13, 2007: Is it really July already—where did
It seems like I was just getting the corn planter out yesterday,
and now the corn plants are waist high and we’re harvesting
wheat. There still aren’t enough hours in the day to
get all the work done, and I’m sure it will be fall
before you know it.
I hope you’ve taken me up on my challenge from last
month and are finding some time to “invest” in
your operation by attending a field day or two. If you didn’t
catch last month’s article go
back and read over it now. I hope to see you at one of
the many field days I’ll be attending. Stop me and say
Along with field-day learning experiences, many other learning
opportunities exist on your own farm. Many of us take advantage
of these, and they are not where we learn but rather where
we teach. We are all potential teachers, and our on-farm students
are the very labor we depend on.
Often extra labor for family farms comes in the form of young
folks. It might be a neighbor boy or girl with a desire to
earn some spending money, or it could be through a formal
internship program. Farms are great places for learning: learning
about farming and food production, about life, and learning
about one’s self.
Here at The Rodale Institute, like at many of your farms,
we have an established internship program. If you don’t
have one yet, read on with an open mind as to how your farm
could benefit from a similar arrangement.
There are many young people looking for a chance to work
hard on the land, get involved with agriculture, spend time
outside, learn more about “where their food comes from,”
and participate in growing crops or caring for livestock.
And every farm could be improved by the energy these students
bring. We’ve had students from many different states
and different countries. We’ve had interns from urban,
suburban and rural areas. We’ve had interns who knew
a lot about farms and we’ve had interns who knew nothing
about farms. But they all brought something to our operation,
and I learned something from every one of them.
There are as many types of these programs as there are farms.
Some interns work for room and board plus a stipend, some
just for an hourly wage, and some even get college credit.
Our program is based on an hourly wage, but the benefits to
the farm and to the intern go far beyond work and wages, respectively.
We all gain from the experience. I get labor, sure enough,
and the intern gets money, that’s true—but we
both grow in the process. I learn from the life experiences
of the students, they learn what I know about farming, and
we both learn from the magic of nature.
Don’t underestimate your possible enduring impact on
interns and student labor. These young minds will carry the
message you instill for a lifetime. Some of these folks will
become future customers, bank presidents, corporate leaders,
doctors—you name it. But they’ll always carry
the knowledge that the food you grow has an impact on people’s
lives. Who couldn’t benefit from a summer on a farm?
We need to be fair to our laborers, in making arrangements
and in managing them day to day. Different people have different
expectations of what they hope to take away from their farm
experience. Some may just want a few dollars for spending,
some are saving for college, and others want to learn more
about how you make the decisions you do. Take the time to
teach, especially with the interns who show they care about
agriculture. This isn’t always easy with a schedule
packed as tightly as yours or mine. But a true internship
program goes beyond just the labor and into building relationships
and exploring questions.
Keep in mind this labor is often the visible personality
of your farm. They are the faces your customers see at the
roadside market, they talk about your farm to friends and
family, and they carry your farm’s story to a broader
audience as they move on to other ventures.
Where can you find this under-utilized labor source? Start
with your local high school, especially if they have a vo-ag
department, an FFA chapter or even an ecology club. The best
interns we have generally come from a college program. These
can be ag students, biology majors or business students.
Since we have opted for a nine-month internship program for
most of our projects, we solicit interns who already have
a college degree and are looking for direction for their future.
Many are open to further education or finding a job that fits
their interests. Design your program to fit your operation,
treat your interns well, and work to create a meaningful experience
for both of you. If you start with these basic steps, you’ll
be on your way to a successful program.
me know how things work out.
From One Farm to Another.