New Agrarian Voices

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

Peter Feehan

2nd Year Apprentice, B Bar Ranch, MT

1st Year APPRENTICE, Seacross Ranch, MT

2nd Year Apprentice
B Bar Ranch, March 2021

What do you know now, that you wish you had known when you started your first year?

I wish I would’ve known how to more fully interact and engage with my world. The first is the primary role of the apprentice, and a result of his or her past: the only adequate response to ignorance is to ask questions. What is my relationship to each piece of the world of which I’m a part, and where do I stand within it? How do I ask questions that get to the heart of what I’m curious about, while at the same time resonating with my questionee in their own plane of existence and comprehension to better tease out their thoughts and understandings? And then, engaging: how do I act within this world and in what manners? What effects do I expect to have on my world, and what effects do I ultimately produce or influence? 

Are any of these things that I could’ve known at the beginning of my first year apprenticing, or even now? No. Instead, I came to realize through my apprenticeship that these are questions I need to be asking all the time. They are essentially for making the most of my time as an apprentice, and for everything that comes after.

REFLECTIONS AFTER THE FIRST MONTH
April 2020

I am certain that I am dedicating my life to agriculture. The specifics of this, however, are still unknown to me. I would like to have a regenerative farm or ranch. Where do I want to live? What type of operation do I want to have? What knowledge do I need to make this possible? These are the general questions that I am asking myself as I move toward realizing this vision and that have been guiding my work in agriculture.
Cliched though it may be, “Agriculture is a way of life” still rings true: when you work on and for the place that you live, it becomes impossible to separate the personal from the professional. Only with some answers to these things can I begin to see my own potential place as a resident and agrarian of that location.
That is the broad vision for what I want to get out of this apprenticeship and its relationship to my long term goals. But much specific knowledge is needed for me to have a regenerative agricultural operation of my own, knowledge that can only come from hands-on experience and mentoring. What does properly managed grazing look like for this land and climate in order to encourage soil and native plant health? What is the process for running this financially-sustainable operation? Through this internship I hope to learn the answers to as many of these questions as possible. I don’t expect to be able to turn around and apply this gained knowledge directly to my own future operation because of the importance that location plays into proper regenerative agriculture. Some things, like financial planning, fall more in the realm of hard skills that can be reapplied elsewhere, but the specifics of something like making those finances work, such as finding markets for potential products, is far more site specific. With knowledge and training such as that, I hope to learn how it has been successfully applied by my mentors so that I can apply it myself.

FINAL REFLECTION
November 2020

It strikes me how much these days flow into each other: here, now, the grass is gold, the mountains purple, and the snow on each a near-blinding white; as soon as the snow fell and the temperature dropped, I felt as if I had never left winter, or that it bore a familiarity deeper than the goosebumps on the surface of my skin could know—and yet when I think about where I am I see the green ranges of June grass as clear as if they still stand. It isn’t that I wish time would stand still or feel that it has—rather the opposite, like I am being pulled along as I work to find a footing, as if dragged along by some force outside myself. 

It may be the disorientation of entering this new life and so fully immersing myself in everything it entails; certainly the skillset required is alone more than enough to occupy my mind day in and day out, and still there will be something novel to learn, something my hands have not felt before. And yet, asked what I’ve learned I would struggle to answer. Certainly at times it feels as if everything that I could still learn outweighs everything that I have, but I find that often at these times I’ve forgotten that I was not always where I am today: the green grasses of early summer mature to fall stalks quicker than the eye has the patience to watch. It is too easy to get pulled along one task into the next, each flowing into each, night giving way to another day and then it is November and the grasses are covered by snow.

And yet, at the same time I feel within myself the pull of the horizon: that I could travel eastward across the grasses of these plains and reach that precipice, and fall headlong off it into the sky; to the west, I find the way barred by mountains, now snow-covered again. Whichever way I turn, I feel myself drawn by that inexorable desire to “go always a little further,” as if there is an answer to my questions and struggles which could be found if only I were to push onward. 

Caught in the whiplash of these simultaneous urges—searching for what has been and longing for what could be—I find myself struck dizzy and immobile, unable or unwilling to act, instead carried along by the urges and actions of those around me. It’s not so much that I’ll go whichever way the wind blows as it is that I’ve tried to fit myself into what already is: the relationships of plants and animals, of people with both and with each other. Who am I to insert myself and my desires? Is that not the role of the apprentice: to observe and, at most, to assist? 

Perhaps in part; but even—or, especially—in standing outside the relationships I try to observe, I find myself influencing them: the grass bends under every step of my feet, the cattle react to my presence even when I try to stand to the side. They are more aware of my presence than I am, and in simply being around them I influence their movement and actions. I am in this encounter whether or not I understand my place in it. Awaking to the fact of this position, I must decide: do I now step forward and see how the cattle respond? 

Though continuously conflicted, I cannot be passive anymore: I refuse the regression of a purely historical approach to living, and yet find myself digging my heels in against the constant pull of progress. It’s not stasis that I want, but some balance between these orientations—I am, as I understand myself, already a product of their relationship. The question now becomes one of how to live and learn in a manner in keeping with this vision of myself. I don’t expect to find an answer or solution to it; I can only hope that I will continue to approach it through continuous engagement and reassessment. As long as I do, 

 

I find myself searching for patterns

in the windblown grass—when the cattle

defy my attempts to herd them together,

each going her own way to look for

fresh grass, or her calf, I curse them

and their mothers, too; but 

they get over our disagreement 

quicker than I and they gather

in a pulsing mass of bodies moving

in and out, with me trailing behind,

agape and listening, like a 

sleeptalker awoken by his own reply to a dreamt 

order, unsure if the conversation was real: 

I hear a voice come out of my mouth

that I do not recognize—a scream of desperation

 

came from the sick and dying bull fighting 

the needle and the medicine 

going under his skin as he lay in the shining snow

which was falling faster from lowered clouds

white above white ground, the hills and horizon around me

now gone—dizzy and blind in a new terrain

 

the calf stumbles, still wet from his birth, searching

for his mother’s warmth but never to find it

whole again: his own warmth now to provide

in the cool May morning as I shuffle them

out of the corral where through long nights

we awaited his arrival; you nuzzle up to 

the wrong leg, my friend: I am not your mother,

though I care for you, too. Nurse from her

when you can; for now, we carry on.

 

p

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