The objective of the College Farm Apprenticeship is to prepare aspiring farmers and recent graduates for leadership positions. We aim to provide apprentices with the skills, experience and knowledge needed to advance toward management roles whether on a production farm or within sustainable food systems initiatives. The experience is also applicable should apprentices choose to return to academic studies or seek other employment related to food, sustainability and education.
Work Environment & Program Structure
The majority of farm apprenticeship training is hands-on, supplemented by educational sessions, field trips and optional readings. During the summer months, apprentices will be part of a team (5-6 student employees plus farm staff, 2nd Year Apprentice and three fellow apprentices). Apprentices will be asked to take the lead on work assignments, as well as work as a team member. When classes resume in the fall, apprentices will take much more of a leadership role on the farm, leading students and volunteers on tasks and work projects.
Areas of Focus
Each apprentice will be assigned an area(s) of responsibility at the farm in addition to the day to day work of the farm. These responsibilities are designed to give each apprentice “ownership” of a particular aspect of the farm operation. Some of the responsibilities require daily attention while others entail weekly oversight though continual attention to detail remains essential. Examples of focused areas of responsibility for apprentices include livestock management, irrigation, crew leader/harvest leader, biofuels production, farmers’ market manager and compost oversight. Apprentices also have opportunities to help in areas outside their focus as these arise. For example: how many apprentices does it take to catch a lamb who does not wish to be caught?? Answer: usually more than one!
The basic “work and learn” day is from 7:30 am to 4:30 pm, Monday thru Friday, with one hour for lunch. Each Monday afternoon in the summer, apprentices join student employees for a farm meeting and educational program. On occasion, apprentices may be asked to lead an educational program.
Apprentices can expect to be exposed to ongoing experimental and investigative projects at the farm, including insect scouting, toad research and disease management; fertility, worm compost and compost projects; agroforestry and other educational outreach functions to arise over the season.
A typical week in the life of an apprentice is split between: a) Helping and leading the regular field crew in harvesting, washing and packaging produce for the Dickinson College Dining Services, the weekly farmers’ market in Carlisle, or our 150+ member Campus Supported Agriculture program for Dickinson faculty, administrators, staff, students, retirees and alumni; b) Participating in field or farm maintenance (e.g. weeding, some tractor work); c) Completing ancillary projects (the aforementioned areas of focus, or special projects, which occur frequently on the farm); d) Participating in a learning experience involving management of an organic farm, sometimes on-site or sometimes through an off-farm field trip or educational workshop; e) Having fun with other apprentices. Our activities as a group this summer in our free time have included making cheese at a local creamery, helping a local meat CSA process orders, attending a draft-power workshop, bi- or tri- weekly trips to the Yellow Breeches Creek (right across the street from the farm) to cool off after work, and making almost every meal together in our well-outfitted kitchen with access to biogas for cooking, and a bounty of delicious produce grown on the farm or purchased at the weekly Carlisle Farmers on the Square market.
All four interns live in traditional Mongolian-style huts called yurts, which are located on the farm right next to the irrigation pond and farm house. Probably the single-most asked question of apprentices is what it’s like to live in a yurt! Our answer is that it’s exactly like living in a regular house except that it’s round, and that the average yurt-dweller listens to more sheep and chicken noises than the average person. As a whole, we really enjoy living in them; it gives us a certain connectedness to the cycle of seasons not easily achieved by standard air-conditioned dwelling. Yurt life is very comfortable, spacious, energy-saving (they are run through solar panels that are off-the-grid), and great for the (lack of) commute. Living in a yurt involves a greater intimacy with the outdoors than living in a typical house due to the temperature extremes, brightness of the sun (and moon sometimes), and pitter-patter of the rain. Probably the second-most asked question/comment is a remark about farming being difficult. In regards to this, our job is no more difficult than the average desk job, in our humble opinion; we might get a little more dirty or sweaty but the reward of growing vegetables for one’s community while working with a great crew of other students and apprentices makes that completely worth it. We’re also more tan than the average office worker!
In a nutshell, the opportunity to work at the farm for this six-month apprenticeship presents multiple opportunities for aspiring farmers to fully immerse themselves in sustainable food production, renewable energy, and community service work. While the projects at the farm are diverse in their scope, the day to day work demands a positive attitude, team work, and perseverance. The Apprenticeship Program is also a chance to live and work on a farm – witnessing the seasonal transitions and other discoveries of place-based living that can only been experienced by on-farm residents. We, the farm staff, aim to make the work experience at the farm both fun and educational.