Farmer Orientation

May 4th, 2014

farmerorientation1On May 4th, we held our first Farmer Orientation. Full Sun Farm was a great host for the gathering, and we want to thank them for letting us come out! It was a perfect spring day, and after a quick tour of the farm to check out their new greenhouse we settled down to a potluck meal and discussion about improving apprenticeships on your farm – sharing experiences and lessons learned. From the discussion, it’s clear our CRAFT farmers value their apprentices and are continually working to make sure they are adequately training future farmers.

Here are a few of the topics we covered:

  • It’s important to be as clear as possible from the start about what the apprenticeship entails, compensation, etc. How many hours a day and days a week are they expected to work? How much they’ll get paid, and when (and if) they get a raise, by how much? Is room and board part of it? Hard work is expected! Have those details written down so you can both reference them later as needed.farmerorientation3
  • Many of our CRAFT farmers struggle with whether or not they pay 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.
    • Present it as a compensation package that includes pay, food, education, etc. emphasizing education. If all this together is not enough now is the time to decide. If they don’t value the education as highest then it’s not a good fit.
    • You can be open about you’re revenue, expenses capital and annual expenses at the end. Be honest that interns are usually paid more than the farmers. It can be hard to make ends meet as a farmer and labor is your biggest expense.
  • You can incorporate education in several different ways here are a few examples from CRAFT farmers:
    • Morning field walks for 1-1.5 hours. Walk the farm and look at different crops to get a sense of work that needs to be done. Then apprentices can see what the farmers look for.
    • Have specific classes once a week or periodically to get in-depth on things like soils, water systems, greenhouse growing, etc.
    • Have a resource library of books for the apprentices to borrow.
    • Spend about an hour a day on education focusing on something they’ll do that day.
    • Tell them at the end of the day about the main points to address for the next day, or ask them what they feel needs to be done the next day & get them thinking.
    • If they are competent, give an apprentice more independence by assigning them a chore to do or enterprise to take the lead on; promote them to crew leader if they’ve been there for a year; let them raise their own crop on a portion of land if possible.
  • Recognize that apprentices are doing their best and trying even though they may have a different way or something may be more difficult for them. Try to respect them and their way – asking how can I help you understand this? Is there a better way to communicate?
  • farmerorientationSeveral of our farmers do group lunches rotating who cooks and cleans each day. Others have apprentices bring their own lunch but then they can choose to eat together and then have group parties for birthdays.
    • This gives the crew a chance to be excited about the food you’re growing together, and can create solidarity. But, this seems to be a better idea when there is more than one apprentice, because lunch might be a better time to take a break from one another.
  • Some advice for hiring:
    • Wait 2-3 years to get your routines figured out some before hiring interns
    • Don’t hire out of desperation. When you feel desperate for help, you start compromising your standards and you can end up hiring a dud. And, once they move in its harder to get them out if it is not a good fit.
    • Get background checks for free through the NC Department of Justice, and check
    • Check references – call the references they provide and interview them.
  • Set boundaries for yourself and the apprentices and stick to them.
    • There is always going to be some emergency on the farm or fire to be put out,  and important to set aside time-off – for example, on day’s off really take the day off. Plan vacations.
    • It is okay if you don’t really want the interns in your house. Get separate washer and dryers for them; create spaces for them to hang out that are different from yours; don’t ask them to babysit your kids, etc.
  • And finally, cut ourselves some slack!

Author: Cameron Farlow

Cameron Farlow is the Executive Director of Organic Growers School. Hailing from Greensboro, NC with dairy farming in her blood, she has now made her home in Western NC. After earning her undergraduate degrees from UNC-Chapel Hill, Cameron dove headfirst into the realm of sustainable agriculture and local food systems, and later completed her Master’s Degree in Appalachian Studies and Sustainable Development from Appalachian State University. She also brings experience in the realms of farmland preservation, food security, farm to university, and land access for farmers. She came on board with OGS in April 2012. In addition to her work with OGS, Cameron is a dancer, baker and avid adventurer.