New Agrarian VoicesLearn about the impressions and experiences of each year's cohort of apprentices in their own words.
Jesse Pinkner, APPRENTICE, Moe Ranch, MT
First Reflections – 2nd Year
When I applied to the New Agrarian Program in January of 2021 I thought I knew what Regenerative Agriculture meant but, in just one year I have learned more than I ever thought possible. Growing up in the Ozarks I always had a strong connection to nature and ultimately it is that love; instilled by my parents that has guided what I now refer to as my land ethic.
It seems to me that in a lot of ways people in general and in agricultural production, work every day to control bits and pieces of nature. Whether we pay to fertilize a tired hay meadow, or work to spread non native grass seed in our front yards for a more uniform curb appeal. We do these things at their core, because nature is unpredictable and we want uniformity and repeatability in our day to day lives. But in practicing regenerative agriculture I am learning about the beauty in the nonuniform.
The way a beaver reroutes the river in turn sub-irrigating parts of a meadow that haven’t seen water in years. The way cattle trample seed heads to stimulate seed banks. And the way soil readily stores nutrients and minerals depending on its microbial and fungal life. These are all ways that nature is unpredictable yet self regulating. All these things nature does and will continue to do with no human input.
Ultimately this has been my relationship with the prairie, mountains, streams, meadows and animals over the past year. As an observant bystander we can learn so much about what our job in agriculture should be; to work with nature not only to achieve our goals but to positively impact the delicate balance of our ecosystem. These ideals have shaped my being over the past year and will continue to shape my future in agriculture.
I grew up in the city of St. Louis Missouri with no background in agriculture at all. The city has always felt a little crowded to me and especially after the pandemic started, I was yearning for more space. However, one thing that I was not expecting when deciding to move to Two Dot Montana (Population 68) with my wife, was just how big of a community I was about to be a part of. Through The Quivira Coalition as well as our mentor’s connections I quickly learned what it meant to truly be a part of a community. And in this case, a community that is genuinely concerned about agriculture’s impact on the environment and what we can be doing to ensure the future of our public and private lands. Needless to say, one of the most profound effects from these past eight months will be the people I have connected to.
Even though I grew up in the city, my parents raised me in the woods of the Ozark mountains. I have always had a strong connection to nature because of them. However, living on the plains of a river valley sandwiched between mountain ranges and national forests has almost completely changed how I see our natural world. Standing outside in the mornings drinking coffee before work you can see the weather and I do not just mean cloudy or not. You can see the snow over the mountains to the south, the rain on the hay fields to the north, and the lightning storms to the west all at the same time, then hours later, the Musselshell river (fifty yards from our front door) starts to rise. Standing in observation of these natural processes as they change the landscape around me has given me an understanding of the way our planet works that I have never had before.
With our mentor Shanes help, I have been schooled on how ungulates have worked in conjunction with this landscape for hundreds of thousands of years. I have been taught how modern agriculture has changed this natural process and not only how, but why we must work to improve upon and challenge “standard” agricultural practices. Working with these grazing animals to manage our land, plant and water resources as one ecosystem has been a core tenant of Shane Moe’s for years now. Soil health for carbon sequestration in the name of the game but, I was unaware of the effect that value could have in a river valley such as this one. This becomes apparent when Shane talks about our land base as a huge “filter” for the entire surrounding watershed before that water enters the river. Shane has told us stories about neighboring producers in conventional agriculture and their surprise and gossip to see the changes being made over the fence at the Moe Ranch. However, it has become very clear to me now that we need more people in food production with this environmental mindset.
In short, in the coming years, I hope to become one of these people. Someone in the food production space that genuinely has a profoundly helpful impact on our environment. I can think of no better way to bridge the gap between what humans need and what the environment we are a part of needs. My wife Leah and I have plans to stay at the Moe ranch for at least another year. This year, we ran an experimental herd of pastured meat chickens for ours and Shane’s family consumption. This next year we hope to expand this operation with new grazing goals to improve soil health around the ranch with an end goal to provide healthier poultry products to community members and possibly some restaurants. I am very interested in exploring how different species of foraging animals can affect soil health on rangelands, hay meadows, and riparian zones.
Shane Moe is a large and small animal Veterinarian, with this in mind I can think of no better place to continue learning and expanding on one of my main goals for next year. Coming into this apprenticeship I had minor experience moving cattle on an ATV but I was never connected to livestock in the way we are here at the Moe Ranch. When we showed up in March we were put in charge of finishing the beef that would fill our freezers in the summer. This instilled a connection to my food that forever changed me. To take care of another living thing every day for the purpose of our own consumption made me have a greater respect for that animal and the food that it provided. Animal health is a core part of what we do here at The Moe Ranch and after these experiences I am eager to expand my knowledge on how these animals function. What makes them sick and how do we treat that, what makes them happy, what makes them anxious, what improves their quality of life and how do we preserve that quality. Stockmanship and animal handling are a part of all of this but what I am curious about goes beyond that and I can’t wait to expand on this in the coming year.
Sometimes things around here go smoothly and according to plan. Sometimes they do not. One day early this fall we had major equipment failure, water infrastructure problems and a massive cattle drive that went to hell all in one day. When I first got here I remember thinking that times like this would have permanent effects, that we may not recover and all might be lost. This caused a lot of unnecessary anxiety and unrealistic expectations when planning out work days. However, on the particular day mentioned above, everything was different. Without even speaking to each other, Shane, Leah and myself all knew exactly what to do. After working with each other long enough it was like we were all in each other’s heads, anticipating what needed to be done and just doing it until everything was good again. By the end of the day, we were having a beer and discussing how well our little team works together and during this conversation it was like nothing bad ever happened. Realizing that there are many different ways to get work done and that it doesn’t alway need to go according to plan has been a big deal. Work can even be more rewarding when you realize that the struggle itself can add a level of accomplishment instead of failure.
All in all this year has been a truly life changing experience. The people I’ve met and places I’ve seen will forever impact the way that I think about life. I don’t say this as a way to end this “chapter” of my life because through all of these experiences this year it has become clear to me just how little I have scratched the surface of this world of regenerative agriculture. I have learned so much and it has only left me wanting more. Being surrounded by great teachers, mentors and peers has overwhelmed me with excitement for next year at The Moe Ranch.
REFLECTIONS AFTER THE FIRST MONTH
My Great Great grandparents bought nine square miles of land in the panhandle of Texas in 1917. This land has been in our family for over 100 years, not only is this place a safe haven for family retreats but it was also where I was able to learn basic cattle ranching at a young age. My grandparents ran a small “hobby-heard” of Black Angus on this property and from them as well as a network of creek neighbors I was exposed to agriculture in a truly inspiring landscape. It was here that I first became interested in agriculture. At a young age I saw how people could rely on themselves and their community to provide food, infrastructure, friendship and family to each other. What more could you need in life? It was always my dream to one day move onto this family property and become a steward like these people I looked up to. As I went through school in the city of St. Louis people left the area around the ranch and it started to seem like I was missing my chance to learn about this way of life. My highschool sweetheart and I got married and thought this would be an impossible way for us to make a livelihood. After graduating college and starting adult jobs in the city we almost gave up hope. That is when my wife learned about the Quivira Coalition and the New Agrarian Program. We applied to the Moe Ranch in Two Dot Montana and after a couple of zoom interviews we realized that this was the place we wanted to learn, live, work and play. We were ecstatic when we found out that Shane Moe agreed.
After the first week touring around the Moe Ranch it was obvious that we had so much to learn from Shane. We were put in charge of the feeding rotation for 450 head of cattle and just like that we were on our way to learning about regenerative agriculture. My goal in entering the NAP program was to learn to be a steward of the land, to take care of the land by running cattle with a holistic mindset. Some of the things that I hope to learn to help me achieve this goal are rangeland management, planning rotational grazing, low stress livestock handling, cover cropping systems and to become more knowledgeable about soil health and its role in our ecosystem. One of the many inspiring things about Shane Moe and the Moe Ranch is that the cattle, grasslands and riparian zones are all treated as an ecosystem. This ecosystem needs to be worked with instead of against. We have monthly meetings with Shane to make sure that we are getting the experience that we need. It is because of this and so many other reasons that I know I can learn the things necessary to be able to achieve my goals for this year in the New Agrarian Program.
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