In this episode, the guest is Taylor Muglia, who shares her fascinating journey from a student to a mentor in the world of regenerative agriculture. Her path takes her across the globe, from the U.S. to Italy, where she honed her butchery skills and learned about food and safety regulations. Upon returning to the U.S., she adapted to a new community while managing a custom herd of cattle, sheep, and poultry. The discussion then shifts to Quivira Coalition’s New Agrarian Program (where Taylor works as the NAP’s Colorado Manager), aimed at empowering budding agrarians. She talks about the application process, mentor-apprentice matching, and the variety of operations the program supports. Taylor also shares the challenges and triumphs of building a community, the importance of mental health support, and the impact of their program on its alumni.
For the Love of Soil: Strategies to Regenerate Our Food Production Systems by Nicole Masters
These transcriptions are automatically generated. Please excuse any errors in the text.
0:00:00 – Cal Hardage
Welcome to the Grazing Grass Podcast, episode 73.
0:00:04 – Taylor Muglia
Well, agriculture is something that society has passed on over generations and generations, and we’re still learning things all the time.
0:00:12 – Cal Hardage
You’re listening to the Grazing Grass Podcast, helping grass farmers learn from grass farmers, and every episode features a grass farmer and their operation. I’m your host, cal Hardeech. On today’s show we have Taylor Malia. She is part of a program that has apprenticeships for people and they are opening applications in just a month or two November 1st so it’s exciting to learn about that program as well as her journey, where she got there and why she’s interested in region and deep agriculture.
Before we talk to Taylor, 10 seconds about my farm. Actually, we’re going to talk about my dad’s just a little bit. My dad’s herd is a fall kebbing herd. If you’ve listened to the podcast, you know I keb in the spring or late spring and dad kebs in the fall, which were really early fall. So dad’s herd is kebbing right now. We have about 10 kebs on the ground with quite a few more to come. It’s always an exciting time during kebbing season. Just that new keb on the ground up nursing it’s always exciting. Talk about me. Let’s talk to Taylor. Taylor, we want to welcome you to the Grazing Grass podcast. We’re excited you’re here today.
0:01:30 – Taylor Muglia
Well, Kel, thank you so much for having me. I’m very excited to be on your podcast.
0:01:34 – Cal Hardage
Taylor, can we start by you telling us a little bit about yourself?
0:01:38 – Taylor Muglia
Sure, I guess I am a beginning farmer. I live in Lyons, colorado. I have a background in well, I was a five-year vegetarian and sort of got into the regenerative, went straight from college and went into the regenerative agricultural community and promptly left vegetarianism, was really passionate about growing food and just really deep down. I think the thing that drives me the most is just figuring out how things work, where food comes from, how things operate. So I got interested in agriculture and sort of worked at some different farms and today I work for the New Agurian Program at the Kibirre Coalition and I help other young beginning farmers and ranchers enter the field.
0:02:31 – Cal Hardage
Oh, very good, and we look forward to talking more about that and finding out about that program. But first let’s jump back to college, and you said you got interest in Regentevag. Why did you get interest in Regentevag?
0:02:45 – Taylor Muglia
I’ll say from when I was in college I was no mention of the regenerative ag, maybe it was branded differently, but the school that I went to really had no education in that type of agriculture and so actually studied a really conventional approach. So I studied agronomy and pretty much learned a lot about how to use fertilizers and synthetic chemicals and very large scale agriculture is kind of how I learned and then I actually worked for. So I tell people sometimes I love my alma mater, but I think that I learned more in my extracurriculars than I did in my classes. So I was a part of a club called Compose Cats. We were the Wildcats, went to University of Arizona and the Compose Cats were an organization that took food scraps and manure and different organic waste materials from all over Tucson Arizona and we brought them out to a farm and we made compost with them and then we sold that compost to farmers and gardeners and really taught me about how to sort of close the loop in the food system and taught me how to drive a tractor, taught me how to be a more capable person.
I think I finally got that hands-on experience in agriculture and a lot of talk about climate change and carbon sequestration. So I think that was what originally, almost more so than my actual degree, my mentor Chet and all my coworkers we kind of taught ourselves a lot about what we wanted to be in the world through that club, so that’s through the foundation.
0:04:27 – Cal Hardage
Very interesting. And one thing I didn’t ask you and I don’t think you said right then did you grow up on a farm?
0:04:33 – Taylor Muglia
I did not. No, I grew up in the suburbs.
0:04:36 – Cal Hardage
I kind of guessed that from learning to drive a tractor, but I thought we better double check that.
0:04:42 – Taylor Muglia
Yeah, I grew up very far from an agricultural community.
0:04:46 – Cal Hardage
That composting is a very interesting route to get to where you’re going today, but we all got to start somewhere right? So after you did that, what was your next step in your journey?
0:04:59 – Taylor Muglia
So, yeah, I graduated college and I went straight to Boulder, colorado. I thought I might as well go to somewhere with a little more water. And I got here and it turns out we’re having the same water crises as the whole Southwest Got a little farther away from it but certainly didn’t escape it altogether. But I went to work straight to a small diversified farm that practiced regenerative agriculture and, like I said, I was a vegetarian and I showed up and they said, hey, sorry, but you can’t be a vegetarian because we actually eat a lot of meat here and it’s kind of part of your job. And so, yeah, I started learning how to graze livestock and raise pigs and chickens and cattle and sheep and growing vegetables and kind of a little bit of everything. So, yeah, that’s kind of what got me into the actual production realm of actually growing food instead of growing compost. That does grow food.
0:05:57 – Cal Hardage
It sounds like you did all kinds of stuff on that diversified farm. What was probably your favorite thing to do there?
0:06:04 – Taylor Muglia
That’s a good question. I think my favorite thing was always birth. I thought that was just the most interesting thing I remember. It was really a really strong memory of mine that farm is that I remember we were nursing a calf that had been pretty weak, wasn’t latching on to his mama, and we had to feed it and really be diligent. You can’t give up. You have to stay there with it until it feeds, and raising pigs too, and seeing that whole process and seeing the birth of that. You just don’t get to see that stuff. Even if you go visit a farm, you really don’t see that visceral, just beautiful, raw part of life and I was just astonished by it. I thought that was just the coolest, most interesting thing and I said I want to be prepared for this, I want to be helpful in this situation.
0:07:03 – Cal Hardage
Anytime there’s a new life beginning, it’s an exciting time. Those new animals on the farm, babies on the farm just getting started. It doesn’t matter how many years I’ve done this. When I’m pulling out to a pasture to check on cows and there’s a new calf, it’s always exciting.
0:07:20 – Taylor Muglia
Absolutely, and I think, too, it’s a fun, different part of your brain that you get to utilize, that you’re looking at grass and you’re grazing and you’re using certain skills when it comes to preparing food and working with a team, and then you’ve got this whole different skill set. You need to pull out of nowhere to be a veterinarian kind of on the fly. I thought just that was so cool, just like you have just a little piece of everything and those sets of skills were just so I don’t know. They’re just so interesting and so inspiring. I was like I want to be ready for this. I think this is so cool, to just be able to jump into action and help in that situation.
0:07:59 – Cal Hardage
And it’s that reward at the end of it. It’s kind of like for a teacher that student gaining understanding or making that leap. It’s just so satisfying and it feeds that desire, that passion you have there. So, after your time on the diversified farm, where did your journey lead?
0:08:20 – Taylor Muglia
So this is kind of where the story gets interesting. I left that farm to. I think once I got a fundamental understanding of the farm and the operation, I think I had a really deep curiosity in how meat got processed, and I think that’s a part of the veterinary fascination too is like the vet comes out and does it for you, or the butcher. You drop off animals and the butcher does it for you, and I think obviously now there’s a place for that specialized labor. But I think I always want to know just a little idea of how it works. You know like pull apart the toaster and see what’s on the inside and then put it back together just to know how. And I’ll call the repairman later. But I just kind of want to know how does that work? I’m just curious.
So I applied to a program in Italy and I it kind of came out of a Google search. I just searched butchery apprenticeship, because I don’t quite know how you get into butchery. I had no idea if you just start working there or if you have to come from a family or whatnot. So I just Googled it. The first thing that came up was Spinochia is a program in Italy and I had saved up some money and I said, okay, well, maybe let’s, let’s go to Italy.
And so that’s where I went next and spent three months there and a full time butchery apprenticeship and learned the ins and outs of cutting meat and also doing salumi and all the fun cured meats, and it was an incredible experience. Very hard, it’s very yeah, I mean life changing experience super challenging, but super rewarding too. And so and it’s funny because I, when I say life changing, I met the man that was going to become my husband during that program. So it just changed everything from that point forward. So we actually both lived in Boulder County, colorado, though we met at that program in Italy.
0:10:19 – Cal Hardage
That is, you know always, figure you’re, you’re going to meet the person you’re supposed to meet somewhere. My wife’s from Hawaii and I’m like how did we meet? But I just think we were supposed to. I think that’s the way it works. And that’s boy. That’s a 90 degree turn from where you were going. I mean, granted, it all fits in, but you’re in Italy for three months Now. Not really part of this podcast, but I’m an avid language enthusiast. I’m not good with languages, but I love learning about them. Did you speak Italian before you went over?
0:10:55 – Taylor Muglia
So I spent a lot of time in the field working on the on the previous farm in Boulder. I spent a lot of time listening to a podcast called Coffee Break Italian. It’s like my favorite yeah, really great podcast. Like I’ve learned a lot from just listening to that. But I had you know, I’d studied Spanish in college.
For a long time I said I was fairly fluent in Spanish and so I said, well, like I guess I could probably put it out there together and figure it out, and so I didn’t know any Italian when I heard it. But the coolest thing was my tour in the butcher shop had a radio on pretty much the entire time we were working and they have like a public radio station called Rai, kind of similar to NPR, and it was playing nonstop. So I mean I’m talking to him but I’m just hearing it nonstop and I’m sort of hearing the sound of it coming out of my own mouth and kind of reinforcing that and I learned quite a bit. But that’s amazing that you’re a language enthusiast I, my husband and I. It’s like one of our most favorite hobbies.
0:12:00 – Cal Hardage
My wife is not such a fan and I keep telling her let’s learn a language and go there. She would love to go to Italy and go on a food tour and stuff she loves to cook. I’d love to go too. I’m like, let’s learn Italian and go. Or we’ve talked about Brazil let’s learn Portuguese and go there. I’m not very long or very far along on any of my learning journeys with languages. Right now I’m working on Spanish just because I think that’s important in the area we are, and I have an unwilling partner in it because my wife and I, whenever we drive to work in the morning, we listen to a Spanish podcast and work on that. So maybe we’ll get there, but I love languages. Back to what you were doing. What was the greatest takeaway from learning to become a butcher?
0:12:53 – Taylor Muglia
I would say you know the systems are very different in Italy for processing meat. I mean, I always marvel at how short the chain is. In Italy it’s. Everything is really close. You know, you’ve got pigs raised here, butchered here, sold here in a butcher shop. It’s just a much simpler process. You know you can have pigs that were raised down the street and you’re buying their pork in the butcher shop, and it just doesn’t work like that here. So one of the biggest takeaways was, like you know that it was possible. The food and safety regulations are super different between the two countries too. So and you know supply chain stuff and you know it gets so complicated. But I think one of the biggest takeaways was that it can be simple, it’s possible, people do it and it’s just a matter of changing the paradigm.
0:13:41 – Cal Hardage
And going back to that local food, local farmers, locally sourced.
0:13:45 – Taylor Muglia
Yeah, it just doesn’t have to be that hard.
0:13:48 – Cal Hardage
Right, right, yeah. So you spent three months over there and then you came back. Now was your future husband a time still over there for a while.
0:13:57 – Taylor Muglia
No, he came back too. So we both, you know we’re both American, you know we don’t have, we don’t have citizenship, so we had to come back after three months in Italy and so, yeah, yeah, it’s 90 days and they’re pretty strict about it. So we got, you know, had to come home and we were a little long distance. For a while I worked on a ranch up in near Aspen, in the Aspen, the Roaring Fork Valley, and I, you know, worked on it was just another manager job and worked with a really small custom herd of cattle, pretty small flock of sheep and then actually quite a large poultry operation. So we did, you know, pastries, yeah, meat poultry, and then egg layers too, and had pigs and a huge vegetable farm next to it, kind of like the first farm that I worked on, but sort of beefed up and it was actually run by a nonprofit, and so you know different models and a completely different community and different styles. So it was cool to see how somebody else does it.
0:14:54 – Cal Hardage
Oh yes. What was the biggest adjustment when you got there?
0:14:57 – Taylor Muglia
Oh gosh, I mean I think first of all, I mean I think that we can’t discount moving to a new community just like moving to a new place with new people. You know, you just don’t, you think about it and you go, that’s really exciting, I want to move, that sounds really fun to live in a mountain biker. I think I did a lot more back then but I was like, oh, that was so fun, there’s trails everywhere, there’s so much opportunity and I just think I’ll fit right in. And I think the cultural you know it’s hard to just plop yourself in any community and expect to be, to feel at home right away. So that was a huge adjustment.
And then I think another piece too was just the production focus and I really appreciated that this newer farm had more of some fine-tuned systems that were more focused on production and profit. I think I needed that a little bit more. I needed to kind of think about how efficiently I was doing things and how many units were you know pushing, like how much the farmer’s bracket needs, like we got to make that, make those goals, and you know. So that was kind of new for me.
0:16:03 – Cal Hardage
And you bring up an interesting point there. You know, at my off-the-farm job I work in education and there’s a few of us there that have farms on the side you might say Just the discussion between each of us on our goals and how much we treat it as a business versus a hobby. I cringe if anyone says mine’s a hobby because I work hard to make it a business. But one of my coworkers readily admits it’s a hobby and they enjoy it. And some of my rules for my animals about production I’m not very flexible about because I think it’s important for the future and where I’m going with my farm For them. On the other hand, if they don’t ween a calf or something happens you know, what’s it hurt if we give them another chance or two chances or three chances?
Just a totally different mindset. So that’s what sounds like. You got there and they had a little bit different mindset, which is great to be exposed to and learn from. Yeah, absolutely.
0:17:09 – Taylor Muglia
Yeah, I mean, even though it was still a nonprofit farm, like I think, at the end of the day, you know their funding sources are super different, but they did have, you know, and I think too, yeah, it was just so different. You know, you get donations when you’re a nonprofit farm, like physical donations, like people drop off, like trailers and like you know. Yeah, I just was like, why did people do that? But it was a cool model. I mean, I think some people don’t think you know highly of nonprofit farms, but I think it was really valuable to just kind of see a different structure and see, hey, if it works for them. I think the most important part is keeping prices fair, and they did do that, which I really appreciated. And they never they were always very conscientious of are we a competitor that’s acting unfairly at the farmer’s market? And we’re always conscientious to not push other producers out.
0:18:02 – Cal Hardage
Oh yeah, which is so very important. Now, what led you to your present job?
0:18:07 – Taylor Muglia
The sort of sequence of jumps did sort of head in the direction of where I am now after that farm that was up in the Roaring Fork Valley. So essentially after that we did some traveling. We went to Chile and worked on a couple different operations down there and just yeah, just for fun, it was like it was kind of a chance for us to do that while we could and between seasons. And so actually once we left, when we left for Chile, we had had a connection with a landowner here in Lyons that had purchased a piece of land and was not gonna build on it, was essentially just bought it and we didn’t quite know what his goals were. But he has his own land and a house, and so we had friends of friends, and we got in touch with them and asked them if maybe we could rent it when we got back from Chile, and so that’s what we did. So while we were in Chile we took some holistic management courses and I mean so much research notebooks and notebooks of research and ideas and just kind of trying to form, asking all these questions. And it’s funny when you do it, when you’re like planning a farm from another country, you’re worrying about all these things. And now you know, five years later, I’m like I can’t believe. I was worried about that. It was so not something to worry about. On paper it sounded like it was gonna be a big problem.
Yeah, so we got back, we worked for a friend for just a tiny bit, just to get our groundings, and then we moved in, so we’ve. And so we moved into this property. We started a little farm called Long Table Farmstead, sort of. It was this nice, it was like a Frankenstein of every operation I’d ever worked on or every farm I ever visited, or in Ryan too. So that’s my husband, so he had some experience raising past-race chickens and a lot of vegetable experience actually. And so we kind of just put our brains together and I don’t know for better or for worse just started a farm. I remember feeling like I was not ready whatsoever. I mean I’ll send you some photos of this property, cal, but it’s beautiful. I mean it’s just like how do you not, you know, how do you not try? How do you not just jump in and try?
0:20:14 – Cal Hardage
If we wait till we get the answers, we’ll never get started. So you just gotta get started. It’s just a bonus. You had great views there too.
0:20:22 – Taylor Muglia
I know we had. I mean, looking back, it’s funny because we were walking the property and, oh, I was just so excited, I could only see positive things and I think, oh, it was just such a great experience because the land here served us so well. But in hindsight, running animals on rangeland, like running non-irrigated pasture where we are, was like not even a question I even asked was like, does this have water? Which is hilarious because you just like now I’m like, oh my gosh, I can’t believe. I didn’t think that I needed irrigation. But you live and you learn.
0:20:57 – Cal Hardage
You know, and I hate to admit this, I’ve done this a long time and I try and be better all the time. Last spring I was thinking about some rotations as I’m laying there going to sleep, and I’m thinking about where I’m going to move the cattle. And I had some goats up there and a few sheep and moved the flurred because I really wanna do a flurred and I really haven’t. I keep them all separated. As I was going to sleep I was thinking about here’s what I’m gonna do. So I’m excited because I’ve got a plan in place.
So the next day I go up there and I thought, well, I’m gonna go look at this and see if my plan makes sense, because there’s some woods there, some honey locusts have some other trees and I’m just thinking how can I do this? I get up there and I think, okay, I’ll do this. And I really embarrassed to admit this I even started some electron netting. I put it in just a little bit and I thought I don’t have water here. How’s this going to work? I have to plan for water for everything and I’m blaming it that I was going to sleep because I thought about it and it just worked in my mind and I woke up and didn’t give it much thought and thought, well, I’ll go start that. And then I’m like, really needless to say, I changed my plan, but I was like what am I thinking?
0:22:12 – Taylor Muglia
I know, I know, yeah, I always worked. I think, too, an aspect of my situation was a guy had always worked as on the very bottom level, right, like as a ranch hand or as a worker, and so I think I took for granted all of the planning and all of the strategy that went into my tasks for the day, and so I think I got to the point where I was like, no, I can do it. I’ve been doing this for years. I know electric fence really well. I know I feel like I have. I mean, I lived in this valley where we had a million predators with Mount Lines and bears and bobcats all the time. So I was like I think I have a good understanding of what’s going to keep them safe, thank you. And then, you know, I think after running, especially a couple drought years, I was like, wow, I did not even think about the fact that that land was in a very different context than where I am now. It didn’t. I learned that the hard way.
0:23:12 – Cal Hardage
You know, and that’s one aspect I hadn’t really thought about and I really haven’t thought about but it does come into play. It does come into play, you know, when you’re providing the labor versus the planning. Or even in my case I’ve talked about I managed one herd. That’s my dad and I. It’s been a very slow journey for me to gain management of that because dad’s very much, but he lets me go with it for the most part. But I get reminded quite often that that’s not my decision, not negatively, just that he’s got things in his mind the way he wants it done. Which I manage my cows a little bit different, but there’s a lot of overlap. But that change in position it can sometimes be a little surprising what goes into all that planning and going forward and making sure everything goes to relate it to my day job.
I work in technology and I do a bunch of other stuff for public school and we get technology tickets in and I have some guys that do tech support and everyone’s ticket is the most important ticket. They forget and it doesn’t cross their mind. It’s important and it’s affecting them. But we’re not just managing their technology, we’re managing a whole district’s technology and getting everything in place. There’s a lot more that goes on than a lot of the end users think about. Anyway, enough about technology. We’re not talking about technology here.
0:24:41 – Taylor Muglia
No, it’s a good comparison, though. Absolutely, you get that surface level. That’s their interface. They don’t see everything behind that.
0:24:51 – Cal Hardage
Takes more time than you ever think it will, and Ranching for Profit talks about working in the farm versus working on the farm.
0:25:00 – Taylor Muglia
Absolutely, and you think you work in the farm enough that you know how everything goes. And then, working on the farm a little bit, you’re like I didn’t even think about, like why are we even running this breed? Or where did we get the original stock? You know, I didn’t think to ask that question when I worked for people. You know, and here I am needing to go buy some sheep and like I don’t know what I’m doing, I thought I just used to having them.
0:25:29 – Cal Hardage
Right, yeah, and that’s the important consideration on getting breeding stock when is it coming from? Now, let’s transition a little bit and talk more about your present job. Now with the new, actually, I’ll let you say the name.
0:25:42 – Taylor Muglia
I’m drawing a blink of an eye, no worries, yeah, it’s called. So the program that I work for now is called the new agrarian program.
0:25:50 – Cal Hardage
Agrarian. I knew how to say that. But I looked at my paper and I’m like why can’t I pronounce that so weird word?
0:25:57 – Taylor Muglia
Kind of an old word too. You know it’s not used much anymore.
0:26:00 – Cal Hardage
So tell us about the new agrarian project.
0:26:03 – Taylor Muglia
So, yeah, it was a nice, you know, it was a nice transition because I had run my own operation for about three years and then I saw the job posting for this job and I wasn’t looking for a job necessarily, I was actually bartending and farming and making that work. And then I saw the posting and I said, well, maybe I could totally do that, like I could totally do that job really well, you know, and I think that’s always a good sign when you’re not desperate for a job, you just know in your heart that you could do a good job at it. And so, yeah, I applied and here I am and I’ve been there for about two and a half years. So the new agrarian program is an eight month apprenticeship program for mainly beginning agrarians to get their start in regenerative agriculture. And you know, it’s kind of a specific niche of agriculture in that it’s mostly large scale ranches and we’re talking about land stewardship on a large scale. We do have quite a few producers that are, you know, pretty human scale. We have a couple like we have a dairy, for instance, in our program, but for the most part we’re talking about cattle producers on and sheep producers on large acreage and trying to manage at a watershed scale or at a, you know, in ecology, the scale of a land base instead of just a tiny, you know, piece of property and so so the apprenticeship runs from March or April until November, and so it would. It provides people an opportunity to work full time and, you know, link up with a mentor. So we have about 20 mentor sites New Mexico, colorado and Montana right now.
And so, you know, you interview for a mentor site and if you get chosen, you work for eight months and then hopefully, you know, develop a good bond with your mentor. You know you have them to ask any question. You want to really understand what the heck is going on. You live on the property too, and then you know, the program itself provides a lot of supplemental education. So we do a lot of like monthly webinars.
We do a new this year of a mental health check in every week with the cohort, which is really neat, and so you know it feels like they have it’s a lot of remote locations, so it’s really important for people to feel like they have connection with other people going through the same thing. We also do in-person workshops and conference and all this fun stuff to just kind of get your gears going, you know, and just start to get your career started in this, Because otherwise, you know, especially when the skills end, it’s really hard to get into the, especially ranching. You know you can find a vegetable have on a vegetable farm or maybe small scale livestock, but if you don’t come from that family, how exactly do you learn how to do these things? So that’s what our program provides.
0:29:00 – Cal Hardage
Excellent. Now, one thing you mentioned there they’re working on these large scale ranches, but you’re also. They’re not. They’re not going out to the ranch and that’s the only people they’re working with. You guys are having those individuals as a cohort and having some virtual meetings as well as some in-person. So not only are they building a relationship with that ranch, they’re building a relationship with those, that group of like-minded individuals on the same journey at that time.
0:29:32 – Taylor Muglia
Absolutely. Yeah, you hit the nail on the head. That’s like that is so important. For what? Because our program used to be really small and now it’s at the point where we’re graduating about 20 apprentices every year and that’s a good sized group of people and all similar to your age too, so they tend to be in the age range of maybe like 20 to 35. So same point in life where they’re dealing with these life challenges and also career challenges. So, yeah, that’s super important. And one thing that I really value is trying to make those connections amongst the apprentices.
0:30:11 – Cal Hardage
So tell us a little bit about these mentor ranches you’re using. How did they get selected, or are you looking for more? Just tell us about that part, why someone should be looking there.
0:30:25 – Taylor Muglia
Yes, thank you for that question. Yeah, so we are always looking for new mentors. We tend to have a lot more applications than we do spots on ranches, and so the process of getting new mentors to come into our program sort of looks like either they reach out to us or refine them somehow. I’ll go to workshops and conferences and just try to track people down and just ask about what they’re doing and what their operation looks like, and, if they’re interested, we try to be really really conscientious about what kind of mentors are joining the program, because this really isn’t a, I think, a lot of internship. I guess quote unquote programs are, for lack of a better word, like cheap labor, like they’re kind of just finding folks that are new, and so I think that can have its benefits. But that’s not what our program is intended to be. What we’re trying to do is to have mentors who really love talking about what they do and they love educating the folks that come and work for them. So sitting in a truck with somebody and talking, getting into the nitty gritty of why we do this, what is the nuts and bolts of it, someone that really appreciates having that relationship with a young person to really mentor. That’s what we’re looking for, and then obviously more nuts and bolts stuff. A mentor has to be, fortunately, located in the states that we service, so I wish that our program were bigger. But we try to do a really intentional job at being very good at what we do and we’re very intentional about not just spreading it all over the nation and saying, oh, let’s do this. We’ve concentrated on New Mexico, colorado, wyoming and Montana and we have coordinators in each of those states. Right now, not so much Wyoming, but we kind of operate on Northern Colorado and Southern Montana. So we sort of cover Wyoming but we have people coordinators that are there to support the mentor sites within our region. So if anything happens or we do site visits once or twice a year and so we’re trying to make sure that this is not just for throwing apprentices out there and let us know how it goes in eight months we’re in touch and we’re really facilitating the process.
So obviously some more requirements are and a mentor does need to have five years of operation under their belt, so we want to make sure that they can pay an apprentice. We do require that mentors run a formal payroll and offer workers comp and follow minimum wage laws, and then they also should offer housing, because that’s also a huge barrier to folks working on ranches is just to get to it every day. So yeah, and then the operation itself can look really different. We have folks that are even kind of dabbling into farming. We tend to really lean on the ranching side. So the farms in our program do generally have a livestock component. Yeah, and then the operation should have livestock and it should value soil health. You can call it what you want. If you want to call it regenerative agriculture that term is sometimes used and sometimes not. So mentors in our program should ideally be really concentrated on increasing livestock health, soil health, ecosystem function and the health of our watersheds in our communities. So it’s pretty broad, but you kind of know it when you see it.
0:33:59 – Cal Hardage
Yeah, which sounds great. As we shift gears from a mentor to the apprentice, can you give us kind of a profile of someone who’s applying for this and who would be interested, who would benefit from this?
0:34:13 – Taylor Muglia
Yes. So you know that brings me to sort of like a timely announcement, but it does go every year as our applications open on November 1st and they run through December 15th. That’s a chunk of time folks can apply to be apprentices in our program. But, yeah, a typical profile is somebody who has a really strong passion for learning and, you know, the ability to learn through work and to do the work on a ranch and to have some kind of familiarity with agricultural work. But we definitely don’t require that folks have worked on a ranch or farm before. But it definitely puts them in a good position to get hired.
So you know we do a pretty traditional hiring process of interviews and all that. So you know, like we have folks who have come from New York City and have never been around a cow before in real life, and then you know they can totally be taught and we have shown that in our program. So our mentors are generally not concerned with someone who has a ton of experience. They’re looking for someone who is open-minded, who is willing to work and who has just a flexible mentality that is, you know, suited for agriculture. You know it’s not always riding a horse into the sunset, it’s a lot of not doing that. It’s a lot of like really long days and you know strong emotions and you know it’s being tired and finding that passion even when you’re tired. I think that’s most of the qualities we’re looking for in an apprentice.
0:35:50 – Cal Hardage
And once someone goes through the application process and they get selected, how are they matched to a mentor, Are you just? I won’t even try to give you the answer. Just how are they matched to their mentor?
0:36:02 – Taylor Muglia
Absolutely. So it gets matched from the very beginning. So in the application they’ll choose yeah. So it’s pretty easy Like they’ll choose five mentor operations on their application that they’re interested in, and then those five mentors you know get pinged when the application comes in and so they get a list of folks who are only interested in their operation, and then we only narrow it. We pretty much only help that mentor interview people that are interested in their operation. So it kind of does the work for it. You know itself.
But we also have situations where folks will apply to somewhere over here and we get to see them on an interview and we’re like, hey, pull them aside. I’ll actually kind of call them on the phone and I’ll be like, hey, I think you’d be perfect for this person. So like not saying you have the job, but I really think you should apply over here. Yeah, so it really speaks to our program is so we have so much space to do this process in a thoughtful way. So we tell a lot of applicants like reach out to us.
You know we do public calls, like Zoom calls to potential applicants. We tell people all the time like just email us if you’re interested or if you’re even thinking about it and I will tell you if you are a decent match with any of these people or if, like, if we even knew that this is the program that would suit you, you know. Or if you’re worried about, oh, and I want to be on a ranch but I don’t want to be too super far away from town, or I’m concerned about I don’t know, like there’s just different tailored. We even have, like, some folks that have a wife and a kid that they’re bringing with them, you know, and in that case somebody might think, oh, this program won’t work. But, like, reach out to us, because we have operations all the time that we can find, you know, we can find what folks need.
0:37:51 – Cal Hardage
Oh, yes, very good. And one thing when we, when I think about education and I go back there because that’s where I live so much of my life when we look at classrooms, they’ve got standards and they’ve got what they want the kids to learn. Do you all have like a plan that you want the apprentice to finish with this knowledge or this set of skills?
0:38:17 – Taylor Muglia
Yeah, that’s a great question and it’s, luckily, you know, your brain works a lot like Julie Sullivan, who is the creator of our program and she was the original mentor. She’s an educator too, and she that was so so how her mind works, and so she, you know, and she’s, she still helps today, she’s still very, very active in the. She’s been through the entire, you know, life of the program, has been a super active part of it, and she insists on a skill sheet, and so we, and that’s what we do and we have, so we have this amazing Excel spreadsheet that she created and it has a list of it, has tabs at the bottom, and so there’ll be a tab for, like you know, if that, if that ranch uses horses, it’ll be a horse tab. If they use equipment, there’ll be equipment tab, you know, just depending on what your ranch looks like. But all the tabs.
And then there’s even one for, like, professional skills of, like you know, maybe, their skills of working in a team, communicating well, presenting yourself like, being ready for work on time, you know stuff like that. That just it’s good for professional development and so, yeah, so the beginning of the season, the apprentice sits down with a mentor and they go through and the apprentice rates themselves on a, you know, on a little scale. They’ll go through this Excel spreadsheet and they’ll rate themselves and then the mentor will rate them and then they’ll sit down and talk about why their numbers are different or what you know. You just, yeah, those have a conversation and it’s, you know, it’s the sheet that matters, it’s, I mean, they do the sheet, but it’s the conversation that matters.
0:39:54 – Cal Hardage
So Right, that reflection piece followed by that conversation, excel.
0:39:58 – Taylor Muglia
Yes, yes, and so you know by the time, there’s a one at the beginning and the middle at the end, and so the middle one is just so helpful because, well, they’re all so helpful. But I really like the middle one because you can. You can kind of catch yourself in the middle of the season when everything’s insane, and be like you know, I have this time with my mentor. I was really scared to tell them this, but I really want to learn this before I leave in November, and I was scared to talk about it, but this is a good time to do that, and so that’s what I love about that is it carves out this formal way of of acknowledging progress and making sure that there is progress in the areas that they want Right.
0:40:40 – Cal Hardage
Because so many of our listeners knows, you know, anytime with a farmer ranch I think I even a few episodes back talked about I, just don’t have time to get to everything. You know. You’re on a ranch without that expectation of stopping and doing some reflective work. It’s really easy to get wrapped up in the day to day and not take that time to reflect, and reflection is so important in anything you do.
0:41:05 – Taylor Muglia
Absolutely. I would totally agree and I think a lot of ranchers would agree, but they don’t. They don’t have the opportunity to do that until. You know. I think ranching for profit does a great job of that too, with their executive link, you know, and really digging into things and reflecting. So, you know, I hope to see more of that built into agriculture and kind of breaking these, I don’t know, breaking these habits or maybe stereotypes or, you know, just just breaking those paradigms, because these these kinds of things, like like in implementing a check-in, can just make a huge difference on how you feel when you show up for work every day, because when your employees grumpy, you’re not feeling great, the work doesn’t feel fun, you know, and if that can change, it can really change like the entire outlook that you have on your ranch.
0:41:53 – Cal Hardage
It can. So so very true with that. What are some challenges that come up that maybe the apprentice don’t think about ahead of time?
0:42:03 – Taylor Muglia
And I think that’s maybe why it’s on the front of my, of my brain is is that, you know, moving to a new place.
I think there’s a culture amongst young people that have relatively a decent amount of income or savings to move around a little bit when they’re young.
I think that you know there’s this excitement to it is that you’re moving to a new place and you’re trying something new and, oh my gosh, I, I did that, I went and I felt those feelings. So I know firsthand. But I think sometimes what we don’t realize is that it takes about. I mean, in my experience it takes like five or six years to feel like you know people, like you really know people where you live, or you feel like you belong to a place, and so I think that is as a huge challenge for people. You know, building community does not happen quickly and if it does, it’s, it’s just it’s rare, and so and I think that’s the piece that can be challenging for people, because you’re talking about people that you know some of them might come from rural communities but some of them might not, and so there’s a huge cultural divide, there’s like even a political divide, there’s like a you know what we eat?
what we wear what we, you know, like what we do for fun, how we, how we hang out with each other, might look different in a rural community that you’re moving to and that fascinates me and I I help apprentices. Try to understand that. You know this is a great experience to get your foot in the door, but that is a huge challenge that we can’t ignore is that you might need to take care of yourself in a very, an extra special way while you’re doing this kind of experience, because you don’t have a wife and kids to go home to, like your mentor does you know? Or you don’t have a group of friends you’ve spent a long time developing, so maybe it’s something like you have to create a phone date with your best friend every week, or maybe you have to find do yoga online and like reconnect with that hobby that makes you feel like yourself. Or you know you have to find these things that are going to get you through, because that social and you know that isolation aspect is really real.
0:44:19 – Cal Hardage
And I think you know, as you talk about that, that support system that you have in place wherever you live. You’re up and moving and you’re losing that support system, but also, as you mentioned earlier, that cold hurt. As you get to know those people, they can help support you as you’re going through it too. And I think you mentioned you all have some mental health check-ins, which is so very important.
0:44:40 – Taylor Muglia
Yeah, I hope we continue to do that. It’s we’re finding more and more, there’s more and more attention to rural mental health or rural mental wellness, and I hope that that continues because it is. It’s so real. I mean, you have, especially when you have a year where you know we’ve all had those years where it’s just drought and this and that on top of drought, and then you’ve got a family drama or you’ve got some, you know, health problems or something it’s like you know you really need a support system. You cannot do this on your own. I think it’s really it’s tempting to think that you’re strong enough, but I don’t think any of us are strong enough to do it on our own.
0:45:18 – Cal Hardage
And it’s not a sign of weakness to reach out and need that support either. Our support systems are so important and you know, just don’t bottle it up, Eli, let’s. Let’s move on to something a little bit more positive. Before we get to our famous four questions, let’s talk about some successes of your program.
0:45:41 – Taylor Muglia
I’m so proud of our program. It is, I think, that one of my favorite aspects is now that I’ve been around for two years and going on three. I have met all of the classes of apprentices that have come through. So at this point we’ve graduated over a hundred alumni. And so, you know, and it was starting so small and then we all of a sudden we had so many, so many mentors sites, so we’re like cranking through people, like so many people are graduating every year, and so I think that is a huge success that we just are able to give this experience to more people and still keep you know, there’s always there’s always like back to the challenges. Another challenge is that you can’t get every mentor site to give the experience that we would ideally love for an apprentice to give. You know every mentor site is super different and so and you can’t force a mentor to to be, you know, attentive educator all the time, and so sometimes you know you get an experience that’s not a hundred percent.
For the most part, all the you know apprentices are going through a program and exiting our program completely different people Like I get to see them at the beginning and at the end, and then I get to and then I’ll get phone calls Like I just had lunch with an alumni from two years ago.
And I always get all these phone calls from folks that are graduated from our program and they say, you know, holy crap, I have a, I have an opportunity to lease some land and run some cattle. Like, do you have a connection of who can help me write a business plan? And I’m I’m like, yes, thank you. Yes, this is so exciting, this is what I live for and I think that’s a huge success of our program is just to see, like not that every single apprentice is going off and becoming a rancher and saving the world. It’s like I think that there’s enough momentum out there that you know these experiences are changing people for the better and making them more capable, confident, and then that they feel like we’re still there after years have gotten by. I think that’s a huge success.
0:47:46 – Cal Hardage
Oh, yes, sounds wonderful. Before we get to the famous four, is there anything else you would like our listeners to know?
0:47:54 – Taylor Muglia
Well, I think one thing that I would mention is that our program like we get folks from all over the U?
S asking if they can join our program and it breaks my heart, but we have to. We really are. We are really motivated to do a good job and keep in the region that we’re in. So but I will say that we help a lot of other apprenticeship programs get going, and so we are have been help helping folks in Kansas and Nebraska. We’ve helped out with folks in California and Texas, and so if you are interested in a starting an apprenticeship program, even if it’s tiny, even if it’s just you taking an apprentice, or you’re just interested in becoming a better mentor like if you’re just interested in becoming, you know, the kind of employer that has a broader impact reach out to us, because we have we’re an open book, we have a mentor training guide that is open to the public, we have calls, we have Julie is a wealth of knowledge, and so if any folks are admiring what we do, we are happy to get it started elsewhere. So get in touch with us.
0:49:00 – Cal Hardage
Wonderful, taylor, I’m. I’m so glad you came on and shared information about this exciting opportunity, that, if it applies to you, november 1st it opens up for applications and they get started on it. It’s time for us to do our famous four questions, same four questions we ask of all of our guests. And just because we talked about this program does not get you off the hook. You still have to do the famous four. Our first question what is your favorite grazing grass related book or resource?
0:49:33 – Taylor Muglia
Well, the one that changed my entire perspective on soil is for the love of soil, by Nicole Masters, and I’ve seen her speak and have seen her change a lot of people’s minds about how we think about soil health and soil biology and how we think about our own gut microbiome too and how that felt connected. She is brilliant and I read that book and I said I am in love with this. This is the coolest topic and I have her to think.
0:50:05 – Cal Hardage
Wonderful, and I don’t believe we’ve had that book recommended before on the podcast because I’m not familiar with that book. So, yes, I need to go shopping.
0:50:16 – Taylor Muglia
Yeah, you gotta go shopping. Yeah, and she also. She does quite a few workshops, so maybe she’ll make it into your neck of the woods.
0:50:22 – Cal Hardage
Oh, yes, Very good. And our second question what is your favorite tool for the farm?
0:50:28 – Taylor Muglia
Okay, I thought about this one. We don’t actually use a lot of tools on our little place because we’re pretty small, but I was like what do I use on a daily basis? So there is this mallet that came with our farm. I’m pretty sure it was used for some kind of horseshoeing situation. I’ve never done that so I have no idea. But it’s this mallet that weighs so much. It’s like this heavy, heavy mallet. Well, other people will lift it and be like this is ridiculous, but I love it. It’s like the perfect weight in my hand. I like it can drive in a grounding rod with no problem. It can drive in all of my Premier One fencing, all my like drivable posts just my old trusty. You know, if I ever lost that thing, I wouldn’t even know how to operate this farm.
0:51:15 – Cal Hardage
And it sounds like you would have trouble finding another one to replace it Exactly, so take good care of it.
0:51:20 – Taylor Muglia
Yeah, I’m pretty sure it’s like a century old. I have no idea where this thing came from. I should be careful. One day it’s going to like fling off of its handle, but in the meantime it’s been really reliable.
0:51:30 – Cal Hardage
Very good, Very good. Our third question what would you tell someone just getting started?
0:51:36 – Taylor Muglia
Oh, I love this question. I would tell them to be patient. I would tell them that you know agriculture is something that society has passed on over generations and generations and we’re still learning things all the time, and especially if you’re new to it. I think there’s this temptation to get a couple of years into agriculture and to working on different farms and you feel like I’m ready, I’ve got it, and there’s an aspect of going for it and like trying it, like I did, and maybe that is the other side of the coin. But I think my advice at this point in my life is to be patient and just to find ways to slow down and that you don’t have to burn fast and bright. Find the way to do it right and gain connections and gain resources and gain a community around you so that you can be supported in your farmer ranch, instead of be aligning it directly to being a producer and trying to just burn fast right into it on your own.
0:52:38 – Cal Hardage
Excellent advice and you know, so often I even mentioned earlier, sometimes it’s just that you got to get started so you can learn At the same time. I hate to call it balance because my life is never in balance there’s an ebb and flow to everything. This week my off the farm job may be requiring a lot more of my attention. Next week maybe it’s the farm Maybe. So I hate to say balance of life and work and stuff, but you got to be aware of that ebb and flow and not over commit, and you know, at my age that’s much easier for me to understand than it was 20 or do I dare say 30 years ago. You know it’s taken my wife to help me get to the point to realize sometimes I have to sit down and stop, take some time for myself to connect, for, you know, so our marriage goes good, so the kids, everything. Everything doesn’t have to be planned and everything doesn’t have to revolve around this. You just have to take that ebb and flow and sometimes patience is the best.
0:53:48 – Taylor Muglia
Yeah, I agree, I just see too many people. I see a lot of young people, you know, sacrificing a lot of. You know, obviously there are things that are noble, worth sacrificing for, but I see a lot of young people sacrificing their mental health, their physical health, their friends, their relationships, their travel to see their family. And there’s got to be a better way, you know, and maybe going at it a bit slower and a bit less glamorous than it seems. But I just feel like crafting a life in agriculture doesn’t have to be this thing of like running yourself ragged and then, you know, picking up the pieces all the time. If I were to do it again, I would take so much time to craft it in a way where I can be a human first and then I can be a farmer second.
0:54:40 – Cal Hardage
Very good, taylor and Taylor, our last question where can people find out more information about you and about the new agrarian program?
0:54:49 – Taylor Muglia
Yeah, thanks, Cal. I think if folks want to find more information, they can go to our website. It’s QUIV, as in Victor I-R-A-COOL-L-I-S-I-Norg. We do a lot of other things awesome things at Kevira. The new agrarian program is just one of them, but you can kind of poke around on our website and find more. We also have an Instagram and a Facebook page that are really active, and our newsletter is fantastic. So if you have any interest in finding a career in agriculture or just kind of getting in the loop and attending workshops and stuff like that, we always have virtual things too for folks across the country, but it’s kind of for our newsletter. It is a good one.
0:55:31 – Cal Hardage
Very good, and we’ll put links to all that in our show notes. Makes it easy for our listeners to get there. Taylor, we really appreciate you coming on sharing about your journey, as well as about the program and opportunities available there for others.
0:55:48 – Taylor Muglia
Thank you so much for having me Cal. I appreciate the opportunity to share this with everyone.
0:55:53 – Cal Hardage
You’re listening to the Grazing Grass podcast, helping grass farmers learn from grass farmers, and every episode features a grass farmer in their operation. If you’ve enjoyed today’s episode and want to keep the conversation going, visit our community at communitygrazinggrasscom. Don’t forget to follow and subscribe to the Grazing Grass podcast on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube for past and future episodes. We also welcome guests to share about their own grass farming journey. So if you’re interested, fill out the form on grazinggrasscom under the Be Our Guest link. Until next time, keep on grazinggrass.