New Agrarian VoicesLearn about the impressions and experiences of each year's cohort of apprentices in their own words.
Cary Conwell, APPRENTICE, Indian Ridge Farm, CO
One Month Reflection
Time flies by on a farm. The constant stimulation of light, smells, sounds, and tactile sensations deliver a seemingly endless new world to observe and record. I am concluding my first month as an apprentice at Indian Ridge Farm. It is with full confidence that I can say that the decision to leave the cozy life in Denver and enter the world of regenerative agriculture was and continues to be an excellent one. The past few weeks have been filled with challenges, fun, learning, and plenty of great eating which all accumulate into an incredible overall experience that is setting up a path for future success on the heels of the pioneering performed by our mentors – the Daranyis.
I was originally attracted to agriculture based on a few main ideas. For one, it is aligned with my personal interests in food, land, animals, plants, and my general enjoyment of working outside with my hands. I enjoy cooking, baking bread, and have over time felt myself more and more attracted to the source of the items which provide the ingredients for those two pass times. Secondly, agriculture, especially organic regenerative agriculture fulfills my deep seeded desire to contribute to our culture, planet, and own personal being in meaningful ways. The corporate world, centered around financial performance and consumption, did not provide this type of meaning. It is gratifying to pursue methods of food production that are considered alternative and pay dividends in so many hurting categories: soil health, water quality, rural livelihood, human health, animal welfare, and more. Lastly, I am motivated by my ancestors driven primarily by my grandmother whom I have developed a close bond with over the past decade. She grew up in rural, north Georgia on a farm which has been the relative geographic region for my family since the late 1600s, pre-revolution. Her father was a chicken farmer producing conventional birds up to 30,000 at a time. He retired and my grandmother and her husband abandoned the operation. She has told me countless stories about the way things used to be and I have taken it upon myself, almost as a duty, to rekindle that type of work for my own family albeit knowing and using contemporary and ecologically sensitive practices.
This apprenticeship means everything to me. On the surface, I hope to gain the practical skills and experience necessary to obtain a full time position on a farm managing an operation and team that is conducting the type of agriculture that is aligned with my values. This could be in Colorado or elsewhere. I am also keenly attuned to the decisions, past and present, made by my mentors as it relates to their business so that I can learn crucial lessons as it relates to making a viable financial livelihood in this profession. The Daranyis defy the adage that all farmers “must be poor” and have proven that a well balanced life can be achieved with a certain level of financial security behind it. I hope to emulate the decisions they have made to achieve that and am therefore looking forward to diving deeper into the financial aspect of farming in addition to the hard skills related to the job itself. Lastly, I look forward to having some fun while living in Norwood. The landscape around Norwood is incredible with a diverse array of trails and waterways to be explored. I intend to thoroughly explore the mountain bike trails and fishing spots everywhere from the alpine around Telluride to the deserts of Uravan.
Through all of this I expect to undergo significant personal growth as it relates to leadership, communication, organization, discipline, and general happiness as I develop new skills. Furthermore, this entire experience is enhanced by my wife, Caroline, who is apprenticing alongside me. It is a privilege to work with her and the depth of our relationship will continue to reach levels unimaginable in the past.
A radical shift has occurred in my perception of the world and what it means to be alive. My time as a NAP apprentice at Indian Ridge Farm has fundamentally changed how I intend to carry out my life and I couldn’t be happier about it. The list of ways in which this program has positively impacted my life is long, however several key elements deserve to be highlighted here. The impact of each element has cumulatively shaped and guided the decision making process that Caroline and I have undertaken while deciding our next steps. As such, we have a solid plan built around an ever progressing Holistic Goal that will allow us to continue to develop as individuals and a budding family.
An agricultural life is primarily one in stark contrast with popular culture in contemporary American society. Aspiration of material things withered for me over the past seven months. It is a hard habit to break – consumerism – after having been preconditioned to such behavior over the course of your life. This past season showed me how well I can live on substantially less stuff than before. The pull to re-engage with this overwhelming force is ever present, but the memories and newly conditioned habits that formed while working at Indian Ridge Farm will help me carry through into our next chapter with a new paradigm on material consumption.
I have always enjoyed the outdoors, however only in a temporary sense. To go on a hike and return to a world disconnected from nature is not whole. This past season has opened my eyes to the immense complexities of nature and cycles it undertakes as time passes. I have a new appreciation and respect for those who can effectively work with natural systems to create food and look forward to a lifetime of learning as I aspire for more proficiency in this field.
A final learning that I would like to call attention to is the empowerment that comes from self sufficiency. The knowledge and ability to produce one’s own food is a lost skill as the number of Americans who farm continues to plummet. It doesn’t stop merely at being self sufficient for myself. What I learned over the course of my NAP apprenticeship is that the value of that self sufficiency comes when the skills are shared and used for the betterment of those around you. Without a doubt, the people associated with Indian Ridge Farm and the town of Norwood exemplify this community bond. Having experienced the intangible force that comes as a result of this community I now have it firmly planted in me that to seek and create the same for myself and my family is critically important to our overall well being.
My next steps, which Caroline and I share, have finally come together. Through both times of panic and calm we patiently built a plan to relocate to the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia and begin the quest of creating a new life centered around the land and our community. The decision was both easy and difficult. It is typical, at least for me, to wallow over decisions weighing all possible aspects of the choice prior to choosing. I often experience analysis paralysis until time forces the need for a choice to be made. In this case, it was not only I, but Caroline too who had to undergo the painstaking process of considering our next step; specifically a place to live. Logic took us to a certain point, but eventually all further movement only resulted in circles. It dawned on me that we had to make a decision, despite only knowing so much, and move forward regardless. In having that realization I began to give more credit to the wisdom I have obtained over the past decade. Using what I know about myself and the realities of the world given extensive travel and work experience allowed me to have confidence in the direction we are about to undertake. Doing so took a certain level of faith in my own self, but no other information could be more factual when it comes to such a personal and subjective decision. We intend to farm using the skills we gained in raising poultry and vegetables, but will start at a tiny scale that begins with feeding just our family and friends. The thought being that we have a long road ahead in learning the ecosystem, climate, and market of our selected place. , We can begin to interpret enterprises that make sense as we develop a first hand understanding of these elements. A wide variety of agricultural topics interest me – poultry, vegetables, fruit, mushrooms, pigs, the soil food web – and I intend to find a way to incorporate all of them into my life knowing that doing so will bring me closer to working with nature and nurturing my body with food that simply makes sense.
Furthermore, Caroline and I see distinct opportunities to harness our previous business experience. We intend to explore agrotourism enterprises that pair well with today’s primary market desires for experiences, transparency, and education. I believe that we both possess natural skills for sharing what we love in creative and informative ways with people who are brave enough to ask questions regarding their food just like we did at the onset of this path.
As a side note, nearly nine billion broiler chickens are processed in the United States annually according to recent USDA data. That is over seventeen thousand per minute, every minute for an entire year. Numbers like that are sobering when considering the uphill battle that exists to spread the acceptance of sustainable agriculture. I remain dedicated to the cause despite the enormity of this David and Goliath situation. Starting small and letting our passions drive us forward allows us to have a meaningful impact on the people around us, which is the most important thing to remember at the end of the day.
Our Holistic Goal will be the tool that helps steer us through the coming months and years while also keeping us grounded in the things that we have deemed valuable beyond simply producing food. Those things are our friends, family, personal interests, a stable financial life, and healthy sleep schedules. We believe we can achieve all of these things by staying committed to the values commonly found in small scale agriculture and remaining patient as we achieve goals over time. I am grateful for being introduced to the idea of the Holistic Goal through my NAP experience.
Without a doubt, our inaugural farming season at Indian Ridge Farm has oriented us towards a bright future and the support of the Quivira Coalition made it all possible. A radical shift may not feel quite radical when it is premeditated for so long, however as I write this in reflection of only the past seven months it becomes apparent that I have elected for a life far different than my previous path and that feels right.
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