By Angela Abrahão –
The first cohort of students from the Sustainable Ranching Program at Thompson Rivers University is finishing up the program’s very first year, ending with Applied Skills and Diversification. It’s been about experiential learning this summer and fall and we’ve had many amazing experiences.
In true Cariboo form we headed west, hands on right away with our fencing component. We had the great privilege of working on a fence at Rafter 25 Ranch with the masterful fence builder, Keith Jones from Kiwi Fencing. You see, there was life before I learned about building a fence and life after. I used to be scared I wouldn’t do it right. “Who me? Build a fence? No way! Now it’s all like, “Get me a post pounder. Where’s my page wire. Who took my fencing tool?!”
We moved through human animal care and livestock handling systems and the students had the unforgettable experience of attending a stockmanship clinic at the historic Gang Ranch with clinician Curt Pate. We learned about dog handling from Lorne Landry in 100 Mile and general equipment maintenance from Lynn Bonner and the folks at Grasslands Equipment. After equipment it was all like, “Grease, grease, and more grease. Go to the manual. Read the manual. Follow through with what the manual says.”
We moved onto fruit and vegetable production and learned about greenhouses and nurseries, moving onto food processing and farm store enterprises. Truly an experience, we are learning from the people in our region who are producing the food and the value-added products that allow their farms or ranches diversification opportunities.
Why would a ranch want to pursue diversification strategies? There are a lot of reasons for diversification, simply put—to add more income and become more sustainable during market fluctuations. Perhaps diversification is a good strategy when someone in the family has skills in certain areas, like growing. Certain ranches in the area will testify, sometimes those are the skills to pay the bills, friends. Maybe the enterprise is to increase biodiversity. So, adding a beekeeping enterprise to the ranch might increase revenue from honey sales but also increase biodiversity as a side effect of increasing flower and plant populations on your property. Maybe the farm is processing products that would otherwise not be capitalized upon, like making pickles from the overabundance in the garden to sell in the farm store.
Learning different strategies that directly benefit the ranch has been great. Even more amazing has been the realization of how many businesses are created out of and surrounding the ranching and agriculture industries in our region. Beyond that, there is space for even more growth if done right. The key takeaway we are all realizing is that this is not easy. Producing food is not easy. From the apple to the carrot to the cow, there are so many considerations.
It’s the end of the first year and I learned things from the ranching program that I didn’t expect. I have some new heroes. The greenhouse grower. The organic farmer. The humane animal systems designer. The vinegar maker. The beekeeper. The shepherdess. The butcher. The market gardener. The fencer. The orchardist. The mechanic. The masters of soil, grasslands, and forests. So many very cool people to learn so very much from. Teachers are everywhere, if we are looking.
Angela Abrahão lives in Horsefly and frequents a farm in Brazil and a sugar cane co-op where they produce ethanol, sugar, and energy. Angela is an 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 on Facebook.