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Important Considerations When Choosing an Organic Farm Internship

What issues should you consider before taking on an organic farm internship?

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Many people dream of working on an organic farm, or raising organic livestock, yet almost no one today grows up on a farm. That said, sustainable farm internships are growing in popularity, because they allow volunteers to gain valuable skills related to their career of choice and can help out the farm as well. Before you decide to internship though, there are some issues to consider.

1. Wish List Considerations

Most people have some specific ideas in mind when they consider or take on a farm internship. It's fine not to be sure what you're looking for, but if you do have a wish-list of sorts, jotting down notes can be very beneficial when narrowing down your search for an internship.

For example, while someone interested in organic dairy farming will be able to gain useful skills from an organic farm that grows crops, of course, it would be better to narrow down your search to organic dairy farms. Ask yourself what areas of organic agriculture are you interested in? Why are you choosing an internship as a way to gain skills, and what skills are most important to you?

If you're interested in an organic agriculture career, but simply aren't sure which specific area you'd like best, it's smart to go with an internship offering a broad area of skill-sets and activities.

2. Application Considerations

Be aware that internships are growing in popularity, and the early bird gets the best worm (or internship). In fact, so many people are interested in sustainable farming that most farm internships fill up way before growing season hits.

Be sure to research your internship options very early on and pay close attention to application due dates and application processes. Flexibility is a virtue. If you have your heart set on an organic vineyard internship, and it doesn't work out, you may be able to gain equally valuable skills from another sort of organic growing operation as you wait for a chance at your dream internship.

3. Time Considerations

Ask up front for clarity surrounding necessary time commitments. For example:

  • How long will the internship last?
  • Can an internship be extended or cut short?
  • How many hours a day will you be expected to put in?
  • Is there a sick day and emergency time policy in place?
  • What time of the day does work start and end?
  • Is there often overtime?

4. Financial Considerations

Internships vary wildly, thus benefits and personal costs vary as well. Be sure to ask about the following issues:

  • Will you paid actual money? If so, how much and how often?
  • Are paid stipend fixed or graduated or based on sale incentives?
  • Is there profit-sharing or free crop perks?
  • Is room and board part of the agreement? If so, in full or partial?
  • Is gas for off-farm trips provided?
  • Is work clothing, work tools and other gear provided or not?
  • Must you carry health insurance?
  • Are utilities like electricity and internet extra or covered?

Be sure to consider up front costs as well. For instance, relocation can be costly. As can taking on a non-paying job. Make sure you can afford to start an internship. If you have many bills or zero saved income, an internship may not be doable.

5. Skill Considerations

Many organic agriculture internships will train from the bottom up, however, some internships require that a basic knowledge skill set is already in place. Make sure you're qualified for the internship you're applying for.

Also ask about the sort of skills you'll be learning, to make sure they'll be beneficial to you. Additionally, consider how you learn. If you're the type of learner who does well with hands-on approaches, an organic farm internship is probably a good fit. If you love and learn best via organic farm books, tests and lectures, an internship may be harder or less valuable for you. Some internships do provide both hands-on learning and more structured learning time, but not always.

6. Environment Considerations

Some internships are far away or perhaps not the ideal setting for you. This could mean an adventure or it could mean trouble. Learn as much as you can about the internship physical environment before you accept an internship.

  • Is the location suitable? Too closed off, not big enough, etc.
  • What is the temperature like - are there seasons?
  • Will there be travel involved once you arrive?
  • Can you have visitors?
  • Will you have internet access?
  • How much space will you have? For instance, your own bedroom and bath or shared?
  • Expectations surrounding household chores and other live-in tasks, such as cooking.
  • Will there be other apprentices around or not?

7. Mentor Considerations

Researching your potential mentor before your internship interview is wise. Ask other people who have worked with the mentor if they've had good, fine or downright bad experiences. Often, time spent on an internship is telling. For example, if a mentor has many apprentices who quit early on, there may be a good reason why.

Find out how long your potential mentor has been working in the field and how they themselves trained. You may also want to find out about the following issues:

  • Your mentor's teaching style.
  • How much time your mentor will spend with you.
  • How many, if any, independent projects your mentor may trust you with.
  • What learning resources your mentor will make available to you.

Also, if applying for an organic farm internship, be sure to ask if the farmer has a second job. If a farmer has a second job, and many do, it may limit the time you can expect to spend with your mentor.

8. Personal Considerations

Ask a few questions about the farmer's personal preferences related to music, food, smoking, alcohol and so on. The two of you may not be a great match. You may also want to ask if couple internships are offered, say, if you're married or would like to internship with a pal.

9. College Considerations

Internships are great, offering real hands-on experience. However, college agricultural programs shouldn't be ruled out. University and college agricultural offerings are plentiful and also, in most cases offer lots of real-life experience via school internships, work programs, excellent learning facilities, trained instructors and more.

Don't rule out college simply because you're concerned you won't get actual farm, crops or livestock experiences - if you pick the right program, you will get those experiences. Also, in many cases, you'll need a degree to score a higher paying agricultural job. Lastly, college can be a nice way to round out your hands-on experience with text-book educational learning methods.

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