New Agrarian VoicesLearn about the impressions and experiences of each year's cohort of apprentices in their own words.
Dylan Jones, APPRENTICE, Sol Ranch, NM
TAKE A PEEK INTO THE DAILY LIFE OF AN APPRENTICE BY READING THEIR RESPONSES TO THESE QUESTIONS.
What is something you do every day? I wake up on the right side of the dirt, surrounded by beautiful country.
What items do you always take with you to your work day? My NCBA Red Book, chapstick, and a good sombrero.
What does a typical day look like? Is there a general rhythm even if days fluctuate? My day begins with coffee and breakfast, and sometimes that’s about as consistent as it gets, but if there’s limited blurts, and variables at play, I start about 7 AM and end about 5 PM. I accomplish what I can, and what I can’t, I don’t.
What is your favorite place on the ranch? Thus far it’s a tie between the Mogote pasture and the sunsets from the Alamito headquarters.
How are you getting to know the community around you? Through the spring works, brandings, and general neighboring, I’ve been getting to know our neighbors and friends of the ranch, as well as picking up some seasonal horse shoeing work.
What is a skill you have learned that you now feel confident in? I would have to say fixing fence: it’s a never-ending task, but without it, you may as well throw your breeding program, grazing plan, and neighbor relations out the window.
What is something about your job that challenges you? The slow learning process of knowing when to ride up, when to hold up, and when to shut up.
What is something that has surprised you about the experience so far? How wonderful gentle cattle are to handle, and how handy a cake feeder can be.
What are you looking forward to in the rest of the season? More time horseback, pushing critters around, and hopefully; an eventual in person NAP Apprentice get-together.
REFLECTIONS AFTER THE FIRST MONTH
I first felt the call to agriculture just out of high school. I was fully caught in the woes of the current socio-economic systems and environmental concerns with no intentions of going to a university, and just enough personal direction to think I could save the world; so I took a few classes at the local junior college to give myself the academic and metaphorical tools to be the next social and environmental messiah. I was swiftly reminded that I don’t learn in a classroom and felt a pull to get out and learn through working in agriculture, because while there’s a lot more problems out there that I can’t tackle, working on and stewarding a piece of land is a lot more productive than complaining about the sky falling.
After working on primarily vegetable and smaller diversified organic, and biodynamic operations for the past 4 years or so, it was affirmed for me that I feel called more towards livestock and forage production, and less towards production vegetables. I just don’t have the right temperament for weeding endlessly, and melancholically watching your plants disappear to pests both vertebrate and invertebrate. I felt the call towards following the dream of being a cowboy, or more specifically; I felt like furthering my agricultural education by learning what it takes to create an edible, nutritious protein from a landscape that’s otherwise (for the most part) inedible and not suitable for row crops, all while furthering the sustainability of your operation and benefitting the natural ecology of your landscape through building natural resilience and using living power and minimal inputs.
Through my apprenticeship at Sol Ranch, I hope to gain an understanding of what it takes to make that happen; I hope to gain a deeper knowledge of the biological systems of the ranch, the planning, the horsemanship and low stress stockmanship, the fencing, the number crunching, and everything else that goes into getting delicious grassfed and finished beef from conception to plate. It has been a privilege to be here and work here thus far, and I look forward towards the days to come, and the unfolding of the season.
Wrapping up and reviewing a season on the range in October seems abrupt and untimely, especially when the season hasn’t quite come to a close. Metaphorically speaking, it feels similar to approaching a door at a long walk, and not quite twisting the knob all the way, sending your head and momentum into the still-closed door. I only say this as I find it hard to reflect when I’m still in the swing of things, and haven’t taken a step back to exhale and look over the past year. However, I imagine most of this year has probably felt, for a lot of folks, like hitting their head against a door, so perhaps it’s a fitting sensation for this 2020 season.
Coming from Northern California, where land prices are astronomical inflations based on development potential, and not what the land can provide, I found that the touch and go, liquid financial basis that a lot of the local cattle producers operated on wasn’t enough to hire someone extra, let alone a dink who didn’t have much prior ranching, or cowboying experience. This proved to be a barrier to entry for me within the local ranching community, and I couldn’t feasibly see a way to support myself while working for free most of the time, just to get my foot in the door, and I couldn’t quite picture how I could quickly climb the learning curve on just part time work, so I turned to Quivira Coalition’s New Agrarian Program as a solution. In my opinion, Quivira’s NAP Apprenticeship provides an excellent, accessible, platform for connections between newcomers with a desire to learn, and producers with a desire to teach, all within an above-table structure where the basic needs of the apprentice can be met.
Throughout this season at Sol Ranch, working with the Cornell family and their wonderful neighbors has been an incredible opportunity to gain an introduction to ranching, ranch culture, and, as I like to say, to learn “enough to know how much I didn’t know before.” I believe that’s the way it should be, if you’re constantly learning and climbing the curve, you should be able to look back and see how much of a kook (gunsal, roundass, dude, greenhorn, etc) you were beforehand. Having worked before in situations that felt like an educational plateau; I believe it’s the mark of a good teacher who helps to keep you striving to be on the upward trend, instead of just teaching you enough to maintain where you’re at.
Along the same lines, one of the biggest challenges for me this season was the personal struggle of wanting to already be closer to the top of the learning curve, to already be a hand, and to skip the uncomfortable process of admitting how much I didn’t know, or how much I had yet to learn. Despite the hangups and mistakes that I made and the frustration that it created for both myself, and for Emily, she did an excellent job taking everything in stride, and I can only say that mentoring comes naturally to her. Emily made sure to provide ample opportunities for me to learn, both through my own vocation, under her tutelage, with her father Jeff, and working alongside friends, neighbors, and organizations that the ranch is a part of. Working with Emily gave me the opportunity to watch her work through the kinks of a new business; managing new employees like myself, a new grass-fed and finished beef program, and forming partnerships with local non-profits, and state partners to better the health of her land, and to ultimately better her business. I was lucky enough to get to be in the observer seat, and see what lessons I could learn alongside her; lessons I could learn that may benefit my own business one day. Working with Jeff allowed me to vicariously learn important lessons from his past, on the ranch, that may end up saving me a lot of time and trouble down the road as a new agrarian, and to see the product of years of commitment to values, and lessons learned, in the form of his healthy, high fertility, low maintenance cattle. All of the biggest moments of education and growth I’ve experienced, I can attribute to the great teachers behind them, and I’d rank the Cornells up there with the best.
Agriculture is the most meaningful, purpose-driven, and humbling work that I’ve had the privilege of calling my profession for the last 5 years; and to me, ranching and working with livestock has been the pinnacle of my brief time spent working in agriculture. Raising grass-efficient cattle in a holistically planned and managed range setting with minimal inputs is not only a financially and ecologically sustainable model of land stewardship, but it aligns with the beliefs that I’ve developed through my time spent working in ag, and the value that I place on the symbiosis of working with nature to allow for a more fruitful, and financially profitable business, reducing reliance on outside inputs, income or debt. I see a future for myself in managing land and livestock; and by following the example(s) of my mentor(s), and taking with me what I have learned at Sol Ranch, I have the confidence of knowing that it is possible to achieve the goals, values, and quality of life that I strive for.
Going forward, I feel that my New Agrarian Program apprenticeship at Sol Ranch has given me a great foundational introduction to ranching , and the skills to be handy enough to get my foot in the door with the ranches back home. I plan to return to Northern California to find day work with the local ranches, and continue learning, while shoeing horses to support myself and build capital to invest in a livestock business of my own in the near future. I’m optimistically hoping that these wildfires in California that grow progressively larger in size every year will be a wakeup call for landowners to realize the importance of grazing and fuel reduction, and therefore, create an opportunity for new agrarians like myself to get some skin in the game through custom grazing enterprises.
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