Q: I’ve never worked on a farm before. What are some resources to tap into to help me learn from people with lots of experience?
A: The best forum that exists locally is CRAFT. You can join as an apprentice/student member and have access to farm tours where you can meet farmers and learn about their different approaches to mentoring, and meet apprentices with all levels of experience in working on farms. Our OGS Farm Network highlights farms that are part of the WNC CRAFT network and offer apprenticeship opportunities to get on-the-ground training, which illustrates their dedication to new farmer education. It’s a good resource to explore if you’re looking for extended farm educational and work opportunities. OGS also offers a Farm Beginnings Program, a farmer led training program that is taught by very experienced farmers that live in WNC.
Q: What is Apprentice Link, and how is it different from other farm apprenticeship listings?
A: Apprentice Link is run by Organic Growers School (OGS). Organic Growers School is the premier provider of practical organic education in the Southern Appalachians. We are building a mutually supportive network of prosperous farmers, productive gardeners and informed consumers engaged in creating healthy communities. Apprentice Link is primarily focused on farms in Western North Carolina (WNC) offering apprenticeships that use organic and sustainable production methods.
Farms that are included in this list are vetted by OGS through the following criteria:
- Farms are actively engaged in the local community.
- Farms are using organic and/or sustainable production methods. Organic Certification is not necessarily required but we ask that farms and farmers “in-the-know” and conscientiously practicing organic standards.
- Farms are dedicated to training new farmers by providing education as a pinnacle element of their apprenticeship program.
Our listing highlights farmers that are part of the WNC CRAFT network, which illustrates the farms’ dedication to new farmer education. As a CRAFT member or apprentice on a CRAFT farm, you have access to many continuing education and networking resources. This includes access to articles in the CRAFT Handbook, discussing challenges and various approaches to farming specific to the Southeast. Additionally, the CRAFT farmer network is a monthly social event organized around farm tours, intern education, and good food. If the farm you are a part of participates in CRAFT activities, be prepared for a season of networking with farms in the Southeast! Note that not all farms listed are CRAFT members, but all have self-reported as being dedicated to continuing farmer education and outreach. It will be noted on their listing if the farm is a member of CRAFT.
Although not all farms listed are necessarily Certified Organic, all are focused on “sustainably-minded” farming practices and often adhere to most (if not all) organic standards.
We have also incorporated a review element into our database that works to take previous apprentice experience into account. All reviews written were reported by apprentice or employee “references” that were provided by the farm through their application. We believe this element of our database furthers community accountability and will help provide applicants with resources to help them make an informed decision when accepting farm positions.
Q: How do I use Apprentice Link to find a farm apprenticeship?
It’s easy! Simply search farms directly on the interactive map or search by selecting from the filter options. You can filter by farm products produced (checking the boxes will list farms that deal with those specific products when you are directed to our “Explore Farms” page) or by their hiring status (currently hiring or not). You can also type in keywords into the search bar to further filter farms.
Be sure to check out the bottom of the “Employment” tab and the “References” tab on the farm’s profile to read about people’s experience with the farm. The “Employment” tab also has information on the best way and time to contact the farm if you are interested in the employment opportunities described.
Q: What kinds of things should I be asking myself to narrow down what I’m looking for in an apprenticeship?
A: Farm life is varied, but it’s hard work across the board. The first question to ask yourself is if you’re willing and able to do it physically. Your mentor(s) will probably be depending on you to get their seasonal goals accomplished, and it’s important to have a good work ethic and be prepared to work long days. Physical work is very rewarding for some but not for others. Take into account if you’re that kind of person.
Ask yourself how isolated you’re willing to be and if you’d be willing to work alone with only your mentor(s) or if you value having a community of people around. Some farms will only have one worker per season, and some will have more. Take your vehicle access into consideration when choosing a farm. Rural living is not for everyone.
Explore whether or not farming is something you want to do long term or if you’re just casually trying it. Some farmers want to mentor people specifically who see farming as a career choice, while others are happy to train people for just a season of work. It’s okay to be seeking an apprenticeship in order to see if you actually want to farm long term, but this is a good thing to communicate to potential farmer mentor(s) before you begin your position.
Take into account all the resources you need in order to be happy. If room, board, and education is enough for you, make sure you would feel comfortable in the living situation that’s offered. If you feel that you need to be further compensated for your time, make sure you communicate that to farmers. Often farmers will ask for applicants to have experience when asking for compensation, but it’s fair also to expect a stipend when committing to a position that would limit you from working another paid job. Be realistic and communicative about your needs.
Q: A farmer contacted me about an interview. What can I expect when I visit their farm?
A: Farmers have very different approaches to job interviews. To set yourself up in the best way possible, be prepared to work a bit. Dress appropriately for the weather and for work, bring a water bottle, and make sure you are open to performing some task on the farm. Many farmers will do a combination of a working and formal interviews to see how you perform on the farm. Ask the farmer in advance what you can expect, to ensure you are properly prepared. If you’ve never been to a farm, here’s a good resource on basic farm etiquette to keep in mind. You may want to have a list of questions to ask the farmer to get a better sense of their operation.
Q: A farm doesn’t have an application on their Apprentice Link listing, or farm website. What’s the best way to find out how to apply?
A: Contact them via their noted preferred method of contact and ask! In general, just like any other job, sending in a resume and cover letter is a good start. Don’t be afraid if you don’t have any farming experience. Often farmers appreciate good work ethic and initiative as much as any other employer. Do a little bit of research about their farm before you contact them, and make sure you mention why you want to apply for their farm position specifically.
Q: The farm I’m interested in applying to has already hired for the season or isn’t hiring yet. Is it appropriate to still contact them?
A: Absolutely! Although they may already have hired apprentices for this season, chances are they’ll be looking again soon, and it’s best to get your foot in the door early and introduce yourself. The “Employment” tab on their Apprentice Link profile will indicate when they accept applications, but to avoid the flood it could never hurt to try earlier. To stay on their good side, make sure you contact them via their preferred contact method (also indicated on their profile.) If they don’t have time or interest in talking about working with you in the future, they’ll say so. Start looking for apprenticeships in November or December, not April or May. Most farms hope to have solidified their workers for that farming season by then.
Q: What kind of challenges should I be aware of when saying “yes” to a farm apprenticeship?
A: Farm apprenticeships can present a lot of opportunities, but many folks don’t think of the accompanying challenges they may face in working on a farm. Keep in mind the commitment you’re making to their farm and your mentor(s). The farm will probably be depending on you in a big way to get their seasonal goals accomplished. Taking on a worker is not a small commitment, and by hiring you the farm has put their trust in your work and emotional ethic. Living and working with people can be challenging; don’t expect to get along all the time. But maintaining a healthy work relationship with rich communication will help take the pressure off the personal side of things. You’re choosing the farm as much as they are choosing you. Take this into account during initial interactions and impressions of your potential mentor(s).
Consider whether you have ever lived in a rural area. Isolation may be a scary and new thing for you. If it’s too daunting, maybe pick a farm closer to an urban area — not all farms are in the middle of nowhere! Make sure to communicate with your farmer about transportation limitations if you don’t have access to your own vehicle. Be realistic with yourself about what rural isolation might mean for your social and mental stimulation. Rural living has its limits, but for some it can be very rewarding.
Be sure to take into account all of your personal expenses when you are looking for a farm job, to make sure that you can afford it. In general, your hands-on education will contribute to your compensation, so you may be receiving less than a living wage to work and learn. Make sure you can still pay your bills!
Lastly, the physical challenges presented by farm work are sometimes surprising to folks who have never apprenticed before. Farmers work long, hot days. A sense of humor and a willingness to work hard will be necessary.
There may be other things about farm work that you find challenging or surprising that come up along the way. Look at it as an adventure, and be ready for anything!
Q: What should I expect in a typical work day?
Early rising is typical on most farms, as it allows for making the most of the daylight hours with the most mild temperatures. Farming is probably more than a full-time job for your mentor(s), and it’s important to be clear what they expect from you as far as a daily/weekly schedule before you commit. Don’t expect farm work to stop for extreme weather. Be prepared to work in heat, rain, and snow in sometimes physically demanding situations. Care and attention to detail are important when harvesting and processing goods. You should be prepared to be physically and mentally exhausted at the end of the day, with the expectation to wake up and do it again the next. Working in such an intimate way with others and with your body will help you get to know yourself better, both physically and emotionally, and access to good food will keep you nourished and connected to your food in a way you may have never been before.
Q: What do you recommend to do when my farming apprenticeship is not going as smoothly as I imagined or hoped?
A: Open communication with your farm mentor(s) is key. Most farmers are eager to learn about your particular interests and expectations from the get-go, so if something is not working out accordingly, be communicative! If you end up having needs that you didn’t foresee, you can chat with your farm mentor about possible solutions. Additionally, it’s a good idea to talk with other apprentices, join CRAFT, and get yourself connected with a larger community than just your farm mentor(s). Talking about your experience with others in the community will help you understand whether the problems you’re facing are signs that farm life is not for you, or if they are simply bumps in the road on your way to a successful farming future. Don’t expect everything to come easy! You can also contact OGS Farmer Programs Staff if you’d like an objective third-party perspective, advice, or guidance on a conflict regarding a farm or farmer. Feel free to email firstname.lastname@example.org or call Cameron (Farmer Programs Coordinator) at 828-338-9465 to chat.
Q: What are some good tips for getting the most out of the farming season?
A: The ultimate experience will depend on what you’re seeking, but we’d encourage you to ask lots of questions and try new things when the opportunity arises. Take advantage of experiencing anything your farm mentor(s) are willing to show you and learn as much as they’re willing to teach. Talk to your mentor(s) about taking on a personal project that interests you and helps with other farm projects. These types of opportunities allow you to benefit the farm as a whole while pursuing your interests, and you gain extra experience from taking the lead. Julia Sendor’s “Making the Most Out of the Apprentice Experience” article posted on the OGS website has some great insights into this. Lastly, we’d encourage you to join CRAFT and attend tours and workshops to help learn about other types of farming and farming practices. You will be introduced to many other people within the farming community from whom you can gather advice.
Q: Are there any other resources you’d recommend to someone looking for farm work?
A: Tons! Here’s our external resource page for more information.
OGS Farmer Programs are made possible by our farmer network and funding in part by the Community Foundation of WNC, CLIF Bar Family Foundation, Organic Valley, Simply 1%, Carolina Farm Credit, French Broad Food Co-op, and by the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program of USDA-NIFA, Grant #2016-70017-25341