Week 1: Introduction to Farm Life

Here in Northern California, we spend around 6 months of every year without a drop of rain. Without irrigation, soil goes dormant as the microbes are relatively still in suspended animation. On campus, however, we work on the reverse schedule. While we don’t go “dormant” in the winter, the campus does take on a different life when students aren’t here to absorb all of the teaching moments that living on a working ranch offers every single day.

This week, eight intrepid, adaptive students arrived to bring the campus to life with their absorptive minds.  Just like the first rain after a long, dry, California Summer, the students are filling the campus with animation, activity, connections and networking. Our microbial networks are coming to life!

In the first week, we covered a lot of ground. From discussions surrounding Dangers of the Land, to presentations of life maps, the orientation was full and, as can be expected with so much information, exhausting. The staff made a commitment to meet students’ basic (Maslow’s) hierarchy of needs, in return for hard work and open minds. The campus culture of communication and relationship building requires a shift in perspective for most people, and we spent the first week covering the basic concepts including: Open Honest Direct and Respectful communication, Non-Violent Communication, the Four Agreements, a Ben Hartman-style chart of chores, among other tools.  Over the next 14 weeks, these students will live and learn together, using frameworks designed to support relationship development and positive growth environments.

Because the school operates on a working ranch, we had the opportunity to walk our students through low stress handling techniques as we brought all the cattle through the working pens for their yearly visit. Demonstrations of flight zone, point of balance, and behavioral responses to our interactions helped to set the tone for our context in animal husbandry. Students began to study Animal Welfare Approved Certification, and split up in groups to “audit” the systems on campus with our meat birds, layer hens, and sheep. Grounding ourselves with the work of Temple Grandin, we are working as a group to understand the instincts and behaviors of the livestock, and of each other.

A field trip to our resident Jean-Martin Fortier-style farm, Tequio Community Farm, helped students see where they could be three years after freshly entering farming. It’s a challenge and Hunter and Isa are still learning, but it is very encouraging to see what two driven young farmers can accomplish in such a short amount of time!

All in all, the students have settled in and have begun their journey. 14 weeks of ground shaking experiences are rumbling under our feet, and we are open to the unexpected, to the surprise, to the challenge, and to the mutualism that is generated by our collective.