New Agrarian VoicesLearn about the impressions and experiences of each year's cohort of apprentices in their own words.
Tait Rosbottom, APPRENTICE, Rafter W Ranch, CO
My time as a New Agrarian intern with Rafter W Ranch has provided me with tremendous personal and professional development. Considering I grew up largely removed from the world of agriculture, I didn’t necessarily have much for expectations; “work hard and learn as much as I can,” were the extent of what I anticipated to encounter. Reflecting on my time here, I realize that my life has been enriched far beyond what I initially expected. Within a month of my start date, the orientation retreat revealed the community of kind and supporting coordinators, mentors, and apprentices. Simply having the space to discuss our reasons for pursuing regenerative agriculture was nothing short of powerful. While I had support from friends and family, I hadn’t had the opportunity to talk to anyone that had the experience that I was seeking. This network of fellow apprentices, mentors, and alumni established during orientation provided me with the sense of belonging that I was struggling with when I moved to Colorado early in the year.
My goal was to become more mindful about what I eat, where it comes from, and the impact it has on the land. While I’ve certainly furthered that goal, I’ve been granted so much more: the Wheelers have felt like family, which meant more to me than words can describe. After living with my brother for a year and a half on the same street as my parents, the homesickness from moving twelve hundred miles away hit me like a train. I could not have asked for a more compassionate family to take me in. Even to my visitors, the Wheelers extended hospitality akin to the southern charm that I had grown up surrounded by. Throughout the learning process, whether it was loading hay with the tractor, identifying forage quality, catching calves for banding, or myriad other previously foreign tasks, my curiosity was welcomed and my mistakes were accepted. I spent the first few weeks in a bit of an awkward and excited state because of how foreign everything was to me, but that wore off soon enough. I warmed up to the fact that I was going to make a lot of mistakes and embraced them as points from which to grow.
During orientation, we were told that the coming eight months were going to be what we made them. I wasn’t quite sure what extra opportunities I would find in Simla, Colorado. The opportunities were, however, incredible. In addition to the family community that I was welcomed into, the neighbors of Rafter W proved to be no different. I can thank one such neighbor for all of my horsemanship knowledge (and Tess Palmer for paving the way for that connection last year). In one of our “weekly unwind” Zoom calls, us apprentices were encouraged to talk about our personal goals. While we don’t rope or ride at Rafter W, I was interested in exploring those skills. Thanks to my peers on that call, I pursued lessons with our neighbor in return for taking care of his horses while he was away. The evenings spent under cotton candy skies learning which part of my leg to use when or how to use reigns to push instead of pull will stay with me always. Another neighbor is responsible for opening my eyes to homesteading, as well as introducing me to the place for technology on such an operation. I never thought my industrial design studio time would cross over to my agriculture experience, but sure enough: AutoCAD, 3D printing, and endless design iterations were back in my life —for the better this time. Lance and I spent one afternoon touring this homestead with a group from the Veterans to Farmers program, which revealed that the push to get more people into agriculture is far more widespread than I thought.
The formal learning opportunities were tremendous: learning about soil health and the detriment of the prevailing reductionist agricultural models from Jay Fuher, getting pointers from
Curt Pate while actively working cattle, and listening to Dr. Temple Grandin speak on key elements of proper facility layout are a few notable examples. I had my doubts about staying late at the ranch for the supplemental education calls, but each time I logged into Zoom I found myself engrossed in whatever the topic was that month. The in-person events that I attended were similarly impactful. I had the pleasure of attending the Pawnee Buttes Seed grass tour, which bolstered my plant identification knowledge substantially and opened my eyes to a more conservation-minded approach to land stewardship. With attendees from NRCS, CSU, and plenty of other organizations, I was imparted with a wealth of knowledge. While I don’t ever see myself using herbicides, I now see their place in conservation thanks to a presentation on how Larimer County combatted the cheatgrass infestation at Eagle’s Nest Open Space.
Most of my time on the ranch was spent working with my mentor’s son, Brett. While the majority of the days were the typical building fence, moving cattle, and taking care of chickens, he helped me see the big picture with how everything impacts the land as well and the business. The benefits of rotational grazing on more palatable plant species was one particular topic that
stuck with me. After an incredibly wet spring we took a look at pastures that we rested for various intervals. My mentor, Lance, and I found green needlegrass, big bluestem, and side oats grama in comparative abundance on a couple occasions, sometimes in areas that were relatively bare before the Wheelers’ ownership. Impromptu lessons like this helped me see how effective Rafter W’s management has been. I hope to run my own operation in the future, with the goal of revitalizing soil and rehabilitating rangeland to be biodiverse (and profitable). Ideally, I would like to establish an operation similar to the Wheelers’ holistic nourishment focused framework: I think the knowledge I’ve gained here has given me a solid baseline to pursue more working learning opportunities that will keep me moving in that direction.
I grew up in the heart of Atlanta, Georgia. I never really paid much thought to where food came from, even as I experienced working in community gardens. Food came from the grocery store or a restaurant; that was the extent of my interest aside from the novelty of the odd tomato or bunch of mint with dinner every once in a while. After a period of college meal halls and early 20s haphazard air fried chicken tenders and boxed mac and cheese meals, my girlfriend and I drew up a plan to transition into living on our own land, producing our own food, and contributing nourishing food to our community.
I happened across Living on a Few Acres, from the 1978 U.S. Department of Agriculture which spurred my ambitions, and after searching around online I found Alderspring Ranch’s range rider internship. The idea of living on open range and learning about regenerative agriculture, inherding, and horsemanship certainly had me hooked. However, a few details of the program spurred me to look elsewhere, leading my search to the New Agrarian Program. After looking into the various operations in the program, I settled on Rafter W Ranch. The ideals of not only being a steward for the land, but incorporating family, community, and animal stewardship on a local scale directly lined up with my personal goals.
I hope this program will allow me the opportunity to further a much needed revolution in agriculture. I both am a prime example of how far removed we are from what we eat, as well as an example of the potential we have to change what we eat, where it comes from, and our relation to its production. This upcoming season, I know that immersing myself in learning the holistic practices here at Rafter W will have me on the right path to furthering the regenerative agriculture movement.