Developing a Farm Apprenticeship in Northeast Minnesota

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2023: $29,905.00
Projected End Date: 01/31/2025
Grant Recipient: Wolf Ridge ELC
Region: North Central
State: Minnesota
Project Coordinator:
Sarah Mayer
Wolf Ridge Environmental Learning Center


Not commodity specific


  • Animal Production: free-range, preventive practices
  • Crop Production: agroforestry, biological inoculants, cover crops, crop rotation, drought tolerance, fallow, fertilizers, foliar feeding, food processing, food processing facilities/community kitchens, food product quality/safety, forest farming, forestry, high tunnels or hoop houses, intercropping, irrigation, multiple cropping, no-till, nutrient cycling, nutrient management, organic fertilizers, pollination, pollinator habitat, pollinator health, postharvest treatment, row covers (for season extension), season extension, seed saving, varieties and cultivars, water management, winter storage
  • Education and Training: demonstration, display, extension, farmer to farmer, focus group, mentoring, networking, on-farm/ranch research, participatory research, workshop, youth education
  • Energy: bioenergy and biofuels, byproduct utilization, energy conservation/efficiency, renewable energy, solar energy
  • Farm Business Management: agritourism, apprentice/intern training, community-supported agriculture, cooperatives, farm-to-institution, farm-to-restaurant, farmers' markets/farm stands, land access, new enterprise development, risk management, value added, whole farm planning
  • Natural Resources/Environment: biodiversity, carbon sequestration, drift/runoff buffers, soil stabilization, wetlands, wildlife
  • Pest Management: biological control, botanical pesticides, cultivation, field monitoring/scouting, flame, integrated pest management, mulches - general, mulching - vegetative, mulching - plastic, physical control, row covers (for pests), sanitation, smother crops, soil solarization, trap crops, weather monitoring, weed ecology
  • Production Systems: agroecosystems, holistic management, organic agriculture, permaculture
  • Soil Management: composting, earthworms, green manures, organic matter, soil analysis, soil chemistry, soil microbiology, soil physics, soil quality/health
  • Sustainable Communities: analysis of personal/family life, community development, community planning, community services, ethnic differences/cultural and demographic change, food hubs, infrastructure analysis, leadership development, local and regional food systems, partnerships, public participation, quality of life, social capital, social networks, sustainability measures, values-based supply chains

    Proposal summary:

    Northeast Minnesota has a low density of farms providing food to consumers, yet there is a high demand for local, sustainably produced food in our area. Farmer’s market attendees in Finland, Two Harbors, Aurora, Hibbing, Tower, and Ely are asking for more produce options and a longer market season. Farm to School funds are available from schools in Aurora, Tower, Ely, and Hibbing without the local production to match those funds. The staff and volunteers at Ely Food Shelf continue to bring in whatever local produce they can find, but still look to meet their shoppers’ needs beyond the growing season with storage crops. These examples highlight the need for more farmers in the region.

    Former WWOOFers(World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) and Interns at Wolf Ridge Farm don’t have paid training opportunities beyond their first market farming experience. An apprenticeship program would allow them to build on farming skills and business savvy while developing relationships with already established local markets.

    Many community members have expressed interest in establishing food hubs with storage facilities, producer cooperatives, robust farm to school programs, and farm to food shelf programs. The lack of local farmers inhibits these projects before they begin.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    To build a sustainable food system, we will address the need for more producers by designing and piloting a paid, regenerative farming apprenticeship at Wolf Ridge Environmental Learning Center. The expected outcome of the program is an increase in the number of local farmers, an increase in the amount of food produced and sold locally, and an increase in knowledge of farm business planning and marketing among established and emerging farmers in the region. To meet these outcomes, we will use a 4-phase approach that will result in a completed curriculum, a pilot apprenticeship program, farm technical assistance for the local community of producers and participating apprentices, and plan to fund the program beyond the life of this grant. The following describes our objectives and the associated approach of each:

    Objective 1:

    1. To meet this objective, we will partner with local organizations with experience in farmer training to develop a holistic sustainable farm management program. We plan to partner with the Northeast Regional Sustainable Development partnership, The Food Group, Friends of the Finland Community, and The University of Minnesota’s Farm at the Arb. Two of these organizations already operate farm apprenticeship programs in southern Minnesota, so we will draw from their experiences to develop a program that suits the unique climatic, soil, and market challenges of Northeast MN. After we design the program, there will be an outreach event where the program is presented and the community will have the opportunity to provide feedback.

    Objective 2:

    1. We will achieve this goal by combining hands-on learning, print resources and mentorship to educate apprentices. Apprentices will work on the farm four days a week, working alongside Sarah to learn about all aspects of farming.The cohort will also visit other local farms to gather perspectives on the many ways to farm sustainably in the region.

    Objective 3:

    1. We want to ensure that this training serves not only the folks participating in the program, but also the established but underserved producers of our region. To accomplish this goal, we will record 3 hands-on lectures given to the apprentices, each in the respective areas of business planning, marketing, and sustainable management. These
      1. workshops will be available to any farmer in-person, but will also be recorded and stored on the Finland Food Chain/Wolf Ridge website for accessibility. We will also build a list of resources, gathered from existing programs with permission, that farmers can easily access through these respective websites.

      Objective 4:

      1. We will identify donors, grants and tax levies that could support the program beyond the life of the grant. Our farmer team will lean on Friends of Finland, a community non-profit with years of fundraising and donor relationship experience, to build a funding plan that will sustain the program for future years. This will ensure that the program can have a lasting economic and social impact.


    1. Develop a paid apprenticeship program that trains emerging farmers in all aspects of sustainable farm management
    2. Train 2 emerging farmers and support 3 existing farmers in farm business planning, regenerative management and farm marketing through integrative workshops. 
    3. Develop a database of farm technical assistance that can be used by apprentices and local farmers during and beyond the life of the grant program.
    4. Identify and secure 3 funding sources that will sustain the job training for future years.
    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.