Tom-ElmoreDear Tom,

I am considering a career in farming.  How can I find farm work on a WNC organic farm?

Thanks, Victor in Black Mountain

Victor,
I support your interest in exploring farming by working on a successful farm.  I interned on a farm near Boone in the mid-80s and learned a great deal – both practices that I wanted to imitate and others that were not for me.  In my opinion, one of the best ways to learn is by doing.  Now is a good time to be looking.  The best opportunities are often gone early in the year.

In looking for a farm, geography and climate are important, particularly with organic growing.  In WNC we have pests and disease that are rare on the coast, for example.  If you know where you want to set up your farm, I suggest finding work in a similar location.

I also suggest finding a farm with a crop mix similar to the one that you imagine growing.  Scanning the websites of the farms listed below is one way to generate crop ideas and to find out which farms in your area are growing similar crops.  

Angelic Organics fields

Angelic Organics fields

Ask around about the farms that you are considering.  Intern assignments vary from farm to farm.  The work of the farm must be done but some farmers are better teachers than others.  The farms in the list below have joined the Organic Growers School CRAFT program (Collaborative Regional Alliance for Farmer Training), which suggests that they care about educating the next generation of farmers.  Also consider a farm visit, buying their products, and talking to other farmers and farm workers.  

When you narrow down your preferences to a few farms consider an introductory e-mail with a resume if you have one.  Some farms have application forms on their sites which will also be good to include.  If you end up with an interview, here are some topics that you may want to cover at some point:

The documents below describe the search for farm experience by three WNC farm workers that may be helpful:

If you decide to work on a farm, consider making that hands-on experience part of a larger plan.  Organic Growers School offers a range of training opportunities.  Farm Dreams is a day-long class for folks interested in exploring the idea of farming and if farming is a good fit for them.  CRAFT is an association of organic farmers and farm workers that meet monthly throughout the season for farm tours and pot lucks.  CRAFT is a great way to see a variety of farms and to talk with other farm workers about their experiences.  Farm Beginnings is a year- long class for workers or growers with several years of experience who are operating a new farm or about to open a farm business.  OGS Spring and Fall conferences plus individual workshops may also fit in your agricultural education plan.

farm crew 2011 002 b

The Thatchmore Farm Crew relaxing after a hard day of work!

Here is a list of CRAFT members and Farm Beginnings speakers with contact info:

While I know many of these farmers and enthusiastically recommend the ones that I know, OGS has not inspected any of these farms, their housing situations, teaching methods, etc.   Be sure you are excited about the farm on which you will be working and that all your questions are answered before you commit.

The future is bright for organic farming as a career.  Good luck with your search!

-Tom

Tom Elmore

Tom Elmore

Tom Elmore is co-owner and operator of Thatchmore Farm in Leicester NC. He has grown certified organic fruits and vegetables for 25 years and serves on the Boards of the NC Greenhouse Vegetable Growers Association and the Organic Growers School.