Education and Experience: My Story

Let me tell you: Arizona ain’t Maryland.

From getting used to the few weeks of ‘rainstorms’ we have during the summer to the vast open spaces with nary a tree in sight, I went through quite a transition moving out here from my father’s 10-acre lot in central Maryland, equidistant from the Appalachian hills and Capitol Hill. I was raised on the small farm, unknowingly but willingly participating in my parents’ early dreams of being viticulturalists and oenologists. I barely remember our goats, which we sold when I was young, and I have no memories of our chickens (although I do have vivid memories of finding my first black widow spiders in the cobwebbed and dusty coop when my father asked for a tool or bucket stored within). We had an orchard of more than a dozen diverse trees, now down to just two apples and one pear; a vineyard, where I first learned the arts of both pruning plants and extricating wooden posts from their clay seats; a pond with the ever-rumored giant, mutant goldfish; and the greenhouse with its surrounding beds of asparagus, lettuce, tomatoes, and other crops that were easily transportable the 50 yards to the kitchen.

Raising four children in a rural setting slowly but surely being buffeted by the growing DC and Baltimore suburbs, my parents found the need to expand their economic horizons past the homestead. Out of all my siblings, I was raised the least on the farm, but I’ve taken a strong path back to my roots. From taking a year off after high school to backpack and farm in Europe and Israel to managing the volunteer programs on two Washington, DC urban farms during college while helping other campus groups start their own educational gardens, I found a philosophy that suited me best: education through experience.

Jeremy's last day on Flying M Ranch in January 2013, herding on horseback

I take this idea to heart, which is why in the fall of my senior year I traveled away from the University of Maryland campus and instead spent four months backpacking, camping, and exploring northern Arizona through the interdisciplinary and experiential Grand Canyon Semester at Northern Arizona University. I first met Kit Metzger on our October field trip to the Flying M Ranch. Our professor for this trip was Dr. Tom Sisk, a Diablo Trust board member and a passionate researcher of the impacts the ranches have on the environment, both ecological and anthropological, of northern Arizona. At the end of the day’s presentations by Tom and Kit, I approached Kit with a question too many of my peers don’t ask when they should:

Can I have a job?

Helping with Spring Works on the Flying M, June 2015

My fellow students were in the midst of planning their trips home when the semester ended, but I had little reason to return to Maryland for the winter, and what was the harm in asking for a job? I’d worked with chickens, goats, sheep, horses, hares, and cattle on farms and ranches in the US, Spain, Italy, Israel, Wales, and Jamaica, but I’d never worked on a real Arizona ranch, complete with the wide-brimmed cowboy hats I’d only seen in John Wayne movies, and the very real concerns of wild predators, droughts, and real estate agents.

After working through the winter on the ranch, Kit invited me back after graduation, which is why I ultimately landed on the Flying M Ranch in March 2014 to manage the vegetable gardens and market full-time, as well as to cowboy whenever an extra set of (inexperienced) hands or eyes were needed. After about nine or ten months, however, the isolation was getting to me. Despite having the farming background, the farms on which I worked were usually much closer to a population center. This isn’t a problem with the ranch in particular, but rather an issue many farms encounter with their workers. My generation certainly has issues with isolation and distance from reliable technology and entertainment.

Just as I started thinking of my next step, however, Carrie announced her departure from Diablo Trust and the door opened for me to stay involved with my new community. I could continue to build my connections in the Southwest and to learn and experience more about how the public interacts with their local agricultural community.

This isn’t the East. The landscape is different, the weather is different, the people, food, politics, popular trends . . . there are more differences than I can list here between the place where I was born and bred and where I am now. One similarity, however, and it’s one with which I deal on a regular basis, is the connection (and lack thereof) the general public has with their neighborhood farmers, be they small-scale gardeners with just an acre or two, or cattle ranchers with more than 300,000 acres to utilize for economic, ecological, and social resources.

This year’s theme, introduced at our Annual Meeting in February (see page 8), is The Impacts of Northern Arizona Ranches on the Flagstaff Community. This theme can be replicated for every agricultural enterprise, everywhere. In DC, I was responsible for introducing my students - college kids from places like New York or Atlanta - to the world of where food comes from. I also had to plan to keep them involved so that regardless of their academic major, from business to dance to linguistics, they understand where their food comes from, who produces their food, and what impacts, both ecological and anthropological, food production has upon their environment.

It is these questions that drive me and so many others towards environmental conservation, towards collaboration in the field, and towards community education. I hope I can affect Diablo Trust just as it will certainly affect me for the better, so that we can all continue working towards a healthy future.

I am humbled to be a part of the strong community of Diablo Trust, and I’m excited for what we can all accomplish over the years to come. Please feel free to contact me at any time at the office via email or phone. I’d love to hear your stories of how you got to be a part of Diablo Trust, and where you’d like to take our goals of conservation, collaboration, and education in the future.

Jeremy D. Krones is the program manager of Diablo Trust.
You can find him at the office in Peterson Hall on NAU’s campus in Flagstaff,
or contact him by phone: (928) 523-0588, or by email: info@diablotrust.org