B y Jaime Thomas
Farmers can always use an extra hand, and 20-somethings with a passion for farming and no job can always use a place to stay and food to eat. Hence, the mutually beneficial idea of a working apprenticeship was born.
Organizations that provide these opportunities exist throughout the world and across the United States, with farms as local as Vermont taking part.
Larson Farm, in Wells, Vt., has been hosting apprentices from several organizations for about four years. Owners Rich and Cynthia Larson post openings on the websites for World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF,) National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service (Attra) and the Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont (NOFA-VT.)
Rich said the couple has had about a dozen young people stay at their farm anywhere from a few weeks to two years. On the Attra website, the responsibilities required for a Larson Farm intern are listed as the care and management of livestock, daily pasture rotations, some milking and barn cleaning. The Larsons also expect workers to be willing, energetic and committed to developing their own enterprises on the farm.
Emilie Deschamps, a biology major from Minnesota who has been living at Larson Farm for two months, fits this description. She said it made the most sense for her to work on a farm and get close to nature.
“I love having the opportunity to live where I work and to feel like I’m on a team of people who are providing good food for ourselves and for our community,” Deschamps said. “I feel really healthy, living the active lifestyle that being on a farm provides.”
The Larsons first began taking in interns when they were approached by a Green Mountain College student who wanted to do an independent study on raw milk, which they produce and sell. The young woman wanted to gain practical experience with a homestead, so she left the dorms and did a semester-long study at the farm. Rich Larson credits her for helping them to develop protocol for bookkeeping, room and board.
He also remembers a young man who helped him develop a water system for the cows in the fields, which he said helped the farm a lot and helped the intern see the fruit of his labor and planning.
“We benefit greatly by the energy and creative ideas that young people bring onto the farm,” Larson said.
Current intern Joel Hogle also graduated as a biology major in Indiana. He ended up working at a produce farm in Ohio after college, and was drawn to Vermont after hearing about the state’s appeal in terms of its local, organic food movement.
“Farming is an important endeavor that I’m glad to be getting exposure to, because I eat every day and it’s good to know all the work that goes into food,” Hogle said.
Hogle discussed the differences between the idea of organic versus goods being certified organic.
“I believe in the organic certification, but it doesn’t bother me that this farm isn’t certified, because they’re trying the best they can to be as sustainable and environmentally good to the earth as possible,” Hogle said.
Larson agrees: “On our farm we’re doing things way more traditionally than the modern commercial dairy.”
The Jersey cows they milk and the beef cattle, for example, are pastured. This way the cows harvest their own fuel by eating grass, Larson said, rather than having a farmer use fuel to bring food to the cows.
“It’s economical to have them do this, and sustainable,” Larson said. He said he and his wife try to follow organic methods as often as possible, but when the cost becomes prohibitive he is forced to resort to conventional means. However, he hopes to be completely organic in the future.
Deschamps, who hopes to continue being on farms either by owning one or having her own project on a farm, said her apprenticeship provides her with good learning opportunities.
“I can ask all the questions I want and they’re answered very clearly. I also have access to a library in the house that has all types of books related to what we’re doing,” Deschamps said.
This is what Larson hopes to accomplish through hosting interns.
“Cynthia and I want to help the folks who come to get the most out of it; we want to explain why we do what we do,” Larson said.