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Ranchlands Alumni, Where are they now?

Time flies! Over the years, many people have come to work with us in various capacities and for various lengths of time. While their residence on the ranches may be relatively brief–just a few months or a year long–we often hear that they are impactful in shaping people’s attitudes towards work and life as they move on to the next chapter of their lives. We caught up with a few alumni, to see what they’re doing now, and how their time at the ranch has influenced their lives.

Charlotte Wheeler

Ranch intern, Zapata Ranch, 2017

What are you doing now?

Regional Manager at Pasture-fed Livestock Association 

How did you get to where you are now?

After working at Zapata I interned with Save the Elephants in Kenya, before undertaking an MSc in Biodiversity Conservation and Management at the University of Oxford, focusing on agricultural policy in the UK. This led to me managing an organic beef and sheep farm in Devon, after which I moved to a smallholding of my own, where I raise sheep and goats, and work for the Pasture-fed Livestock Association, supporting other livestock farmers to transition to agroecological farming methods.

Why did you choose to come work at Ranchlands?

I really admired Ranchlands’ ethos of land stewardship and was interested to learn more about grazing practices that enhance a landscape’s ecology, rather than diminishing it. I also wanted to ride horses. Zapata is one of the most beautiful places in the world to do that. 

What was the most memorable part of your Ranchlands experience?

It was such a varied role and there were so many things I value from my time there it’s hard to pick one. There aren’t many jobs where it’s part of your job description to hike to glacier lakes, ride through incredible landscapes, or go on bison safaris. I worked with an awesome cohort of women that summer too. 

How did working at the ranch help you get to where you are today?

After my time at Zapata I would have continued ranching if I could! That’s not really possible in the UK, but I still work in livestock farming. Working at Ranchlands reaffirmed my interest in sustainable farming practices, particularly in regards to using grazing animals to promote biodiversity. The ranches are great case studies in understanding how thriving ecosystems don’t necessitate the absence of humans, and show that working landscapes can be part of the solution, rather than a problem. It’s such a valuable experience to be able to see that in practice, on the ground. 

Cooper Hibbard and Ashley Wertheimer

Ranch Manager Apprentice and Artist in Residence, Chico Basin Ranch, 2009

What are you doing now?  

Cooper: I’m managing my family’s ranch, Sieben Live Stock Company, located outside Cascade, MT, which runs both cattle and sheep.  

Ashley: I’m continuing to make art and am scheduled to have a solo show in New York City in January. I also manage our flock of sheep. We have a 4 month-old daughter, Posey.

How did you get to where you are now?  

Cooper: A lot of fun and hard work! I studied AgBusiness at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, and after graduating spent 4 years traveling the world working on ranches. Two of those years I was fortunate enough to spend with Ranchlands under Duke III’s tutelage and working alongside and learning from Duke IV at Chico Basin Ranch. Duke IV also got me a job with him at a muster camp in northern Australia, where we continued to work together for another half year. That’s when I got tapped to come home to start taking over the family ranch.  

Ashley: I received a Fine Arts degree from Cal Poly, and between internships at a fine art gallery and working other odd jobs that enabled me the freedom to visit Cooper, I did a number of artist residencies, one being at Chico Basin, and spent as much time as possible traveling the world.  I worked on a farm in Patagonia, in hostels in Turkey, and after spending time in CA while Cooper was in Australia, I finally moved to Montana to join Cooper at Sieben Live Stock.

Why did you choose to come work at Ranchlands? 

Cooper: Duke III had been studying ranching with an open mind for his entire life. He wasn’t, and isn’t, scared to do things differently, which is a necessity to not only keep ranching alive, but to make it thrive. I wanted to be exposed to Duke III’s philosophy of ranching and experience it first hand, work from the ground up, so I could bring a fresh perspective home to my family’s place to try and ensure it could be perpetuated into the future. 

Ashley: For me, it was an entirely new and different experience than anything I’d ever known, and completely out of my comfort zone. Ranchlands seemed like a unique opportunity to learn a different way of life and understand more about land stewardship. 

What’s one of your best memories from working at the ranch?

Cooper: Pretty tough to decide between trotting out under the stars at 4 am, camping in the Sands in wall tents, late night dance parties, bison roundup… I think the common denominator is the camaraderie that went along with working at Ranchlands as an apprentice. I was part of a team of people that were optimistic and excited to embrace life. When you have that in a ranch setting, you have something special. 

Ashley: Much of what I hold onto from my Ranchlands experience is the vulnerability I had to embrace. From learning to saddle a horse, to pushing past the discomforts of riding in subzero weather, to looking like and feeling like a total dweeb while doing all things new. There are countless wonderful memories from being around such a great crew of people, but a funny memory would be milking the milk cow, Veronica Karen, and making White Russians with her fresh milk.

How did working at the ranch influence the person you are today?  

Cooper: It helped me embrace maintaining an open mind, as well as the importance of surrounding yourself in your working environment with people you enjoy and want to be around.  Community, ranch culture, engaging the public and bridging the divide between rural and urban cultures are all elements that have stuck with me and helped set me up for success to ranch forward in the 21st century. 

Ashley: Working at Chico Basin inspired me to pursue a life that has true meaning and to align my love of the arts with the importance of land stewardship. I started a residency program of my own at Sieben Live Stock, creating a platform for cross cultural exchange and idea sharing amongst artists and ranchers.

Photo via Ashley Wertheimer.

Isaac Cole

Filmmaker and photographer, 2014

What are you doing now?  

I own a fly fishing guide company and I continue to work as a filmmaker. Mostly documentary film editing. 

How did you get to where you are now?

After leaving the ranch and Colorado, I moved to Los Angeles to continue working as a filmmaker. But the adjustment of living on a 103,000 acre ranch to living in a big city ended up being a little too much for me. I missed the mountains and rivers too much. I returned briefly to the MZ ranch as an intern, and then moved to Park City, Utah, where I am now.  I didn’t know many people at first, and spent most of my time fly fishing in the nearby river. That led me to meeting fellow fly fisherman and one of them got me a job as a guide. 

Why did you choose to come work at Ranchlands? 

I chose to work at Ranchlands because of the unique opportunity to learn about ranching, and  at the same time make films about ranching and the ranchers who lived on the ranch. I loved the vision that Duke and Kate had for creating a creative entry point for their lifestyle for the non-ranching world, and I was excited to be part of it. 

What’s one of your favorite memories from working at the ranch?

One of my favorite memories of living on the ranch was a ride to Crestone with Kate and a couple of her friends in town from the UK. The ride is long, through the dunes and mountains. It was just a beautiful day, and we shared many laughs. Another favorite memory was being able to make a western film on the ranch. I am actually showing that western film I made at a film festival in Idaho next spring!

How did working at the ranch influence the person you are today?

My time on the ranch made a huge impact on my life. It helped me realize that a life in the city wasn’t sustainable for me. It made me prioritize nature and quality of life, which has led me to running a fly fishing company rather than living in a city trying to make it in Hollywood.

I couldn’t be happier with how it worked out! My time on the ranch also helped me become comfortable around horses, and I’ve found a great appreciation for riding them. I have started to take people out into the Utah wilderness on horseback to do backcountry fly fishing trips.

Photo via Isaac Cole.

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