Farmer apprenticeship program to start

by George Jared ([email protected]) 1,081 views 

Aspiring farmers can learn the ins and outs of farming in a new on-farm apprenticeship program beginning January 2020.

The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture is now accepting applications for a learning opportunity aimed at individuals considering farming as a career. This farmer apprenticeship program, managed by the Center for Farm and Food System Entrepreneurship, gives future farmers a first-hand look at farm life, said Heather Friedrich, program manager in the horticulture department.

The CFFSE is a multi-disciplinary partnership operated through the division’s research arm, the Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station. The apprenticeship program is key to CFFSE’s mission to strengthen the food and farming system through experiential learning opportunities, Friedrich said.

The program matches future farmers with successful, full-time-farming mentors for a 10-month to two-year program. It will combine classroom learning with hands-on work on successful farms, Friedrich said.

Friedrich said the farm apprenticeship program is designed for individuals who have some experience growing food crops but need additional training before starting a farm business of their own.

“We’re looking for people who are seriously contemplating food production for local and regional markets as a profession,” Friedrich said. “Ideally, those coming into the program will have some experience in food production, either from other farms, backyard gardening or education.”

Participants will begin in a classroom setting, building a foundation of basic farming skills and knowledge. Depending on individual goals and information gathered during the application process, Friedrich said, each apprentice applicant will be matched with one or more potential farm mentors for an initial interview. Before coming to a final agreement, farm mentors and apprentices may choose to have an on-farm workday to test out their working relationship.

“One of the best things about this program is the mentorship opportunity,” Friedrich said. “Our apprentices work alongside experienced farmers for up to two years. That’s a great opportunity to build a strong relationship with the host farmer that can continue for years to come,” she said.

Each on-farm experience is different, and apprentices should expect to work closely with their farm host to determine the exact details of employment, Friedrich said. Details may include living arrangements, expected work hours, and payment. Farm placement will typically begin in late winter, but the exact date will depend on the needs of each mentor.

Melissa Millsap with the Red Barn Farm in Bentonville, Ark., is serving as one of the mentors for the incoming class of apprentices.

“As a farmer, I know we need more farms. I also know that it is very difficult to gain real-world experience of owning and operating a farm through a classroom,” Millsap said. “I want people who have the passion to farm to have the opportunity to really know what they are looking at as a lifestyle, a career.”

“The heart of the program is the experiential learning that happens on a working farm,” Friedrich said.

Apprentices may work long, irregular hours typical of farming, and will be expected to participate in all classroom sessions and contribute weekly blog posts, she said.

“Apprentices will be working hard physically but should also be asking questions, observing, being actively engaged in understanding the farming system in which they are placed so that they may one day operate their own farm,” Friedrich said.

Applications are due by Dec. 15, 2019. If accepted, a program fee of $285 per year will be due to pay for program education and administration.