Our primary goal was to improve upon the training opportunities in organic agriculture by providing a well-designed program for interns on farms in central and northern New York. Each of the farms in this project has had interns in the past, but without any consistent, thorough training program. By combining our forces, we were able to introduce interns to a variety of farms and a broader range of skills than any one farm could teach by itself. We ran this as a pilot program for NOFA (Northeast Organic Farmers’ Association)-New York, so that in future years the organization can assist farmers all over the state in training the next generation of farmers.
During the 1999 season, five central New York organic farms organized this cooperative training program for ten interns. At the NOFA-NY winter conference in March, Doug Jones, one of the participating farmers, gave a workshop entitled “Networking among Farmers to Support Internships.” Immediately after the conference, the farmers from the five farms met to discuss our hopes and plans for the training program, and agreed that the time spent on farm tours would count as part of the interns’ workweek. We then shared an introductory seminar on experiential learning for adults, presented by Nancy Grudens-Schuck. With her guidance we developed a unified approach for the tour and education sessions, and agreed that each farmer would emphasize a distinctive set of topics. On each farm, interns would be invited to work together as a group on some large project, such as hoeing, weeding, or rock picking. At the end of each farm visit we would divide the whole group into pairs where participants might feel freer to share what they had learned, such as what they might want to put in their dream farms, and what surprised or challenged them. Then the pairs would report back to the whole group. Finally, upon the interns’ return to their home farms, the farmers would make a point of asking what they had seen, what they particularly liked, and what the other interns thought.
We began the season on May 5th, 1999, with a group potluck at Tierra Farm with all the farmers and interns. At this gathering, we reviewed the purpose of the program, went over the schedule for the season, and went around the circle so that all had the opportunity to introduce themselves and talk about what they hoped to gain or achieve through this cooperative program. Then we socialized for a few hours. The interns stayed overnight and had their first farm tour the next morning. Farmer Bruce Schader emphasized seedbed preparation.
The second visit, May 19th, was to Peacework Organic Farm, which was in its first year of production. Farmers Elizabeth Henderson and Greg Palmer emphasized whole farm planning and start-up. Greg told the story of his passage from apprentice to skilled farmer. Elizabeth demonstrated their new Celli spader, and they involved the whole group in hoeing onions.
The third visit, June 4th, was to Jen and John Bokaer-Smith’s West Haven Farm at the EcoVillage near Ithaca. These farmers emphasized growing the crop mix for farmers market sales, and record keeping. After a morning at West Haven, the group did a tour of Dilmun Hill, the student organic market farm at Cornell University. The interns stayed overnight and the next morning toured the Ithaca Farmers Market, one of the most attractive and lively in the state.
The fourth visit, July 21-22, was to Grindstone and Birdsfoot Farms. At Grindstone, Dick deGraff discussed his systems for planting, cultivating, and irrigating, and blueberry production. At Birdsfoot, Dulli Tengeler and Doug Jones talked about their use of heirloom varieties.
Arnie Voehringer presented a day-long workshop on tractor safety, maintenance, and repair at West Haven Farm on August 25th. The general public was invited as well, through advertisements in the NOFA-New York newsletter and other papers. Twenty-five people attended, including both farmers and interns.
The fifth farm visit, September 12th, brought the interns back to Peacework Organic Farm to observe a large-scale, highly participatory CSA in action. In the morning, the interns joined the CSA members in harvesting crops for the day’s shares. Then the interns drove into Rochester to observe distribution, on the way visiting a hydroponic greenhouse operation.
The final session of the season was a full afternoon’s workshop by Will Brinton of Woods End on soils, composting and nutrient balance on the farm, and was attended by 17 farmers and interns. In the evening, Brinton delivered a lecture open to the general public as well, on “Composting, Soil Chemistry, and Wholeness.”
The NOFA-NY office helped with publicity for these events and with logistics for the Brinton workshop and lecture.
During the winter of 1999-2000 a survey was conducted of participating farmers and interns regarding the quality of the experience. Overall the interns gave it good reviews. They cited in particular the opportunity to see more than one farm, and to meet and become friends with other interns, which diminished the feelings of isolation that some interns have suffered in the past. Farmers found that the interns were more motivated and asked better questions after each tour. The participants plan to expand the program to a total of eight farms in 2000.