Educating from Seed To Market: An Organic Farming Apprenticeship Program in St. Louis, Missouri

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2009: $18,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2012
Region: North Central
State: Missouri
Project Coordinator:

Information Products


  • Fruits: melons
  • Vegetables: sweet potatoes, beans, beets, cabbages, carrots, cucurbits, eggplant, garlic, greens (leafy), leeks, onions, parsnips, peas (culinary), peppers, radishes (culinary), tomatoes, turnips


  • Crop Production: conservation tillage
  • Education and Training: demonstration, farmer to farmer, networking
  • Farm Business Management: community-supported agriculture, marketing management
  • Natural Resources/Environment: biodiversity, wildlife
  • Pest Management: field monitoring/scouting, integrated pest management, prevention, row covers (for pests), trap crops, mulching - vegetative
  • Production Systems: organic agriculture
  • Soil Management: green manures
  • Sustainable Communities: partnerships, urban agriculture, social networks

    Proposal summary:

    The EarthDance Organic Farming Apprenticeship program was developed because the demand for locally and sustainably-grown food - and therefore the need for more small-scale organic growers - is increasing every day. The Ferguson Farmers Market (the market in closest proximity to the Mueller Farm) is continually seeking more farmers to sell produce at their market. There is also a great demand to learn the skills of organic farming. Young graduates, retirees, and career changers are looking to organic farming as a viable job option, but few of them have the farming background to feel confident in embarking on a small farm enterprise without some practical training.

    The EarthDance Organic Farming Apprenticeship is designed to meet both of these needs - to grow more affordable, healthy food for the region and to train more individuals in organic farming techniques. While it is most ideal to immerse oneself in farm work completely (full-time) to thoroughly understand what it takes to farm organically, this apprenticeship is intended to serve as an introduction to the principles of sustainable agriculture without requiring a complete lifestyle change. 25 first year apprentices commit a minimum of 10 hours per week to the program, which includes farm labor, selling at farmers markets, CSA distribution, and weekly field walks with the farm manager or a neighboring farmer. At least 5 apprentices from the 2009 growing season are committed to a second year of training with EarthDance, at a minimum of 4 hours per week. In 2010, EarthDance will create a pilot CSA program in which the apprentices are our first shareholders, to provide ourselves with a full year of on-the-job training before starting a CSA open to the public. Farm manager Vicki Lander will create a production plan akin to operating a CSA farm for 33 members. We will also continue to sell at two area farmers markets, and each apprentice will be responsible for working 5 - 6 market days throughout the season. Two second year apprentices will be hired to coordinate the two farmers markets for the entire season. Field walks will be led weekly by the farm manager to highlight the stages of growth of crops, the location of certain crop families, weed and pest management strategies, and irrigation practices (or by John or Karrie/Brian, one of our neighboring farmers, if there's something of interest we want the apprentices to see on their operations). Additionally on-farm enrichment sessions and field trips to area organic farms will be held monthly to complement their field work and CSA/market training. Below is a list of the enrichment sessions that will be held each month on the farm. The same theme will also be highlighted during that month's field trip, to give a focal point for each farmer to share his/her experience on.
    [Pre-grant activities]
    Feb - Missouri Organic Association conference; Apprenticeship Meet & Greet
    Mar - Crop Plan I Seed Starting I Propagation
    Apr - Building Healthy Soils
    May - Selling at Farmers Markets
    June - Community Supported Agriculture
    July - Organic Management of Weeds and Pests
    Aug - Preserving the Harvest, Value-Added Products
    Sept - Small Farm Recordkeeping. Business Plans
    Oct - Cover Cropping, Winter farm activities, Garlic Planting
    Nov - Graduation Ceremony / Evaluation
    Nov & Dec 2010 - Evaluate 2010 growing season, Recruit 2011 apprentices, Host "So You Want to Be a Farmer?" info sessions on the apprenticeship program, Plan curriculum changes and additions.
    Jan & Feb 2011 - Determine class of 2011 apprentices, Schedule enrichment sessions and field trips, Attend professional development conferences and workshops
    Mar & Apr 2011 - Growing season I Apprenticeship program for 2011 is underway

    To encourage professional development and further skills training for the farm manager and apprenticeship coordinator, along with second-year apprentices, specifically as it pertains to operating a small-scale organic educational CSA farm, Amy Cloud and Paul Krautman will lead "Training the Trainer" sessions, both on their farms and on the Earth Dance farm, to teach specific skills such as CSA planning, farm buildings /infrastructure, efficient use of small farm machinery, and sustainable irrigation practices, etc.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.