rocket mass heater dvd*
Permies likes frugality and the farmer likes Farm internship or looking for free labor? permies
  Search | Permaculture Wiki | Recent Topics | Flagged Topics | Hot Topics | Zero Replies | World Domination!
Register / Login
permies » forums » living » frugality
Bookmark "Farm internship or looking for free labor?" Watch "Farm internship or looking for free labor?" New topic
Author

Farm internship or looking for free labor?

Amedean Messan
pollinator

Joined: Nov 11, 2010
Posts: 803
Location: Burlington, NC - Woodland, Clay - Zone 7
    
  26
I am wondering if there is anyone who has had any experience or good opinions regarding intern or intern-like offers from farms. I have seen various postings of farms seeking internship opportunities offering little more than food and housing, but asking for more specific skills other than interest in the field and willingness to work hard. Hope I do not sound too skeptical but an internship to me is extending an opportunity to train an aspiring student who has not developed a technical skill to a marketable level. In the corporate level an internship can lead to full employment with good impression and they are usually paid.

I understand family farms usually are not looking to hire due to the nature of their family business but it is disrespectful in my opinion to advertise a usually non-paid internship without specifically addressing a curriculum of any sort other than the promise of hard work. Further I believe if you want something from somebody there should be a mutual benefit i.e specific skills learned or paid internship and not just an opportunity to pet goats and hold chickens.

My suggestion to those looking to set up a farm internship of sorts is to state specific skills that will be willingly taught such as perhaps cheese making techniques, livestock management, farm finance, or other trade skills which allows an aspiring farmer to build relevant skills for industry.


Those who hammer their swords into plows will plow for those who don't!
Hanley Kale-Grinder


Joined: Sep 30, 2011
Posts: 112
Location: Mountain West of USA, Salt Lake City
    
    1
Having done the farm "internship" thing on a few different farms, you can take this as you will. Farming is very repetitive. Period, end of story. A basic task in farming goes something like, "Find a ripe orange and pick it. Do that 3,000 times." One of the most valuable things you can learn interning on a farm is if you enjoy repetitive work in the dirt and sunshine or if you would rather do something else. If you don't like pulling weeds for 5 hours you won't like farming.

That being said, the person running the farm should be aware of this and try to make things as interesting as possible. Let the interns do everything instead of sticking them with the same job all the time. Also, there are many teachable moments in a day and for a successful internship the farmer should stop what they are doing to explain what is going on. On one hand, there is a lot to learn about different plants and what those plants need in terms of structures, water, soil, and timing. On the other hand, ....weed, water, and wait is your crash course in growing plants and animals.

Hopefully this helps
Amedean Messan
pollinator

Joined: Nov 11, 2010
Posts: 803
Location: Burlington, NC - Woodland, Clay - Zone 7
    
  26
Thanks for the thoughtful reply. I can understand a need to allow people to "get their feet wet" on the repetitiveness of harvesting and all that's related to farm life, it would be wise to reflect whether the lifestyle is suited to said person. I guess due to the nature of the "Permies" website I would have thought more bio-intensive skills would be implied. I mean this stuff can get very complex and every bio-dynamic farm is a laboratory for unique experimentation since the combinations of methods which can be employed are limited only to the imagination. Preferably I would like to see farm internships offered because there was a noble inclination of influencing young minds to restore the family farm and not for opportunistic dare I say exploitation of young curious minds drawn to natural and sustainable living.
Fred Allen


Joined: Mar 06, 2012
Posts: 14
Repetitive work can be a drag and there is a certain amount of that on any farm, however there is a great diversity of jobs to do on some farms and training a paid worker how to do something new several times a day gets as old as volunteering to do the same thing over and over likey gets. Training people takes a lot of time and concentration, something most farmers I know need to spend a lot of on things other than training. A real key element is whether the trainee has the passion and ability to learn the skills to become a farmer and whether the farmer can find the time and has the ability to train someone. Learning what it takes to make a farm work has been a lifetime experience for me,,,and I have more to learn now than when I started learning. I spent all my childhood and teen years "volunteering" under a trainer. I would not change it for the world.
The problem that I have seen with some of the organic farms is that their economic situation is not very profitable so they probably need free labor to survive. That is simply not sustainable in my estimation. There has to be a better way.
Hanley Kale-Grinder


Joined: Sep 30, 2011
Posts: 112
Location: Mountain West of USA, Salt Lake City
    
    1
I would venture to say that the bigger the farm and the more it sells off site...the more repetitive, traditional "farm work" there is to be done.

There is a difference between homesteading and farming. One of the biggest is that homesteading is a closed loop and farming is open (IE one must bring in outside nutrients in order to export products). Are you looking for a homesteading internship where one learns the vast set of skills that self sustaining living entails, or are you interested in learning how to run or work on a productive, profitable farm?

The farm that I work on builds soil, does chop and drop, makes compost tea, paddocks chickens, is developing a food forest, composts, etc...but at the end of the day we still fertilize rows of crops with fish emulsion and sell those crops on the open market.

On your question of a "bio-dynamic laboratory" and the such, this is what I mean by working with someone who will take the time for "teachable moments". In looking for an internship I would look for something that advertises education and permaculture as their focus if this is what you are most interested in.
tel jetson
steward

Joined: May 17, 2007
Posts: 3094
Location: woodland, washington
    
  53
in my experience, most farm internships aren't particularly valuable for the farmers or the interns.

for the interns, it frequently starts to feel like they're being taken advantage of in fairly short order. sometimes they're paid, but it isn't generally very much. long hours are expected even though they don't have much personal stake in the farm. the potentially complicated jobs on a farm that it would be great for them to get some practice at aren't part of the internship.

for the farmers, the amount of supervision and training that is required when new interns show up every year is a serious hassle. they expect to save on labor costs, and maybe they do, but they lose more in damage to equipment, crops, and wasted time because nobody sticks around for longer than a year so nobody ever really knows how to do anything. even being able to tell the difference between a carrot seedling that should stay and a chamomile seedling that should go isn't immediately obvious to most folks, though it seems like a cruel joke when a farmer comes back to find a row of weeds instead of crops after leaving to do something more complicated than an intern could handle.

so why are small farm internships so common? I think farmers assume that, since everyone else has interns, the only way to compete is to take on interns. young folks wanting to start out don't see any paying jobs in alternative agriculture, and they assume that an internship is a good way to get a foot in the door.

I've heard quite a few farmers lament the shortage of qualified help while at the same time offering wages that no rational person would work for. along the lines of "wanted: production manager with several years experience supervising diverse teams of workers, diverse fruit and vegetable crops, and diverse markets. advanced soil sciences degree a definite plus. $8-$10/hr depending on qualifications." maybe they think they're being generous because workers on large conventional farms are routinely cheated out of even the pittance they are supposed to be paid.

personally, I think a reasonable solution is for farmers to take on apprentices instead of interns. working for low wages initially is more palatable if there's a direct route to more involvement and agency in the farm and better compensation, maybe even partnership. the farmer is less likely to take advantage if there's definitely going to be a long-term relationship with the apprentice. putting in the time to train an apprentice on more complicated aspects of a farm business makes a lot more sense if they're going to be around for years to come instead of being replaced with a new ignorant rube next season.


one more thought: it seems like interns are often almost an organic farmer's alternative to herbicides. instead of changing practices so that systems reinforce and improve themselves, they stick with the frequent tilling and other abuses to dirt and treat the symptoms with cheap or free labor (interns weeding endlessly, et cetera). in this regard, I would put internships in the same category as migratory beekeeping: a mechanism that props up bad practices rather than really addressing them.


find religion! church
kiva! hyvä! iloinen! pikkumaatila
get stung! beehives
be hospitable! host-a-hive
be antisocial! facespace
Hazel Reagan


Joined: Dec 20, 2011
Posts: 36
Location: SW Oregon Zone 8b
I do internships and there is great value in what is taught. They would have to pay thousands of dollars to learn skills and with more personal attention. I have a natural building & permaculture library. Projects are only 4/hrs. day 5 days/wk. so people have time to read and work on their own projects with assistance by me. I design my projects to learn skills but expect interns to supplement their learning by reading in their own time. I don't waste my time answering questions that they can learn themselves. My mentor is Ianto Evans and this is how he teaches and it worked well for me. My problem is that I get people who just want to be tourists since I live in a fabulous area. They get out what they put into it, if they aren't serious about learning, I'm not gonna waste my time and they will be digging, shoveling & other meanial labor.
Amedean Messan
pollinator

Joined: Nov 11, 2010
Posts: 803
Location: Burlington, NC - Woodland, Clay - Zone 7
    
  26
I don't waste my time answering questions that they can learn themselves.


My criticism of this statement is that there is nothing a person cant learn themselves. What knowledge can be shared as a trade off for 20 hours a week of labor, or is it paid? I wont deny that there are those feely-goody green compulsive urban tourists (fewf) wanting to hang around the operation from time to time but you can have a positive half full attitude about this, after all they are more likely your customers. I dont believe everyone has the patience to willingly teach which is what an internship requires to some degree, otherwise it is a free labor operation.
Hazel Reagan


Joined: Dec 20, 2011
Posts: 36
Location: SW Oregon Zone 8b
What can be learned? Sustainable technology: rocket stoves, solar oven, cob oven, solar hot water, wood fired hot tub etc...Sustainable Natural Building: Cob wood, bale cob, clay slip straw, foundations, living roofs. Sustainable food growing: hugel culture beds, designing & building a food forest, pond building & aquaculture, bees how to provide for with foods & easy do it yourself top down bee hives. Composting manure, recycling gray water, gravity flow water. Animals as part of the sustainable culture, milk, eggs, meat, yogurt, cheese, hide tanning, rotational shift grazing. The list goes on, but I have work to do. Do some brainstorming on, and post what you come up with. Don't limit yourself by your lack of imagination.
Amedean Messan
pollinator

Joined: Nov 11, 2010
Posts: 803
Location: Burlington, NC - Woodland, Clay - Zone 7
    
  26
What can be learned? Sustainable technology: rocket stoves, solar oven, cob oven, solar hot water, wood fired hot tub etc...Sustainable Natural Building: Cob wood, bale cob, clay slip straw, foundations, living roofs. Sustainable food growing: hugel culture beds, designing & building a food forest, pond building & aquaculture, bees how to provide for with foods & easy do it yourself top down bee hives. Composting manure, recycling gray water, gravity flow water. Animals as part of the sustainable culture, milk, eggs, meat, yogurt, cheese, hide tanning, rotational shift grazing. The list goes on, but I have work to do. Do some brainstorming on, and post what you come up with. Don't limit yourself by your lack of imagination.


I don't think you read my reply thoroughly. You stated that you offer no time to teach what they cannot learn themselves. This interpretation can be broadly applied. As you said your a very busy person so what I gather is the trade off for work in the farm is alone time with books. I cannot speak for every person but I do not see much benefit for a serious student and I do not believe it is due to a lack of imagination.
tel jetson
steward

Joined: May 17, 2007
Posts: 3094
Location: woodland, washington
    
  53
Amedean, it sounds like Hazel's arrangement involves learning on the job. interns are learning by helping out on projects. the bad seeds get relegated to menial tasks. am I getting that right, Hazel?

at any rate, it sounds like it's worked well for Hazel. it's worked well for other folks, too. it's also worked terribly for quite a few. I don't think that all of the terrible experiences can be chalked up to dullard interns or bad attitudes.

if internships work out and the interns go on to take on their own interns, we would quickly end up in territory shared with pyramid schemes, growth economies, or anything else involving exponents greater than 1. that is quite apart from the issue of fair compensation for labor.
Hazel Reagan


Joined: Dec 20, 2011
Posts: 36
Location: SW Oregon Zone 8b
Yes Tel, you got it. What I mean is that I supplement with ojt, with specific instructions, but also they need a basic understanding that is gained by taking the opportunity to learn with the information that is available. I'm not getting paid for this and I am teaching a skill. I'm also providing very good food and a healthy environment to live. Clean air, water, & soil. I learned from Ianto, but he required that we be familiar with his books, and it's a waste of my time and energy to explain something they can read for themselves. If they read it, do the work and still don't get it. I have class instruction time so to speak. Some people just don't ever get it. Well educated people don't get it because it is a shift in thinking. I get a lot of spoiled young people. Here is the opportunity to learn. At the building school people paid a lot of money but a lot of them would stand around and chit chat rather than listen to instructions. It's a two way street. I'm sure not all interships offer the education they propose. But, I have a lot of people who say they want to work but don't. It is a lot of hard work to do this. Some people just aren't cut out for it, or can't live frugal or without stimulation. It's not for everyone, I guess that's what they learn in some cases.
Walter Jeffries


Joined: Nov 21, 2010
Posts: 907
    
  18
I specifically state, in writing on my blog, that we don't hire interns. Yet, I get about five to ten applications, resumes and inquires from people a month wanting to intern here on our farm. Why do we get all these requests when we specifically and repeatedly say we don't do internships? People sometimes say, "I know you don't do internships but..." The answer is still no.

People need to understand is that an internship in and of itself does not offer any value to the farmer. The intern needs to pay in some way to make it worth it for the farmer. You want knowledge. What will you give for that?

It takes a lot of time and effort to train someone to the point where they can do anything of value. Years of training to get many skills under their belt. Even then the skill range is very limited. They will be able to do a repetitive task - that is what farming is like. We do a lot of things over and over, maybe 10,000 times in a year. Repetition brings improvement. Picking fruit, weeding, digging a ditch can all be done wrong. Then redoing it takes more of our time.

We are a family farm. My family has already been doing these tasks all their lives for our children and decades for my wife and myself. We know how to do it and aren't going to require the training. We're more efficient. We work together, knowing what the other is thinking, subtle cues, body language, short cuts in communication, the little things that make a pack work together. To train someone else is going to take our time to train and then additional to oversee the person to make sure the interns actually do it right.

There is a huge liability risk for our family to have strangers on our farm. You could get hurt handling our livestock, some of which are as large as 1,700 lbs and can rip your arm off or gore you. To have interns means I have to buy extra insurance and that is expensive. You'll have to pay for this either directly or by offering a lot of work at menial repetitive tasks.

We have a pack of working livestock dogs on our farm who do herding and guarding. This is their farm and I'm not going to lock them up just because you're visiting. They have work to do. The dogs have a very strong sense of who should be where. This is valuable because the dogs keep the livestock where they should be and keep predators out. With this in mind they do not like strangers wandering around. To them you are a potential thief or predator. You can easily get in the wrong place without even knowing it because you don't know the routines. You may be handling the livestock incorrectly and the dogs know it.

There is the fact that a stranger can bring in disease, accidentally kill animals or lose a crop. This could cost us a season, thousands of dollars, the lives of feeder animals or even the lives of valuable breeder livestock losing us irreplaceable genetics. Having a stranger help is a big risk for us.

I used to have a lot of employees with our manufacturing facility, sales force and our publishing house. I know a great deal about managing and training and I've dealt with these risks. What many people don't realize is that if I hire you for $10/hour then I pay the government another $2 or more depending on the state on top of that plus I have to pay workman's comp insurance and other costs of having an employee.

Oh, wait, you didn't realize that! An intern is technically an employee. The IRS is very clear about this. Even if you work for "free" I am still liable for your employment taxes and I had better not skimp on the insurance. If you don't believe me, call the IRS and state government to ask.

Managing outsiders is a lot of work. Interns haven't been trained to be 'pack'. Their objectives and goals are tangental at best. They're here for a season, maybe a year. Then they're gone. We are working together as family for our lifetime. Strangers are a disturbance in the smooth working of our team. That is simply reality. Unless you marry in. Limited number of slots available there.

This is how we earn our livelihood. This is our work. An intern is displacing us. Myself, my wife, our children do this for our living. We can't pay someone else to do this work as that takes money out of our pocket. Even if you work for 'free' it will cost me - see above. Realize that there is a finite amount of money and farms operate on thin margins. To complain about having to actually work to pay for your education is... interesting.

I share my knowledge on my blog. I answer questions on the blog which makes the answers available to everyone. If I did internships then the information is being transmitted to just a few people. To ask for an internship is selfish. On the blog it available to all and is archived for the future where literally tens of thousands of people access thousands of articles and over ten thousand comments a month. This is a better way of sharing.

If you want to earn the privilege of an internship you have to offer something of value for the knowledge and time. Some farms charge a fee for internships. Some farms have the interns work to pay for their education. It takes a lot of working repetitive tasks to pay for the high value you're getting.

Thus, for a lot of reasons, I do not do internships.

Cheers,

-Walter Jeffries
Sugar Mountain Farm
Pastured Pigs, Sheep & Kids
in the mountains of Vermont
Read about our on-farm butcher shop project:
http://SugarMtnFarm.com/butchershop

Check out our Kickstarting the Butcher Shop project at:
http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/sugarmtnfarm/building-a-butcher-shop-on-sugarmountainfarm
Hanley Kale-Grinder


Joined: Sep 30, 2011
Posts: 112
Location: Mountain West of USA, Salt Lake City
    
    1
While WWOOFing on a farm in Japan I once ruined at least 20 pumpkins by not knowing how to handle them on the vine correctly. That was bad, but in three months of WWOOFing and hundreds of hours of work its not SO bad. On the other hand I did LOTS of valuable work for many farmers and easily paid my keep. Some people have a sense around plants and other don't, it is true that this takes time. Many of the farmers that I've met think that interns can be very valuable.
Amedean Messan
pollinator

Joined: Nov 11, 2010
Posts: 803
Location: Burlington, NC - Woodland, Clay - Zone 7
    
  26
Thank you Walter for your honest and insightful perspective.
Hazel Reagan


Joined: Dec 20, 2011
Posts: 36
Location: SW Oregon Zone 8b
Walter, very well said. Thanks for taking the time to write such a thoughtful reply.
Rufus Laggren


Joined: Feb 23, 2012
Posts: 337
Location: Chicago/San Francisco
    
    4
My .02 on "new people".

They are costly, true. But they are, in the long run, necessary.

I ran plumbing crews and often had to initiate new people. The things that make it easier is stuff the most young people, especially those branching out, "doing their own thing", don't take to well: 1) Pay attention, do what you're told... Now. 2) Ditto 3) Ditto 4) Do what you say you will (like show up on time) Always.

#1 is the killer. I don't have time to explain the meaning of life and still get today's job done. The only way ingorants can be of any use at all is if they do exactly what they're told. It also indicates their attitude. And they still have to actually manage to _do_ the things I tell them to. That involves learning. It's augmented by regular screw-ups which get corrected (learn by example) and short answers and explanations occasionally. Generally we'd figure one year before any new person stopped draining the company financially. It's truly amazing what an imaginative newbie can do while your back is turned. Imagination, at least acting out on it, is a minus for an aspirant. Speaking up when you still don't have a clue and are about to cost us all $thousands is a plus.

I should have said above "necessary to a long term organization". Any entity needs to evolve and adjust as the originators retire one way or another - if it's going to survive their passing. This requires fresh meat and a goodly amount of it because only the occasional meat head will morph into a useful person. There are many ways for groups or organizations to bring in new life and survive and most are potentially valid. Yes, there _is_ a cost, to all concerned. Do you think it's worth it?

Rufus
Mary James


Joined: Mar 18, 2011
Posts: 140
Location: NW MT Zones 4/5 Rollins Mt
    
    2
Walters answer has many points which I was going to write about.He has put many of the aspects that make it difficult for any of us to take on interns.
Even teaching free classes from our memorial gardens we had the added insurance costs as well as a few other unexpected costs.We have many people who want to come and just volunteer for the experience and knowledge,,That is great but sometimes it can gets expensive for us..Because they do not pay attention to what we explain and plug in info from their past experiences which does not correspond with our methods....I have people who think they should pay for the what we share,,They miss the whole point of who and what we are doing.Besides that would mean another business set up neither of us care to have..
We run a common sense enviroment friendly construction company as well ,, it is a big challenge on the jobsite to retrain construction workers, even the young ones all take up time, energy and mistakes get costly for us..So what Rufus has written really hits home with us...On the other side of this both James or myself are more then willing to take the time to show someone and help them run through how too's,, all it takes is saying I am not sure how to do this could you help me?..Those few words make an amazing difference..
This is my perspective,many people in todays world want to learn and that is wonderful.But they are hoping to learn by going back to practices that were common "back in the day"...Or perhaps in other countries that are not as heavily regulated as we are here...
I grew up on a working ranch which according to the permies site would of been a major permiculture/homestead/organic based self sufficient place.Back then my folks brought in any one who wanted a break from the rat race regardless of what walk of life they came from .We had those who owned only what they had in their pack sacks to those who could of bought our ranch out of petty cash....They would come in get great meals, help with the ranch work whether that be working with the horses with the old equipment or on a tractor,, they were up helping milk the 40 cows we had, taking care of the pigs, goats, chickens, rabbits, and out in the fields, gardens, or in the kitchen..My folks let them help a lot or very little which ever they wanted to contribute.If they needed cash to continue on their journey my folks would have them do extra work or arrange with the neighbors to have them help with fencing or some other job to earn a bit.....They were more then willing to take in people and teach them openly.The folks let them stay a night, a week a month or however long they wished in the old bunkhouse..Even back then people could not comprehend my parents generosity nor why they were willing to slow down the work schedules so some "city slicker" could learn how to hand milk a cow.learn how to laugh while trying to catch pigs,,slow down hay production to learn it the old way which required pitch fork handling etc.....That was then......In today's world my folks ranch would never of made it,, The legalities,insurances, the government,,People in the world of today alone make it impossible for this type of place to survive..
When we have looked at taking on interns or even just others for a couple of weeks, I am expected to come up with a curriculum base because they want the technical parts of what they will be learning from us.That is all cool and understandable.Also seasonally based.....Our lives are not lived on a schedule yet when we work with others they expect us to make those changes to accommodate them.
We both grew up on farms. We both know that moment to moment things change, emergencies come up,, the planned events move to another time to accommodate based on the most importance.On the my parents farm someone may of been grinding grain with me or my mom, only to have my dad come and grab them to show them the birth of a calf, which the mother may not of been going to make it, so he would put her down do a c-section and the whole day changed because now everyone on the ranch was going to be butchering since we did not waste anything..
Those who come for our classes find that I do not structure them either as it is much simpler for me to have open days that people are welcome to drop in while I am working .That way they can ask and receive detailed info about what they want to learn from us not some class that is to advanced for them or way to simple for them..We base everything on who shows up and their needs while we continue to do our work...Unless it is someone coming for our Gardening or art classes to learn about how to utilize both if they are in a grief state..
I guess what I am trying to say is it can be very difficult to really share what an intern may learn and there is no such thing as free labor someone ends up paying out time, energy and dollars when the make the choice to take in interns regardless of what business a person is in...
Mary and James
Rose Black


Joined: Apr 29, 2012
Posts: 9
I never accepted an intern into my (non-farm) business because I could never see a way to make it work for both parties involved.

However, my uncle who farms (not in the US) does take on apprentices, never more than one or two at a time and it works quite well for him on his large, highly diverse farm. When I say one or two at a time, I mean one or two apprentices total, not one or two in each year of the apprenticeship cycle. He says he figures that he breaks even on them and he just does not have enough time to train more than one or two at any given time.

It's a six year program and the apprentice signs a contract committing them to staying for the entire six years. It is not tourism and it isn't for anyone who hasn't reached the point where they are absolutely certain that they want to run a farm. Just like everyone else on the farm, apprentices work 40-60 hours a week, depending on the time of year and other conditions. They get a total of six weeks of holiday spread out in three 2 week segments annually. Most of the apprentices are in their early 20s when they start, although there have been some as old as their early 40s.

It takes two years working through the various areas of the farm for an apprentice to learn enough to become qualified to be the least skilled and least productive worker in a given area. For those first two years, the apprentice pays for their education, a fee approximately equal to the cost of tuition at a university; they receive room and board.

The third and fourth year, the apprentice has enough knowledge to be productive enough to offset the cost of teaching them. They no longer have to pay an apprenticeship fee; they continue to receive room and board.

In their fifth and sixth years, they have gained enough skills that they may be able to move up the ladder to be "X lad's lad's lad." They are paid commensurate with their skill and production level, which works out to be approximately equivalent of entry level wages (think burger flipper) plus room and board.

By the time they have finished their apprenticeship, they are experienced in working with pigs, sheep, cattle, poultry (chickens, ducks, geese and turkeys), can handle a livestock dog, work the horticultural and agricultural yearly cycles, know how to correctly and safely run most farm machinery, know how to perform basic maintenance and simple repairs on the equipment and have demonstrated that they know how to work hard.

By the time they have finished their apprenticeship, they are qualified to work on a farm and they are eagerly sought after as employees. My uncle helps them find their first position on another farm and keeps them as employees until they get that first real job. That's when they are worth slightly more than entry level pay, more the equivalent of an assistant shift manager. It takes another six years or more to gain enough skills and experience to run a farm on their own.

My uncle will not hire them straight out of their apprenticeship but he has hired many of them after they have worked on one or two other farms (on the same grounds as other applicants, they need to have good references, etc). At that point, of course, they are employees and treated as such.
Dale Hodgins
pollinator

Joined: Jul 28, 2011
Posts: 3852
Location: Victoria British Columbia-Canada
    
  54
The most important thing for me to convey to a new helper on demolition projects is that they have just joined a dictatorship. I insist on absolute compliance especially on matters of safety. I never put more than four hours pay into someone who isn't going to work out. Of the 500 or so that I've had, only about a 3rd of them have worked out. But my relationship with those who failed was so brief that probably 98% of total money spent on these guys has been well spent. Claude will help me on a little job tomorrow. I've known him for 15 years. He will drive that % a little higher yet.

I've only had 2 people tell me that they were going to farm my land. That has been a dismal failure. Nothing useful has been done. They are currently on vacation during the height of the growing season. They pay no rent and they were to keep 100% of their production. All I wanted was for someone to do something with new hugelkultur beds. They'll soon be moving out of the cottage that stores their stuff for free. Goodbye.


QUOTES FROM MEMBERS --- In my veterinary opinion, pets should be fed the diet they are biologically designed to eat. Su Ba...The "redistribution" aspect is an "Urban Myth" as far as I know. I have only heard it uttered by those who do not have a food forest, and are unlikely to create one. John Polk ...Even as we sit here, wondering what to do, soil fungi are degrading the chemicals that were applied. John Elliott ... O.K., I originally came to Permies to talk about Rocket Mass Heaters RMHs, and now I have less and less time in my life, and more and more Good People to Help ! Al Lumley...I think with the right use of permie principles, most of Wyoming could be turned into a paradise. Miles Flansburg... Then you must do the pig's work. Sepp Holzer
Heidi Beckwith


Joined: Dec 22, 2012
Posts: 12
    
    1
Dear Farmers,
I stumbled upon this thread because the title interested me and was shocked by some of your responses. As a teacher I know that when I take student teachers they will make huge mistakes that cost me the teacher a lot. But I still believe in spreading good teaching regardless of the cost; Like Rufus, I believe that the future needs it.

I understand that feeding bellies is different than molding minds. I understand that the risk could be greater. I am also incredibly grateful that there are many organizations and farms out there that are are willing to mold the next generation of farmers regardless of the cost. It might be more useful to point people to others who are more willing to be helpful and have a larger vision for the future instead of writing against those who don't pay attention and cause hardship.
Walter Jeffries


Joined: Nov 21, 2010
Posts: 907
    
  18
Heidi, I think the issue comes from people confusing farms with schools. We are a farm. We produce food. There are teaching schools that produce education, including education about farming. Too much agri-tourism has produced a confusion in people's minds about where the boundary lies. It is a continuum. Farms are at one end. Schools are at the other.
Adam Klaus
pollinator

Joined: Apr 16, 2013
Posts: 851
Location: 6200' westen slope of colorado, zone 6
    
  49
Heidi Beckwith wrote:there are many organizations and farms out there that are are willing to mold the next generation of farmers regardless of the cost.


This makes no sense to me. I dont think there are many, if any, farms out there that are "willing to mold the next generation of farmers regardless of the cost." As farmers, we have to stay economically solvent, or we dont exist for long. I love teaching people on my farm, but it never is going to happen regardless of cost. Cost affects most everything that happens on a real working farm. Otherwise it isnt a real working farm.

Tragically, like Walter alluded to, there are many 'farm' opportunities where people get to learn about total non-reality on a totally non-real farm. They are ag playgrounds, or agri-tourism, but not real farms. What you learn there has some value, but limited application to actually running a real farm yourself.

If someone wants to learn about real farming from real farmers, they are going to have to pay their way. Either monetarily, or through the fruits of their labor. We as farmers cannot, and should not, afford to do it any other way. Young people pay thousands for their education in other fields, why should farming be any different? Farmers are among the most skilled and educated of all workers. The knowledge we have has been hard earned, and is worth a lot to a young person wanting to farm themselves. These aspiring farmers should be willing to invest in their future, just like in any other field of skilled labor.

Education isnt free for any other skilled profession, and it shouldnt be for farming either.
Heidi Beckwith


Joined: Dec 22, 2012
Posts: 12
    
    1
Thank you Mr. Jeffries for your reply. You did not state in either of your posts whether or not you send people somewhere else to learn, but I hope you do. Learning is an important part of any profession. The people that come to you are obviously impressed with your skills, so hopefully they have a chance to learn them somewhere.

Thank you Mr. Klaus for pointing out that I did not make myself clear about which costs I was describing. Of course education needs to cost money and/or time and labor. In my experience people don't value what they don't pay for. I was trying to speak to the costs of lost productivity, danger, and loss of crops, as some of the farmers had mentioned. Anyone being trained in any field will make mistakes, normally huge mistakes, and it will cost the educator, but there are still people who do it. Here are a few. I don't know of their quality, I have only personally visited one of these examples, but hopefully these are resources that can be passed on to the people who want to learn.

http://www.pieranch.org/
http://www.forestag.com/‎
http://www.polyfacefarms.com/‎
http://www.communitycrops.org/farm/
mick mclaughlin


Joined: Aug 18, 2010
Posts: 190
Location: Augusta,Ks
    
    3
Ok, I gotta say I don't get folks attitude about this......

I am thankful that I had folks who employed me, and allowed me to learn. I am also thankful that I have folks willing to help me, that I can afford to pay.

I don't look at myself as a college or an institute of higher learning, but I am ecstatic to pass on any knowledge I might have, on any subject I might be qualified in.

If ya have a huge family, and/or do not enjoy teaching, I can get that, but I guess I don't understand the animosity towards people wanting to learn, who have not a damn thing to their name except for desire.

Honestly, I find it disheartening. Desire is to be cherished. We damn sure need passionate people much more then more social or economic climbing. I am not saying to not make a profit. We need to show people how to farm in a financially stable/ environmentally feasible way.

In fact, we must.

I truly believe what I read one time, it always seemed to be kinda permacultury to me;

“The ultimate goal of farming is not the growing of crops, but the cultivation and perfection of human beings.”
― Masanobu Fukuoka, The One-Straw Revolution
Su Ba
pollinator

Joined: Apr 18, 2013
Posts: 303
Location: Big Island, Hawaii (2300' elevation, 60" avg. annual rainfall, temp range 55-80 degrees F)
    
    9
I operate a homestead farm where it is not as essential to turn a significant profit as say a commercial farm, but since it must support my family, it's still serious farming. Once a week I help new gardeners to learn how to grow food at the community garden and frequently run workshops there. I can say from experience that one experienced person can be more productive than that same person working with 12 novice interns. Quite literally my farm produces 10 times as much as that community garden on any given 24 hours, if not more.

I constantly have requests from people who want to volunteer on my farm. Yes, they want to learn. But the few times I had people one the farm, there was nothing but problems. First of all, they slowed me down. It was a lot less productive having a helper. Then there's the time, through inexperience, the livestock escaped the farm. That happened more than once! I've had crops harvested that shouldn't have been. Crops incorrectly hoed and thus damaged. Freshly seeded rows over planted with a second crop. The wrong rows rototilled. Dozens and dozens of mistakes that cost me the crop. Interns constantly make bad decisions when they are not suppose to be making decisions at all. They may be eager to learn, but they won't slow down to listen to instructions or retain knowledge acquired yesterday. Luckily I never had anyone hurt, but I decided to quit having interns before that eventually happened.

I found out afterward that my insurance would not have covered me if an intern was injured or they had been responsible to releasing the livestock. I also found after the fact that my local government considered the training of volunteers to be Eco-tourism. I would have had to apply for a special use variance (cost thousands), have an approved parking lot, and a rented port-a-john (hundreds of dollars per month). Plus have appropriate insurance and licenses (more hundreds). Needless to say, I will never have volunteers on the farm for the learning experience. An employee or WWoofer maybe, someday.

As you pointed out, there are places that are set up to accept interns. That's fine. But most real farms are not. I feel that it is a business choice to accept interns or not. A business should not be criticized for whichever way it decides to handle the situation.

It's never too late to start! I retired to homestead on the slopes of Mauna Loa, an active volcano. I relate snippets of my endeavor on my blog : www.kaufarmer.blogspot.com
Walter Jeffries


Joined: Nov 21, 2010
Posts: 907
    
  18
mick mclaughlin wrote:Ok, I gotta say I don't get folks attitude about this......


There are very serious and expensive insurance, regulatory, tax, liability and biosecurity concerns. I share via my blog. That's enough. Most people respect that.
Adam Klaus
pollinator

Joined: Apr 16, 2013
Posts: 851
Location: 6200' westen slope of colorado, zone 6
    
  49
As my farm matures, I am seriously considering developing an apprentice program here. I have a lot of concerns and questions, and in many ways feel like I may well have more to lose than to gain by trying to teach others from my working family farm.

I really appreciate hearing from the EXPERIENCE of other farmers, who have been down this road before. The philosophical dialogue about the importance of education is nice and all, but really not much useful to my practical situation. I think we all know education is important. I think that as farmers, we all value motivation, passion, and drive. I want to know how to be practical, realistic, and successful with sharing my knowledge on a working farm.

For people who do have successful apprentice programs (yeah I know, both of you ), what are the keys to success? I have heard many times over that good attitude is much more importance than aptitude in a prospective apprentice, and I can certainly believe that. The whole system of internships seems pretty broken to me, with a dozen unhappy situations for every successful one. I want to develop a better way. My gut tells me that charging apprentices for the opportunity to live, work, and learn here is the way forward. It places real value on my teaching, makes students put some skin in the game, and creates a more formal arrangement. Just my current notion.

How do I best mitigate against serious liability concerns? I can accept somebody screwing up weeding the carrot crop, but I cant deal with somebody getting hurt and suing me and my family farm. I cannot deal with additional government penalties or scrutiny.

Any insight from people with 'skin in the game' would be much appreciated.
Craig Dobbelyu


Joined: Dec 22, 2011
Posts: 937
Location: Maine (zone 5)
    
  30
If I were going to take on an intern I'd have a serious screening process. Tons of questionnaires, paperwork, portfolios, waiting, interviews (at least 4) and then they'd have to pay their way. I'm not interested in another mouth to feed unless it's feeding me back. (not in that baby bird sort of way ) You know what I mean?

I've been in this situation before in another industry and I've noted that a lot of people really "think" they want to be a _______, but once they see all the work that goes into what seems like a cool job, they lose interest. By making them go through hell to even be considered, you can screen out a lot of time wasters. It may seem harsh, but anytime I had a decent candidate for apprenticeship that fell through along the way, I would add a new layer of screening to my process. AND... They get all the worst jobs first. If they can't handle that, it's not worth the effort to educate them on the more complex jobs. In my previous career, mopping floors, taking out the trash, cleaning up puke, scrubbing tools and filing paperwork away were the daily grind for apprentices. Can't handle that? There's no way we can move forward to the "fun" stuff then. I was subjected to the same process by the person I apprenticed under. It took six months to get my foot in the door and a further 18 months to complete the apprenticeship. I did all the work (40hrs/wk) for ZERO PAY and I had to buy all my tools and supplies. When it was all said and done I was fully trained and more than capable of doing any job within that trade with zero failure. EVER. I was confident and I went on to make very good money at every place I was employed in that field. It was worth it for me AND the person who I apprenticed under. I didn't waste his time and he didn't waste mine. But one thing I remember him saying when I first started under his tutelage was " By training you, I'm essentially training my competition. One day you'll be just as good if not better than me at this job. Have a plan for that day, because you won't be able to stay here." He was right. The teacher became the student and I had to move on.
It all worked out perfectly.
Interns and apprentices need to be able to show commitment even when the weather sucks and their butt hurts. It kinda seems mean but hey... I'm trying to run a business here. Right?


"You may never know what results come of your action, but if you do nothing there will be no result”

-Gandhi
Thekla McDaniels


Joined: Aug 23, 2011
Posts: 235
Location: Grand Valley of Colorado's Western Slope
    
    5
Thanks, Burra, for keeping things nice. I didn't see what was happening before I got here, but I am passionate about this issue, and have faced plenty of difficult related situations.

I've posted elsewhere about the difficulties in getting good work exchange people. Until I found this thread, I thought it was just me, thought I needed to know the secrets of more effective screening, more effective management. Thought my expectations were not reasonable, etc.

Lately, I've been thinking that asking to be paid for the opportunity to learn might be a step in the right direction, so, I'm with Adam.

Paying the farmer for the opportunity formalizes the value of what the farmer does, and what the farmer knows. It provides an opportunity to make explicit that, in taking an intern, the farmer is opening up to potential damages most folks don't realize. If a visiting worker is paying for the privilege, that will weed out people who are not invested or motivated. It seems there are plenty of people who have a dreamy notion of the romance of farming. I'm not saying there isn't some truth to that. We may have the greatest quality of life available in this day and age. It is just that many of the would be apprentices are just not ready for the reality of hard work and accountability. They don't realize the rewards of farming are hard won.

If we DO charge, there are grants and loans available to pay for learning. It might require being affiliated with a college, university or maybe adult school of some kind. The learner gets college credits, and it becomes a legitimate use of an educational grant. I have a friend who teaches herbal studies and gardening, and various fine arts, through her local junior college. Often the classes meet at her house. This might be one thing worth looking into. Possibly affiliation with the college could change the insurance and legal situation, or provide an umbrella organization through which costs would be much lower.

I think it is reasonable to require SOME sort of prior experience. I've just deleted a long paragraph convincing myself that a motivated person will have found something, community garden plot, joining some kind of garden interest organization, botanical garden, even rented a place with a back yard, grow tubs on the balcony etc. In fact, even in the inner cities a resourceful and motivated person will have found something. If they haven't, how likely are they going to be to endure the arduous conditions catalogued above? (resourceful and motivated are high on my list of what it takes to be a farmer)

Speaking only for myself, I would need structure built into an apprenticeship program. I would want a person who came, who paid for the opportunity to learn from me, to sign an agreement, a contract. Responsibilities, hours, conditions for termination of the apprenticeship all spelled out in advance. They'd also have to sign a waiver of liability for injury and acknowledge their financial responsibility for damages they might be responsible for. I am actually conflicted on this question as I don't see the judicial system as being there to help me. Any contract or waiver that is written can be disputed, with lawyers on both sides making money as long as emotions run high and the situation remains unresolved.

I am as interested as Adam in ideas about this, I see it as a challenge facing not just me and others in my situation, but the whole farming community, and all the people who are fed by our efforts.
Craig Dobbelyu


Joined: Dec 22, 2011
Posts: 937
Location: Maine (zone 5)
    
  30
I once had this idea that I would charge an intern to work here and then give them a cut of the total sales after harvest. Maybe they would break even and get a good education in the process. If they really found a niche they could make some money and get an education. At the very least I'm not losing anything.
Thekla McDaniels


Joined: Aug 23, 2011
Posts: 235
Location: Grand Valley of Colorado's Western Slope
    
    5
Craig,
I like this idea. There is also giving the intern any amount over an identified amount the farmer and intern negotiate.
I once offered a prospective intern the whole vegetable garden for the season to run a CSA out of, or sell at the farmers market, or find restaurants as clients, but he felt like he needed a guaranteed income. He is likely to be an asset to wherever he goes. I was sorry he did not come to my place.

Thekla
Adam Klaus
pollinator

Joined: Apr 16, 2013
Posts: 851
Location: 6200' westen slope of colorado, zone 6
    
  49
So, the serious cautions about farm apprenticeships lead me to call some of the nice folks in the government and insurance world today. (Sure am glad I am a farmer!) I found out some good and bad news-
If I have less than 500 man-days of work help on my farm, I am exempt from all Minimum Wage Laws. All of em. I can pay 1.3 cents per hour, or nothing at all, legally.
Workmans comp insurance is still required, which would cost me about $750 a year, per person.

Right now, I am thinking that I want to start a genuine apprentice program at Bella Farm. Have two or three people come from May to November. I would provide them room and farm food, and truly educate them about running a diversified small farm. They would commit to helping on the farm 30 hours a week, and pay the farm $100 a week for their room, board, and education.

I believe, from seeing both sides of the equation, that the current system of organic farm internships is a total bust for both parties. The interns dont learn enough, education wise. The farmer doesnt gain enough, labor wise.

My notion is to really step up the educational component, so that it is education at a college level in farming, rather than education by osmosis while weeding carrots. The apprentices would pay for that education, while also not being worked like slaves. The apprentices would live in a decent house with a kitchen, rather than a trailer or tent. The entire arrangement would be a higher level opportunity. The benefits and the costs would be higher for both the farmer and the apprentice. This would not be for the curious, this would be for the serious and comitted, willing to substantially invest in their education as individuals do in every other field of skilled labor.
Rebecca Norman


Joined: Aug 28, 2012
Posts: 344
Location: Ladakh, Indian Himalayas at 11,000 feet
    
  21
I've been the volunteer coordinator here for years at this alternative high school and organisation.

We use most of our volunteers for English conversation practice because it's the one place they really make an impact and help, and everybody enjoys it. Except for grown-ups who have a real workshop or skill to share, we find that the young generalist volunteers are mostly friendly and fun to have around, but useless if you expect to get real tasks accomplished. We use them in 2 to 4 hours of conversation class per day, and they usually have a fun skill to share, such as painting, a dance, juggling, or something. Some of the things they have either offered to do, or they asked for a task and we gave them one of these -- and most of these ended up unfinished or worse: straightening up and reshelving the library or videos; helping a student write the newsletter; scanning our old publications so we can put them online; looking up info and preparing a small chart; helping our students with work hour or gardening.... To be sure, a few volunteers really did such tasks and were helpful with them, but much fewer than half. Vols with a specific skill or workshop to offer have been spectacularly productive and we are indebted to them; some of our coolest things are thanks to them (eg recently a biogas methane digester).

We have often been tempted to charge volunteers some kind of lump sum over and above the room and board, but we have always decided not to. The biggest reason in my mind is that if they have paid a fee to come and volunteer here but when they arrive either we or they don't like each other and want to end it, there would be the awkwardness of a cancellation. Since we only ask for room and board, it's very simple -- if they said they'd stay for 6 months but end up leaving after a week there are no hard feelings, just goodbye. To be honest, the room and board we charge them is more than it actually costs us to feed them: it subsidises the kitchen budget so that our local kids pay much less than the vols do, and when we have lots of vols we can provide more treats for everyone.

The past couple of years our region has shot onto the domestic Indian tourist map, so we started having a problem of irritating 2-weekers, often pairs of college girls. We all suspected they'd really come for tourism and/or their colleges required them to find a brief "internship". So we've added a 3-week minimum for volunteering, and a 4-week minimum if you want a reference letter saying that you volunteered. The reason we give is that it takes a couple of weeks to get to know the situation and become useful. The hidden reason is to filter out the frivolous tourists.

We get a fair number of no-shows and cancellations, even after lengthy correspondence answering all of their questions about everything from visas to busses to blankets. It tempts us to charge a deposit, but again we decide again not to.

I've noticed that when volunteers join Ladakhi students for work hour they stand around idle, and often feel they weren't told what to do or how; the Ladakhis think they are lazy or weak. When I take them with me for a task it usually gets done, probably because I'm chatty and explain what we're doing and talk to them throughout. But I don't usually feeeeel like taking them with me!

That's our experience, thanks.


Works at a residential alternative high school in the Himalayas SECMOL.org . "Back home" is Cape Cod.
 
 
subject: Farm internship or looking for free labor?
 
cast iron skillet 49er

more from paul wheaton's glorious empire of web junk: cast iron skillet diatomaceous earth sepp holzer raised garden beds raising chickens lawn care flea control missoula electric heaters permaculture videos permaculture books