Farm apprentices and interns come in all flavors. There is the grad student from Yale and the sophomore from The Fort. There is the “I want to do this for the rest of my life” set, and then there are those just looking for a diversion. There is the live in a teepee kind, the live in the back of a Subaru with the dog kind and then there is the lucky handful who live in the nice cabin the ranch happens to supply. All of them, however, seem to have one thing in common: a desire for adventure. Patrice Treu is one such adventurer.
Treu had just completed her master’s degree in liberal arts (with an emphasis in philosophy) at St. John’s College in Santa Fe, New Mexico prior to arriving for her apprenticeship at the James Ranch, an operation with a rich tradition of educating new farmers. For her, philosophy and farming go hand in hand. One is not unlike the other. Her days off are not spent climbing or hiking or biking (except to the bakery) or any other of the list of standard Southwest Colorado activities. Instead, her time is often spent reading. And writing (And napping. “The days are long,” she says).
It was Walt Whitman’s 194th birthday on May 31. And just who knew? Well, Treu knew.
“I wrote a bit of a recitative (in his honor),” she says, suggesting that is nothing to be taken too seriously, and not having the slightest notion that this writer would have to go home to look up “recitative.” Treu’s inspiration that day came from a Whitman phrase from Song of Myself (a poem included in his Whitman’s iconic work, Leaves of Grass, a book Treu was reading at the bakery on her day off): “I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow from the grass I love, / If you want me again look for me again look for me under your boot-soles.”
Walt Whitman is very much present under my boot-soles these days – present full and full. Sometimes I just want to plunge my whole self into the clear, fast running irrigation ditch (yes, the ditch) and drink and drink, to yell to the oak trees “Glory! Glory!” for all their new leaves and we together, the grass and I, always becoming closer cousins with the pendulous ambling cows – their wet hot breath on the dusty earth – together we want, and in our desire we call out at once to the sun and rain clouds, “For life! For life!” – Patrice Treu
Edible San Juan Mountains: Why philosophy?
Patrice Treu: I discovered philosophy and good organic food at the same time. I think the discipline of philosophy is simply a different kind of food from the kind we grow in fields – it’s food for the mind. The mind needs whole food just as much as the body needs it. What one wants in both cases (philosophy and farming) is to get access to the heart of things, to participate in what is real, and to receive good quality, satisfying nourishment from it.
How did you go from philosophy to farm work? What was the thought process?
While I was doing philosophy, I was always working on some kind of farm or another – community gardens or CSAs. Being outside and working in the soil always seemed to balance the academic pursuits which can drive you to crazy places in your mind.
Is full-time farming harder than you expected?
Right off the bat it was harder than I thought because of the time-intensive nature of it. I couldn’t balance full-time farming with anything. There is no extra time for anything.
What do you find to be the hardest part of dairy work?
I have a fear of committing completely to one thing and it is being realized. There is a part of me that really wants leisure and there is no leisure in farming.
What is the most enjoyable part?
I am not a morning person, but the most enjoyable part is the morning. Going and letting the chickens out during the freshest part of the day. The beautiful Animas River valley is just fabulous. I like being with cows as well. They bring me a kind of peace. They are sparking that curiosity in me that makes one ask “what are they thinking” and “who are these curious creatures?”
What do you do when you are not working?
I nap and I ride my bike to the bakery which is 11 miles away and I allow myself a pastry. Today I read a book: Walt Whitman. I was reading his inscriptions, “I dedicate this to.” And they are beautiful. It kind of spells out some of his intentions for Leaves of Grass. I also do laundry. Mundane things.
Your apprenticeship lasts until mid-November. What then?
I am starting to think about that. I’m looking for options back in Santa Fe that might be related to farming or cheese making. But it is kind of an open page. I am interested in trying to get grant money to study cheese making in Europe, but that might be a long shot.
What do your parents think about this?
Farming makes more sense to them than philosophy.
What is the best thing about working with Dan James?
He knows how to do everything. Ask him a practical question and he can answer it. And he is a really good teacher and really likes to teach. And he is an extremely thoughtful and careful person. So I know I learn what I am learning in a good way. I am not learning sloppy cheese making. I am learning good cheese making. And his awareness of the interconnectedness of everything is really cool.
We all think we know him because we see Dan James at the Durango Farmers Market and Telluride Farmers Market. He is a Durango native and seems to know everybody. But what is he REALLY like?
He has a distinctive trait: he has a method for everything and he is very particular about that method. And sometimes it is very specific. It is something that becomes admirable in this context. When I worked as a barista, there were a couple of customers who wanted their drinks just so. They told me exactly what they wanted. I came to enjoy them because they enjoyed what they were drinking. I made it right. It brought me satisfaction and it brought them satisfaction. That is how I see Dan, in this light. He has a particular way of doing things right.
Would you say that is your personality too?
No, probably not my way. I feel I have more fly away and loose ends by far. Hopefully I find a way to tame those loose ends or learn to appreciate those tendencies. `