As spring settles into the Roaring Fork Valley, we’re gearing up for a summer of activity. In March, we welcomed four apprentices to Rock Bottom Ranch 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. Hannah Pike, Hollis Vanderlinden, Ray Mooney, and Shannon Hourigan each bring unique experience to the program, and we’re eager to continue getting to know them.
Hannah Pike - Vegetable Apprentice
Originally from Georgia, Hannah Pike joins ACES after working in winegrowing and vegetable producing operations in New Zealand, California, and New Hampshire. The variety inherent to vegetable production is something she loves, and she’s looking forward to harvesting season. In addition to learning more about vegetable production, she’s enjoyed that this program provides exposure to sustainable livestock production.
“I'm very passionate about my future in vegetable farming and Rock Bottom Ranch is expanding my idea of what that could look like, including integrating livestock and vegetable production. I'm learning new systems and tools everyday that are helping me grow as a farmer, land steward, and person.”
Hollis Vanderlinden - Vegetable Apprentice
Hollis Vanderlinden, Vegetable Apprentice, comes to ACES after working for a Native-run food sovereignty nonprofit organization. They are interested in learning more about food production to supplement their organizational experience in food justice work.
“Food has been a passion of mine ever since I first started getting really into cooking and having a small backyard garden – and saw how food can bring people together and is a gateway to interpersonal, community, and cultural connections. It's something that I have always felt a spark about, and the way that I show love is through food, so being able to grow, raise, and forage my own vegetables and meat as well as know how to prepare and preserve it is very important to me.”
Hollis hopes to one day bring new practical skills and knowledge to a community-based farming operation.
Shannon Hourigan - Livestock Apprentice
Shannon Hourigan calls Denver home and brings excitement for the Livestock Apprenticeship Program.
“What originally drew me to this program was the skill-based knowledge that I'd gain and be able to take with me for the rest of my life. Things like raising livestock, basic woodworking skills, driving a manual vehicle, using large and small machinery, butchery, irrigation, welding, and working in the field daily intrigue me.”
Shannon appreciates the ways in which the Farmer Apprenticeship Program nurtures different ways of learning — both in the field and through more traditional educational contexts:
“The apprenticeship melds the hard-skill training needed to pursue a career in the field, while also stimulating intellectual conversation around regenerative practices, agricultural policy, and environmental stewardship.”
Ray Mooney - Livestock Apprentice
Originally from Connecticut, Ray Mooney joins the team at Rock Bottom Ranch as a Livestock Apprentice. With degrees in Geography and American West Studies, Ray recently grew interested in working with livestock. Before arriving at Rock Bottom Ranch, this interest led Ray to Vermont, where he worked on a grass-fed and -finished cattle, lamb, and hog operation.
So far, he’s enjoyed that this apprenticeship has included learning skills and trades beyond farming. Ray hopes to take the valuable lessons he’s learning beyond Rock Bottom Ranch when the program ends, but for now he’s soaking it up:
“To be able to witness firsthand the birth of some ranch lambs and also take part in the processing of a lamb of age was humbling and grounding. I feel very lucky to have been able to intimately engage with our animal's cycle of life and to further appreciate the intricacies of how food flows from pasture to plate. “
The ACES community is grateful to have Hannah, Hollis, Ray, and Shannon at Rock Bottom Ranch, and looks forward to seeing their growth in farming. Mariah Foley, Agriculture Manager at ACES, loves witnessing the apprentices develop new skills throughout the season. She enjoys seeing where these individuals — with the confidence, experience, and skills they’ve developed as apprentices — take their careers.
2021 is the first year of our official enhanced Farmer Training Program, but it’s foundation is the on-the-job training that ACES RBR has been providing for years. After working at RBR and helping develop the ag program, former staff members have gone on to establish their own successful farming operations, like Two Roots Farm, Long Table Farmstead, and Marigold Livestock Company. We’re looking forward to seeing where this year’s apprentices take their knowledge and experience!
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, sign up for a Farm Tour. Check out our website for the latest hours and events — we hope to see you soon!