A few weeks ago our New Farmer Academy interns wrapped up the 2021 season and we gave you a glimpse into their daily experience through this retrospective slideshow. The slideshow highlights all of the fun farm experiences our interns have and the friendships they form with each other.
Did you know that the NFA also creates career pathways for our interns through classroom-style education in the principles of sustainable agriculture, technical training, business and financial planning, and supportive working relationships with mentor farmers? Our goal is for interns to leave our program with the skills, resources, and network they need to start their agricultural careers right here in northeast Ohio.
What does that look like? It looks different for everyone! Some NFA interns will start their own farm businesses. Others will go to work at existing local farms or other agriculture-related businesses. Some will decide to pursue higher education or transfer their skills to a related field such as food access, education, or policy work. A few, no doubt, will create career paths for themselves that don’t even exist yet. All of them leave us with a deep understanding of the connections between people, food, and land.
I asked our 2021 interns to talk to me about what they got out of participating in the NFA this year. Here are some of their responses:
“I think everything is moving like a well oiled machine and more opportunities seem to be knocking on the door. I think this program is growing beautifully and creating a really holistic teaching of what it means to be a Sustainable farmer in Ohio.”
“I learned so much from the mentor farmers. I’ve done a specific focus on sourcing for shrubs and trees, as well as different planting systems for interplanted orchard crops. This is particularly interesting to me as I do plan to start my own orchard space eventually and do lots of planting in my current business. I’ve been thinking alot about what kind of planting system balances plant health with time and money spent in materials. I feel like this is kind of the basic building block of good landscaping and farm development.”
“I started the season thinking that agriculture meant growing vegetables and raising livestock. I was always interested in medicinal herbs and plants but did not see it as a path to take to become a ‘farmer.’ I realized through the internship that growing medicinal plants and herbs is valuable and found that my interest in making value-added products from them is something I want to pursue.”
“Plan well. Be flexible. Plan for more than you think you’ll need and don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Things go wrong. Try to be efficient. It’ll be hard to make a living on just selling produce alone. Take care of yourself because burnout happens. Network.”
“I think two of the most significant things I’m walking away from this season with would be a better understanding of food production, and a better understanding of myself. My confidence in gardening has greatly increased, now that I have learned how to propagate, grow, and maintain food crops. I feel more connected to my food and the local food system, and I’m more aware of the problems facing agriculture today. I have learned that I’m not a farmer, which is okay, and I’m learning how I can grow with and contribute to the local food movement from where I am right now.”
“I learned that I need to learn more! Being immersed in a hands-on farm gave me so many tools that I did not have before I came to the New Farmer Academy. I learned almost everything from starting seeds to harvesting and what to do with 300 lbs of produce! The New Farmer Academy solidified in me that I want my future to be in farming, and has proven that it is very hard work, but very rewarding. I learned an in depth detail of the realities of farming, and what it REALLY takes to be a successful farmer. I really appreciated the honesty of the program, and the way that it is a real dose of reality of farming. I LOVED going to the other farms, and seeing all the different styles of farming. It was incredibly helpful to have intimate and real conversations with the farmers, and their honesty was incredibly helpful and refreshing. By talking to the farmers, and working at Old Trail, it gave me a new insight of what it means to be a farmer, and that being a farmer can take on many different roles in the agricultural community.”
“This growing season I learned a lot about the requirements of caring for a variety of livestock. This included sheep, ducks, laying chickens, and meat chickens. Being able to get up close and personal with the day-to-day tasks of raising a generation of animals impacted me in a very interesting way. No matter what farm I worked on, the first chores that would be accomplished involved the animals. Walking onto the field with the morning dew still upon the grass and the sun just beginning to rise on the horizon, I felt truly immersed in the ebb and flow of natural life. It was as if all life awoke together. I was most impacted by learning about rotational grazing with sheep. The flocks would intuitively know what time they were to be moved to new pastures. If we were late, they would always let us know by vocalizing their impatience for fresh grazing.
Business planning is also another significant subject that I learned a lot about this growing season. Working at Trapp family farm, Mark was very open and willing to discuss his business model and what worked or did not work for them in the past. I was very appreciative of his honesty in discussing what he viewed as failures as well as what he could have done better. This was very refreshing and impacted me by teaching me to be open about how you can learn from farm failures and even how you can turn them into successes. There is so much adaptability needed with farming due to the multitude of uncontrollable variables. Thus, learning to draft a business plan for my own farming operation was more difficult than I anticipated, in trying to factor in the unpredictable future. Although this process has been somewhat of a challenge it has truly stretched my mind to begin to think like a farmer. Forward-thinking and adaptability carried through this season from both working with Trapp and beginning to draft my own business plan.”
“Working with Zakiyyah at Let’s Grow Akron was a truly meaningful experience. This wasn’t just related to food processing, but also getting to know another female in agriculture and her past and story. It took a lot of hard work to become a master canner and she is a wealth of knowledge who doesn’t give herself enough credit for it… Let’s Grow Akron is an all around solid organization that follows through on their mission and every action every day, and I strive to follow through on that when it becomes my time to develop something awesome and meaningful.”
Do you want to be part of building a resilient local food system in northeast Ohio? Applications for 2022 New Farmer Academy interns and mentor farmers open in January. Contact NFA Program Manager Ginnette (firstname.lastname@example.org) to learn more!