New Agrarian Voices

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





Jake Dempf, APPRENTICE, C4 Farms, NM

May 2021

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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