New Agrarian VoicesLearn about the impressions and experiences of each year's cohort of apprentices in their own words.
Brenn Scott, APPRENTICE, Badger Creek Ranch, CO
Reflections after the First Month
In a small way, my experiences in agriculture started in some of my earliest memories. My grandmother would tell me and my brother stories of her life growing up in Kersey, Colorado on her father’s sugar beet farm as she tucked us in at night. As I got older and my dad put me to work in the yard, he’d remind me that it was his grandmother who taught him to garden. When he was a kid, Grandma Lucy used to tell him how her family came up through the San Luis and Wet Mountain Valleys of Colorado in the late 1800s for the richer farmlands north of New Mexico. My life has been imbued with the wonder of my family’s agricultural heritage since I was just a girl. In short, I suppose you could say it’s in my blood.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to ranch. I grew up riding horses and was obsessed with the life of a cowgirl from a young age. After heading to college (and a brief stint living overseas), I came back to Colorado feeling inspired by the land and the people and animals who came to shape it. I wanted to take part—I just didn’t know how. I started small at first. I planted a garden in my back yard and it grew year-by-year. Soon, the back was overtaken by nearly 350 square feet of fresh vegetables and fruit. Then, I began to raise chickens. Just a couple at first, then a flock of 6—just under the City of Denver’s limit on backyard chickens. I poured myself into outdoor projects and learning everything I could about organic gardening, chicken keeping, and earth-friendly practices. I learned about winter crops and humane slaughter, the rich black glory of compost and how to pluck a chicken. I even enrolled in a welding course just because I knew it would someday come in handy when I settled on a ranch.
As the summer of 2019 rolled on, I finally decided it was time to make a change. I committed to leaving the corporate world and focusing my efforts on helping the earth through regenerative agriculture within the year. I buried my head in research of ranches, permaculture, and organizations that supported the way I felt food should be raised. That’s how I found Quivira. I paid for a ticket to the conference in November, still ruminating over whether to apply for the apprenticeships or not. After attending, I just knew I had to be a part of this incredible community.
Fast forward about one year from that welding course and my welding mask was the last thing I packed in the car to start the Quivira Apprenticeship.
There’s a myriad of inspiring material out there today that discusses regenerative agriculture and sustainability in our food systems. There’s dozens of examples of people who have embarked on a similar journey I’m on. But, as a loyal Coloradan, I knew that I needed to learn how to do things specifically in our delicate climate. Regenerative agriculture looks wildly different in regions that have copious rainfall and temperate climates. How could I learn to do that here, in this semi-arid desert where the weather seems to become more and more erratic each year?
There’s a reason the early explorers—men from Zebulon Pike to Stephen Long—called this place a desert, saw it unfit for any type of civilization. The plains and mountains can be so harsh, so unforgiving. Nevertheless, we have adapted. And we must continue to adapt. For many of us, ranchers, cattle, plants, and animals alike, we have learned to thrive. It’s imperative that we continue to learn and relearn with the increasingly unpredictable weather patterns and rapidly changing climate. I firmly believe that, in order to move forward, we must, collectively, recognize where we have been. There are is a lifetime of knowledge I’ve yet to gain from the beings who have called this place home for far longer than me–be they ranch mentors, coyotes, sagebrush, elk, songbird, or prickly pear.
More than anything else I want from the New Agrarian Apprenticeship, I want experience. I want to learn by doing. I want to dig my hands in the soil and know I’m helping to put life there. I want to soak in the many years of wisdom my mentors possess then practice, practice, practice. I want to face the hardships that come after a tough day and feel the joy when everything goes right. I want to bear witness the slow changing of the seasons out on the prairie. I want to see life looking between a horse’s ears.
I am doing this apprenticeship so that I gain the knowledge necessary to go out and do it myself; that I, too, can teach others, share what I’ve learned, and help foster connections between people and the earth. Quivira gives farmers and ranchers the opportunity to gain training, knowledge, and community. My goals are no different. I also believe in the power of connection. Connection to nature; connection to the land; connection between people; connection to the plants and animals that share our space, occupy our imaginations, and nourish our bodies. My passion is there; the only thing that’s missing is the experience.
Now, I simply have to go out there and get it.
A lot has happened in my apprenticeship.
There have been challenges I never imagined encountering and lessons I never anticipated learning. The skin on the back of my hands has aged about 15 years. My hat–originally dark olive–has faded to light green all over save for the brown, dusty band of sweat across the forehead. My arms are striped with pale, tiny scars–evidence of battles with barbed wire. I’ve had to navigate some serious conflicts and consumed so many slices of humble pie there were times I could burst. Some days are easy. Some days are hard. Some days, it feels like the only thing you accomplish is getting a sunburn on your neck. But days like yesterday remind me why I’m out here.
Waking up and unexpectedly having to clear irrigation ditch for an hour, then wrestling with old barbed wire to install a new gate, pounding in t-posts, pulling a quarter mile of line taught with a broken stretcher, installing clips without fencing pliers, and trying 4 different ways to unspool unruly horse wire for 8 hours… that’s a long day; but it can’t be accurately explained how rewarding it is to see with your own two eyes and feel in your muscles what you’ve accomplished with nothing but your hands and your grit.
I feel so fortunate to be out here doing work I believe in. It’s easy to get discouraged with the state of things, but I truly believe that a holistic view of connection–with nature, with the plants and animals and communities that nourish us–can save the world. I believe it so fully, in fact, that 6 and a half months ago, I quit my job and moved 100 miles away just to do it.
Yesterday was special. I built something from scratch. I built something that will, in all likelihood, stand for 150 years… just like the old fences here from 1874 that still stand today (even if they do require frequent fixes). Hopefully, my chosen path creates a little lasting impact, too. Sure, it may not be a hundred years but even small progress is still progress.
My fellow apprentice and I have a saying. When we ride out and see a section of fence that is in an elk-induced state of dire disrepair, we take our limited tools and do the best we can. We gently loop the century-old barbed and thread through shiny new wire. A couple cranks, a couple twists, and a broken, sagging stretch has new life. It’s never “good as new”, but we can look at our work, nod and say, “Better than it was.” I suppose that’s the point. If, 60 years from now, I can look out upon the land, nod, and say, “Better than it was,” I’ll know I’ve been successful. Small progress is still progress. And leaving this world a little “better than it was” seems like a win to me.
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