New Agrarian Voices

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

Susan Elder, APPRENTICE, Charter Ranch, MT

REFLECTIONS 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 become aware of her) around the corner of every plot curve — influencing, inviting, being. To me, Land is more than soil, or the plants that people its surface — it is all of us, we living beings, great and small. We are Land. Even as we observe her, we are her.  Despite or because of my wandering path to Land (or back to her), I feel that I am beginning again where I started, and discovering Land, in all her character, as if for the first time.

I was raised as much by Kansas prairie and farm animals as by good parents. Our family found its way to a small farm outside of Wichita, Kansas, because my father needed space to raise a herd of horses and my mother needed space to raise a herd of children. Some of my first memories are riding on the neck of my father’s horse, coarse mane hair flowing through the grip of my small hands. As an introverted child, I spent a great deal of my time in the quiet companionship of powerful animals and the colorful company of prairie wildflowers. I’m sure I talked to grass and animals much more than people at that age. 

By eighteen, I was restless to see the world (Land urging me to witness her in all her variety? Perhaps). I wandered around Europe working on small farms with my sister and best friend. I returned to Kansas for university, but kept traveling the world through books, literature being the course of study I settled upon. Books led me around the globe, through time, into the minds of countless characters. After all that traveling, I found myself back with Land, studying her through literature. 

I remained in educational environments for a while, teaching this time. After a while, I felt an unmistakable invitation (who could it have been but Land?) to experience our continent. I followed the call to the Continental Divide Trail and due to a detour, found myself living in Montana. The apprenticeship opportunity offered by Quivira brought me to Charter Ranch. 

And so here I am. Back with grass and animals. How did I become interested in agriculture? I guess Land has been talking to me for a while now — I figured it was high time I learned how best to listen and respond. And this is what I hope for my time in this apprenticeship — that I continue to open my ear to Land’s voice, realizing my part in the whole, and learn how to respond with ready hands and heart.

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