New Agrarian VoicesLearn about the impressions and experiences of each year's cohort of apprentices in their own words.
Peter Feehan, APPRENTICE, Seacross Ranch, MT
REFLECTIONS AFTER THE FIRST MONTH
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.
Big Timber, 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.
Tyler Vandermark, APPRENTICE, Indreland Ranch, MTREFLECTIONS AFTER THE FIRST MONTH At 10 years old I knew I wanted to be an engineer just like my grandfather, whose towering presence and infinite knowledge enamored me. There was little doubt that I possessed the...
Susan Elder, APPRENTICE, Charter Ranch, MTREFLECTIONS AFTER THE FIRST MONTH My path to working with Land has been a bit wandering. I’d like to capitalize “Land” because to me, Land is a character. Throughout the narrative of my life, Land has appeared (or I have...
Rex Rutledge, APPRENTICE, Seacross Ranch, MTREFLECTIONS AFTER THE FIRST MONTH In college I jumbled around with a few different majors until I found biology. One of my first courses on my way to my biology degree was general ecology. I was hooked the very first day...
Natalie Berkman, APPRENTICE, Milton Ranch, MTREFLECTIONS AFTER THE FIRST MONTH My experience in agriculture started in 10th grade when I realized the only job I was qualified for was working at a farm stand on the side of a busy road. I started the job with hesitance...
Megan Schmidgall, APPRENTICE, Chauvet Ranch, MTREFLECTIONS AFTER THE FIRST MONTH As a typical youth of this generation I graduated from high school and went to college without knowing specifically what line of work I wanted to pursue. Instead of switching my degree...
Jeane Stafford, APPRENTICE, Shultz Ranch, MTREFLECTIONS AFTER THE FIRST MONTH My initial fascination with agriculture began early on in my childhood. Between my deep love for animals and growing up raising livestock on the family farm in northwestern Oregon, my...
Brady Lux, APPRENTICE, Moe Ranch, MTREFLECTIONS AFTER THE FIRST MONTH Perhaps due to my being dyslexic and as a result a painfully slow reader I still haven’t got through the Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leapold that I started reading when I was a sophomore in high...
Sam Schmidt, APPRENTICE, San Juan Ranch, COREFLECTIONS AFTER THE FIRST MONTH My becoming involved in agriculture began with the hard realization that the assumptions I had made about my life’s trajectory were wrong. I had just finished a one-and-a-half-year stint at a...
Noelle Mcdonough, APPRENTICE, San Juan Ranch, COREFLECTIONS AFTER THE FIRST MONTH There were several forces at play that caused agriculture to find me and encouraged me to apply for the Quivira NAP apprenticeship at San Juan Ranch in Saguache, CO. Growing up in the...
Julia Loman, APPRENTICE, Richards Ranch, COREFLECTIONS AFTER THE FIRST MONTH My interest in agriculture began in the city of Detroit, Michigan, of all places. Fresh out of college, I found myself helping out at a tiny urban garden and learning how to grow vegetables....
Ian Trupin, APPRENTICE, XK Bar Ranch, COTAKE A PEEK INTO THE DAILY LIFE OF AN APPRENTICE BY READING THEIR RESPONSES TO THESE QUESTIONS. What is something you do every day? I let the chickens out, collect eggs, feed them, and shut them in every day. Most of my...
Dylan Jones, APPRENTICE, Sol Ranch, NMTAKE A PEEK INTO THE DAILY LIFE OF AN APPRENTICE BY READING THEIR RESPONSES TO THESE QUESTIONS. What is something you do every day? I wake up on the right side of the dirt, surrounded by beautiful country. What items do you...
DeAnne Gabriel, APPRENTICE, Indian Ridge Farm, COREFLECTIONS AFTER THE FIRST MONTH I am a woman who follows her heart. Every time I feel the pull of something new, I marvel at how lucky I am to get to go with the flow and see where it will take me. From a life of...
Dave LeFevre, APPRENTICE, Indian Ridge Farm, COREFLECTIONS AFTER THE FIRST MONTH Even though it has only been 3 weeks at Indian Ridge Farm it definitely feels like it’s been easily over a month! Every day has been filled with perfectly amazing sights and sounds,...
Christopher Mellen, APPRENTICE, Round River Resource Management, COMy Pursuit of Regenerative Agriculture Happiness It was a dark and stormy night riddled with the sounds of raindrops sprinkling down on the tin roof of the hospital. Muffled screams were heard just...
Charlotte, APPRENTICE, Tooley's Trees, NMReflections after the First Month Before I wanted to be a farmer, I wanted to be a social worker. Understanding people, discovering why they are the way they are was one of my first passions in life. Quickly, I realized...