You want to work your small farm with draft horses or oxen and
maybe direct-market your products, but you don't have these skills
and you don't know where to get them. An internship may be the
answer. Literally thousands of internships are available (including
those specifically related to draft animal work listed here in the Good
Farming Apprenticeship Network) to anyone willing to a do a little
hard work, research, and communicating. Finding the internship that
best suits your needs may seem a daunting task, but you can do it
with a little
I have engaged in six internships in agriculture, as well as in other fields in
which I have worked. Based on these experiences I have developed a few
principles I believe will help anyone seeking an apprenticeship acquire the
best quality experience while avoiding potential disappointments.
Determine the amount of money you need to be paid to be able to take
on the internship for the specified period of time. This amount will vary
greatly from one individual to the next. Be sure to include everything that
won't be provided by the internship (such as emergency medical
insurance, auto insurance, and so forth). As an apprentice, if you
exchange labor for housing, meals, and even a small stipend, you might
not be covered by workers compensation. The rules regarding such
things are different in each state. Farming is a dangerous occupation,
even if you work solely with vegetables. Accidents can occur, so plan
ahead and be intelligent about your preparations.
Make sure both parties understand exactly what your compensation will
be. Are housing and utilities included? Will food be provided? If a
stipend is offered, how much is it and under what circumstances is it
paid? These seemingly simple things are easily miscommunicated. A
thorough discussion will help you determine how much you can afford to
earn (or not earn) during your apprenticeship.
You don't necessarily need to consider only internships with salaried pay.
The skills you learn as part of an internship are often invaluable and
therefore make up for the lack of monetary rewards. I was once paid a
meager $67.50 a week for 40 hours of labor, in an internship that
ncluded housing and utilities. The stipend provided enough to pay for my
auto insurance and some basic groceries, with a little left over to put
away. I was lucky that for Christmas my sisters had stocked me up with
groceries, so the situation was comfortable for me. Through it I made
numerous friends and learned some outstanding skills, ranging from draft
horse driving to the marketing of organic field crops.
Determine the skills you would like to acquire and seek situations that
will allow you to meet your personal goals. I have noticed over several
internships that apprentices who come into a situation with a specific set
of goals generally achieve greater satisfaction from their internship
opportunities than those who have no clear goals>
A simple method of setting your goals is to sit down and think about the
future you want to have in, let's say, draft-horse farming. Using that future
as your goal, write down the skills you currently have that will help you get
there, then write down the skills you need but are lacking. Using these
skills as an outline, review the advertised internship positions to see if
they fit what you are looking for.
Unfortunately, some internships do not meet their advertised statements.
Some farms or living museum sites advertise draft-animal power as part
of their operations, yet interns aren't given the chance to take advantage
of these unique opportunities. Reasons include lack of time, insurance
clauses, and fear of lawsuits.
This part of the search is perhaps the most frustrating aspect, but one
you can easily avoid by interviewing the farmer/group/organization much
as they interview you [see Ask Questions]. Ask for a thorough job
description and make sure skills are truly offered as advertised.
Be specific about the position you are seeking, whether it involves
blacksmithing, working with oxen, or whatever. Make sure you will be
allowed to work at developing these skills on a regular basis. Ask for a
certain percentage of the time be allotted to this development, but be
flexible. Farming is never a sure thing. If the internship does not provide
skills in an area you are seeking, or if you are asked to pursue certain
skills on your own time, look elsewhere.
As you research the advertised internships don't be frustrated if none
meet your specific goals. Many opportunities are available that are not
listed in any publication. You might, for example, write a note to
Heritage be published on the Good Farming Apprenticeship Network
page in a future issue, hoping to appeal to a farmer or logger who
doesn't formally offer internships but might be willing to take you on.
Search for other unlisted opportunities. Some of the internships that
garnered me the most advantageous skills were not found in a magazine
or job listing. They were opportunities that developed through meeting
and talking with people. Someone you meet might know of a person or
place where you can learn the skills you seek. Get out there and look,
talk, and listen.
Be ready make a commitment. On a number of occasions I have seen
internships that include draft-horse power or skills, only to discover that
the people offering the positions require interns to commit to a lengthy
period. After several years of working with draft animals of various types,
I now understand why many farmers want a long-term commitment: It
offers consistency in working partners, which is best for the animals. It
also gives the farmer time to gauge whether the intern is cut out for this
kind of work and able to be trusted with valuable animals and equipment.
You must understand this unique facet of working with animals and be
prepared to make a commitment that fits your schedule. Teamster skills
are not something you can pick up overnight. They develop over a
lifetime, building constantly upon a foundation that should be solid from
Work to make the internship what you want it to be. The teachers are not
the only ones who have to work to make your learning experience a
success. You must be as willing as they are to achieve your goals. Once
you have found a position you feel will provide you with everything you
need and you have a basis of trust in the people you are working with, it's
up to you to make the most of the internship. When you have questions or
suggestions, talk to the farmer about them. Many apprenticeships turn
out to be learning opportunities for both the intern and the teacher.
Sometimes you will have a chance to meet other people working in your
field of interest. Maybe you will visit producers or suppliers for the farm or
museum site. Listen to conversations, ask questions if possible, and
take notes when the discussion presents valuable information. The
contacts you make may later help you get started or meet consumers of
your product, may one day be suppliers for you, or may offer future
apprenticeship opportunities or even full-time employment.
Most people, farms, and organizations that host internships have
libraries full of volumes regarding some of the things you will be doing.
If these books are made available to you, read everything that might prove
useful. Take notes, or at least make a bibliography of the books you find
useful. Use your bibliography to start your personal library as soon as
possible. In farming, reference books are priceless.
Whenever the opportunity arises, go to as many seminars, conferences,
and field days as you can. You may learn as much from organized
meetings as from your internship. Topics at such events often vary widely,
so pick those you think will help you the most. If the farm you are working
for is willing to pay your way, discuss which sessions you should attend
that will benefit the farm as well as you.
View gatherings as not only sources of information but as tremendous
resources of people who are interested the same things you are. Talk,
listen, and learn. By asking appropriate questions and carefully listening
to the answers, you might learn as much standing in line for registration
as you do in some of the sessions.
If you have any farm experience at all, you will soon find that each farmer
has a different method of doing things. Don't be dismayed if
philosophies and management practices vary from yours. When it comes
to attitude, an often-stubborn person like myself may have a hard time.
We need to learn to be open minded. Be prepared to learn. Be flexible.
Most important, be respectful of someone else's methods. In most
cases, those methods have been developed or adopted for a reason,
which you must take into consideration before speaking up on an issue.
An internship can offer one of the most valuable learning opportunities you
will ever have. With some basic preparations in finances, goal setting, r
esearch, and communication, not only will you garner invaluable skills you
might not acquire anywhere else, you will also make lifelong friends, unearth
possible job opportunities, and discover resources for your own farming operation.