New Agrarian Voices

Learn about the impressions and experiences of each year's cohort of apprentices in their own words.

Emily McCarthy, APPRENTICE, C & R Ranch, CA

February 2021

When prompted to write about my interest in agriculture, I was confident in being able to sit down at my computer and perfectly articulate an answer. I spent the majority of my time in college exploring agricultural studies and continued to farm postgrad. I brought my curiosity beyond academics and farm work by overloading my booklist and podcast queue. I had aligned my future career and livelihood aspirations with agricultural work. 


When I opened a blank document, I hit an unanticipated pause. I had no idea what to say or where to start. In the following weeks, I drafted and deleted paragraphs dissecting my upbringing, my college experience, and my post grad life— all in trying to find the exact catalyst of my interest. Out in the field, my mind tip toed back to the minimized document on my home screen. 


One morning, Roy, Charlotte, and I moved the herd into a new paddock and stood back to watch them celebrate new ground. We laughed as they kicked up their back legs and wriggled against the oak trees. We tossed them hay from the trailer and walked around to scout runny noses and signs of hoof rot. After checking the animals I took a closer look at the established perennials breaking dormancy. I saw the uneaten hay trampled around the bunch grasses and dotted with cow pies. In later reflection, I finally realized that I had been overthinking and overcomplicating my interest in agriculture. My interest in agriculture doesn’t stem from a defined reason or experience. It grows in my daily observations and complementary reflection. 


This reflection leads me to constantly evaluate and reshape my interest. Sometimes I set aside time to journal, other times I gather my thoughts between daily tasks. I remember my earliest reflections revolved around vegetable propagation. I wanted to protect baby carrots from purslane and rescue tomatoes from their own jungle vines. My interests and methods were meticulous and anxious for control. I continued farming and realized that I couldn’t create perfect vacuums for every single plant. My reflection prompted me to shift my observations into a systemic perspective. I began to ask questions that addressed conditions for growth rather than just the final product. 


I was joyfully overwhelmed by the freedom to explore whatever came to the forefront of my curiosity. Soil tilth? Worm counts? Farmer perceptions of climate change? Sure! It was all fair game and undoubtedly intertwined. I also had the room to honestly criticize my identity and role in my landscape. Alongside my ecological learning, I could recognize my responsibility as a land steward and work to actively decolonize my agricultural perspective. I could also reflect on my learning process itself and address the privilege that delayed my lessons in environmental racism. My interests and how my interests constructed my identity were continually put into question. 


I hope that my NAP apprenticeship keeps pushing me to be uncomfortable. As a young person in agriculture, I have so much to learn about the practice and politics of working with the land. Working alongside Roy and Charlotte in a holistic grazing system has already taught me new skills (like welding and moving cattle!) and emphasized each skill’s part of a whole. In addition to the physical work, I continue to find myself in conversations and the headspace to think about my interactions with my landscape. I know that I need to keep evaluating my interests, asking questions, and reflecting on the answers. I feel that I’m in the perfect place to do so. 

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