New Agrarian Voices

Learn about the impressions and experiences of each year's cohort of apprentices in their own words.





MK Wilcox​, APPRENTICE, Redwing Ranch

How did you get interested in agriculture? And what are you hoping to gain from your apprenticeship?
May 2024

If there’s one thing I’ve learned throughout my seasons in agriculture it is that absolutely nothing goes as planned. The truck clings to the deepest mud, the cows wander out for a jaunt, every irrigation tarp blows, and all hell breaks loose. That’s also how I got my start in agriculture – things in my life not going to plan. I woke up every day with a life in mind planned out to perfection. And then, all hell broke loose, bringing me here, where the plan has imploded in the most spectacular, beautiful way.

Growing up in the sprawling suburbs of Overland Park, Kansas, agriculture was never in the cards despite my love for animals. I only found agriculture by following my first, constant life passion. Birds. The discovery of the ecology and wonder of the avian world surrounding me propelled me into the natural world. Of course, it is almost impossible to be a birder without being a conservationist. Everywhere I looked, the birds I loved were vanishing, often due to habitat loss, climate change, and other human caused activities. 

I immersed myself in the world of avian research with the idea of dedicating myself to the world of conservation as a professor. I worked for five summer field seasons as an avian field technician. I tracked grassland bird movements across the prairies of Eastern Kansas, measured methylmercury accumulation in sparrows in North Dakota, and attached radio transmitters to Red-headed Woodpeckers in the forests of Michigan. At Kansas State University I studied Conservation Biology. I continued birding every second of my free time, while working alternately in two avian biology labs.

My field season on Konza Prairie changed everything. Konza Prairie operates as an experimental field station broken up into different management regimes. Some plots are burned multiple times a year, others every few years. Some are ungrazed, some grazed by cattle, and some grazed by bison. Though my task was to study the nesting success and movement patterns of grassland birds, I became enchanted not only with the avian life but with the land itself. The impact and variability of each management regime blew me away. From that summer, I was hooked. Regenerative grazing had not yet entered my vocabulary yet I was seeing it every day on the land and witnessing the success in the birds I studied. 

The realization that there was much more to life than my plan shook me off this course. I decided that I couldn’t just stick with this preordained idea when whole worlds of possibility existed. I left K-State after two years, wandering a meandering path and eventually dedicating myself to exploring the world of regenerative agriculture. To me, regenerative agriculture provides us with a true path for change. A way to rebuild the ecosystem, environment, and world using our own two hands and nature’s blueprints. We can promote biodiversity, habitat restoration, and ecological health while feeding people healthy, nutritious foods and building resilient communities.

Since my field season at Konza, I have tried to gain as much experience as possible within the world of regenerative agriculture. I volunteered on an alpaca farm in Central Kansas. I worked in Basalt, Colorado as a livestock apprentice for Rock Bottom Ranch, caring for sheep, goats, cattle, broilers, layers, and turkeys in a regenerative system. I forayed into vegetable farming in Arkansas, assisting on a small homestead in the Ozarks. 

Throughout this apprenticeship, I am eager to gain experience working with regenerative grazing on a larger scale. I am excited to see the positive environmental impacts on a landscape level and witness the improving biological metrics at Redwing Ranch. I hope to learn the ins and outs of ranching – not only the everyday difficult tasks but the logistical challenges people must deal with to become proficient, profitable ranchers. I hope to truly understand what it means to work with the land in a sustainable model both environmentally, economically, and socially. I am excited to get my hands dirty, solidifying my skills such as livestock handling, irrigation, and infrastructure maintenance while immersing myself in the big picture through pasture monitoring, ecological assessment, and long term sustainability. 

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