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Growing the Next Crop of Farmers – Hosting and Mentoring Apprentices

January 25th, 2013 | Posted by miker in Events and Workshops

NOFA-NJ Winter Conference; January 2013
Growing the Next Crop of Farmers – Hosting and Mentoring Apprentices

North Slope Farm –
Training Program; sponsored by; The Stewardship Guild

Farm Manager and Primary Trainer
Mike Rassweiler
Training Curriculum and Text Book: www.NorthSlopeFarm.com

North Slope Farm’s training program officially began in 2006, when the basic framework of Training assumptions were put to the test. Our business is operated as a completely open book, ideally introducing trainees to all the steps of business management. There is so much detail to Introduce trainees to that we break the operation down into Elements. (The Elements are listed as sub categories, under Training, on the right hand side of our Web Site). The first step in Training is to introduce the Elements, and start the process of prodding the Trainee to see the Operation as the sum of its parts. The Program will succeed only as a three year process, by the Third year the farm has the potential of benefiting from experienced workers who will help inspire and maybe challenge First and Second Year’s. Best case scenario, Third Years will be taking on their own Special Projects; that might provide other Trainees with additional avenues of exploration and inspiration. The Academic Piece of the Process, is the requirement, that all Trainees contribute to regular Monthly Summaries, Date Collection and Annual Summaries that are utilized to assess the farm’s production, strengths and weaknesses and potential viability.
• First Year- Trainees are introduced to as much as possible, and gain proficiency in Planting, Crop Care, Harvesting and Washing of hardy crops.
• Second Year- Mechanical equipment training is the focus in the second year, and Trainees must choose an Element as their “Element Focus”. This focus is the basis on which the Trainer can push the Trainee to express deeper understanding and responsibility for specific topics. Trainees must publish as Introduction and Summary of their Element Focus.
• Third Year- Trainees are expected to model good behavior, and set a standard of productivity and responsibility. They are also encouraged to branch out into Special Projects of their own, or better yet, to improve on existing systems so the Farm Operation will benefit. There is the Manager’s assumption that Third Years will be crew bosses for the morning shift (as needed) but given the freedom of self directed work in the afternoons (if possible). They are also responsible for an Element Focus, even to the point of describing the full function of an Element, assessing its value and striving to manage that reality. They must also publish their Introduction and Summary of their Focus and any Special Projects they undertake.

Teaching Philosophy: I look back to my exploration of Farming, and I always remember when my Mentor asked me, as we looked out over the fields, “what do you think we should do today?” It made me realize, in that moment, that I hadn’t really thought about it. My philosophy, in Training, is to put individuals in the position of Having to think about “What To Do”, ie. Provide them a safe space to take responsibility for achieving a farm goal. This creates a real problem for farm viability and growth. Farms survive and thrive by capitalizing on the Farmer’s strengths, providing space for workers to stumble directly negates the Farm’s efficency, but is the best way for workers to personalize the need to ‘Have a Plan” and “Develop the Skills.”
Training Process or “Formal Introduction and Practical Experience(s):
• Discussion and Presentation; often including related issues and options.
• Demonstration; practical information for “how to do it”.
• Practical Application with oversight
• Independent pursuit of activity to finalize the Trainee’s Understanding

Purpose of the Program and Societal Relevance: We need more farmers, farming more small farms, and that will not change. Those farmers need skilled and responsible workers and our Operations need to be professional, viable and sustainable. By fostering sound Training Opportunities, we will build the Trade back to the significance it held for generations, when local farms fed local populations.

Important Link and Mentoring Handbooks:

New England Small Farm Institute (NESFI)

Cultivating a New Crop of Farmers- is on-farm mentoring right for you and your farm?; Kate Hayes, Belchertown, Mass, NESFI

The On-Farm Mentor’s Guide – practical approaches to teaching on the farm; Miranda Smith, Belchertown, Mass, NESFI

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