New Agrarian VoicesLearn about the impressions and experiences of each year's cohort of apprentices in their own words.
Charlotte, APPRENTICE, Tooley’s Trees, NM
Reflections after the First Month
Before I wanted to be a farmer, I wanted to be a social worker. Understanding people, discovering why they are the way they are was one of my first passions in life. Quickly, I realized we are all sick, very sick, and it’s not just the people who are suffering. Our current economic system and our farming practices deprive the land and our people from the true meaning of wealth and prosperity. I initially found interest in agriculture out of pure desperation. I was depressed, addicted and could no longer be confined by the walls of my work place. My journey to find what feels good began with food. I realized the food I consume directly relates to the way I feel, the way I look, even my thoughts.
I was raised in Boston, filled with overeducated people, with fat wallets and little concern of our current economic model. I found it extremely difficult to locate affordable, fresh, and local produce. And even more difficult to locate members of my community who understand why we are all suffering. I am a city kid, sitting in a brick building looking for a way out. I know the system doesn’t have to be like this. I want to be a part of a movement that wants to change our culture. I think that changing the way we eat food, cultivate food, provide food for our community is the first step towards the paradigm shift our society so desperately needs.
Colonization is a virus that has plagued the western society we live in today, same tricks, new games, less land, more people. From its birth we have lost the ability to connect with our environment, our peers and the natural world. The natural world is suffering and so are we.
I carry an intuitive urgency to learn about regenerative practices. I hope to someday apply these practices to human systems. I wonder how regenerative practices can offer solace to those who struggle with mental health. I wonder how these conceptual practices can be utilized in current institutions. During the Victorian era in the UK, it was common for asylums to own farms or gardens on site. Providing occupational work for clients, and fresh produce for the institution. Agriculture was used as a resource and therapeutic tool for patients that suffered from mental and physical disabilities. Sadly, as the industrial revolution created rapid change in threads that hold our society together, these hospitals also changed their practice.
I have a dream to open an urban farm for people who struggle with addiction.
During my time at Tooley’s Trees, as bask in the knowledge of my mentors, I recognize there is only so much I can learn within 8 months. Grafting and pruning trees, plant identification, irrigation maintenance, and understanding how water moves, are just a few elements of the farm I am learning about. All are aspects that connect to a much greater picture. Ultimately, I hope this experience will allow me to make connections. understand a circular economy, a system that isn’t based on the circulation and distribution of money, but a system that makes decisions based on the resources at hand, decisions that are rooted in respect for the vitality of all living things.
As I walk around the farm on my last few days in Truchas, my eyes fall to the ground. Bluegrass, Crested Wheat, Yarrow, Smooth Brome, Alyssum, all gone to seed, all mirroring the feeling of a tree that’s lost its leaves. Beige, dry, ready for the incoming months of dormancy. The same dry grasses I had seen 8 months ago, not knowing their names but able to admire their expression, their beauty, differences and subtle similarities. I touch them in their prime, lush green colors, flowers and stages of seeding; a full circle. When you begin to notice the details of a plant; the way a petiolate allows their leaflets to cascade off their stem, a plant’s expression of flowering and disposition of going to seed, you begin to see the natural world as a declaration of fantasy. A world filled with contrasting vivid color, texture and smell, life forms with differing preferences, needs and expressions. Being able to identify the vegetation around me has welcomed a new understanding of sense of place. Knowing where I am based on the flora and fauna. Recognizing the difference between arid and wetlands and seeing the variance of life that lives within it. State border and street signs are not indicators in the natural world. Weather patterns, vegetation, the formation of rock and mountains, soil types, and the way water interacts with these constituents are true indications of place.
Think like water, move like water, the path of least resistance. These are words that Gordon Tooley recites; they often echo in my head. My first time in New Mexico was in January. Gordon picked me up from the airport. I tried to keep up with the awkward formality of any conversation you might have with a stranger on a two-hour car ride, but the landscape stripped me from any ability to form coherent sentences. The beige rolling hills were sprinkled with pinyons and sage brush. The mesas showed off their candy stripes of clay. The erosion. All foreign and exceptionally beautiful to me. I didn’t understand at the time, on the East Coast, my relationship with water has always fallen into the category of abundant. I never thought of a rain storm as godsent, and humidity always felt like a nuisance. In the Southwest every drop of water is a moment of opportunity. It is the creator and destroyer of all natural things. As my eyes rested on the desert land with ease in January, I didn’t understand the role water played in the formation of the hills and the placement of the plants. Eight months later, I am beginning to develop this foundational understanding. I’m beginning to read the land based on the stories certain plants tell, by knowing what they need and where they like to grow. Being a steward of the land is not just being able to identify natural systems and knowing where these resources go, being a steward of the land requires agility, attention to detail and perseverance. If there’s one thing I learned the most this year, it’s that farming can be incredibly liberating and simultaneously heartbreaking.
Maneuvering change with grace is a skill that often goes unnoticed. Change will always be mysterious, propagating possibilities that may never be fully flush until the moment is gone. Change can be crippling, when you hold on to the familiar until familiarity becomes a foreign language. Change can be exhilarating when a moment becomes exhausted. Whether we make the choice to do something or nothing, change is inescapable. Of all living things, nothing is permanent, nothing stays the same. Rain falls and the water moves. Flowers bloom and apples fruit. Fruit seed; back to blossom. Forests burn and meadows grow. Succession’s cycle may feel like fate, reactions to actions, small lines etch into stone, sculpting a shape that looks more like a stranger. But it doesn’t have to be so strange. Sometimes these spirals feel out of our control. We can’t predict the weather, we can’t control the water, but we can observe it, understand it, and move accordingly. A true steward of the land asks us to remain vigilant, that’s what I am learning to do. Living in Truchas, working at Tooley’s Trees, has allowed me to understand that change is opportunity, that observation and intention is always a choice I can make.
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