Jason Maloney for Agri-View
BAYFIELD, Wis. – Where will the next generation of farmers be found? How can people from cities without agricultural experience start a life in agriculture?
The answer can be found in two words: “farm internships”.
Many people working in agriculture have both a passion and specialized knowledge that they would like to share. and most of them are not lacking in work. Some farmers come into contact with college or university students who want to learn through on-farm internships. Others look to organizations that link agricultural interns to specific types of farming.
Tom Galazen and Ann Rosenquist run North Wind Organic Farm near Bayfield, Bayfield County, in northern Wisconsin, where they host interns. The 140-acre farm has approximately 130 acres of forest, with the rest devoted to intensively cultivated fields and orchards. The farm produces maple and birch syrup as well as a wide variety of organic berries, fruits and vegetables. Agricultural produce and value-added products are marketed through farmers’ markets, a community supported agriculture program and wholesale to stores. The farm is off the electricity grid; he mainly uses wind, solar and wood since 1982. Since 1991, he also offers internships.
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“In return for their work, students receive food, housing and a small monthly stipend – and they learn a lot,” Rosenquist said. “We try to keep the work so it’s not monotonous, but sometimes farming can be a bit monotonous. There could be a big harvest or a lot of weeding.
But Galazen pointed out that monotony is also something to learn about farming.
Rosenquist said, “We give time off to our interns, even though we don’t take time off. Some ask why we don’t take time off and we tell them that our to-do list would grow even longer.
Galazen said, “We’ve had 150 to 175 people as interns here over the years. For many years, students from Northland College in Ashland, Wisconsin have come here for a credited internship for the college’s May term.
“Most of the interns have been pretty easygoing. Most have been decent workers. We had some this month of May that were autonomous. If we were taken by phone calls or something, they found useful things to do.
The couple are part of Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms. Thanks to this, people travel to farms around the world, they said. Interns work a set number of hours each day; farmers provide meals and accommodation. Sometimes an intern will only work a few days or weeks; they move from farm to farm.
“WWOOF-USA” connects visitors to organic farmers. The idea is to promote an educational exchange while building a community aware of ecological farming practices learned throughout life on the farm. There are over 1,500 participating farms in the United States.
Another organization the couple is involved with is the National Center for Appropriate Technology’s Appropriate Technology Transfer for Rural Areas, called ATTRA. They welcomed long-term trainees there.
ATTRA is primarily funded by the Rural Business Cooperative Service of the United States Department of Agriculture. The National Center for Appropriate Technology runs a series of projects that promote independence and sustainable lifestyles through the judicious use of appropriate technology. It provides information and technical assistance to farmers, ranchers, extension agents, educators, and others involved in sustainable agriculture in the United States.
Some of the couple’s interns became farmers in the Wisconsin area.
“(And) there are some who have settled in the west,” Galazen said. “Internships are a great opportunity for a person. They don’t risk much.
Rosenquist said, “There are so many opportunities in agriculture. They can learn to run a (community supported agriculture program) without even touching the ground. They can learn management, or write newsletters or blogs.
Galazen said: “Sometimes people have an affinity for certain crops – rhubarb for example. We know of a Minnesota farmer who has a collection of over 50 varieties of rhubarb. A person like that could start a nursery and take orders. One of our interns had worked on a rhubarb farm in Iceland.
Clare Hintz owns and operates Elsewhere Farm, a permaculture production farm near Herbster, Wisconsin. She serves on the Wisconsin Council for Agriculture, Commerce and Consumer Protection.
“Tom from North Wind was my first internship mentor and convinced me that I really wanted to be a farmer in the Lake Superior watershed,” she said. “He was a tireless and patient teacher of everything from how to drive a tractor to the crucial way of living on a farmer’s wage. Not only did he take the time to teach his trainees aspects of his very diverse farm, but he shared his knowledge of wild crafts and traditional skills. As a city kid, it was all new to me and it launched me into my career.”
For people who have knowledge and a passion to share with people who learn by doing, on-farm internships can be rewarding. For interns, experiences on a farm can be life changing. And the real reward for the rest of us is the growth of a new generation of farmers.
This is an original article written for Agri-View, an agricultural publication of Lee Enterprises based in Madison, Wisconsin. Visit AgriView.com for more information.
Jason Maloney is an “elderly” farm boy from Marinette County, Wisconsin. He is a retired educator, retired soldier, and permanent resident of Wisconsin. He lives on the shore of Lake Superior with his wife, Cindy Dillenschneider, and Red, a loyal and hardy Australian Shepherd.