Thursday, October 24, 2013

Interns, apprentices, and volunteers

If you've been around for awhile, you may remember my post about The challenge with apprentices last year. Thankfully, I've learned a few things in the past year, and we've had some new experiences. As Joel Salatin says in his latest book, Field of Farmers: Interning, Mentoring, Partnering, Germinating,
This is my best advice right now. I'm sure I'll learn something more tomorrow, but this is what I think today.
We've had three excellent apprentices this year, so I am ready to officially start looking for interns and apprentices for next year. I had completely stopped advertising last year, but didn't actually delete the apprentice page from our website, and three very motivated young ladies found the application and applied. And the rest (as they say) is history. We've had a really excellent time getting to know them, and it's been fun watching them learn and grow. If you want to know more about our apprentice program, click on the link to visit our website.

On the other hand, we've had two less-than-stellar experiences with people volunteering on an intermittent basis. I've come to the conclusion (which was reinforced by reading Joel's book) that people really do need to be on the farm day after day to learn farming skills. The hardest thing about people who volunteer for a day occasionally is that it is challenging to give them meaningful things to do. Usually the first time you do something with a new person, it takes far longer than it would if you were doing it alone because you are doing lots of explaining. And they don't know how to do it after doing it only once, which means you have to continue to help them with each new chore multiple times. This doesn't seem like such a big deal when someone is staying on the farm and will be there for several months.

The things that don't take a lot of extra time are things that are not fun -- like mucking out the barn or turning the compost pile. We've had a few conversations with our current apprentice about how we could utilize volunteers in a meaningful way, but we haven't come up with a great idea. I get quite a few requests from people who live within 100 miles and would like an internship experience but can't commit to staying on the farm due to their own life commitments, so I wish I could figure out how to provide an educational experience for them. I'm afraid that the best thing for them would be a program where they pay for a one-week crash course in farming, but that isn't something I'm ready to develop. But as Joel says, "I'm sure I'll learn something more tomorrow, but this is what I think today."

If you're interested in being a mentor or an intern -- on any farm -- I highly recommend Joel's book, Fields of Farmers. I'm not quite done with it, but when I finish, I'll be posting a review on my Thrifty Homesteader blog.

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