New Agrarian VoicesLearn about the impressions and experiences of each year's cohort of apprentices in their own words.
Jared Margen, APPRENTICE, Richards Ranch, CA
My Land Ethic
My curiosity in agriculture was sparked by a simple action: breaking bread. Looking back, perhaps my most fond memories from childhood were those dimly lit evenings around a dinner table.
At my grandparents table was an incongruous racket of politics and opinions clashing against the wonderful array of foods lovingly cooked by my grandmother’s hands. If I was lucky, sometimes she would let me help in the kitchen, feel every ingredient in my hands, savor the taste of them before they were to be cooked, put my nose up to every spice jar in the cabinet and breathe deeply. At my aunt and uncles table was the constant flow of family. People coming and going for each meal, my aunt constantly on her feet in order to fill the bellies and souls of the ones she loved. three times a day, we would hit a lull in the daily activities, and all gather around the table to cherish a moment with one another and enjoy great food. Then there were the tables of my own parents. My father’s being simple and quiet, usually preparing the staple dishes we would always eat the days we would stay with him, all made with much care. My mother’s being riddled with emotional intensity, moments of tenderness and critical thought over either a home-cooked meal or take out. All the tables I’ve had the good fortune to sit at thus far in my life have shared one defining factor: They all existed to share food, sustain our lives and bring us closer together. But where does food come from?
As a child growing up in California, I was surrounded by a rich industry of farming that expanded throughout our landscape’s history. However farming was not the most evident in the metropolitan setting that I called home. Agriculture was something that I only viewed from behind a plate of sordid glass. When I was lucky enough to interact with it in a physical sense, I remember the feelings within me vividly. The calmness of walking through a vineyard in the summer evening, a humid sweetness emanating from the vines. The anxiety felt from the overwhelming sound and stench of the feedlots of the Southern San Joaquin valley. The joyful contentment of feeding the pigs on my aunt’s property in rural Washington. There was an understanding forged in these experiences. A knowledge that food comes from somewhere primordial. A place that transcends the grocery store aisles and begins its life within the soil we walk upon. And from that soil, through the unabashedly gorgeous labors of human ingenuity and the natural process, comes something we all need, two to three times a day, to thrive and connect with one another. That’s how my desire for a pastoral life began. Now isn’t that just too damn beautiful of a thing to miss out on?!
From this apprenticeship I hope to gain the hands-on and theoretical knowledge needed to manage an animal farming operation that focuses on building soil health, financial viability, regenerating land and providing communities with the most nutrient dense products for them to share at their tables with the ones they love.
Having grown up in a metropolitan setting, a life in agriculture was something that seemed infeasible. Most interactions we had with an agrarian world were the various pastoral images adorning the products we would purchase at the supermarket, such imagery most likely not reflecting the actual conditions of where that food was produced. We sometimes would be lucky enough to see a farm at work from behind the glass of a windshield as the images sailed by our eyes and then far behind us on the horizon.
In the city we didn’t learn a whole hell of a lot growing up. Sure, we knew a lot about the theoretical, the various dogmas that were hammered into us by an indoctrinating school system. This is Biology, this is how to write a sentence, here is a brief and shallow history of your country. Our parents showed us where to go to buy food, who to call if something was broken, how to use a microwave. There was little given to us in regards to sufficiency, reliance on ourselves, and the integral action of critical thought. We weren’t destined for employment and careers that would require us to know more than how to use a computer, communicate effectively, take orders and maintain soft hands. There was no point in showing us how to clean a carburetor, the difference between 7018 and 6010 welding rods, how to use a chainsaw, build a fence, run machinery, or butcher an animal. In the city there were “guys” for things like that and there was no need to put any of us on the frontlines. I remember thinking as a child that “work” was simply when you put on a suite and sat in some ambiguous cubicle somewhere doing god knows what and that’s what I was destined to do one day. Nothing more, nothing less.
However, inside me I knew that I loved the outdoors. Nature seemed to be the only thing I found solace in. We were lucky enough to have a connection to the land despite our metropolitan circumstance, and my childhood was full of such experiences. I remember picking heirloom apples at my family’s property in the Sierra Nevada of which we have owned for 60 years. I recall walking through a family friend’s vineyard in Sonoma and the humid smell that emanated from the vines. Feeding the pigs and chickens at my aunt’s property in rural Washington. Foraging for wild mushrooms with my father on the coast. All of these cumulative experiences made me feel a deep affinity for rural America and the land. And despite being removed from it in such a defeating way, I always knew that somehow, I would end up working on the land.
Because I did not come from an agricultural background, this apprenticeship has been incredibly informative to my growth as an individual. I will be the first one in my family to pursue a career in agriculture. My mother was an occupational therapist, my father an access consultant and my brother a high school teacher. Although I had spent the two years prior to my apprenticeship working in agriculture, I have felt that working on the ranch has given me the necessary skills in order to get my foot in the door towards upward mobility. Whether is has been working cattle, running equipment, building corrals or moving the herd, I feel now that I have more confidence in my ability with a multitude of skills and can be an asset as an employee at the next operation I work for. Ecology and agriculture are bound together and a shift towards a more regenerative food system is integral to our survival as a species. I hope to take the skills and knowledge I have learned at the ranch and carry them with me for when I hold a position of leadership in the agricultural community. I feel that entering into farming without any prior experience can be a daunting task and access to the resources necessary to succeed can be slim for such individuals. I hope to someday either manage or own my own operation that exhibits regenerative practices, and be able to teach the future generations of farmers how to maintain healthy land, be profitable, and produce the most nutrient dense food there is.
I feel very connected to California, the land which produced me and the land that continues to nourish me. Our agricultural future is integral to the well being of our nation as we are the largest producing state in the United States. Large swaths of acreage such as the ranch, with a rich agrarian history are hard rarer in our state, as population has increased, many of the old ranches and rangelands have been subdivided and developed. It has been such a privilege to be able to work this land and be a part of its history while feeding our local communities the best food possible.
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