Best Practices for Mentors
Adding Value to Apprenticeships
Thank you for your interest and dedication in the education of the next generation of farmers. We couldn’t do this without your commitment and wisdom. The Organic Growers School is committed to helping you establish the best and most effective apprenticeship opportunities for your farm. If you have anything to add, questions, or feedback on this page, don’t hesitate to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Here are some first steps to consider as you begin exploring hosting apprentices on your farm.
- Wait to get your routines figured out some before hiring apprentices. The time this takes will vary, of course, but it’s important your farm and farm staff are comfortable in their roles and routines before you bring on a new person. Keep in mind you’re going to have to take time out of your day to train them, so having the patience and flexibility to do that is important.
- Don’t hire out of desperation. When you feel desperate for help, you start compromising your standards and you can end up hiring someone who won’t work well with you. Once you hire, you should be committed and confident in training that person, for both your sake and theirs.
- Request a written application, and conduct interviews in-person, via skype/video, or on the phone.
- Working interviews can be a great way to see their work ethic, ability to follow directions, follow through, and personality. It also gives them a chance to see what the job will be like.
- Request and call references for your top applicants, professional and/or personal.
- If you’re still unsure, get a background check. They’re available for free through the NC Department of Justice. If you are planning on doing a background check, be sure to inform workers of this beforehand.
- It’s important to be as clear as possible with applicants about what the apprenticeship entails. How many hours a day and days per week will they be expected to work? How much will they get paid, in education, room and board, and stipend/hourly wages (if applicable)? What kinds of personality traits are you looking for in an apprentice? Farming is a very professionally intimate endeavor, especially with on-farm workers, so personal relationships and expectations are important to have figured out.
Worried about not paying people enough?
- Stress that education is part of the compensation. Apprenticeships are an alternative learning method, not appreciated by our society but valuable all the same.
- If you’re trying to attract more seasoned workers, consider offering a “sliding-scale” type of compensation package, where more experienced workers get a higher stipend or higher hourly wage. This will help attract individuals with farming experience who may be more dedicated to the farming lifestyle.
- If you want to be very transparent, consider sharing your revenue and financial numbers, including expenses and capital so the apprentices can see the numbers you’re working with.
- Present it as a compensation package that includes pay, food, education, etc. Make it clear that if the compensation you’re offering isn’t enough, that it probably won’t be a good fit. It’s important neither party feels cheated.
- Join a farmer network like WNC CRAFT (Collaborative Regional Alliance for Farmer Training). Farmer networks like CRAFT offer support in your educational mission. You will have guidance in your role as an educator, as well as the opportunity to introduce your apprentices to diverse farming methods. The CRAFT monthly tours and potlucks also create a social outlet for the interns. You can incorporate education in several different ways.
Further considerations as the season gets rolling…
- Recognize that apprentices are trying, even though something may be more difficult for them or they may have a different approach than you do. Try to respect them, and ask questions to further your communication and better your teaching methods (such as, “How can I help you understand this?”)
- Give the crew a chance to be excited about the food they’re growing together, and create solidarity and friendship among your farm team. Some farms do periodic group lunches, rotating who cooks and cleans each day. Others have apprentices bring their own lunch, but may encourage eating in a group setting.
- Ask for feedback from apprentices. By doing so, they may be more receptive to feedback from you. Set up a weekly or monthly meeting intended to discuss questions and concerns about how the internship is working for both parties.
- Set and stick to boundaries for yourself and the apprentices.
- Set time for you and your apprentices to have off; maintain a predictable schedule. Expecting your apprentices to work seven days a week may be too much, especially if you’re working all day. Let them have some time to explore your area and learn the beauty behind where you live.
- It’s okay if you don’t want apprentices in your house, but make sure they have places of their own, too.
- Cut yourself some slack! Everyone’s learning here.
- Show your apprentices why you love farming and hope that it will get through!
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. Read more about Farmer Programs' Funding Partners here.