New Agrarian Voices

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

Ian Trupin, APPRENTICE, XK Bar Ranch, CO

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 let the chickens out, collect eggs, feed them, and shut them in every day. Most of my tasks I do daily, such as irrigating, but taking care of the chickens is the most consistent, since they need to be taken care of even on my days off.

What items do you always take with you to your work day? I always take irrigation boots and a shovel!

What does a typical day look like? Is there a general rhythm even if days fluctuate? I start my mornings by tending to the chickens and feeding the cat, having breakfast, and making the irrigation rounds before lunch. Afternoons tend to be more independent, filled with working on various ranch projects. I end my day by spending time working on the vegetable garden. 

What is your favorite place on the ranch? I like the homestead area. It’s very cozy and familiar, full of companion animals to keep me company, and I put more time into it than any other comparable area. The creek pasture is also nice, with its big trees, cool breezes, and soft green grass. I also find the sound of running water very relaxing.

How are you getting to know the community around you? I mostly meet folks through water arrangements and monitoring, which can sometimes be contentious. People also recognize my mentor’s pickup truck and will occasionally pause on the road to say hi. Meat deliveries and the farmers market offer other opportunities to meet people, but these are mostly not immediate neighbors.

What is a skill you have learned that you now feel confident in? Driving standard transmission has been a big growth area for me, along with setting tarp dams. Giving commands to the cattle dogs was never hard, but I think I now know the best words and tones to use.

What is something about your job that challenges you? Irrigation and water management remain hard for me. I find it hard to keep a mental image of the ditch setup in my mind, and I am not reliable or confident yet in making most judgement calls. I second guess myself a lot, but I keep learning! 

What is something that has surprised you about the experience so far? I did not expect to spend so much time and energy on water, especially relative to the amount of time we spend directly working with the livestock. 

What are you looking forward to in the rest of the season? I’m looking forward to the later summer, with peak garden production, the center pivot irrigation project finished, and possibly visits from friends and a woofer who is also a friend. I look forward to being much more competent later in the season and increasingly able to do more without constantly asking for guidance from my mentor, Tony. 

REFLECTIONS AFTER THE FIRST MONTH

I am mostly a city boy, but with more childhood exposure to agriculture than many. Growing up, my family moved around between the United States, Zimbabwe, and Tanzania, and from a young age it was easy for me to notice the clear differences between these places. The African countries seemed much more agriculturally-oriented to me, because so many more people were involved in agriculture as a way of life. After moving more permanently to the United States, I felt like an outlier among my piers in that my family had a large garden, which more than provided for our vegetable needs during the summer. I loved eating the produce, though I often felt like a victim of injustice, because none of my friends were forced to weed and water during their summer vacations. On the other hand, visits to Vermont, where I sometimes joined in the haying on a neighbor’s farm, and return visits to Tanzania, where I occasionally helped feed my grandmother’s cows or helped with the corn, made it clear to me how much more arduous real, subsistence farmwork could be. I thought stacking hay and milking cows was fun, but many of these activities were also itchy, hot, and uncomfortable, and didn’t make me want to become a farmer.

Growing into a teenager, I became more and more interested in development, though not necessarily agriculture. In college I studied sociology and the role of cooperatives in development, and then worked for a few years as a social justice organizer getting colleges and universities to divest their endowments from fossil fuels and private prisons and reinvest in local economies. It was through this job that I became more seriously interested in agriculture, after learning about how some colleges had begun investing in a rash of “land grabs”—deals where often corrupt governments in developing countries sold large tracts of the most productive land to foreign investors and governments, often forcing out local residents in the process. I went back to Tanzania, and interned with an organization doing land rights work, particularly with pastoralist communities, and then applied to master’s programs at agriculture schools. After being a paid organizer, who was often among one of the people in the room least directly affected by the issues I was working on, it seemed to me that people can usually organize themselves better than an outsider can, and that I would be more effective if I had the training to support grassroots organizations and individuals.

At UC Davis I studied international agricultural development, with a focus on rangeland management, and my time there, as well as my continued reading and study on my own, convinced me that agriculture, and the intersection between food systems, ecology, and social justice is where I want to continue to work. I also reaffirmed my view that pure academia and basic research are not for me. Coming to this apprenticeship, my biggest goal now is finding out if I can see myself working on the things I care most about as a producer. In the world of regenerative ranching I am starting to see many examples of people who I might think of as role models, in that they do important advocacy and social or environmental justice work, but also produce things that people want and need, and support themselves. Maybe that could be me someday!

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