Farming Apprenticeships

Find a farming apprenticeship to dip your toes into the water first before jumping. A farm apprenticeship can teach you valuable skills before taking on a farm of your own.

| November/December 2016

I should have known I had the “farming bug” when I was more excited to hear back about apprenticing with a local sheep farmer than I was for a first date. I didn’t have a car, so I biked the seven miles of hilly western Massachusetts roads to the farm with my heart in my mouth. I desperately wanted to learn more about sheep. I was willing to do anything, and I was pleasantly surprised when the shepherd offered to pay me for my time. The thought of payment hadn’t even occurred to me.

Since that day, I have apprenticed on three organic farms and worked on several more. Each experience has taught me something new about farming, from pest control to dealing with on-farm injuries. I met other apprentices along the way and was able to learn from their experiences as well. Many of us started out the same: Eager to learn and willing to do anything to get our hands dirty.

But there is such a thing as being a little too eager. I was lucky with my first apprenticeship, but not all opportunities are created equal. It is your responsibility to find an apprenticeship that fits your needs and goals, as it will largely affect your enthusiasm, physical and mental health, and farming career.

Why apprentice?

Farm apprenticeships offer invaluable hands-on experience for beginning farmers. As an apprentice, you are more than an employee. You are there to learn the craft of farming from a mentor, someone who is willing to share his or her experiences and knowledge to help you gain the skills you need to start a farm of your own.

This is a great time to get into farming, and farm apprenticeship opportunities are increasing across the U.S. and even around the world. National agricultural organizations like ATTRA (National Sustainable Agriculture Assistance Program) and state-based organizations like Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA) provide comprehensive lists of apprenticeships for prospective apprentices to choose from. Do a little research to find organizations that can get you connected with local apprenticeships if you want to stay put in your area. Or combine a love of travel with your passion for farming, and look for opportunities in other states and countries.

What to look for

With a few exceptions, most apprentice programs offer a relatively small stipend, housing, and access to farm products like produce and meat. You won’t strike it rich working as an apprentice, so it’s important that your apprenticeship meets your personal farming goals. Here are three things I learned to keep in mind while searching for farm apprenticeships.

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