New Agrarian Voices
Mitchell Robert, APPRENTICE, Ranney Ranch
First Month Reflection
There are three core values that have led me to become an apprentice at Ranney Ranch: increased access and awareness to healthy foods for all as a right, not a privileged; sustainable and holistic land and animal management, and my love for working in the outdoors and with nature. These values are a product of the culmination of my experiences to date.
My introduction to agriculture and food systems began when I was eleven when I started spending the summers working on my uncle’s ranch in Eastern Washington, a cow calf and grain operation. Initially my duties were to move sprinklers, build fence line, paint buildings, paint more buildings, oh and then paint some more buildings. Slowly my responsibilities evolved into working more with the cattle and operating different tractors. As I grew up and moved to Seattle to go get my bachelors in mathematics, my summers were spent elsewhere but my time spent on the ranch sparked an interest in agriculture and an understanding of what large scale agriculture looks like. During my time in Seattle my desire to work with food never left and it inspired me to become involved in community garden spaces and to work on urban farms. The continued exposure to different types of food systems inspired my decision to join the Peace Corps as a food security volunteer in Nepal.
When I was in Nepal I experienced first hand what it takes to be a subsistence farmer and how it changes your values. When you rely on the land to feed you and not the grocery store, your relationship to food and land shifts. You feel far more connected to the land and the food you eat and appreciate and value where it comes from and the work it takes. The reality in America is different then Nepal, where eighty percent of its population are subsistence farmers. Here people have become disconnected from where their food comes from but by promoting local food sources and educating people on what proper food systems look like, we can attempt to appreciate our food more like the people of Nepal.
When I returned from Nepal I wanted to continue to learn more about food production. This led me to rural Virginia where I worked on a five acre organic vegetable farm that directly sold its produce to farmers markets in Washington D.C. There I gained more intimate knowledge on how to grow healthy food and learned the challenges that small farmers face in order to stay financially viable. From there I decided I wanted to come back out West to get back out in the big open spaces. Fortunately, I was accepted as an apprentice at Ranney Ranch.
Ranney Ranch is situated in historically vast grasslands with incredible diversity, but due to overgrazing and systemic drought these grasslands are being choked out by junipers and have seen a incredible decline in animal and plant diversity. Fortunately, Nancy and Melvin are doing their part in trying to regenerate their land. With changes in grazing patterns and with attention and care, they have began the process of returning the land to what it used to be. When I went to visit the ranch I stood along a fence line with Melvin; on one side was Ranney Ranch on the other their neighbors. It was in this moment, seeing the stark contrast in dense, resilient and diverse grassland to the dry and brittle land, that I knew I wanted to be a part of this process.
I hope in my time at Ranney Ranch I can absorb as much knowledge and wisdom from Nancy and Melvin as possible and learn to live the realities of what it takes to make ends meet while keeping proper land and animal management at the forefront. I am inspired by my mentors and thoroughly look forward to working with them and getting to know them better over the next eight months.
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