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Students walking along the path outside of the science complex in between classes on a sunny spring day.

Growing awe and wonder

Posted on 04.01.20 by Caylee Larkin in College of Arts & Science

Alumni Profile: Quinn Riesenman '17

Quinn Riesenman '17Quinn Riesenman '17
Fort Lewis farmer training
Major: Creative Writing and Religious Studies
Southwest Colorado

Tell us more about your job: What do you do and what do you like about it?

Right now I am sitting at my desk typing on my computer. In a more general sense, I am living alone in a small house in a rural town in Southwest Colorado. I moved here in early February from California, where I had been living and working as an apprentice on a farm near Santa Cruz. I decided to move here to participate in a farmer training program that the nearby college, Fort Lewis, manages. The piece of land I live on is also the site of the farm. Technically, the program does not ‘begin’ until early May, but since I live on site I have a handful of daily responsibilities such as watering baby plants in the greenhouse, uncovering row crops that are growing inside other greenhouses, and sanitizing stacks of old harvesting crates. Besides the semi-trucks that haul coal on a daily basis up and down the nearby highway, it is very quiet and calm out here.

Right before the Covid situation unfurled across the country, I had been hired by a nearby bakery, but as the perception of the threat of the virus increased, the bakery decided to forego our scheduled training until after things ‘cleared up’, leaving me with ample ‘free time’. Besides taking care of the aforementioned chores, I spend my days meditating, reading, writing, talking to friends and family on the phone, drawing, wandering around outside, listening to music and podcasts, and watching ‘The Tiger King’. I majored in Creative Writing and Religious Studies at Linfield, and I feel happy to report that I continue to write on a daily basis. I write rambling emails to my friend Alex, and have been working on several new fiction projects, and a few non-fiction projects, one of which is in the first stages of editing for publication.

Tell us about yourself: How did you get to where you are? What should we know about you that is not on your LinkedIn profile?

After graduating from Linfield, I ended up finding a job working as a traveling outdoor school instructor in California. I lived in my car and traveled all around that beautiful and troubled state learning about its natural and human history, and leading groups of elementary and high school students through places like Yosemite, Big Sur, and Pinnacles. Sometimes I would have to drive for hours in between trips, and fell in love with life on the road, and with the California landscape.

After a trip on the central coast, I happened to stay the night at a farm called Pie Ranch. The farmers I met there were all young people and expressed a kind of vitality about their work that was rare. After speaking with a few of them and drinking an irresponsible amount of wine they kept offering me, I discovered with much enthusiasm that one could actually get paid to learn about farming. On a whim, I applied for their apprenticeship program. The following November, while watching Wreck-It Ralph 2 in a movie theater with my younger cousin, I got the email that told me I had been accepted. I felt extremely excited and couldn’t pay attention to the rest of the movie. To this day I cannot tell you how Wreck-It Ralph 2 ends.

My interest in agriculture stems in large part from a course I took during Jan Term my sophomore year called ‘Environmental Stewardship’ led by former Office of Sustainability coordinator, Duncan Reid. We stayed at Westwind, located on the coast between the UN Biosphere reserve site of the Salmon River estuary and Lincoln City, and didn’t have access to our phones for the whole month, a ground-shaking experience for many of us. The trans-disciplinary and experiential content of this course helped me see how my interest in writing wasn’t exclusive to literature, but could indeed be woven into my growing sense of awe and wonder for the natural world. And reading Wendell Berry’s The Unsettling of America for the course was the first time I ever really thought about where our food comes from. It took me nineteen years to ask the questions, ‘Where did this meal come from? How did it get here?’ I quickly started realizing how odd it was that I never wondered things like this before.

I also have to thank my dear friend Sarah Stark for her enthusiasm for growing food and medicine, and for showing me the basics of gardening while we co-managed the Linfield Garden.

Anyway, farming seems like a unique intersection of so many different 'disciplines': biology, ecology, economics, art, spirituality (if you're so inclined), meteorology, and of course, good old-fashioned physical labor. There are so many inspiring individuals who use the food they grow as a vehicle to address issues such as environmental degradation, social and racial injustice, and the healthcare crisis. And, I figure, no matter what ends up happening in the world, people are still going to have to eat delicious, healthy food.

What advice would you give to a current student?

It’s said often and is certainly a cliché, but: study what you are interested in. I endured many skeptical conversations with people who questioned the ‘value’ of a degree in religion and writing. Prof. David Fiordalis, my advisor during my time at Linfield, often responded to the question of skeptical students and parents, ‘But what do you do with a Religious Studies major?’ with ‘Whatever you want,’ which I found very encouraging. I think it’s true. We get so caught up worrying that if we don’t choose the right major, that we’ll be forever and irrevocably funneled into the ‘discipline’ scribbled on our diplomas. But one thing I have noticed since graduating is this: No one cares what you majored in for your undergrad. They just want to see that you put in enough time and effort into something, thereby proving at least a baseline level of adaptability and intelligence.

So, long story short, as traditional ‘values’ continue to dissolve and metamorphose on a daily basis, I encourage anyone in the fortunate position to choose their field of study to make their decision from a place of love and curiosity, not based on an Excel spreadsheet guaranteeing the future of your Return On Investment. If you’re going to be in debt for going to school anyway, you might as well spend your time there basking in topics and conversations you actually care about.

Oh, and make sure to express how much you value the friendships that you’ve made to your friends while you can. Another cliché: it’s never the same after graduation.