New Agrarian VoicesLearn about the impressions and experiences of each year's cohort of apprentices in their own words.
Tianna Aliota, APPRENTICE, C4 Farms, NM
“The Land of Enchantment” is not an understatement. I needed one New Mexico sunset, the very first day I arrived on the ranch, to assure myself that I was in the right place. My dog always seems to adjust to change better than I do, I think this time it was the other way around. All it took was a few home cooked green chile meals and some stories from 4 generations of the Casados, for me to know I was right at home. 8 months ago, I was transitioning into a position that could be uncomfortable, one that would challenge me and allow growth. What I didn’t know was that I was also going to be welcomed into a family that I felt like I had known for a lifetime and be taken under the wings of folks I’d now call my “ranch family”.
I’ve spent a lot of the past 8 months working with my mentors grandpa, Tony, and his brothers, Carlos and Peter, 7th generation ranchers who have a history of family and ranching in the Chama Valley. Growing up in a city in the midwest I often feel I’ve missed out on a big part of the culture and ranching way of life. Tony has always been there to remind me, “Mija, it’s in your blood.” and it didn’t matter where or how I grew up. Agriculture is something I believe is in everyone’s blood, some just have to dig a little deeper to find it. Tony has always been just as excited to hear about my journey into farming and ranching as I am to tell it, as he’d assure me I’m right where I belong. He also leant me a staple of my experience, a book titled “Cowboy Poetry Matters”, one I would go back to often throughout the year. Carlos was always there to share stories of their childhoods growing up in the Chama Valley, act as the history teacher I wish I always had, as well as take me along to cheer on his granddaughters at the high school volleyball games. We’d spent endless days in the Carson National Forest where we summered our cows, fixing fences, building chutes, talking to the sheepherders, gathering cattle and looking out into the mountains sharing our love for the silence and beauty around us. He’d tell me stories about the long days he, his brothers and dad would spend in the forest on horseback, where he shot his first deer, and about how he and his wife, Tess, used to go dancing together every Friday and Saturday night in town.
Amongst working with the older folk on the ranch, I also got to spend time around the youngest. Jacob, 15, Tommy and Jess’s oldest son is a phenomenal bull rider and it has been a privilege to watch him grow over the past 8 months, both in the sport and as a young man. Eli has taken on goat roping, someone I don’t think I have ever seen fail to put a smile on peoples faces. Annabelle is the strong, fearless, and honest young lady of the bunch who puts up with her brothers and other boys on the ranch so well. We shared thoughtful and genuine conversations on horseback together and I cannot wait to see where this life takes her. She says she wants to be an artist and rancher when she grows up.. I’m all for it! Courageous and quiet Augustus, at 5 years old, has an entire blank canvas in front of him that he has so much freedom to paint. Jessica and Tommy have showcased the beauty and value of raising a family in a small town on a ranch.
Springtime in the valley brought a successful calving season of new life and new beginnings for everyone. We spent a few weeks bringing animals home from winter pasture, sorting, branding, testing bulls and hauling the moms back out for the summer. One of the places I’ve felt the most growth in my comfortability level over the past 8 months has been in the sorting pens. I once read that when working with living and breathing animals with low stress handling, the work is 10% physical and 90% mental. I held onto that ever since.
Before I knew it, we were moving water every single morning and evening, learning the ways of flood irrigating and operating side roll sprinklers. To a surprise (or not), I’ve gained a few love/hate relationships throughout the past 8 months. The biggest being with our electric pump that runs our side roll sprinklers. I’m almost certain I speak its language now. Tony and Carlos would tell stories of irrigating those same pastures as little boys with their father, showing me where they’d plant their potato patch and the tremendous change in water levels and weather patterns since.
Then came long summer days harvesting hay as well as delivering to Santa Fe, amongst moving our steers and heifers to fresh grass daily. I wasn’t sure the small bales were ever going to end, but the satisfaction of getting them out of the field is hard to beat. I am grateful to have been able to observe the animals eating fresh grass and growing over the year and now entering the fall and finishing beeves, we meet the fruits of our labor. Soon we’ll be headed back up the mountain to bring the cows home for the winter, it feels like just yesterday we sent them off. I feel blessed everyday to be able to live so closely with the seasons and be so in tune to the changes around me. The elk bugling outside of my trailer every morning is a true sign of fall.
I will take along the wisdom, knowledge, culture and memories I’ve gained to Colorado where I will be able to showcase my work with cattle and land management, as well as challenge myself in new areas such as working with a flock of sheep. I am looking forward to working with a new piece of land and animals while diving deep into a nearby community and collaboration of farmers and ranchers.
My apprenticeship has taught me more than just ranching. I have gained grit, honesty, patience, and a better understanding of what it means to be true to myself.
They say we borrow this land from our children, and I feel gratitude everyday to be able to put my pride and joy into building a better future of land, livestock and livelihood for them. I am grateful for the generations before us who have strived to do the same and passed their values and stories down along the way. During this apprenticeship, I’ve reassured myself that nothing comes easy in life, but little by little, one will go far. Or as the saying goes “poco a poco, se ande lejos.”
Interview with Taylor Sanders, NAP Colorado Manager
Taylor: What does a typical day look like? Is there a general rhythm even if days fluctuate?
Tianna: My day always starts with a few cups of coffee. I like trying to beat the sun up because there’s nothing better than a sunrise and cup of coffee. This time of the year we start and end everyday with irrigating, which varies from side rolls to flood irrigating. There’s usually some fence building or fixing as well as moving cows somewhere in there. We do that on foot, horseback and four wheelers. We’ve been monitoring pastures so we always get a good look at the grass everyday. I’m always sure to catch at least one good story from one of Tommy’s family members everyday, that’s important. Branding season has resulted in gathering and sorting a lot of cattle. Eating a solid 3 meals is important to me and I always look forward to dinner most. Moving water in the evening is the best time to catch a beautiful New Mexico sunset, I’m not sure there’s anything much better.
TS: What items do you always take with you to your work day?
TA: My dog, Rocco. Tommy’s been great about allowing him to hang out unless we’re sorting cattle or something like that. But otherwise, he comes along with everything and keeps up. I will also bring a Leatherman. Right now, definitely a lot of water, gloves, and a hat, too. Also, this time of year, I always have some sort of fruit on me.
TS: Amen, sister, to the fruit part.
TS: What is your favorite place on the ranch?
TA: There’s a place where the property goes over the Chama River, so we have pasture on both sides of the river. One place we’re irrigating right now is on the other side of the Chama. Unfortunately, it’s low enough right now to cross on a four-wheeler, but it is one of my favorite places to go. That river specifically is really beautiful. From what I know, a lot of it runs through private land, so there are a lot of people who come to find places to fish it, so I feel really lucky to have access to it. It’s also where most of our water comes from, seeing the bigger picture, instead of it just coming out of a sprinkler. Seeing where it comes from is very eye-opening. Also, Tommy’s grandpa summers some of their cows up in the Carson National Forest, which is near a little town called Canjilon and we’ve been spending quite a bit of time up there with Tommy’s grandpa helping them fix some fence to get ready to put their cows up there. We also got to build a chute up there near the corral because they got a new semi on the ranch, so they needed something higher up. We got to build the chute with them and spending time up there is incredible.
TS: What do you like to do on your day off?
TA: Gosh, relax. I mean, I say that, but I don’t really relax. I’m an extremely early riser, so even on my days off, I try to sleep in until 7, if I’m lucky. I do have a Sunday ritual, which is that I make pancakes: usually blueberry or chocolate chip. I always look forward to making pancakes. [laughs] I usually try and take a little bit of time to read. I really like to write letters, so I usually write a letter to a friend back in Ft. Collins or family or old mentors. I like to do art, too. I do beadwork.
The nearest town for grocery shopping is Pagosa Springs, so sometimes I go up there, about an hour drive, to do some errands.
TS: Do you listen to music/podcasts while you work? Do you have a song/artist/podcast that gets you through the more monotonous tasks?
TA: I love music. I have a record player and I brought all my records up here. And I love podcasts, but not really while I’m working because usually I’m doing things that I don’t feel 100% comfortable doing without being focused, or I’m working with someone else. My music range, though, is extremely wide. Everything from current music to older music, to classic country, indie folk, rap, reggae. Colter Wall, Hank Williams, Sabine McCalla, The Local Honeys, OSHUN, Selena, Don Williams, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Toots and the Maytals, Charley Pride, The Carter Family, and Wild Child.
TS: How are you getting to know the community around you?
TA: Most of the community around here that I’ve gotten to know are Tommy’s family. A lot of his family lives up and down this road, great cousins, great uncles, great aunts. There’s probably 25 houses down this road that are his family and it has been a bigger community than I’ve been involved with for a while, especially after the pandemic. They have been so welcoming and they seem just as excited to share their side of the world as I am to see it. I’ll get invited over to Tommy’s grandpa’s house one night for dinner, then Tommy’s grandpa’s brother’s house the next night, then Tommy’s the next night. I value getting to spend time with the whole age range.
TS: What is a skill you have learned that you now feel confident in?
TA: Irrigating, for sure. When I first applied for the apprenticeship, there were three main things I wanted to learn: heavy machinery maintenance/operation, stockmanship/herd management, and irrigation. Prior to this, I had experience on a cattle ranch up in Colorado, but we weren’t doing any irrigating. But prior to that, my time was spend up in Ft. Collins on vegetable farms that just pumped from the well and used drip lines. Being from Wisconsin, I wasn’t even aware that people even irrigated, so that was just a big thing I wanted to understand for myself and my own learning to appreciate and value water.
TS: What is something about your job that challenges you?
TA: Learning to work closely with a lot of different people has been a challenge. I’m typically an independent worker. Also, learning to observe more on my day-to-day tasks; the grass, the water, the soil, the animals, the humans. Hence my answer to listening to music/podcasts throughout the day, I am working towards becoming a better observer and listener of the land and animals to help better my land stewardship.
TS: What are you looking forward to in the rest of the season?
TA: Surprisingly, I’m looking forward to haying. I’ve never been on an operation that makes hay and that’s a skill I’m definitely lacking and it can be very valuable on different operations- just being able to work that machinery and figure out that harvest window. I’m also really looking forward to the processing facility that Tommy’s family is building right now. It should be up within the next 30 days and then they’ll be in the process of getting it USDA inspected. Butchering is something I’ve wanted to get better at, as well.
REFLECTIONS AFTER THE FIRST MONTH
During my final year of high school, unsure and afraid of not knowing where I was headed next, I had stepped foot on my first farming operation. Growing up in a home where the terms “local” and “fresh” were never once used, I was longing to grow a deeper connection to the food on my plate while trying to figure out where in the world it came from. It didn’t take long to assure myself that the path I was on to becoming a lifelong learner and steward of the land was the right one. Though I still struggle to put into words how exactly I got here and what agriculture has done for me physically and mentally, Wendell Berry seems to get it right.
“The (Wo)Man Born to Farming”
The grower of trees, the gardener, the (wo)man born to farming
whose hands reach into the ground and sprout,
to h(er)im the soil is a divine drug. (S)he enters into death
yearly, and comes back rejoicing. (S)he has seen the light lie down
in the dung heap, and rise again in the corn.
H(er)is thought passes along the row ends like a mole.
What miraculous seed has (s)he swallowed
that the unending sentence of h(er)is love flows out of h(er)is mouth
like a vine clinging in the sunlight, and like water
descending in the dark?
Agriculture has given me seasons to live with, thoughts to run with and a constant reminder that the light that lies down will always rise again. Being a fearful, anxious and quite unhealthy teen, unaware of how much the food put into my body affected me both mentally and physically, as well as the land, soil became my drug of choice that completely flipped my life around. To feel connected to my food while working with nature, rather than against it, gave me a sense of connection to the land, community and myself that I had never felt before. The land has always held open arms giving me a place to strengthen myself and the environment while offering a sense of belonging. To me, there was no other choice. Agriculture, when done right, is a win, win, win… win, for all. When I look to the ground, the animals and the farmers and ranchers I see work being done to benefit the people, the planet and future generations. There were no questions to be asked if this was the right path or not, and years later I still wake up everyday knowing there is nothing else I’d rather be doing.
During my time at C4 farms in New Mexico I am looking to gain a deeper knowledge on how to ethically manage larger parcels of land and animals while also helping to conserve our wildlife, public lands and water. Moving to New Mexico was a big leap into the unfamiliar, and I look forward to unfolding the new areas of growth here as I continue to put myself in positions of change and new beginnings. Personally, I am hoping this experience will help me get closer to the person I want to be, more patient, unapologetic, fearless and focused, stronger but more graceful.
C4 Farms, New Mexico
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