Paul Neubauer

San Juan Ranch

I grew up in the Parkside neighborhood of Buffalo, New York. Though designed by Frederick Law Olmstead as the first suburb to the city in the late 1800s, my neighborhood now sits squarely in the heart urban Buffalo. I did not grow up with summer trips to my grandparents farm in the country. My upbringing was distinctly urban, and more so, distinctly separated from agriculture.

The story of Buffalo is a tale crucial to how I view my future in agriculture. With a population of roughly 300,000 urban residents, my city still encompasses the same volume of land it did in 1950 when it had 1,000,000 residents. Economic decline and that peculiar brand of subliminal Northern racism called white flight precipitated the massive decline. With failing infrastructure and a meagre taxbase, many citizens of the city live in poverty and with minimal social support. As a consequence, substandard housing and food deserts abound in Buffalo. A food desert is a place where fresh, healthy produce is unavailable. Inadequate public transportation and a lack of private transportation, in addition to the increased expense of fresh fruits, vegetables, meats and other largely unprocessed foods means that many of the impoverished citizens of Buffalo have very poor nutrition.

In my brief time working in agriculture I have worked entirely in the sustainable realm, laboring with farmers and farm managers who believe in growing high quality food naturally and sometimes as in the case of San Juan Ranch, organically. Substantial markup afforded to organic products in the grocery store allows sustainable and organic agriculture to be economically viable. If you make less than $30,000 per year, have to pay $3 for a round trip bus ticket just to get to a grocery store with fresh produce, and are responsible for feeding a family, the chances are low that you are willing to pay $5 for a half gallon of organic milk, or $8 dollars for a pound of organic ground beef. Your other option is to feed your family heavily processed, heavily corn-dependent food. I think that sucks. Every individual, no matter where they live or what their economic status has the right to eat healthy, affordable food produced in a sustainable manner and which contributes to the health of our soil and our bodies.

My work here at San Juan ranch spans the intersection of my beliefs concerning the right of all people to access healthy food and my love of agriculture. My journey to the agrarian life I live now began when I was 17. I didn’t do well in highschool and my mother encouraged me to take time off from school before going to college. During my gap year, I spent several months on my uncle’s cow-calf operation in central Tennessee. My uncle is the only person in my family involved in agriculture. He raises Charolais and Angus cross cattle as a retirement hobby. While my time at his ranch was not the monumental experience it might have been, I was exposed to cattle and to the engaging mixture of discipline, caretaking, self sufficiency, and creativity that is involved in raising livestock.

In the next year I attended Warren Wilson College (WWC), in the Swannanoa Valley of Western North Carolina, where all students are required to work fifteen hours a week on a crew as part of the curriculum. Among many different crews, WWC has a diversified livestock operation consisting of cattle, sheep, swine and poultry. The farm runs an intensive rotational grazing plan, grows corn, barley and hay for animal feed, and operates a small fleet of tractors, tillage and harvesting equipment. It took me a year and a half to figure out I wanted to try agriculture again, but once I joined the farm crew I dedicated myself fullbore and found it to be a life changing opportunity. Immediately I learned how to run and maintain the tractors and equipment, handle the stock, and practice quality, productive animal husbandry, while also developing close working relationships with my peers.

For the next two and a half years all of my free time and a great deal of what should have been my class time, I worked on and learned from the farm. My work also included teaching as the more experienced crew members actively pass on their skills and experience to new students.

In my time at the WWC farm I worked two summer internships with different crews of five other students. In these internships I learned what it means to immerse oneself fully in an agricultural operation. Together, my fellow workers and I endured long days of great successes and great frustrations in equal measure–the pain of losing animals you try to save, and an unparalleled sense of completion that comes from cultivating corn on a tractor for three days straight traveling at .5 MPH in blistering sun and humidity (you honestly begin to see cornrows in your sleep, and much more in a nightmarish way than an idyllic agrarian dream way). I have never felt more fulfilled in my work than when I have spent my entire day outside, worked in concert with my teammates, saw to the short term needs of hundreds and thousands of animals, while considering the long term health of the land and the agrarians invested in it.

I heard about the San Juan Ranch through the WWC farm. Former apprentice, and my current foreman, Martha Skelley is also a WWC farm crew alum and we share many of the same beautiful and formative experiences. However, the WWC farm is an operation financially supported by an educational institution. Despite the many real life, real consequence lessons I learned there, I seek the knowledge and experiences necessary to pursue agriculture as a lifestyle and a successful, independent business. I am committed to an intentional, restorative and community-centered life as an agrarian.

Everything offered by the ranch, George and Julie’s wealth of knowledge and experience, and the community of likeminded individuals at Quivira are in line with my goals. I am privileged to enjoy the support and encouragement of a family who wants me to pursue my passions, no matter how distant from their own, or how little experience they have with my work. My parents dedication to living and loving their city and community in Buffalo lives on in my undying loyalty to my birthplace. More importantly, I want to work as a representative of, and contributor to that section of my community, which is often overlooked and to whom the fruits of gentrification and New Agrarianism seem unlikely to fall.