July 13, 2007:
Is it really July already—where did spring go?
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
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 “Hey,
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
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
me know how things work out.
From One Farm to Another.