New Agrarian Voices

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





Leah Pinkner, APPRENTICE, Moe Ranch, MT

May 2021

Agriculture has been calling my name for many years. I wasn’t ready to hear it until about a year ago. I don’t think I became interested in agriculture, more than I realised it. Coming to agriculture, I believe, is the culmination of the skills and natural aspirations of my life. I think this begins with my childhood love for cooking, nourishing, and independence. I grew up in the suburbs of St. Louis, Missouri, and had few encounters with nature. I always felt a natural importance for the Earth and all the life it harbors, but was taught to be afraid of the outdoors.

I met my husband when I was 14, and we’ve been together since we were 16. He comes from a family of biologists, playing in the local creeks as a young boy, and learning about nature through reverence. He is the reason why I am no longer afraid and anxious. My natural affinity for biology became tangible through going on hikes together, picking up turtles, and riding a gentle horse named Murphy the first time he took me to the ranch. You’d think I’d be sold on agriculture by now, but that is not how this story goes.

We went to college together, took every chance we could to get away and go to the ranch, and secretly dreamt of making a life there. I studied Biology, and wanted to do something good for the planet as a career. I loved my labs, and working with my hands, so my goal was some form of conservation and plant science. I got an opportunity to do 2 weeks of undergraduate research in the field, taking data on grapevines in California for a project funded by the National Science Foundation. During my 2 weeks, we got to take field trips to a grapevine nursery, and to Fresno State Grape Day. I consider Grape Day to be the most important agricultural experience I have had. At grape day, farmers, those in industry, and scientists came together to give presentations and learn from each other. However, it was clear that these farmers needed help and wanted to learn, but the biologists there had no answers to give. I was frustrated. A career in agriculture was still not in sight.

Choosing a path in life has been a journey. After college I joined a microbiology lab to get lab experience, and there I enjoyed identifying and learning about unknown bacterium. I then joined the lab who was heading up the NSF project I went to California to help with. There, I helped to build a field site, and contribute to a project studying candidate species to be bred for perennial crops. I loved field days, and caring for the plants, but felt this progress was slow and questioned how much the producers who would one day grow these plants and the importance of the soil were taken into account. This is when I learned about the NAP and regenerative agriculture. I finally heard it, agriculture calling my name. I spent my hours working alone in the pandemic voraciously listening to books and podcasts on regenerative agriculture and preparing to apply to the NAP.

We found a perfect match. Our mentor, Shane, is an amazing teacher who is also committed to growing and learning along with us.

What I hope to gain from this apprenticeship is the capability to graduate from the program feeling confident in our abilities to maintain our own herd, tend the family land responsibly, and create diverse and thriving enterprises and ecosystems. We have been on our mentor ranch for 2 months now. I feel like I am becoming the person I am meant to be, and am in awe every day. I will forever be grateful that the NAP and Shane encouraged and supported 2 kids from the city with no real experience to have a shot.

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