By Angela Abrahão –
He is quite the sight in the marsh, right at home with his hat and binoculars, 12 students dutifully following along looking for birds. My classmate whispers, “I hope he does that bird call thing again!” Tom Dickinson has just irritated a male bird in the rushes by imitating another male bird of the species. Competition! The bird sounds the alarm, puffs up, and flies overhead to another tree and back out into the marsh. It is spring; things are happening.
I take a breath of fresh air, sigh, happy to be outside learning. I have a confession. I’ve been geeking out about this ranching program. Yes, me: the girl least likely to have anything to do with the whole cow business. What a learning curve! Ranchers intimidated me. I think it had to do with Aunty Ruth and the bulls. Every spring we’d go out to Uncle Rudy and Aunt Helen’s ranch and Aunty Ruth would lift us up to see the bulls. Of course, I was scared. My sister was fearless. You had to be tough. I was not tough. I’m still scared of chickens. My grandmother’s chicken coop was a scary place for me, on account of the rooster and his love of attacking me.
If you had told me years ago that Williams Lake would have a program for Applied Sustainable Ranching I would have said “No way!”
But a new story has emerged here in Williams Lake and it’s pretty great. I’ve always had to go other places to learn and find new stories that are emerging in the world. Now, I find a new story here in my backyard and it is a discovery that humbles me.
I used to think about Williams Lake in terms of resource extraction. I have to say it’s pretty hard to defend resource extraction out in the world today. It creates an internal discord for me, knowing all the good hard working people at home that have to feed their families. It’s hard in rural communities for people to access education that is outside the box.
That’s why I am so excited. This is outside of the box. It’s heartening to see education that helps us change, and that helps us move towards addressing our systems, our thinking about the environment, economic and social problems, and changing our community for the better.
The Applied Sustainable Ranching program germinated from a field series that was jointly hosted by Cariboo Cattlemen’s Association and Thompson Rivers University in 2012. At the end of the speaker series the final report indicated a real interest from the local ranching community in building a Sustainable Ranching Program in Williams Lake. They formed an industry advisory board, and designed the program framework. This advisory board also assists the program director with helping to identify both local and world renowned instructors and speakers. TRU and the industry advisory board came together doing what they do best, showing us how to learn, how to capture the big blue Cariboo sky, turn it into food, and sustainable community businesses. We all want a right to livelihood and a robust local economy and to do that in a way that is sustainable, as stewards of the land.
In January 2016 the first cohort started, and I feel so lucky to be part of the meeting of minds among some dynamic students. Some students are on ranches, some want to be on ranches, and some are embracing other agricultural enterprises. Everyone is doing something a little bit different. We’ve got the whole mix up in here. Little bit of ranching, little bit of agriculture, little bit of tourism, little bit of homesteading. We’ve got students from the Yukon, Spence’s Bridge, Kamloops, 100 Mile, and Williams Lake.
The Cariboo has some really great ranching operations, and some very diverse enterprises that go along with that. We started out with ranch tours during our first week, and it blew my mind, the amount of cool diverse businesses we’ve got in close range. What great fortune being part of a group of people able to truly look at our collective strengths and try to act in a way that doesn’t damage what we love about this place.
This is how we end up on a boardwalk at Scout Island on a Friday morning with the biologist looking for birds. The indicators. Totally geeking out on the environment. The measure. The mark. The signs. Signaling that it’s time.
Okay, don’t worry everyone; I am still the girl least likely to have a cow operation. I’m dreaming of vegetables, herbs, and sheep. I see the real life applications from the Applied Sustainable Ranching Program to my current business and the implications are huge. I like that the story emerging for me is learning how to learn to be environmentally sustainable as a business. Here we are Williams Lake, all growing up; I’m so ready to embrace another story about this place. It’s happening people, the indicators are there. Let’s move this great program forward!
Angela Abrahao lives in Horsefly and frequents a farm in Brazil and a sugar cane co-op where they produce ethanol, sugar, and energy. Angela is a herbalist, writer, and permaculture designer for the love of it and is a founder and digital marketing analyst for a computer software incubator. She is currently taking the Applied Sustainable Ranching program at TRU and you can follow along at www.ranching.school or like us on Facebook