Humus and Humility: Farmer Training Program at Rock Bottom Ranch
August 30, 2021
by Mariah Foley, Agriculture Manager
As farmers market season begins, so does a Friday night ritual. Warm water, soap–the kind mechanics use – orange and pumice stone. My hands are dirty from the field in a way that feels permanent. Dirt and tomato pollen fill the cracks of my knuckles, a reminder of the week’s work. The work revolves around this dirt, soil underneath veggies and pasture grasses. The humus–carbon rich topsoil–that holds so much life. A meditation always comes to me: humus-humility, humus-humility, humus-humility.
Holding a Cherokee Purple heirloom tomato in one of the Hoop Houses at Rock Bottom Ranch.
If I could only have one word to describe farming, humbling is what I’d choose.
First, there is the struggle: the work is hard on the body, the weather swings from frost to record heat in the same day. The pests and predators come hungry, things grow too fast or too slow. It all could be lost in an unexpected, unpreventable force of nature.
Even more humbling, are the successes: the sharp bite of radish still cool from the ground, knee-high pasture bursting with diversity and life, laying hens running out to fresh grass every morning, baby seedlings bursting from their seed coats. The hard work heightens the successes. The failures crystalize how close we could have been to not having any of the season’s gifts.
But, really, as is true for anything, it’s the people. I am humbled each day by the opportunity to work with the people that I do. My coworkers are mentors and role models, co-conspirators, and teammates. The nature of the work forges trust that is hard to come by. I am surrounded by multifaceted, talented people doing what they love. This job requires humor, ingenuity, hard work, drive, flexibility, and balance. Whether in struggles or success, I am buoyed by my comrades. As the fever-pitch of summer hits, so does the realization that I could never do this alone.
Along with the soil, people are the most valuable resource on a farm. Humus-humility. Let’s add humanity.
Our RBR Ag Crew from the summer of 2019, Mariah’s first summer at the ranch.
It is this humanity that makes a long career in farming feel possible. I started farming when I was 18 because of the tangible successes and failures, the dirt under my fingernails. This job is a never-ending science experiment–tweaking little bits of the system to see how much food we can grow. The competition is addicting, because no matter what goals we accomplish, there are more right behind them. As an individual, it is easy to get stuck into machine-like striving. But farming is a team sport. My successes and failures are not mine alone. The accomplishments that keep their luster have a lot more to do with teamwork, mentorship, and seeing my coworkers succeed than a measurable benchmark.
In 2021, ACES is expanding how they train and support young farmers. Building on our strong foundation, Rock Bottom Ranch kicked off an enhanced Farmer Training Program this spring. Four Agriculture Apprentices joined the team in March to start an eight-month immersive on-the-job training program with an education curriculum designed to give beginning farmers a strong foundation for their careers. In addition to working a full growing season, the apprentices participate in an educational curriculum including training, demonstrations, workshops, tours, documentaries, and discussions.
Ray Mooney, Livestock and Land Apprentice this summer, with Mariah in the Outdoor Production Garden.
Mariah and our Vegetable Lead, Juliette Moffroid, outside the CORE house.
Three part-time Agriculture Summer Stewards joined at the beginning of June, working on both the livestock and vegetable crews during the busiest part of the season. The position allows students or community members who cannot commit to a longer season to learn and experience a summer at the ranch. These new positions grew out of years of exposing new farmers to regenerative agriculture systems and the hard work of past ag crew staff members. We’re investing in the future of agriculture as we educate for environmental responsibility.
My personal reasons for stepping into the Agriculture Manager position this season are rooted in the desire to keep myself grounded in the humanity of farming by focusing on training and supporting other young farmers. The success of seeing the confidence and competency of beginning farmers grow along with the lambs and the kale is a more sustainable accomplishment than a record market-sales day.
As I scrub the last of the dirt from my hands, trying to lift the most stubborn bits deep under my nails, I think humus-humility-humanity, and I am grateful for the week’s work and those I get to do it with.
Mariah Foley harvests Salanova Lettuce from our Outdoor Production Garden at Rock Bottom Ranch.