot because the farming is so new to me (e.g., endless hours in a tractor? Making sure the equipment doesn’t fall apart?) and that they are doing a lot of experimenting and “regenerative” things. So I’m just an apprentice, I’m hoping to gain skills that will make me a more capable employee, engage in learning about the soil/land, and figure out my next step.