While I may have been raised in the heart of Montana farm and ranchland, it wasn’t until just recently (and after a move to the city) that I caught wind of the new trend in farming apprenticeships: volunteering one’s time and energy to do farm work in trade for free room, board and education. In my mind, it seems a little like an informational-mini-vacay for the city-dweller and a little bit free slave labor for the lucky farmer (I say slave labor only because I can picture my dad putting some strapping gym-built city lad to serious work doing all manner of awful, sweaty things like pitching 100 pound hay bales and hauling “fertilizer” from corral to garden with repetition).
But, I happen to think the entire concept is brilliant and incredibly smart. I can think of many I’ve met here in Southern California that would give anything for just a backyard to grow a few cherished heirloom tomato plants and many that spend their nights and days dreaming of a plot of land complete with fresh farm eggs and a milk cow out back. The opportunity to experience that and pick up a trade in case the day comes when they can make it happen is fantastic (and even if they’ll never make it their livelihood — the information and experience gained is priceless). And, even better is that it’s in exchange for helping out the over-worked farmer just trying to do his part in maintaining a semblance of sustainability in this crazy materialistic world. I think it’s genius.
Where to Find Farming a Farming Apprenticeship
The first two organizations I’ve heard about (I don’t doubt there are many others), are Grow Food and Wwooof. Grow Food stole my heart instantly with it’s mission statement: “to train a new generation of sustainable farmers and to reconnect people with farms.” Whether you’re searching for paid work, short term volunteer stints, a seasonal internship, or setting up an educational program for your kids or community, Grow Food is your go-to place. The site homepage allows you choose from “Farms” or “Posts,” depending on whether you need help on your own farm, or you’d like to be put to work. After that, it’s simply an opportunity to dive into the countless bios advertising family values, a dedication to organic and sustainable practices, and a huge sense of family and community. It’s the kind of site that you should bookmark for those days when your disgust with humanity starts choking you. It’ll reinstate your faith in humanity. I promise.
Wwoof, or World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms, is much like Grow Food, but much more extensive in terms of locale. You can opt to choose your search range by country, which makes a work-abroad learning experience right at your fingertips. It’s mission statement is to “link volunteers with organic farmers, promote and educational exchange and build a global community conscious of ecological farming practices.” Clearly, I’m smitten. Don’t we need a whole heck of a lot more of this in our world? In our schools? In our cities and on our farms?
Help a farmer and do yourself a favor in the meantime. If you want to learn, I can’t think of a better, more affordable, smart way to go about it. With the freedom to choose just the type of work that suits you, whether it’s raising organic beets, tending to chickens or learning the dairy and cheese-making industry, the world is wide open with these opportunities. I’ve seen fruit orchards, working farmer’s markets and bunking out under the stars tending livestock.
If nothing else or no time allowance to up and go at the moment, I still say you should go read some bios and lift your spirits. Who knows, maybe you’ll get inspired to put a chicken coop in your own backyard.
Freelance author Tara Alley is passionate about sustainability and living green. She’s currently working on discovering the most eco-friendly ways to cool a house with an evaporative cooler or portable air conditioner.