New Agrarian Voices

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





Jennifer Kieffer, APPRENTICE, Land of Grass Ranch, MT

May 2021

I vividly remember the moment I became interested in agriculture.  In one of my high school classes we read a chapter dedicated to the positive and negative repercussions food production can have on the environment.  At the end of the chapter we were tested on those facts and then the class moved on.  However, I never moved on.  I was stuck.  I kept finding myself glazing over the rest of our readings only to return back to that one chapter on agriculture.  As an environmentalist, I had just come across a subject that was the classic glass half full, glass half empty situation.  It crushed me to think that everyday the majority of the food we ate stripped our planet of its healthy soil and emitted so much CO2.  On the other hand, though, never had I felt so optimistic that improving a system could help us turn the tide in our environmental battle.  From that moment on, I have dedicated myself to studying and working in agriculture. 

Because this apprenticeship is my most serious dive into learning to produce food, I have more goals than are probably possible to ever achieve in a handful of months.  Some of my goals are practical.  I want to learn to back a trailer better.  I want to improve my grass identification ability.  Some of my goals are conceptual.  I want to truly understand low stress livestock handling.  I want to understand the numbers that it takes to run this specific ranch and what needs to be kept vs culled to hit those numbers.  The list continues.

While I am excited to tackle my practical and conceptual goals, my top goal is a mental and emotional one.  During my apprenticeship I hope to expand my horizons and open my mind to agricultural practices that I am unfamiliar or uncomfortable with.  When I began my journey with agriculture, my views on what was a “correct” or “environmentally friendly” agricultural practice were very narrow.  The answer seemed black and white.  Those producers using “bad practices” were wrong and getting them to stop would fix everything.  I understand now that my initial views were ignorant and naive.  Sure, there are harmful practices, but one must be hugely cautious before making a blanket statement that something within agriculture is all bad.  A seemingly bad tool or practice could be alright, or even helpful, when used in the correct situation.  It feels silly typing something so obvious now, but I am encouraged by the fact that I have already grown from where I started.  Living in north, central Montana places me among people who do not always have the same environmental views.  Encompassed in my goal of expanding my horizons is really getting to know those I might not agree with and trying to learn something from everyone I meet.  So, while I am excited to work on my trailer backing, I am really thrilled to continue working on opening myself to new agricultural ideas.

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