Monday, February 14, 2011

The one where I get hired

Blog, meet Brightwood Vineyard and Farm. Brightwood Vineyard and Farm, meet blog. You two are going to be spending a lot of time together.

That is because I've been hired at Brightwood Farm as an intern for the 2011 growing season! *does a dance* I'll be starting in mid-March.

As you may recall, I've been fairly busy for the last week, with the road trip and everything. And not only did I visit Brightwood Vineyard and Farm in Virginia last Friday, but I've had phone interviews with four further farms: Kettle Run Farm in Berkley, Massachusetts; Pacific Crest Farm on Vashon Island, Washington; Well School Farm near Peterborough, New Hampshire; and Rocklands Farm in Poolesville, Maryland.

These five interviews were the distillation of the dozen-plus applications I sent out, in addition to probably another dozen emails expressing my interest in various farms and internships and asking for more information. Just like any job search, securing a farming internship took hours of legwork, from researching farms to emailing questions to updating my resume. But worth it!

When I first arrived at Brightwood Farm, I was given a brief tour and introduced to all the animals by Keriann, a neighbor who works on the farm a few days a week. And there are certainly animals - chickens, both for laying eggs and eating, ducks, sheep, goats (who like to slip through the fence and scare the bejeezus out of people driving by, as I can attest), three donkeys, and several dogs.

I then met Susan, the woman who runs the farm, and she took me on a more far-ranging tour to see the cabin that they rent out in a bed-and-breakfast sort of deal, the yurt and platform tent where interns sleep (I get to sleep in a yurt!), and the greenhouses. We also went for a small hike - the farm has 100 acres of land, full of rolling hills and woods and streams, not to mention a big river - it is absolutely beautiful, being in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Later in the afternoon, we went to the farm where Keriann and her husband live - Susan has another greenhouse there, and it's where she grows the vegetables.

Other than the greens, which are being grown in the greenhouses, Brightwood Farm grows a wide variety of vegetables that they sell at a farmer's market and sell to local restaurants. Susan mentioned that last year, the farm grew a lot of heirloom okra, which I thought was pretty cool, since I like okra and I don't think there's enough of it in the world. They also grow American grapes for local wineries, and berries. Additionally, they produce their own compost on site.

Susan invited me to stay for lunch with her and Carrie-Anne, which ended up being a very tasty vegetable soup and a mixed greens salad. All in all, I think the visit was really useful for allowing us to feel each other out and see if the farm and I are a good match - which I think we are. Having done four phone interviews since, I feel confident saying visits are far preferable - rather than just shooting questions at me, Susan and I learned a lot about one another through simple conversation.

Tricky, tricky goats.

Since I've already written a bit about what I want in a farm, I'll just go through them one by one and talk about how Brightwood Farm measures up.

"Learning Experience" - Internships as Education. One reason I was drawn to internships instead of WWOOF-ing this year was that education is built into farming internships, and Brightwood Farm certainly takes this seriously. The farm is a member of the Collaborative Regional Alliance for Farmer Training, or C.R.A.F.T. - a coalition where farmers work together to educate future farmers. I'm not exactly sure what this will mean, but at this point I believe it will involve visiting other organic farms in the region to see how they work and to learn about different aspects of farm life.

In addition, Susan takes her interns on monthly field trips - to other farms, as mentioned above, but also other areas. She mentioned going to Monticello last year to see the formal garden. After she said that, I was ready to sign up on the spot.

And of course, let's not forget the practical aspect of the internship. There will be no shortage of hands-on work for me to do, between the organic produce production and animal husbandry. In general, I think Brightwood Farm has a nice balance of organized, planned educational activities, and "learning by doing". (See "Learning new skills and trying new things" below for more details.)

Money and stuff. Brightwood Farm provides room and board for the interns (did I mention the yurt?), and everyone eats meals together, which is made with produce and eggs from the farm. Although the yurt doesn't have indoor plumbing, we can use a bathroom in the house, and have internet access there as well. And yes, there is a stipend - less than I made as a Team Leader, but I'm used to living on very little. There will be an ample amount for me to cover my student loan payments, and since I doubt I'll be out carousing every weekend, there will be enough for me to set some aside after getting shampoo and toothpaste and whatnot.

Travel and Adventure. Virginia sounds pretty adventurous to me.

Learning different skills and trying new things. According to the internship description, I'll get to do the following:
On farm training in planning, planting, care, harvest, market prep. Farmers market. Post-season clean up, and preparation for winter greens growing. Animal Husbandry: Routine care and feeding of meat goats, laying hens, ducks and donkeys. Working with livestock guardian dogs and a herding dog. As much as possible, we tailor the experience to the interests of our interns.
I'm pretty satisfied with how diversified the farm is - I'll have the chance to learn about the business of running a farm through farmers markets and the farm-to-table connection with local restaurants, in addition to working with animals and produce production.

And although I didn't talk about this before, I like that there will be one or two other interns to work with. Brightwood Farm also takes WWOOF-ers during their busy seasons. I always like meeting and working with new people, so the more, the merrier!

That's that - I'm really looking forward to starting at Brightwood Farm, but there is plenty to do at home in the meantime. I'm going to visit my grandparents this week, and I'll probably be driving to visit my brother in Minnesota (and perhaps another grad school) at the end of the month. Another road trip - huzzah!

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