Saturday, January 15, 2011

The Farming Internship, Part One

I started this blog in order to document my WWOOF-ing adventures. I know this. But that does not change the fact that sometimes, circumstances change.

It is my duty to now inform you, dear readers, that you have been misled. This blog will no longer be the blog of a WWOOF-er. I accept full responsibility for the deception, and will attempt to make any repatriations necessary for those who feel hoodwinked. But I must be allowed to state my case - then, and only then, can you take me to task if I have been neglectful of my duties as a blogger for and devotee of the organic and local food movement.

Basically, it comes down to what I feel will serve me best as I attempt to educate myself about small farm operations. I think WWOOF-ing is wonderful, and it's still something I'd like to do in the future - possibly for some months next year as I wait for grad school to start. But in the meantime, I am directing my attentions to the ever-useful Farming Internship.

I started thinking about farming internships as an option after a friend/co-worker directed me to the ATTRA website (also known as the National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service... nothing close to "ATTRA," now that I think about it), which has quite a detailed and informative directory for farming internships and apprenticeships in the US and Canada. You can search by state/province, city, farm name, or keyword. After perusing a few descriptions, I started thinking about whether an internship was for me. And...I decided it was.

Two words: "Learning Experience." The whole point of WWOOF-ing (apart from the travel, the adventure, and the free food, of course) is that I want to be learning about organic agriculture - I want to network with farmers who rely on it for their livelihoods, I want to learn about issues in the field*, and I want to pick up lifeskills like plucking chickens, canning tomatoes and making things grow out of a field without managing to kill them in the process.

Yes, WWOOF-ing can and does expose you to these things, but internships are designed to put education first. A lot of the internships I'm looking into have relationships with other farms and organizations that allow interns to visit and learn about other types of organic ventures, attend workshops, take classes, etc. And the whole point is to educate people like me, who have barely a scrap of farming experience.

Also, as a WWOOF-er you might have some say in what you do. It probably depends on the farm and what they need, how many WWOOF-ers they have around, and how much experience you have. But your chances are better with a farmer whose intention is to teach you, rather than just have you do whatever work they need done.

Money and stuff. Not to be too crude about it, but while WWOOF host farms give you room and board in exchange for your work, you're on your own for any other expenses. A lot of internships have stipends - not much, but if it pays for my toothbrush and soap and gas for my car, then it certainly helps. And actually, a lot of the stipends I've seen pay as much (if not more) than my stipend as an AmeriCorps NCCC volunteer. A couple even provide health benefits, although I think that's outside the norm. Who knew?

What about travel and adventure and being a free spirit? So I'll be in one place for six to eight months instead of traveling around that entire time - my experience will be all the richer for it. I'm not saying you can't make good friends in a month or six weeks, but I like the idea of really getting to know the location, the other workers/interns, and the farmers who are teaching me. And it's not like I won't be traveling - as you'll see eventually, I'm applying all over the US... although my home territory, the good ol' Midwest, isn't receiving any love. Not that I don't love Indiana, but I want to travel, and that means going away. Far, far away.

And like I said, I still see myself WWOOF-ing in my "off months". By then, I'll have more experience under my belt, so maybe I won't be stuck picking grape tomatoes for seven hours a day.

And what about trying new things, learning different skills, and not getting stuck with one job? I'm glad you asked. According to my recent bedtime reading partner, a small family farm is a tightly contained, sustainable organism in a way. It doesn't produce a monoculture of just one crop - corns, soybeans, wheat - because not only is that unsustainable and terrible for the health and chemistry of the soil, but no one can survive on just corn or soybeans or wheat. A local, small, family farm has its fingers in a lot of pies - it grows a variety of produce, it puts up jams and jellies and canned goods for winter, and it often has livestock such as poultry, sheep and/or beef running around. The crops are rotated every year, since different crops require different nutrients and the farmer doesn't want to deplete the soil; the poultry eat pests and scratch up the soil, helping to prevent weeds; food waste goes to the pigs, and manure from livestock is in turn used to fertilize the growing produce. Also, if one crop (say, tomatoes) goes kaboom one year, Mr. Farmer isn't royally screwed for not growing anything else.

My whole point here is that working on one farm for an entire growing season doesn't mean I won't get the opportunity to do a variety of jobs. In fact, that's something I've taken into account as I've researched farms. I'm only applying to places that grow produce and keep some variety of livestock, with the hopes that I will get the chance to do a bit of everything.

Join me soon for Part Two, in which I struggle with deciding..... WHERE I SHOULD GO. (dum dum dummmm)

*This pun will never get old for me. And if you don't like puns, don't read this blog. And don't ever meet me.


  1. I don't like puns. It is your fault too. Well, yours and Piers Anthony's fault. I am pretty sure that you were one of my main suppliers of Piers Anthony books in middle school, so I blame you. I guess this means that I can never speak to you ever again. :(


  2. I guess this means you have to wear a paper bag over your head or something when I come over to your house today.

  3. i hope that i'm that friend/co-worker. why don't you come to bmore instead?my roomie has some plants that she tends. some may be edible.

  4. Of course I meant you, Viv. And I would love to see your place in Baltimore and eat your roommate's edible plants.