As spring settles into the Roaring Fork Valley, we’re gearing up for a summer of activity. In March, we welcomed four apprentices to RBR for a full season of on-the-job farmer training. We’re excited about the depth and breadth of this program, the apprentices we’re working with, and of course, harvest time!
Read on to get to know the apprentices, learn about the program, and find out how you can get involved with summer happenings at Rock Bottom Ranch.
Farmer Training Program
Those familiar with ACES have likely heard about Rock Bottom Ranch. This campus is our hub for environmental education, habitat conservation, and of course, farming. At Rock Bottom Ranch, land stewardship is our first priority. RBR staff practice regenerative agriculture, using systems that restore soils and have positive impacts on the climate.
These systems are important for the future of sustainable farming. One of the goals for our regenerative agriculture systems is that they’re able to be replicated and used outside of our local community.
The Farmer Training Program allows us to do just that — by educating early-career farmers on the sustainable practices we use. Rock Bottom Ranch and its regenerative agriculture systems serve as classroom and workplace for our apprenticeship program. Apprentices gain hands-on experience with the regenerative systems in place at Rock Bottom Ranch. They learn skills, systems and processes that they can bring to other farming operations after their time at RBR.
The apprenticeship is also a way to give beginning farmers a solid foundation for a successful farming career. Apprentices receive on-the-job training in many different aspects of agriculture as well as other traditional technical and trade skills.
Apprentices learn and work for an entire growing season — from March through October. This allows them to participate in the whole process and witness the fruits of their labor. While certain times on the farm are busier than others, quieter moments aren’t wasted. These times allow for supplemental, formal learning opportunities. Workshops, demonstrations, discussions, and trainings provide additional knowledge and complementary skills.
Along with participating in the day-to-day operations at the farm, the apprentices are engaged with farm visitors and locals. Leading farm tours, participating in RBR farm-to-table dinners, and selling produce at local farmers markets are some of the ways they’re involved in the larger Roaring Fork Valley community.
Meet the Apprentices
This season, we welcomed four apprentices to Rock Bottom Ranch. Masha Brumer, Jess Burroughs, Oliver Simmering, and Mary Kate Wilcox each bring unique experience to the program, and we’re eager to continue getting to know them.
Masha Brumer - Vegetable Apprentice
Masha is one of this season's Vegetable Apprentices! She is originally from Los Angeles, CA and had zero exposure to food production or farming while growing up in the city. After completing her BA in Psychology at CU Boulder, a health crisis pushed her to search for nutrient-dense sources of food to help her heal.
The healing processes pushed her to learn about the agricultural industry which opened her eyes to the damage that conventional agriculture brings to both human and environmental health. This inspired her to start volunteering on small organic farms to learn the basics of soil health (and to expose herself to some good bacteria!).
After completing an internship at a regenerative farm in SW Georgia, she knew that farming was the path for her. She feels a deep responsibility for helping to provide high quality food for the community and is excited to learn more on how to do so at Rock Bottom Ranch! When she's not farming, you can find her Bouldering, cooking, reading or enjoying the Colorado sunshine.
Jess Burroughs - Vegetable Apprentice
Jess is a Vegetable Apprentice at Rock Bottom Ranch. She most recently came from Washington where she spent her first full season on a biodynamic farm and Waldorf school.
Originally from North Carolina, Jess earned a B.S. in Biology from UNC Asheville with a heavy focus on all plant friends. After graduating and falling for her second love, climbing, she dirtbagged around the west with dreams of a career in mountain guiding. The plants called her back, though, and she soon found herself in the Great Basin region leading vegetation habitat assessment crews. In her newest affair with the desert, she spent another season based out of Reno where her love of the desert deepened.
Looking for a new way to unite plants, land stewardship, people, and healing, she pivoted to farming where she spent her first season on a farm in the Washington peninsula. Struck by the deep connection between tending the land, food, and healing, she dreams of a long life working with nature and farming. In her free time you can find her trail running, climbing, doing yoga, and generally frolicking while cackling outside.
Oliver Simmering - Livestock Apprentice
Oliver was raised in Boulder, CO and left as soon as he could to experience different communities and places. They ended up at The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington. The alternative approach to education and passionate community there gave him a lot of new lenses and he mainly focused on health justice, trauma counseling and community organizing. Towards the end of his time there he did an internship with an herbalist collective and found strong purpose in food justice and a desire to participate in hands-on agriculture work. There were a lot of opportunities to become involved in mutual aid in Olympia and he was a part of a street medic collective there before he moved on to farming.
Following graduation from Evergreen, Oliver did an internship at a goat dairy and fell in love with farmwork and livestock care. He scurried around to different farms learning different skills and gaining context about various farming methods over the past few years. Oliver wound up in Florida at a small CSA vegetable/cut flower farm and stayed there for almost two full seasons. After working so much with veggies Oliver yearned to work with animals again and gain more of an education around regenerative agriculture. They joined the RBR crew this year with a strong interest in participating in diversified pasture based livestock farming, becoming a part of this community, and hugging sheep.
Outside of capitalistic endeavors Oliver enjoys making art, swimming in swamps with his eyes above the water like an alligator, dancing, talking about emotions and digging large holes to sit in.
Mary Kate Wilcox - Livestock Apprentice
Mary Kate Wilcox was raised in Overland Park, Kansas. She attended Kansas State University for two years, studying Fisheries, Wildlife, and Conservation Biology. Before arriving at farming, Mary Kate worked a variety of avian field technician jobs in Kansas, Michigan, and North Dakota. She has investigated the migration patterns and nesting success of grassland birds, the habits and abundance of Red-headed Woodpeckers, and mercury accumulation in songbirds inhabiting wetland environments. While at K-State, she worked in two different avian biology labs helping to explore the mating dances of manakins in Costa Rica and the food use of pheasants on the Great Plains.
In 2019, Mary Kate decided to leave school in order to pursue new experiences. She returned home where she worked at a dog boarding facility for two years, honing her skills with animals. In the winter of 2020, Mary Kate took a hiatus from the dog boarding facility and traveled to Heartland Farm in Pawnee Rock, KS. During her first farm season, Mary Kate worked with chickens, alpacas, and a variety of crops. She became fascinated with the interplay between agriculture and environmental stewardship, especially as it relates to grassland management and restoration. Mary Kate started at ACES at Rock Bottom Ranch in March of 2022 as a livestock apprentice.
As an avid birder, most of Mary Kate’s free time is spent outside exploring the natural world by foot or by kayak. She also enjoys reading, writing, long conversations with friends, and adoring any dog she can find.
Learn More and Get Involved
With the farming season in full swing, we encourage you to learn a little more about your local food and farming operations.
If you’re interested in learning more about regenerative agriculture, the Farmer Training Program, or Rock Bottom Ranch, visit Rock Bottom Ranch this May on Tuesdays and Fridays from 9am-4pm for a self-guided tour. Check out our website for the latest hours and events — we hope to see you soon!