New Agrarian VoicesLearn about the impressions and experiences of each year's cohort of apprentices in their own words.
Tarryn Dixon, 2nd Year APPRENTICE, James Ranch, CO
Reflections on Regenerative Agriculture
“Give back what you take.” That is my general thought when contemplating the concept of regenerative agriculture. Meeting new people, a common question asked is: “What do you do for a living?” For the past two summers I have felt very lucky to give my answer. “Milk cows, make cheese.” Short and sweet, and that’s about all people care to know. As awesome as that answer is, there is so much more to it. Being part of the James Ranch has provided an all-encompassing learning environment for regenerative agriculture, culinary science, and dairy operation. I knew I wanted to step out of the restaurant world and into farming to create good quality food, but by becoming involved with organizations like Quivira, HMI, and the James Ranch, I know that to feel successful I have to also pay attention to the land I am working on. Not only am I learning the ins and outs of running a dairy, but also how to reverse and prevent desertification in a semi-arid landscape, sequester carbon from the atmosphere and put it back in the soil, and to educate the public about effects of climate change on our world. For me, all those parts come together through the humane animal practices encouraged here to make what I consider to be my personal land ethic in regards to agriculture. I hope to take what I learn here and continue down the path of not only taking what we need from the land and soil to create great food for people, but always remembering to give back to the land, to strive for improvement and for a healthy future.
My second season as an apprentice here at the James Ranch is coming to a chilly end. Milking has become a struggle in the last weeks. Different from the struggles of spring which was full of skittish new milk cows and worried mommas. The mornings have been frigid, and keeping the milking equipment going without freezing up has been tough. Cold hands are rough to keep moving. Even with the struggles, I find myself feeling calm and patient with the process. Slow cows and slow milking are just part of the season. That is something very new to me. Patience doesn’t come easy. Long days and hard hours can wear you thin; but consciousness of my attitude this season has helped start to change that. Laughing at a goofy cow, joking with a coworker as plumes of steam burst from our mouths have turned into a common occurrence in the milking parlor these cold mornings. By the end of my first season here I was worn out. Not sure if this was something I wanted to do with my future. This season feels a lot different. As a whole it was a totally different experience. Having another apprentice to share the experience with was a wonderful addition. Last season felt full of little epiphanies and ah hah moments with the amounts of time I spent alone. It was also full of a sense of being constantly overwhelmed and not helping enough. Too many questions and uncertainties.
This season feels more about teamwork and learning to communicate, work together, and of course be patient with one another. There is a new confidence in myself and a pride about the work we do. Last season felt like a whirlwind that I couldn’t slow down enough to grasp the whole idea of the good going around here. I was happy to move and milk cows last year, and especially happy to make cheese. But I didn’t feel I truly knew why we did things the way we do. Now as I walk out to move cows I find myself taking the time to observe the pastures and grazing patterns of the cows. Feeling that extra ten minutes spent at work totally worth it to understand more the value of land stewardship. This season videos went all around the internet about animal abuse in large scale dairies. Although terrible to watch and sad to think about, those helped to cement in my mind that people are going to drink milk and eat cheese. And that animals are going to continue to be mistreated but I want to be apart of the other side. The ones that care about their animals and treat them the best they can as they work hard to give us delicious food. To let them eat grass and live outside and help heal the soil instead of spending their lives on concrete floors filling lakes full of manure behind the barns. Watching our products be created from the soil up means to much more to me in this way. I know the soil is happy, the cows are happy, and our customers are happy from the milk they drink, cheese they eat, and burgers they devour. (Even though I am sad dairy cows sometimes go to butcher, what a better way to honor them by creating a delicious meal with their meat?)
It’s not to say this season didn’t have it’s challenges. Personality clashes and misunderstandings can make for an awkward and tear filled meeting. (I’m a crier.) Putting feelings out there though I have learned are the best way to solve problems and I feel I have matured in my communication skills quite a bit. We also lost 9 cows this season. Putting an economic and emotional stress on things from the very beginning. It’s very easy to blame yourself for loss, and I found myself crying myself to sleep every night for a week at the beginning. Death is a hard subject for me. Whether it’s family, a dog on TV, or a milk cow lost to milk fever it haunts my dreams. My challenge in this industry is going to be to deal with that. The thought of sending a cow to slaughter makes me sick, even though I eat the meat. I plan to come back to James Ranch as an employee next year. I want to continue learning about animal welfare, cheesemaking, and land stewardship. I hope to have my own operation on a small scale in the next 10 years, as long as I can learn to deal with the life cycle and the fact that animals die. Sometimes by our own hand.
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