New Agrarian VoicesLearn about the impressions and experiences of each year's cohort of apprentices in their own words.
Esme Wessel, APPRENTICE, Lightroot Community Farm, CO
I came into this experience propelled by curiosity about managing livestock to create positive change on the land. I came from a different climate and a different type of agriculture and had the opportunity to dive into working with livestock on a new landscape. Because I was working with dairy cows, I was able to develop close relationships with the animals and through working with Daphne and Caitlin, make daily observations of the cows’ health, mental state, heat cycles, and individual habits. The natural cow care practices at Light Root Farm allowed me to learn about preventative and acute treatments including herbal remedies and products as well as homeopathic treatments. When the apprentices traveled to the San Juan Ranch to learn from Curt Pate I was able to gain perspective as to how my experience with the dairy cows falls into the greater context of working cattle. Curt wove comparisons of our dairy cows, who are more dull to pressure, to beef cattle in various management situations. He also brought in ideas about working with draft horses to his comments on horsemanship. Although I will not continue with dairy, I am now informed by a deeper knowledge of cows to continue to build upon in different contexts. My experience in this apprenticeship has left me driven to continue to pursue knowledge about grazing and managing livestock to rehabilitate land.
This was the second time I fell into working with draft horses because it came along with a job, and this experience made me fall more in love with working with horses and the effect that it has on me. Watching and participating in the haying process fueled by horse power was an incredible experience. In conversations about draft power, flood irrigation, and other seemingly outdated agricultural technologies I was able to gain perspective about the place they hold in today’s struggle to feed people and preserve natural resources. Coming from a temperate rainforest in the mountains of North Carolina the struggles of water conservation farmers and ranchers face in the west were new to me. Participating in flooding the pastures and being able to spend a whole day walking the length of a ditch that brings water down from Left Hand Canyon as we flushed out the ditch at the beginning of the season were experiences I found very valuable. I can better see now how these systems that may seem “less efficient” are able to keep our natural resources in cycle for longer as water returns to the table and streams after soaking our pastures and horses continue to spread manure back over the fields as well as provide a deep personal relationship and new horses for future teams, things a tractor just cannot quite do. As new technologies bring us forward into new possibilities in agriculture, I feel I have found a new groundedness in my understanding of the place that looking to the past holds and why infinite growth can cause major problems when our goal is to leave future generations with the resources they need to keep growing food and maintaining quality of life in an agrarian lifestyle. While I do not necessarily dream of having an entirely horse powered farm, and I do not know that I will be stewarding land in arid climates long into the future, this reverence I have for agrarian skills and systems of times past makes a little more sense to me now and I have rediscovered a dedication for finding the value in what may seem inefficient until I broaden my perspective. Professionally, that means keeping my holistic goals front and center when I feel like I am not doing enough (which I inevitably will).
Alongside many joyful moments with the animals, I struggled as well to manage my expectations with the realities of the season. I struggled to connect to the land in this new place after I had uprooted myself from my community and a landscape I was used to. I came from positions with more responsibility in a different type of agriculture and I found it frustrating at times to be back to what at times felt like square one in order to develop new skills. Even knowing that pursuing knowledge in this setting was the right choice for me, I find there is always a sense of helplessness that comes along with being a learner. I knew that my effect would be so very temporary as an apprentice, there for a single season. Part of my goal in going into this work is a lifestyle I want for myself and I grappled with the reality that to learn what I want to learn, a life grounded in a familiar community and landscape will be a long ways off. I will have to sacrifice autonomy and constantly practice humility in order to learn from mentors and push my growth edges.
Working in close quarters at a small family farm, you inevitably gain insight into the joys and challenges the farmers face in keeping their business running and their animals happy. After this experience I have a better idea of how a farmer needs to make the farm work for them. There are right ways to do things, but there are as many right ways to do things as there are farmers and each will have to adapt to the exact context that they are in. I watched the farmers begin to adapt to the next stage of their lives and their business, and while I witnessed grief as they let go of former versions of their operation, I also saw joy and comfort in their ability to adapt to their context to continue to be able to work the land.
I felt I was able to gain perspective as to improvements I need to make in myself and my skills to succeed, and what traits I have that will remain and will need to be worked around and used to my advantage. I cannot be someone I am not to make things work. I cannot show up with something to prove. I have learned the importance of humility in finding my path. I was humbled by the day to day of the dairy, by the rapidfire repetition and constant attention to detail required to maintain the high quality of the farm’s raw milk; I felt empowered in watching the farmers who had found and were constantly creating the niche that works for who they are. The dairy is not my niche but I feel more convinced that my niche is out there and more motivated to find it after this experience.
So, this leaves me continuing in agriculture, feeling like I know both more and less than I did before. Land management for climate change mitigation and education are still my primary drivers. I have more practical skills and knowledge around working with cows, horses, and water, and have improved my ability to set goals, self reflect, and ask questions. The next steps for me are to continue to learn about different operations to better understand who I work best with and what I want my contribution to be in the world of regenerative agriculture. I want to take what I have learned this year and dig deeper into understanding how to manage the interactions of grazing animals on the land and create mutually beneficial relationships through low stress stockmanship. For now, working directly on the land outside, using my hands is where I believe my contribution to be and am planning to continue learning from producers directly, hopefully most imminently through a second year in this apprenticeship program.
There is no one thing that led me to agriculture but I have always been headed here in my roundabout way. When I was four years old my friend and I decided that we would be getting married when we were all grown up; the only problem was that he wanted to live in New York City and I wanted to farm. Only we did not see that as a problem, we just took the lively rural barnyard I envisioned and plopped it in the Big Apple. Now with a few years behind us, that friend is living happily in NYC, and in pursuit of a variety of passions and interests I have found that it all leads me back to agriculture.
I have chased my interests in food, plants, herbalism, education and traditional cultures and they have all led me to discover that a life spent working and living close to the land is what gives me the sense of meaning that I need to keep putting one foot in front of the other. A meaningful life to me, is one dictated by seasonal ritual and routine, where my work is physical and my relationships with my environment and community are embodied in the daily tasks involved in taking care of the land and one another. I am continuously inspired by the hope that future generations will have the opportunity to have flourishing and mutually beneficial relationships with the land where their food grows. When I began farming and learned that with proper management, human stewardship could accelerate the regeneration of our soils and ecosystems, I knew I had to gain a deeper understanding of the practices that made this possible. That is what has led me here, from my background farming vegetables and medicinal herbs, to learn more about crop and livestock integration at Light Root Community Farm. The practical reciprocity embodied in regenerative agriculture aligns work, values, and a sense of purpose in my life.
Here at Light Root I have already gotten to peer through a new window of what it means to lead a meaningful life in agriculture. I am learning about how farmers might go about balancing their goals to create systems that are both regenerative for the land and sustainable to the people working it. I am learning more about systems that are able to close their own loops on the farm such as compost, animal husbandry, and draft animal power. I am expanding my network of like minded farmers and beginning to imagine how my land management goals fit into the world and my own life. I am grateful for this opportunity to develop my skills in managing agricultural ecosystems for climate resilience; and to be out here coloring in the visions of that four year old who planned on farming no matter where she landed.