New Agrarian Voices

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

Tyler Vandermark, APPRENTICE, Indreland Ranch, MT

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. 

FINAL REFLECTION

In all honesty, I knew very little about regenerative agriculture coming into my apprenticeship. In fact, I had never heard of the term until I discovered Quivira just over a year ago. That’s not to say that I was in disagreement; in college, amongst the powerful influence of corporate agriculture and its legion of devout scientists and students, I was viewed as that loon with the off-kilter, far-fetched ideas on how agriculture needed to be practiced moving forward. I thought I was alone in the fight for a more equitable, humane, socially-aware, and Earth-conscious approach to agriculture. At the time of my application, however, I was not quite attuned to these beliefs and desires. I came into this program with one simple, overarching objective: to get my foot in the door of the ranching world. I would gain some hard skills, shake a few hands, and be on my way to a successful career. What I unearthed was so much more than that. 

I now belong to a family of colorful, passionate, free-thinking, and curious individuals. A mycorrhizal network of ranchers and writers and cowboys and scientists. And like that vital fungus, it is an astoundingly extensive and entangled network, hidden just below the surface waiting to be discovered by those drawn by some subconscious desire to dig a little – a network that feeds itself and the natural world around it, receiving bountiful nutritious food in return. The complexity of the problems facing agriculture and the broader context of humanity is challenging. It is this challenge that makes what we do exciting. This work is of the sorts that you wake up rip-roaring to go at it again and again. 

I could not have asked for better mentors to introduce me to this wonderful movement and the ranching way of life. Roger and Betsy Indreland are infinite in their positivity (almost frustratingly so) and friends to all. They readily accepted me into their family and taught me many valuable skills as well as what it means to be a Montanan. My education has included low-stress livestock handling, intensive grazing management, soil amendments, genetic selection, and the fine art of human interaction. Roger’s mischievous mustachioed grin and Betsy’s uplifting cheerful demeanor are some of those special treasures of my time here. It has been an absolute pleasure to live and learn in the company of these two and I look forward to our continued relationship. At my age, having a quality mentor is crucial for professional and personal development. And, when compelled to a change of scenery, having a second family is a luxury that few are fortunate to be afforded. This is in my opinion the greatest service that Quivira and the New Agrarian Program provides to us apprentices. 

On the topic of Quivira and NAP, I can confidently say that this apprenticeship has done more to advance me personally and professionally than all four year of university and the various internships I completed in that span of time. Not only do I now have a personal mentor, I have had the opportunity to meet many other leaders in this community and form many secondary mentor relationships. Even in the face of a pandemic, our little flock of Northern apprentices was able to meet for a handful of workshops coordinated specifically for us on the topics of low-stress livestock handling, range monitoring, and soil health – led by some of the foremost experts on these topics, Whit Hibbard and Nicole Masters among them. In addition, various supplemental educational opportunities held via Zoom broadened my horizons to touch on such topics as drought preparedness, development of a holistic context, and key social issues facing our industry like creating opportunity and an environment of inclusivity for all people regardless of racial or ethnic backgrounds. By bringing together many apprentices a unique and vital opportunity has arisen to form a strong cohort of peers that is a well from which strength, encouragement, and support can be drawn. All of this is made possible solely through the efforts of the wonderful folks working behind the scenes as program coordinators. As a Northern apprentice I feel particular gratitude toward Alexis, a strong and impassioned woman who fills the role as if it was crafted specifically for her. Her tireless commitment to apprentices, mentors, and regenerative agriculture is inspiring and the reason we are blessed with such an incredible program. 

The future for me is wide open. This program has opened more doors than I can count and brought to light passions and interests that I never realized I possessed. It has also been cause for serious reflection on what direction I want my career and my life to lead. 

In the immediate future I intend to continue living and working on ranches in Montana. I have felt a near inseparable bond form between my soul and the wild and working landscapes that surround me. Though the range and the mountains are not my first home, simple Midwestern boy that I am, I have never felt such belonging as I do here among the fascinating individuals that this landscape harbors. I wish to continue building my repertoire of ranch and land management skills and act as the boots on the ground with the youthful energy I currently possess. However, my time spent studying, discussing, and practicing regenerative agriculture has awakened a desire in me that I thought would never arise. I have found my life’s passion and feel a call to leadership, advocating locally and globally for sustainable food systems, healthy people, and a healthy planet. 

Quivira, and the greater regenerative agriculture movement, is a collection of inspiring individuals who hold a bright outlook for the future. Purpose can be found here. Purpose and the opportunity to make a positive impact on our world – a rare thing for a twenty-something kid to stumble upon. The significance of this cannot be overstated in an age of pandemics, social unrest, climate change, and natural disasters creating an ofttimes stifling sense of a looming shadow hanging over humanity. My biggest take-away from this year: hope. Hope for a world where my grandchildren’s grandchildren can catch trout in a river they can drink from. Where they can ride through a verdant shag carpet of grass that brushes the bellies of their horses, perhaps chasing free roaming buffalo. Where food does not simply get you through the day but

promotes strong bodies and elastic minds. Where they, and all individuals who so desire, can make a home and a living on the land amongst the intimacies of this at once absurd and spectacular planet we are privileged to inhabit.

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