By Anna Brown
A question and answer session with TomKat Ranch former intern, Rachel Sullivan: where is she now and what is she doing?
Q: When did you work at TomKat Ranch and what was your position?
A: I worked as an intern for 6 months, from June of 2016 to December 2016.
Q: How did you find out about TomKat Ranch?
A: I was introduced to the ranch by Michael Pollan, after I reached out to him in 2015 about sustainable ag internships he would recommend in the area. I applied in 2015 and was accepted the following summer which I am so grateful for! Everything works out for a reason.
Q: How did you get involved in agriculture/ranching in the first place?
A: I became interested in agriculture as a result of growing up in the food production world of the Bay Area- working at my parents’ bakery and at Chez Panisse. My passion around food stimulated my curiosity about agricultural systems, so I went on to study Sustainable Agriculture at Cornell University. I had worked at an organic goat and sheep dairy operation as well as an urban farm in West Oakland prior to working at TomKat Ranch.
Q: What was your favorite memory at TomKat Ranch?
A: My favorite memory at TomKat Ranch is moving the herd across the ranch on horseback with Stacy Claitor and Hayley Strohm. Thank you, Stacy, for being such an amazing riding teacher!
Q: Who was the most influential person during your time at TomKat Ranch?
A: This question is so hard to answer since everyone at the ranch inspired and taught me so much! Right off the bat though Doug Millar took me under his wing and became a very important mentor to me. I remember sitting down with Doug in his lab during my first week at the ranch and geeking out on the microscopes- chatting about humus, nutrient cycling, and microbes. He empowered me to pick a project to focus on during my internship. Together we designed a soil sampling project, which eventually led to some cool findings about deep carbon sequestration and biological communities in the ranch soils.
Q: Where are you and what are you doing now?
A: I am currently the Farming Assistant at Frog Hollow Farm, an organic stone fruit farm in Brentwood, CA. I wear many hats at the farm, so my day-to-day might entail: Conducting our annual soil sampling, working with our agronomist on fertility and pest control planning, coordinating the planting of new orchards, varietal selections, running conservation projects with the NRCS, or as of recently, writing our Food Safety Plan.
Outside of my day job, I am on the board of directors at a non-profit urban farm in West Oakland called City Slicker Farms (where I interned the summer before TomKat Ranch). For the past month, I have been working on a crowdfunding campaign for City Slicker to buy their first tractor!
Q: How has your TomKat experience shaped where you are/what you are doing now?
A: I would not be where I am today without TomKat Ranch, quite literally! I met my current boss, Farmer Al, at a local grains panel last year while I was at TomKat Ranch. At this discussion, farmers were talking about how measuring carbon sequestration wasn’t feasible on the average farm. I spoke up, referencing the project I had done at TomKat and Farmer Al was totally into it. The rest was history! Now, we are hoping to collect a good soil health dataset over the years to come at Frog Hollow.