Apprenticeship Survey

by Jim Sluyter & Jo Meller
A good match between farmers and their apprentices, along with effective training of the apprentices, ensures that the internship experience will be beneficial to each. Accordingly, last year we made a study to determine how farmers find interns with characteristics that are important to them. As part of the project we sought advice from farmers who are experienced in training interns.
Although the farms we contacted do not necessarily employ horse power most, perhaps all, are organic farms and many are community supported agriculture (CSA) farms. Some have offered internships for more than 20 years; the average is 8 years.

Most of the farms train an average of two to three interns per year and are generally able to find as many as they seek, although in this regard a significant minority is disappointed at least some of the time. When asked if they were generally satisfied with the internship experience, 84% of the responding farmers said “yes.”

The characteristics farmers desire most often in an apprentice are
(in order of importance): physically fit, easy to get along with, able to
work independently, background in farming or gardening, eager to learn,
reliable, able to follow instructions, willing to make a commitment, positive
attitude, intelligent.

As part of each apprentice's training, a few farmers require their interns to read certain books related to the internship, others suggest related reading. Many simply open their often-extensive libraries for interns to browse. Teaching methods otherwise largely entail demonstrating a technique,
then watching the intern do it.

The results of our survey suggest that farmers tend to overrate the amount of work an intern will provide, which may be a reflection of the relatively large investment in time required to give the intern a meaningful learning experience. The object of an internship program is to train prospective farmers; it is not about obtaining cheap labor. These goals are not mutually exclusive, however, and an intern can benefit from a well-developed training program at the same time that a farmer gets labor at a bargain. The key is good training.

rh horse logo
Jim Sluyter and Jo Meller wrote a 9-page report on internships from which the
above was adapted with permission in the Autumn 2000 issue of Rural Heritage.
The report is based on a survey conducted by the couple and funded by the Michigan Organic Food and Farm Alliance. The entire report is available free as an email attachment to visitors.

  • Copyright © 1997 − 2023 Rural Heritage
    Rural Heritage  |  PO Box 2067  |  Cedar Rapids, IA 52406
    Telephone (319) 362-3027

    This file last modified: September 26 2015.

    Designed by