New Agrarian VoicesLearn about the impressions and experiences of each year's cohort of apprentices in their own words.
2nd Year Apprentice, Two Dot Land & Livestock, MT
1st Year APPRENTICE, Indreland Ranch, MT
2nd Year Apprenticeship
Final Reflections on the Second Year
My first year of apprenticeship through Quivira was also my first encounter with regenerative farm and ranch management. It was overwhelming in the best possible way, opening my mind to greater possibilities and challenging my curious scientific brain. I learned everything from basic ranching hard skills to the complexities of soil to what goes into decision making on the ranch. To say it was merely professional development, as I had expected, would be to do a disservice to Quivira. I befriended some of the most incredible individuals, was graced with the best mentors I could have asked for, and found a place that I can truly call home, both intellectually and emotionally. When I signed up for a second year’s apprenticeship I expected much of the same. I was to remain close to the community I had become a part of, and in my mind, I was to continue tracking a linear upward progression in my abilities as a regenerative producer. Oh, but if it were so simple. Looking back on this second year I see that it has been dominated by learning of self.
One area I have continually struggled with is how to manage working relationships. My father used to quip with a grin, “I don’t play well with others,” in reference to disagreements he would have at work and his tendency towards working alone. While an incredibly capable man, interpersonal relationships are not his strong suit. As they say, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. In part, I believe that to be one reason I find ranching attractive. The hours and hours working alone amongst the natural world, a world that you don’t have to explain yourself to, where your existence is simply enough and the only plan you are compelled to follow is your own. However, despite the isolating nature of this type of work, it is still very much a team sport. This season I had a reckoning. It is not enough to simply play a passive role and accomplish the tasks assigned to me. I must take an active part in building positive working relationships. Sometimes that means investing a greater degree of emotion and outward energy than otherwise would normally be expended. This is especially true in ranching, when your coworkers are also your neighbors and something close to family. I am grateful to this work for challenging me to be an active and positive coworker and friend.
I experienced a lot of frustration with my work this year. This frustration stemmed from my own perceived lack of ability. It seemed I was terrible at everything I was doing. Why won’t this horse back up when I ask? And the things I thought I knew how to do before were not getting any easier, only more and more complex. How was I supposed to know that’s where you wanted me to take the lead? This went beyond work-related activities. I began to even discourage over what I did in my free time. That fly perfectly matches the one I caught, and I’m running it right where it should be! My mentors pointed out that this is a good thing, an observation I received with no small incredulity. Over the course of the summer, however, I came to realize the wisdom in this position. Learning keeps a mind active and thwarts human tendency towards complacency. The healthiest, happiest people are lifelong learners. This I knew in some part but there is a nuance to learning that I had yet to discover. First, I shouldn’t be too hard on myself as a beginner. Everyone, even the most skilled individual I know, was a beginner at some point. Second, there’s no need to be an expert to enjoy something; rather, leverage some of that newfound patience to start to see the excitement in every little step along the way. And finally, the more I dive into a subject the more I will discover how little I know. This is what keeps life interesting, what satisfies that over-sized, overactive thinking machine in our noggins. While these points may seem obvious to some, I needed someone to teach me this. I am grateful to my mentors for the profound impact they have had on my daily outlook with this simple bit of wisdom.
One fortunate development this year was my cohort of friends that sprang from a combination of proximity and a bit of luck. I affectionately refer to us as the Big Timber Boys. Our favorite activity is to spend a Saturday night playing music, which means grilling burgers and talking into the early hours of the morning. One recurring topic of conversation is how to reconcile leading an agrarian lifestyle in an industrial economy. This conversation takes many forms. Sometimes it is a debate on compensation, be that pay, accommodations, or otherwise. The fact is, agricultural workers, and even the owners themselves, are often paid low wages and living below what many would consider comfortable. Sometimes we discuss the hours, which are often long and seemingly erratic. Other times we talk about not only experiencing physical isolation, but also the sense of isolation from common society. But when we get right down to it, we always come back to the same argument: leading an agrarian lifestyle is about the intangible. While cash poor, we are rich in other ways. Like an autumn sunset blazing its afterglow over the Crazies; the seasonal rhythm of ranch work that slowly negates any need of an alarm clock and brings your body ever closer to its natural place; a special bond shared with a working horse or stock dog; the honest fellowship of friends and neighbors born of common struggles and celebrations. I admit over the past two years I have often wondered whether I was being taken a fool for living my life this way. But I know now, there is no greater way of being. I am grateful to the Big Timber Boys and all our midnight oil burning for helping me to answer these imperative questions.
The self-awareness and personal growth I have experienced during this year have left me a better, more capable person. I also now have a clear idea of what I value in a future career: to practice regenerative ag and heal the land, dive deeper into traditional knowledge of all types, and build strong, healthy communities. Which leads me to the most powerful thing I have learned this year: I learned to be grateful. I am grateful for these amazing apprenticeships I have been afforded, the wonderful organization that is Quivira, all the supportive individuals that have guided me along the way, and the man I have become.
What do you know now, that you wish you had known when you started your first year?
I found Quivira through a stroke of blind stumbling luck. Ecstatic to have found a community of like-minded individuals, I became completely absorbed by this microcosm harboring so much creativity and progress. But in the confined and idle days of winter I began to rub elbows with the local community at large and was jolted by the reality of just how minuscule the regenerative cohort is. It occurred to me that I had been dismissing the knowledge and experiences of my “conventional” brothers and sisters. They have much to share, from unintentional affirmation of regenerative methods to hard-earned generational wisdom tucked away in legends of the old-timers. Stepping beyond social pleasantries and opening up honest professional dialogue builds trust and unity. It is together, with open hearts and minds, that solutions to the world’s greatest challenges will be developed. Solutions that work for all creatures of the earth, all mankind. I wish I had not just known but truly understood this from the start. I now remind myself to step out of the echo chamber and strive always to grow in the same way I desire the land to grow, for that is what brought me here in the first place.
REFLECTIONS 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 calculating mathematical brain and mechanical aptitude that are the hallmark of such professionals. I pursued that dream through two and a half years of college before it was deflated. I was a young man with wildly varying interests and an eclectic skill set. I felt unfulfilled in my studies and the prospect of my future career left me with a hollow feeling. A run of hard luck around this time plunged me down into one of the deep valleys of life.
The great thing about valleys is that once you reach the bottom there is nowhere to look but up. Standing there in my valley I searched for purpose through self-reflection. This brought childhood memories of toiling in steaming gardens covered in dew, raising mud covered and happy hogs, collecting brown eggs that yielded deep orange yolks, perusing vibrant farmer’s market stalls, and pitching sweet smelling green hay. Likewise, long-repressed voices of those who influenced my parents in their homesteading and farming endeavors (among them old farmers, Joel Salatin, and the folks at Mother Earth News) bubbled to the surface.
I have always been ideologically opposed to the current corporate commercial agriculture paradigm and therefore never seriously considered a career in agriculture. I could not in good conscience contribute to the erosion of our planet and demise of small family farms. However, I realized that by entering the field of agriculture I could do all of the things that I loved while actively working to shift the mindset of today’s producers, resulting in a positive impact on the industry. I had found purpose in my life and felt a fire in my gut like I had never felt before. This realization led me to switch academic gears and finish with a degree in animal science where I gained working scientific knowledge and insight into the form of agriculture which I wished to change.
Upon graduating I knew that I wanted to be the boots on the ground promoting my idea of agriculture, not confined to a stuffy fluorescent-lit office. This combined with my newfound interest in the movement known as regenerative agriculture drew me to the Quivira apprenticeship program. Through this apprenticeship I hope to gain practical skills related to the care of livestock, an understanding of ranch economics, and knowledge of regenerative agriculture methods. More importantly, however, I hope to foster a meaningful relationship with my mentor and become an active member of this free-thinking, industry-changing, world-saving regenerative community.
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