Organic Farming Internships

July 5, 2007

I received the following question from Andreas who is looking for information related to sustainable agriculture and organic farming internship opportunities in the Pennsylvania or Virginia areas.

Seeking Green Horizons

“I happened to read your profile and noticed that you took on an organic farming internship in Central Pennsylvania. My wife and I currently live in Grand Rapids, MI and I am deeply interested in sustainable farming.”

“We have a vibrant “scene” (organic) here, but my wife and I have a desire to move to the South-Central Pennsylvania or Northern Virginia area. I am 31 years old, long out of college, and working as a waiter in a restaurant that uses locally produced food.”

“What are some steps I could take to tap into the kind of opportunity you found in your region? Ideally, I would love to find some sort of paid internship, as making a move from Michigan would be expensive and risky. Could you please offer any advice? I want to learn but I feel that many opportunities are more ideal for single college students…”

“Any advice would be appreciated, as I feel your experience may have been somewhat similar to what I am interested in attempting. Thank you!”

Locating Sustainable Agriculture Apprenticeships

Andreas, I’d be happy to share my experience and outlook with you. It’s been more than twenty years since my three year organic farming internship and the scene has changed but there are fundamental issues that should always be considered.

One advantage that you have in your favor is the growing interest, popularity, and demand for organically grown food and products. There are also great organizations such as the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture (PASA) that provides a network of opportunities for growers, consumers, wholesalers, and prospective interns such as yourself.

PASA’s website includes a forum of internship listings that’s used to match workers with sustainable agriculture positions. PASA identifies a few opportunities outside of PA and there may be similar resources where you live or are interested in relocating to.

A lot of the internships are short term and probably better suited for students or someone taking the summer off, but you can uncover opportunities available for older individuals or couples who are interested in sustainable agriculture, as well as longer term positions.

My Journey to an Organic Farm Homestead

My search for an internship began with the same intense interest in sustainable farming and organic gardening that you share. At the time I lived in the Washington D.C. area, had recently completed college, and was employed with the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, so accepting an internship entailed making quite a few changes.

What started as a thought of “one day” moving to the country was soon replaced with questions of “how can I relocate to an organic farm today?” It became a personal goal and objective that I brain stormed over and kept in prayer.

Initial attempts to accomplish my goal of creating a situation where I could experience life in the country on an organic farm didn’t work out but I held on to the desire and continued to pursue my objective.

After a fairly short period of time a great opportunity did present itself as a result of networking in various sustainable agriculture circles, and simply asking the right person at the right time whether they knew of any organic farmers that were looking for apprentices.

A few weeks later I had relocated to Pennsylvania to begin what turned into a four year stint on an organic farm. It was a tough decision because it did require leaving a great job, my friends and family, and the city where I grew up. On the other hand it was a worry-free decision because I felt directed and totally convicted that it was the perfect move for me.

Other Considerations for Prospective Interns

Other things that you should consider include; do you have any savings to tide you over if necessary? Organic farming internships are not lucrative engagements. Some offer room and board along with a little pocket change, while others may include a weekly stipend or low hourly wages.

What is your health and fitness level? If you’re not in shape life on a farm will help get you there, but you do need to assess your general health and what medical coverage can be obtained to meet your needs… it’s very unlikely that an internship will provide much in the way of medical or other benefits.

Are you prepared to put in long workdays and forsake some of the conveniences that many take for granted? Workloads and living conditions vary greatly from one internship to another, so do your homework to be clear on exactly what you’re getting into. Also make sure that you will be trained and mentored by someone with a strong background in sustainable agriculture.

The times that I spent at the organic farm were some of the best days of my entire life and full of cherished memories and experiences. I expected to learn a lot about growing plants, what I didn’t anticipate was just how much I would learn and grow in other areas.

I also found that the things I thought I was sacrificing when I accepted the internship really weren’t sacrificed or lost at all. An organic farm internship isn’t for everyone, but for some it could turn into one of the best and most rewarding experiences of your life!

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