Farm Internships and Apprenticeships

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Photo courtesy The Countryman Press

Woman-Powered Farm (The Countryman Press, 2015) by Audrey Levatino tells women’s story, and is the first ever guide to farming written by women and addressing their specific questions and concerns. Whether you are a farmers’ market shopper, a homesteader, or a passionate gardener, chances are you, too, have dreamed of living on a farm. This empowering, inspiring book will show you how to do it. Filled with stories of women across the country who are leading the farming revolution, it is an invaluable resource for anyone who dreams of the farming life.

You can purchase this book from the MOTHER EARTH NEWS store: Woman-Powered Farm.

Farm Internship or Apprenticeship as a Path to Farming

You don’t need to jump headlong into farm ownership to learn about farming. Many women find it more prudent to learn the skills they will need before looking to buy a place of their own. Internships and apprenticeships are good ways to kick the tires of farming. They are also good ways to experience the less glamorous side of farming and learn which type of farming you don’t want to do.

Most interns are expected to do the grunt work. But that’s exactly where you need to begin. If you can handle double digging beds, wrenching wire grass out of pathways, and spreading tons of mulch, then you know you can handle and appreciate the farm tasks that need more skill. Apprenticeships are a more advanced form of internship. You learn more farming skills and management, but an apprenticeship requires that you already have some basic farming skills.

Be very careful in choosing a farm in which to work. Some farms do not follow all the national and local labor laws and may offer unpaid internships in violation of those laws. You could also find yourself in a manual labor situation that offers little opportunity for education.

But some of the best people you will ever befriend will be the kindred spirits you learn from on farms. And while there are known labor issues with the Big Ag farms, the local, sustainable, and organic farms are generally run by kind people. A good place to seek out internships and apprenticeships is with the National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service. This site offers hundreds of farm internships listed by state along with lots of useful information for farmers of any level. However, be aware that the service does not screen or endorse the job postings or farms on its website. That said, the listings are very informative and will answer your questions about pay, living conditions, and what you might expect to learn as an intern or apprentice.

How to Find the Perfect Internship/Apprenticeship

• Start with woman-owned/operated farms! After all, they are the fastest growing and most dynamic of all farms. If it’s not woman-operated, ask how many women work on the farm and how many you’ll be working with directly.

• Match the farm with the skills you want to learn. It seems obvious, but raising goats for meat and raising goats for mohair are two different endeavors.

• Ask to be referred to a former woman intern so that you can ask her about her experience. Also, beware if you’re the first intern on a farm. It shouldn’t be a deal-breaker, but you may find that the farm has not properly prepared for an intern and the position may be less structured than you’d prefer.

• Don’t go to work for a farm that will be your main competitor. It’s just not cool to take the knowledge from a farmer and then go into business as his or her direct competition. Best to travel to another town to learn the skills and then bring them back to your home base.

• Look for a farm in the climate zone and terrain that you’ll eventually be working in. The skills you learn farming in New Mexico don’t translate well to Maine.

• Be clear what the living situation is and make sure you’re prepared for it. You could be living in a yurt (and loving it!).

• Visit the farm first. If it’s not practical to do that, then work out a one- or two-week trial internship to make sure you and the farm are a good fit.

• Look for internships where you’ll be working or living alongside at least one other person (maybe your own partner). It’s always valuable to have two minds learning tasks, and having companionship is important for what can be a lonely job.

For more information from Woman-Powered Farm, check out How to Sell at a Farmers Market

Reprinted with permission from Woman-Powered Farm by Audrey Levantino and published by The Countryman Press, 2015. Buy this book from our store: Woman-Powered Farm.