Tooley's TreesEight-month Holistic Orchard Management Apprenticeship in Truchas, New Mexico
Margaret and Gordon have trained many young people over the years, and then in 2013 hired a New Agrarian Program graduate for an eight-month orchard management apprenticeship. In 2014, Tooley’s Trees officially joined up with Quivira Coalition as a mentor for the New Agrarian Program. NAP apprentices with Tooley’s Trees will gain skills and experience in all aspects of running a successful tree nursery, including basic soil science geared toward healthy, productive soils; recognizing the difference between beneficial plants and weeds and between beneficial insects and pests;bench and bud grafting; fruit tree and nursery crop production, processing and marketing; drip irrigation installation and maintenance; making, processing and utilizing compost; healthy physical labor employing efficient and safe body mechanics; basic tractor driving skills, including backing a trailer; and a plethora of other skills tied to farming and orchard management. In addition to working in the nursery, apprentices will have opportunities to learn about top-bar beekeeping, vegetable gardening and other homesteading skills.
Meet the mentors
Meet the apprentices
Tooley’s Trees is a family-run, ten-acre tree nursery located in Truchas, New Mexico at almost 8,000 feet elevation, approximately forty miles from Santa Fe and forty miles from Taos. Gordon Tooley and Margaret Yancey, business owners and operators, grow 3000 to 6000 drought tolerant fruit and conifer trees and shrubs in fabric root bags, on drip irrigation, using holistic growing practices that result in healthier plants and soils, higher water quality, and increased beneficial insect populations.
They started the farm from scratch in 1991 on an owner-financed property, clearing juniper and sage acre by acre to create what today is Tooley’s Trees. In the beginning, Gordon and Margaret both worked one or more off farm jobs to pay for the land, develop the infrastructure, build and pay for their home, and develop a wide range of plants for sale.
With a goal of “no bare ground,” Gordon and Margaret emphasize the importance of cover crops: both annual and perennial grasses and forbs to protect and add nutrients to the soil, and provide habitat for beneficial insects. In addition to the nursery, they have built a Keyline Plow and hire out with tractor and plow to other farms and ranches, and they offer regular workshops and classes on holistic orchard management and permaculture practices.
Gordon and Margaret grow many heirloom and uncommon varieties of grafted apples, apricots, plums, pears and cherries grafted on rootstocks carefully selected to match climate and soil types in Northern New Mexico. They believe in selling small caliper trees with well-developed root systems accomplished, in part, through the fabric root bags which allow development of a fibrous root structure. Smaller caliper trees establish more quickly with less transplant shock, and grow more vigorously in difficult sites than large caliper trees.
Their philosophy focuses on reducing impact on the planet and improving land health and resilience. When they disturb a site, it is for the purpose of bringing it out of stasis and improving its ability to hold water and therefore sustain life in soil, plants, wildlife, and humans alike.
Margaret and Gordon run a very progressive farm that departs in significant ways from a conventional operation. They live in a passive solar home that they designed and built themselves, with electricity sourced from (active) solar panels, forcing a keen awareness of everyday energy use. They grow a lot of their own food in a home garden, and preserve food grown in the garden for winter consumption through canning and storage in their root cellar. Ecological concerns, good land stewardship, healthy lifestyles and quality of life are top priorities.
Tree farming and establishing stable landforms through stewardship are Gordon’s vocation. He grew up on the Philmont Ranch in Cimarron, New Mexico and has an Associate’s degree from Colorado Mountain College (Leadville, CO). Before starting the farm in Truchas in 1993, he was a backcountry ranger at Philmont Scout Ranch, a park ranger with Mesa Verde National Park, an estate garden manager in Maine, and an employee of various landscape companies, stonemasons and tree care businesses. He was a nursery manager, has commercially harvested seed and medicinal plants throughout the Southwest and is a certified Permaculture instructor. Gordon currently conducts many plant-related workshops including grafting, pruning and holistic orchard management.
In 2008, Gordon was named Educator of the Year by the New Mexico Organic Commodities Commission. In 2009, he participated in the Forgotten Fruits Summit organized by Slow Foods and RAFT (Renewing America’s Food Traditions). This group compiled information for the Forgotten Fruits Manual and Manifesto, now available through the Slow Foods website. Gordon is the Southwestern US grower-member of the advisory board for the Holistic Orchard Network set up by Michael Phillips, author of The Apple Grower and The Holistic Orchard.
Margaret is originally from Boston, Massachusetts and moved with her family many times while growing up. She studied at several colleges and finally graduated from Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio. She worked in construction for twenty-eight years, mostly as a timber-framer (she designed and built with Gordon, their passive solar, timber-frame home!). In 2007 she devoted herself fulltime to the farm. In addition to planting, weeding, pruning, and selling trees she manages the website, edits the paper catalog and does all the bookkeeping for the farm.
This holistic orchard management apprenticeship is an 8-month, professional training opportunity targeted at beginning agrarians committed to a life and career at the intersection of conservation and regenerative agriculture. The apprenticeship includes hands-on experience in all aspects of running a successful tree nursery, including the following:
- 1. Basic soil science geared toward healthy, productive soils and high-yielding plants;
- 2. Recognizing the difference between beneficial plants and weeds, and between insects and pests;
- 3. Planting bareroot trees in fabric root bags
- 4. Weed control strategies; be forewarned, we do a ton of hand weeding!
- 5. Bench and bud grafting;
- 6. Tree pruning;
- 7. Tree fruit production, processing and marketing;
- 8. Nursery crop production, and marketing;
- 9. Drip irrigation installation and maintenance;
- 10. Making, processing and utilizing compost;
- 11. Healthy physical labor employing efficient and safe body mechanics;
- 12. Basic tractor driving skills, including backing a trailer;
- 13. Basic building skills which might include building high tunnels, reapplying poly to high tunnels, building top-bar beehives, building sheds,fencing;
- 14. Correct use of products to manage disease, weed and insect control in both “conventional” and “organic” farming, with an understanding of why certain practices are used and why certain practices are either harmful or helpful;
- 15. A plethora of other skills tied to farming and orchard management;
- 16. Planting, maintaining (and eating from!) a home vegetable garden;
- 17. Keyline Plow design and implementation.
- 18. Top bar beekeeping
19. Working directly with customers who may need a lot of help deciding which trees to buy
Enthusiasm and a sincere commitment to regenerative agriculture and land stewardship are more important than experience, though experience with trees and/or farm work is a plus.
This is a full-time, intensive education and professional training program, forty-five to fifty hours a week, sometimes more and sometimes less. One of the joys as well as the challenges of farming is living and working with the rhythm of the seasons, and the work schedule follows the demands of season, weather, and nursery needs.
Tooley’s Trees is open to the public on Friday, Saturday and Sunday from late March through early November The apprentice will be assisting customers on those days, and getting time off on Monday, with the rest of the week focused on a variety of tasks on the tree farm.
A typical season on Tooley’s Trees includes the following activities:
- March-April: Bench grafting; greenhouse work; digging stock in in-ground fabric root bags; holistic orchard spraying as outlined in Michael Phillips’ book “The Holistic Orchard”; planting bareroot stock in fabric root bags; pruning trees, starting the vegetable garden;
- April-Nov: Drip irrigation set-up, maintenance and monitoring (understanding the irrigation system is imperative: this one skill alone will make a huge difference to you if you choose to continue in agriculture anywhere in the southwest); moving stock in above-ground fabric root bags; planting home garden; selling stock to wholesale and retail customers; assisting with deliveries in one hundred-mile radius of Truchas; hand-weeding and mulching; composting; insect, disease and plant health monitoring; maintaining (and eating from!!) home garden; assisting with keyline plow projects; fruit harvesting and processing; summer pruning; budding and propagation methods
A number of other activities may be incorporated into the apprentice schedule, depending on interests: tending to the beehives, additional work in the vegetable garden, infrastructure maintenance, research, keyline plow work.
Our busiest time of year is April and May when we are grafting, planting in fabric root bags, pruning, selling trees to the public, starting the vegetable garden. Apprentices will generally work Tuesday through Sunday. Tuesday’s, during slower times in the season will be a day for self-directed study and work on the capstone project. Typically, Gordon and Margaret work alongside the apprentice. As he or she gains skill and experience, he or she will do certain tasks independently.
Spring and fall tend to be the busiest times at Tooley’s Trees. August tends to be a bit mellower and is the best time for apprentices to plan visits with family and friends, plan trips, and schedule educational opportunities. The farm gets busy again in the fall with at-times intensive tree sales in September and October. Apprentices will wrap up the season with final projects in October and November, ending just in time for the Quivira Coalition conference in mid-November.
Gordon and Margaret expect the apprentice to learn much over the course of his or her time at the nursery. An apprentice will ideally show up with the following on day one:
- Willingness and ability to follow directions
- Ability to work well as part of a team
- Enthusiasm about plants
- Curiosity and enthusiasm to learn
- Courtesy and honesty
- Ability to be prompt
- Efficient and energetic work ethic with a willingness to learn safe body mechanics
- Attention to detail
- Willingness and preparedness to work in all weather conditions
Care and appreciation for tools and equipment protocols
Housing: Room and a futon couch that unfolds into a second bed, a fully functional kitchen, electricity, heat, a humanure composting toilet and a shower. Wifi internet is available, although service can be patchy. Apprentices are expected to keep the apprentice housing and area surrounding the Airstream relatively neat.
Stipend: The monthly stipend is determined each year, based on available funding; it is typically around $700 take-home pay. This is paid at the end of each month.
Quivira Coalition Activities: The apprentice is required to attend the annual Quivira Coalition conference, held each November in Albuquerque, NM; conference and hotel fees are covered by the Quivira Coalition. In addition to the conference, the apprentice will participate in an Holistic Management International webinar series geared Whole Farm/Ranch Planning Series. Apprentices are also required to write several reports during their apprenticeship; these reports will go through the NAP Coordinator at Quivira, and be posted on the Quivira website.
Time off: Apprentices will typically get Monday off. Our work pattern follows that of nature; when everything is busy and producing and growing, we do the same. When nature begins to slow down, we also slow down. Apprentices often have opportunities to take additional time off in August to visit family or attend a class or workshop, when the farm schedule can more easily accommodate this time away.
Visitors: Northern New Mexico has a large tourist draw. As a temporary resident, the apprentice may experience that draw through requests for visits from friends and family. The apprentice may also want to express his or her enthusiasm for the program by inviting friends and family to visit. The apprentice should use wisdom and judgment to balance the apprenticeship demands with time available for guests. Apprentices will be asked to discuss visitors in advance with Margaret and Gordon.
Food: The apprentice is responsible for taking care of his or her own food budget, but Tooley’s Trees will provide a small additional monthly stipend for food. Additionally, the apprentice will be expected to put time into the home garden and will in turn have full access to garden produce.
Pets: It will not be possible for the apprentice to have pets during the apprenticeship. The apprentice housing is right on the farm, which needs to be maintained as a place where the public feels welcome and safe.
Drug and alcohol use: No smoking or drugs on the farm. Tooley’s Trees is a completely non-smoking environment. No partying in the apprentice housing. Apprentices are expected to keep the apprentice housing and area surrounding the Airstream relatively neat.
Tobacco use: Tobacco use is generally not allowed on the premises because it can cause plant disease, and would prevent the apprentice from participating in certain activities.
Health Insurance: The farming lifestyle has inherent dangers. While personal health insurance is not required to participate in the apprenticeship program, it is strongly encouraged. The nursery carries Worker’s Compensation to cover injuries incurred on the job. But if the apprentice is injured on his or her day off, gets sick, or has or develops chronic conditions like allergies, these types of issues should be covered by personal health insurance.
Farm Vehicles: All of the farm vehicles are standard transmission. The apprentice will be expected to competently operate these vehicles. Apprentice must have a valid driver’s license.
Personal Vehicle: There are no instances (or very few) when the apprentice would be required to use his or her own vehicle for farm purposes. In order to run personal errands and travel on days off, however, the apprentice will need the flexibility of her/his own vehicle.
Living in Truchas, New Mexico: We like to tell applicants a little about the community and area. Truchas is a small town of less than 1,000 people at the heart of the Nuestra Señora del Rosario, San Fernando y Santiago Land Grant, established in 1752. Our farm is a few miles to the west of the town, at an elevation of 7960 feet, with views of the Truchas Peaks and the mountainous Pecos Wilderness to the east. To the west are the Española Valley, the Jemez Mountains and a view of Pedernal Mountain, made famous by Georgia O’Keefe. Truchas has a post office as well as many art galleries. The nursery is close to several trailheads with lots of hiking trails that lead into the Pecos Wilderness.
For services like groceries, bank, laundromat, restaurants, nightlife, library, movies, Santa Fe (about forty miles), Española (fifteen miles) or Taos (about forty miles) offer the most amenities. Los Alamos is also about forty miles away. All of these towns have interesting histories including Native American and Spanish settlement. A really good book to get an overview of the history of the area is Enchantment and Exploitation by William deBuys.
Applications for 2018 NAP apprenticeships will be posted online in October.
Garrett Sorber (second year apprentice)
My name is Garrett Sorber. I’m 20-something years old and moved to New Mexico from Fort Collins, Colorado. I’ve been working with plants professionally for the better part of a decade now. My first plant/agriculture job was de-tasseling corn. A thankless job in which scores of 6-9th graders walk endless miles through corn that towers above them, removing the tassels from the top of the corn plant. The job was tough. I had to wake up before dawn, pack a lunch for the day, and walk through a jungle of corn. There was just miles and miles of it, hardly did I see another plant within the same county as these fields they were so big. I was utterly fascinated. I spent more time investigating the plants and looking at the varying degrees of difference (there wasn’t much) than I did pulling tassels off these six foot tall plants. I eventually got fired from that job for working too slowly. It was bittersweet. On the one hand I wasn’t going to be able to be surrounded by and study plants. But it also meant that I didn’t have to wake up at the crack of dawn to go slop through the mud and be subjected to corn rash. Not to mention all the residues from the pesticides and fertilizers we as young people were exposed to. Basically, ever since that job I’ve been in the “Green Industry.”
My first job in the nursery trade was not long after my de-tasseling gig. It was working in the perennials department at Alameda Wholesale Nursery. It was a perfect set-up for me at that time. It was there that I was exposed to the vastness of the Plantae kingdom, from ajuga to yarrow, Abies to Xanthoceros and everything in between. If there was a moment in my history that solidified my path working with plants, it was my first summer at AWN. I was surrounded by people that were passionate and knowledgable about plants. They were able to give me answers and were patient with my questions. With those two variables aligned in my favor it was the perfect environment to incubate my growing interest in plants. I realized that summer that I was going to be (in all likelihood) working in places similar to this for the rest of my working life.
I’ve come to learn that nothing beats working outside, coming into contact with the soil and the Earth and helping make the world a healthier place. The way I see it, every time we plant a tree at the farm, we’re sequestering amount of carbon and providing 𝒙 amount of wildlife habitat. Instead of consuming my life away, I help create life and perpetuate good work. Even if I made no money from working with plants, it would still be a worthwhile venture for me. The benefits far exceed any monetary amount that gets placed on it.
I’m from the school of thought that believes our Earth is getting less hospitable for many types of life and that it is directly correlated to human interaction. From rising amphibian death rates, ocean acidification, colony collapse disorder, deforestation, to retreating glaciers, it’s all our fault. It’s certainly not the fault of just one group of people. For instance, it’s not just the fossil fuel industry’s fault, who assured and then reassured their consumers that global climate change was a myth. Even though ExxonMobil has known for over 30 years that the burning of fossil fuels is directly and intimately related to global climate change (https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/exxon-knew-about-climate-change-almost-40-years-ago/, https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/jul/08/exxon-climate-change-1981-climate-denier-funding, https://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/06/science/exxon-mobil-under-investigation-in-new-york-over-climate-statements.html, http://graphics.latimes.com/exxon-arctic/), it’s not just their fault. Nor is it singularly the faults of chemical companies like Monsanto who knowingly and willingly suppress data that suggests their products may not be as benign as once thought (http://fortune.com/2017/03/15/monsanto-ghostwrote-scientific-reports-roundup/). It’s not solely their faults either. It’s my fault, and your fault. We are equally culpable, if not more. We turned a blind eye. We assumed the integrity of these companies and accepted the convenience they provided. As the world burned, we smoked our cigars.
So, since we’re all stuck on this planet and we’re all responsible (especially citizens of “Western” nations) we’ve got an obligation to fulfill. And that, obviously, is to restore the balance that is needed for continued habitation. Furthermore, as plant people (whether we’re agriculturists, gardeners, horticulturalists, agrarians, yeoman farmers, etc.), we have an added and more important role in fighting this global problem. We’ve got to clean up our act and get everyone else to follow suit. If it’s not too late to reverse and mitigate the damage, then we’ve got hope. And the solution to this problem is so basic that it hides behind its obviousness. We need more plants.
Much like the fact that during WWII most American civilian homes had at least some version of a Victory Garden, we currently need a similar frame of mind. If every American home had a garden, think of how powerful that would be in terms of the average citizen. It would be personally liberating and hugely environmentally impactful, in best ways possible.
It’s so easy to do nothing. Life is simpler and a bit less messy when the global environment is omitted from our thoughts. But I beg the question: is it better to sit on our heels and do nothing as oblivion approaches hoping for a miracle to save us? Or, perhaps, is it wiser to take responsibility for our future and guarantee the proliferation of our species? I believe that being proactive now will save us (as humans) from having to make increasingly tougher choices further down the road. That argument, is of course, contingent upon the fact that we’re not at the point of no return. That’s why I’m here at Tooley’s Trees because I have hope that we can solve this problem. And in order to do that, knowledge must be gained from sources that are doing the work that has the highest benefit for the greatest number of species. I’m here to perpetuate that. To learn as much as I can from the pioneers (or sometimes referred to as radicals) who have been doing it for decades. It is exactly like a wise man once asked, “Who will take over the good work?” We, as Millennials, are the new policy-makers, the game-changers, and the tide-turners, so I couldn’t sit on my butt for the rest of my life with my fingers crossed around a rosary waiting for miraculous salvation. I’m here to take over the good work that has been generations in the making, and with any luck pass the torch to the next wave.
Kelsey Pazera (first year apprentice)
I like oysters, foot-rubs, and long crawls in the vegetable field, but enough about me, let’s talk about me. Food systems became a passion of mine because it was an avenue to amalgamate all of my favorite things: people and community, eating delicious and nutritious food, and upholding the integrity and wisdom of nature. I grew up in Colorado with a family who instilled a love for nature in me. Although I was uncertain how my affinity, awe, and wonder of nature would be incorporated into my life path, I always viscerally felt most alive in a natural environment and wanted others to experience this connection.
After High School I had the opportunity to travel. This pursuit essentially led to my fascination of cultural and social behavior. Following my travel experience I attended the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs to obtain a BA in Sociology and minor in Sustainable Development. Near the end of my studies I became fascinated with the social phenomenon of eating food. I began to observe how integral it was to a thriving community to share meals together, especially place-based foods that had unique properties to the region. Further, as social justice continually was an interest of mine, I began to see how local food systems interwove a social and environmental consciousness together. With all of these thoughts incubating and marinating in my mind, I left University ready to get my hands dirty in the field and to use my physical body to calibrate my intellectual and day-to-day lifestyle together.
Following my studies, I worked at Venetucci Farm which was a community based urban farm that was owned by a non-profit. The ideals of the farm were to educate, produce good quality affordable food to the community, to create biodiversity and healthy ecosystems, and to preserve the history and legacy of the farm. The first year I worked as an intern and was baffled by all I was experiencing and learning- I was hooked.
The following year I worked for Pikes Peak Urban Gardens and Ricks Garden Center and Nursery because I wanted to empower other people to grow their own food and to feel like they had access to healthy food. After this educational experience I went back to Venetucci Farm where I was offered a management position and ran the farm while my boss and her family left the country. In total I was at Venetucci Farm three years.
In the midst of all these experiences I became more fascinated with permaculture and whole-systems design which promotes regeneration and resiliency through solutions-based thinking and mimicking patterns found in nature. Further being a lover of all things random and weird, I continued to become intrigued by the vast bio-diversity of plants in all their unique expressions, primarily those in edible form. Our culture has fallen in love with the predictability of the generic rather than the complexity of diversity. This is how I found Tooley’s Trees, a place to explore the vast multiplicity of fruit trees in an integrated system and to learn more about species propagation. Upon a visit to Tooley’s Trees I immediately observed the passion that was present amidst these plant nerds and I knew I wanted to be a part. In my time with Tooley’s I am hoping to gain skills in propagation techniques, plant identification, orchard set-up and maintenance, as well as learning about restoration techniques such as keyline design.
My passion is both personal fulfillment and civic engagement to align reasonable human necessity with the land and community already present. Whole systems design brings healing, both to individuals and to the entire ecosystem. My goal is simple in its complexity: to farm a piece of land as a foodscape and be rooted in the community to offer an alternative view towards food. We are living in uncertain times politically, environmentally, and technologically. Due to this I find myself discouraged and cynical many days by all the present suffering in the world, but poco a poco there is beauty accumulating by people like Tooley’s Trees who are forging an alternative path. All I can ask is what proactive measures am I taking today and what is it I want to stand for in this space that I take up in the world? As Viktor Frankl states, “What was really needed was a fundamental change in our attitude toward life. We had to learn ourselves and, furthermore, we had to teach the despairing men that it did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us. We needed to stop asking about the meaning of life, and instead to think of ourselves as those being questioned by life-daily and hourly. Our answer must consist not in talk and meditation, but in right action and right conduct. Life ultimately means taking the responsibility to find the right answer to its problems and to fulfill the tasks which it constantly sets for each individual.” For myself, I know that farming is the answer.
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