New Agrarian Voices

Caroline Conwell, APPRENTICE, Indian Ridge Farm, CO

First Reflection

I was drawn to agriculture over the past year as I began to really think hard about what I want out of life. I believe that taking care of our land and creating a better food system are vital for the survival of our world. I have done quite a bit of self-reflection and reading to come to this conclusion. In addition to this, I am very passionate about good food, cooking, the outdoors, animals, and protecting the environment. All of these things come together for me through regenerative agriculture. It is a way of life and a way of farming that can change our food system for the better while also producing incredibly delicious and healthy food. I think regenerative agriculture also has the potential to put culture back in agriculture, an idea that gets me excited! Following my values and passions has led me to pursue a career in agriculture and I couldn’t be happier with this new direction that my life has taken.

Over the next 8 months, I am hoping to learn as much as I can about running a successful farming operation. I want to learn about how to raise chickens in a humane way that produces a quality product. I also hope to get a sense for what key qualities create a successful farming operation, in a holistic sense. Tony and Barclay have so much knowledge to offer, and I want to make sure I take advantage of the opportunity to learn from them during my apprenticeship at Indian Ridge Farm. From what I can tell, sales and marketing are the key to success with small scale farming, so I hope to learn useful strategies from Indian Ridge Farm. I also want to continue to refine my cheese making skills as we start milking the goats here in the next few weeks. I hope to learn more about goat care so I can someday own my own goats and make cheese, even if it’s just for fun! Another big part of the next eight months will be learning how to treat my husband as a business partner. We work well together, but I am sure we still have a great deal to learn about how we can work together effectively and allow that to strengthen our relationship as husband and wife. I am sure we will have challenges along the way but I am so excited to continue learning as an independent person, as well as with my husband as a team.

Final Reflection

As I sit down and think about the past 7 months, it is hard to encompass in a few paragraphs what I have learned and how I have changed. The past few months really shaped me into a different person with more technical skills, a greater appreciation for the complexities of natural farming, as well as a new perspective on how I want to live out my life. These few months were such a great shift in my lifestyle but it has become a change for the better. It surely came with some challenges, but nothing that I couldn’t take in stride and see as a learning experience. I hope to continue down this path I have started, learning more about regenerative agriculture and how I can implement it on our own farm someday. I am intrigued by the complexities of nature and it’s ever changing ways. Regenerative agriculture will be a lifelong passion for me as it allows me to continue to learn about nature and food.

The technical skills that I have picked up during this apprenticeship are the most evidence based change. While going through my skills checklist for the final time with my mentors, it was clear that I have learned a great deal this year. Since I was brand new to agriculture when I started this apprenticeship, most of the skills listed were at a 0 or a 1. A few weeks ago when we did our final review, we were consistently putting 4’s and 5’s on the list. It was such an incredible feeling! I can confidently say that I now could start my own small pastured broiler and layer operations. I really feel that I could successfully raise birds and sell them. This season, we learned the technical skills required to raise a chick from a few days old through butchering and sales at a farmers market. We learned a great deal about how a business runs and what it takes to market, sell, and maintain a profit on these products. We learned important factors to consider when tracking financials. I also delved into what sort of legal regulations will dictate how we run our business. Through the summer we also had a chance to work in the small garden on site. I had almost no experience growing vegetables so I was starting from ground zero. I have learned so much about how to raise vegetables, how to fertilize them naturally, and how to harvest them. I still have an incredible amount to learn on this front, but I can say I am in a place where I could start experimenting with my own garden and have some success!

 I am incredibly humbled when I think about how complex nature is, and how little we really know about it. This apprenticeship allowed me to start understanding that to be a successful farmer, you must first observe your ecosystem. When we start to step back and look at how everything is working around us, we can start to see important details. It is so easy to get caught up in raising an animal or plant for food, and forget that it is part of a larger ecosystem that plays a role in the health of that animal or plant. During the past few months I delved into learning more about what role bacteria and fungi play in creating healthy soil, and I was blown away! It really reminded me of how much I have to learn about farming and nature. This is an aspect of farming that I hope to continue to learn about into the future.

In addition to some of these technical skills, my outlook on how I want to live my life has shifted over the past 7 months as well. The holistic management framework that I was introduced to through this apprenticeship opened my eyes to the importance of focusing on quality of life in creating life and business goals. My husband and I decided to go into farming because we believed we needed to do more to protect the environment and we wanted to do this through agriculture. It is easy to get caught up in ideas of how complex our farm could be and how we could make it profitable financially. However, after creating a holistic goal that stresses the importance of family time, I continue to remind myself that we must use this holistic goal to create our business. We created a holistic goal that will allow us to focus on what we find important in life and we now have a framework to build on. Every decision will come back to this goal. This is an incredibly powerful tool that I believe will allow us to live the life we want while also farming.

I found that another area of growth for me came in learning how to create a strong working relationship with my husband. Before coming here, we both had our own separate careers that we did well with. We were best friends and obviously in addition to that were a married couple. I had hoped from the start that we would find a way to keep these relationships strong while also adding on a working relationship to the dynamic. There were definitely challenges along the way in establishing a healthy working relationship, but I feel confident that we have worked through these challenges and now have a solid foundation to move forward on. I look forward to continuing to work on this and build a business together that we both play a part in. This apprenticeship has been a good lesson for us both on how to work together in a professional manner, but also maintain our friendship and love for each other.

In the next five years, my husband and I hope to take what we have learned this season and continue practicing it in some capacity. We hope to find our own land in the next few years and start implementing what we have learned on a small scale. Eventually we want to turn our farm from a homestead into a small business, and scale it to a size that will work for our holistic goal. It will most likely be a small scale diversified farm with some level of homesteading as well. We are still trying to sort through the details of what our business will look like, but we know that we will be farming for the rest of our lives. We want to grow our own wholesome food so that we can share it with friends, family, and our community.

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