Q&A with Ruthie King, Grange Farm School

Willits, CA 

Who, where, and what are you?

My name is Ruthie King, I am the Director of Operations here at the Grange Farm School.  Like so many other beginning farmers, I am following an unconventional trajectory to becoming a farmer, picking up information and skills only seemingly applicable that all seem to tie together.  Beginning my studies with a Bachelor's degree in Architecture, I went on to work on barn renovations, graphic design and branding, raw milk dairy operations, Holistically Managed grazing operations, fuel alcohol production from waste products, carbon sequestration, and elected officer positions at my local, county, and state Grange among many other tangents! 

 

I am motivated by the dire need for new farmers along with the innovative, open source creativity that is being generated among the small scale, organic, agricultural community. I believe that asking high quality questions is a critical skill, that cooperative creativity and communal decision making are essential, and that there are no silver bullets.

 

Tell us about the origins of the Grange Farm School?

I joined the Grange in 2008 in Greys River, WA, where I first learned of the radical, populist movement kicked off by rural farmers in the 1860s.  The traditions and legacy of the Grange describe a cooperative agrarian landscape for the yeoman farmer, and often I tell people that THAT is when the Grange Farm School started. In 2013 the California State Grange asked members to develop a proposal for a Sustainable Agriculture Education Program, and Willits' Grange submitted plans for a residential, intensive, immersive program, understanding that learning a craft like farming required the ability to live and breathe it.  We developed infrastructure for the first two years with volunteers and passionate beginners, and hosted our first two full time terms in 2015!

 

Describe the landscape where the program is offered.

Those who attend the program will live and work on a beautiful 5,000 acre ranch in Northern California, owned and operated collectively by a community committed to sustainability.  There are multiple farming operations on this ranch including a Biointensive research garden, market garden, cheese plant, grass fed beef operation, diverse orchards, therapeutic horseback riding program, and a community of people full of knowledge and skills.  The Grange Farm School rents 12 acres on this ranch with a 2 acre orchard, 6.5 acre mixed row crop land for vegetables and grain, and a pasture where we raise broilers, layers, and sheep.  Students live in private canvas wall tents on platforms overlooking rolling hills and California rangeland.  A shared kitchen and bathhouse is used by all, and the backyard includes an old growth redwood grove and a lake for swimming!

 

How do students fit in to the landscape?

Our 14 week residential Practicum Student Program offers you the tools and confidence to manage a successful agricultural enterprise, whether in farming, ranching, or related fields. Students at the Grange Farm School participate in classes and field work with a host of instructors and experts. Guest instructors and staff members provide a comprehensive curriculum in business management, industrial arts, animal husbandry, soil and ecology, and crop production, supported by an understanding of the theory and history of our food systems. You will leave with hands-on practical experience, and a framework for thinking outside the box, creative decision making, and communication that improves your business planning, community networking, and relationship building.

 

What motivates you?

The fact is, we not only need millions of new farmers to fill the boots of retirees, we need those new farmers to be innovative, creative, and intelligent. We need them to be community conscious, and to understand that solutions are context specific and require critical thinking. We want them to be well connected to resources but also always asking "how can I do better."  This program is designed to create the type of farmer we need.

 

How is it meaningful to you?

Every time a student sees that an improvement could be made to our system, then designs the parameters, plans, and implements it, I glow with satisfaction.  Watching people gain the self confidence necessary to see the change that needs to happen and then DO it is the most gratifying experience of my life!

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Shelburne Farms is the coordinating organization for the Farm-Based Education Network 

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