New Agrarian Voices

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

Lukman, APPRENTICE, James Ranch, CO

First Month Reflection

My name is Lukman and I am from a small village in West Borneo, Indonesia. I grew up in a nomadic subsistence farming family. We moved our farm field from one place to another every year and then came back to the same place about every 5 years. But for the last 15 years farming for my family has changed because of the introduction of industrialized plantations for palm oil trees in my village. Almost all the villagers lost their land because they sold their land to the palm oil corporations to get easy money. They didn’t realize after years of operation the palm oil industry would destroy the jungle, the land, the water, our way of life, and our culture. The palm oil companies cleared the biodiverse jungle with all of its many plants, animals, and other biotic communities and replaced it with one single plant: the palm oil tree. Villagers shifted their activities from subsistence farming to working for the palm oil companies. I realized this has to change and that I have a duty to be a part of the change. To do so, I studied environmental studies in college with a hope of learning more about the importance of our environment, culture, and people.

I am interested in agriculture because my people’s way of life, my people’s culture, and my people’s future has been destroyed by industrial agriculture. I want to learn more about the best ways to work with our environment without destroying it. Through my degree, I had the opportunity to learn more about agriculture and different agricultural practices in the U.S. I hope I can continue to learn more about land management, animal management, and cheesemaking through this apprenticeship.

In the future, I would like to go back to my home town in Borneo and help the villagers understand the importance of our environment and our way of life. To do so, I would like to show and teach them what I learned in school, combined with what I learned in this apprenticeship. I would also like to start my own agricultural business. In Borneo, I would like to have a rice field, a tropical fruit orchard and a farm with some small animals such as goats, chickens, and pigs. I would make this a sustainable farm by letting the animals graze under the fruit trees.

This apprenticeship at the James Ranch is so valuable to me because I have the opportunity to see how farming, land and animal management, cheese making, markets and restaurants, and other aspects of sustainable agriculture can all work together successfully.

Final Reflection

What have you learned and gained from this apprenticeship? I am thankful to have the opportunity to experience this apprenticeship program because I gained a lot of new knowledge, new experiences, new skills, met new people, and more. 

Growing up, I always wanted to be a farmer or rancher. When I came to the United States and studied Environmental Studies in college, I had a choice to focus on a lot of different aspects of the environment such as green building, water, or energy. It was natural for me to focus on sustainable agriculture. When I learned about Quivira and their focus on regenerative agriculture, I really wanted to get involved in this program and work with a farm or ranch that had a similar vision, mission, and values about sustainable agriculture. After learning about the artisan cheese business at James Ranch which is owned by Dan and Becca James, I knew this was what I wanted to work on and I was really excited to learn more. 

New Knowledge. Some of the new knowledge I learned throughout the apprenticeship includes how to handle the dairy cows (feeding, breeding, birthing, monitoring, etc.) and also making sure they have their needs taken care of such as food, water, and minerals, particularly when they are moved to a new pasture. Before working with Dan in the field, I didn’t know that minerals are so important for the cows. I also learned that many types of cheese that can be made with cow’s milk. Before this apprenticeship, I didn’t have any knowledge about cheeses, how they are made, or the aging process. All I knew was that I could eat cheese and I like to eat it! With this apprenticeship program, I was able to learn about the process of cheese making straight from the cow’s milk to the making the actual cheese to selling the cheese to the customers. 

New Experiences. One of the best new experiences I had in my apprenticeship at James Ranch was learning how to interact with the animals, becoming comfortable with the animals, and gaining their trust so they became comfortable with me too. At James Ranch, one of their main focuses is low stress animal handling. So, it is important to interact with the cows and get to know each one of them individually. I really like how James Ranch gives each cow a name. This makes it easier to get to know them personally and behaviorally. It also allows the workers to share information about certain cows by calling them by name. Another thing that was amazing about this experience is that I had the opportunity to taste and eat the cheese resulting from my hard work. I love to cook and experiment with recipes and flavors, so this part of the apprenticeship was very satisfying. 

New Skills. I also learned a lot of new skills during the apprenticeship program. One of the most important skills I learned, of course, is how to make cheese. Other skills I gained include animal care, how to operate farm tools and equipment, business planning and financial aspects of farming, and how to act and interact with others around the workplace. When I lived in Indonesia, I worked at a U.S. company for one year, however, this is the first time I have worked at a U.S. company in the U.S., so I am also learning about U.S. and Colorado culture. 

Meet New People. James Ranch is a family business that is run by three generations of the family members. In this apprenticeship, I had the opportunity to get to know all of the family members of James Ranch which was has been wonderful. Besides the artisan cheese operation, other operations on the ranch include grass feed beef, the restaurant, the garden, chickens (eggs), pork, market, and flower business. The opportunity to get to know all of the family members and their businesses is so valuable for me because I would like to learn more about how all the businesses work together. I hope someday I will have my own family business.

Where do you see yourself taking what you have learned next? 

After this apprenticeship program ends, I would like to stay and work at James Ranch. I would like to learn more about all the business, how they work as a whole, and how the family makes decisions based on what is best for the entire enterprise not just one person or one business. Also, I want to learn more about how the businesses work together to create sustainable, environmentally friendly products, and how James Ranch supports the local community. 

In the long term, I would like to someday to have my own farm either here in the United States or in Indonesia and grow vegetables, have a fruit farm, and raise pigs, chickens, and maybe beef.

What were some of the highlights for you in the apprenticeship? 

Some of the highlights during my apprenticeship were seeing the baby cows born; getting close/attached to the cows; being able to have physical contact with the cows when I moved them between pastures and to/from the milking station; caring for the calves; making cheese and also eating and selling the cheese I made. It is a great feeling to sell cheese that I know is very high quality and made with care. 

Other highlights for me were the team work that Dan, Becca, Taryn, Brianne and I developed working together every day through fun times and also hard times. I also really respect the leadership that Dan and Becca showed us. They really take the business seriously and they are very focused on the dairy and cheese making business so they do not get distracted. They are both good at training people and giving us feedback; they are good communicators, good mentors, and very nice people. They care deeply about the animals, the land, their products, their customers, their workers, etc. They are great role models as leaders and business owners and I am lucky to work with them. 

What were some of the challenges?

Some of the challenges during this apprenticeship include not knowing what to do during my first couple weeks of working and losing cows at birth. Getting to know the cows was also sometimes challenging because each of them has a different personality and some of them were very young. Sometimes actually getting cows into the milking station was hard because the cows might be kicking and shoving each other, scared because especially the first-year mama cows had never been to the milking statin, and they also are sometimes pooing because they got nervous. But probably the hardest part for me was when we lost a cow due to Staph which is when bacteria in the cow’s milk is too high so it is not safe to consume. Dan and Becca’s cows do not take antibiotics, so there is no cure for this and if a cow gets it, we have to send the cow to the slaughter house. This is heartbreaking, especially if it was a cow that I got close to.

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