New Agrarian Voices

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





Morgan Smith​, APPRENTICE, Knott Land and Livestock

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

Hello, my name is Morgan Smith. I grew up in Western Oregon on the edge of the urban-rural divide. My family lived about 25 minutes from town, where properties expanded to 5-20 acres. Lifestyles ranged from low-budget homesteading to perfectly manicured homes. Free roaming goats of unknown breeding were interspersed with sleek, high-dollar horses. 

My family was part of the homesteading branch; with unruly gardens, scattered chicken coops, and a trailer constructed from plywood and salvaged bedframe steel parked below the house. We had chickens, sheep, goats, and cattle. Like a lot of people who end up in agriculture, I was fascinated by all of them. I spent hours decoding chicken communications and tracking bumblebees.

When I was 10, I started participating in 4-H. There I was introduced to raising animals as a business. I learned how to track costs and weigh them against value, and how different traits could be optimized for different purposes.

I was just as interested in other people’s animals as I was in the ones at home, so I also started picking up odd jobs. This began a period of small-scale networking. People are hard-wired to teach young people about the world, so I got a lot of opinions while stall cleaning and pet sitting. I saw how the same animals could be raised, fed, and treated completely differently. 

I became interested in which way, if any, was the “right” way of keeping land and animals. I also became interested in people’s perceptions of livestock and food, and in the relationships people have with an issue in which every living person is a stakeholder.

At 17, I started taking classes at the Community College and got on track for an Animal Sciences degree. While I was studying, I tried to frame ideas about the very basics. I wanted to know if keeping living creatures for the purpose of slaughter was something you could ethically justify. I wanted to know whether eating meat was healthy and an effective way to feed a growing population. I wanted to know if the answers to those questions could be compared between animals that are radically different, like chickens and cattle. 

What I discovered was that these questions are quite controversial, and so complex getting a straight answer is essentially impossible. In some ways, this was about the worst outcome I could have gotten. I’m a straightforward person, and I love a black and white answer. What I consider to be a good outcome was that I’m not willing to pursue or support any one legalistic system of thinking. 

What I’m hoping to find through this internship is a style of management that does its best to consider things from multiple angles, and to be open to change. What drew me to holistic management is that it allows for the intersection of multiple styles and values; including  traditional knowledge, science, and practicality. I feel optimistic that it’s a step towards agriculture that values innovation and sustainability.

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