New Agrarian VoicesLearn about the impressions and experiences of each year's cohort of apprentices in their own words.
Jake Dempf, APPRENTICE, C4 Farms, NM
Over the course of the last 8 months, I have been an apprentice at C4 Farms in Tierra Amarilla, NM. I am originally from Albany, NY and went to school for sustainable agriculture in Asheville, NC at Warren Wilson college, so my farming experiences and perspectives were exclusive to the East Coast. That is why I applied for the NAP to further my experiences and gain perspectives of ranching out West. One major draw was that I have written a lot of my papers in school about water scarcity in the West, but I knew there was still so much more to know about the issue of drought in this country, specifically in the West. What better way to learn about drought than to go there and witness it for myself? I yearned to work on farms and with farmers that deal with water scarcity and climate change to fully understand the problem. The ranch I worked for was made up of a family that had lived in Tierra Amarilla for seven generations, and have farmed here for four generations. I desired to know the different perspectives from a family of people that had such long and intimate ties with the land. The family followed conventional practices until my mentor learned about the value in regenerative farming and pursued an alternative business model for the ranch. C4 farms is run by Tommy and his father, Anthony. They share some land and neighbor most of the land with the “Casados Bros” which includes Tommy’s grandfather, Tony, and two great uncles, Peter and Carlos. It was interesting to observe the family dynamic because of all the differing views on the best ways to farm. The “Casados Bros” still practice conventional farming and show a lot of skepticism of Tommy’s methods. They obviously love Tommy and want to support his beliefs because he will ultimately take over the ranch and essentially become the fourth generation patriarch. There is definitely some tension surrounding the issue, though, because the Casados Bros have been farming a specific way forever, and although they act open minded, understandably express a degree of reluctance.
Witnessing this transition of conventional to regenerative practices was a very enriching experience. I had to work with two different businesses, both within the same family, and flip flop between two very different approaches to farming. From feeding hay for the Casados brothers, to moving cows every 24 hours for C4; fixing barbed wire for the Casados Bros and electric fences for Tommy; flood irrigation for the Casados bros, and moving sprinkles for Tommy. The Casados Bros had an attitude of “take a break for a while,” “don’t work too hard,” and “what can’t be done today can be done tomorrow.” For C4, on the other hand, it was imperative to get more things done in a timely fashion. This is one of the arguments the Casados Bros have against regenerative practices. They are not convinced that regenerative practices will improve the land any better than what they have been doing for generations, and they see how much more demanding it is. However, they do agree on one thing; water is becoming more scarce year after year.
The ranch in Tierra Amarilla sits below the Brazos cliffs about a mile away as the crow flies. In the spring the snow on the mountains begins to melt and a waterfall flows off the cliffs. It’s a beautiful view from the ranch, but more than that, it acts as a sort of water gauge for how much water they can expect to get for the summer. The waterfall flows into the Brazos river which the ranch uses to irrigate their pastures. It used to flow for about a month. Now, it only flows for about a week or two. Just last year however, according to the Casados, it only flowed for 3 days, giving them one of the hardest years of drought they have had to deal with. Fortunately, this season it flowed for about 2 weeks, giving them a hopeful summer of lush forage. Unfortunately, the former situation can be expected more frequently in the future. I would love to see the results of Tommy’s regenerative practices come to fruition, building the health of the soil to contain more nutrients and retain more water, furthermore building hope for the future of the land to provide healthy food for the local community.
I plan to stick around in this town for a little while longer; I love the community, the mountains, and the opportunities. Tommy’s father is the school district’s superintendent and mentioned they are looking for some teachers. I will either be a substitute teacher, an elementary P.E. teacher or a science teacher. I do not have a preference for which position I get hired for, as it holds little difference to me in terms of my own growth. I hope to learn and grow as a teacher so that I can take that experience with me, wherever I end up in the realm of land stewardship. I believe in passing down the knowledge of how to care for the land and animals sustainably and ethically. From colonization to the industrial revolution, we have continued to distance ourselves from the natural wisdom and practices of indigenous people, and now, as we scramble to adapt to the exponentially changing climate, I would love to one day be a worthy mentor on my own farm, preparing children and young adults to sustainably live and farm in a climate that is inevitably going to look a lot different in the future.
REFLECTIONS AFTER THE FIRST MONTH
It was summer of my sophomore year in high school when I had the epiphany to pursue sustainable agriculture. We were visiting my grandmother in South Dakota and I was at the age when I really began to fully appreciate the wisdom to be gained from a generational farmer, as well as my natural ability to use my energy for physical labor. I became curious about understanding where my food came from and wanted to better understand our relationship with the source. I kept this epiphany to myself until later that summer when the Farm Aid festival came to NY. My musical hero, Pete Seeger, performed the Farm Aid encore at 90 years old as a surprise guest, playing This Land is your Land by Woody Guthrie. It was serendipitous and inspired my goal to make farming my life’s pursuit.
My love for the outdoors and a vague sense that I could thrive in a school that provided more hands-on learning, fortunately led me to Warren Wilson College and its work program.Within my first year, I was working on the college farm and pursuing my life’s passion.
Warren Wilson’s “triad” approach to education, combining academics with work and service, was well suited to my learning needs. However, it was the emphasis on social justice and global awareness in the Environmental Studies and Sustainable Agriculture programs that sparked more than a joy of learning, but a thirst for it. In January of 2019, I left for a program of study in Tanzania. Being immersed in another culture, even just for three weeks, significantly altered my mindset. I was able to witness a culture in which fresh and wholesome food (quality) is produced and consumed locally, communally, and sustainably. Having eaten mass produced food purchased from supermarket chains all of my life, this was a revelation. This opportunity to view our American culture from this outside perspective helped me gain greater clarity in my understanding of our systemic deficiencies and challenges.
The United States culture, built on industrialization and capitalism, attempts to mechanize processes to maximize efficiency and generate maximum production. The U.S. is often considered to be the most efficient in the world at producing food because of GMO technology, herbicides, pesticides and heavy machinery. While this has led to greater yields in food production, quantity, what has been sacrificed is diversity, taste, nutrition, and overall quality.
I am hoping to be a part of the movement for change in our food system. Not only do we need to transition to regenerative practices for a more healthy production of both food and land, but the accessibility of this food to low income communities is also essential for sustainability. Currently, it seems out of reach for farmers to pursue these ethical land practices while also providing food for low income communities. It is hard for farmers to make profit as it is. As I learn more about the business side of things and how farming works in the west as opposed to my current perspective from the east, I become humbled at the challenges to acquire all three dimensions of sustainability; environmental, economic, and social structure. However, C4 farms has something very special: a strong family with diverse skills and assets, passionate about feeding their local community while also striving for a closed loop system by adding their own processing facility, and eventually, a composting facility to complement their regenerative practices. I believe immersing myself in this unique operation will continue to advance me toward achieving my goals. This farm could not have been a more perfect fit in terms of my specific experience and specific interests. The serendipity continues.
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