So you’re young and enthusiastic, and you want to work on an organic farm. Who doesn’t, really? A fresh, vigorous life out in the air, with proud shoulders at the end of the day slooped in exhaustion: there couldn’t be anything better. But working on an organic farm–or any farm for that matter–is easier said than done.
First, one must find opportunities. After searching for apprenticeship possibilities in the Southeast for over two years, there are three job boards that I can recommend.
A lot of energetic folks looking for farmers or land. Obviously, the main focus is Georgia, but other Southern locales often crop up.
More national and international positions for wannabe farmers. Browse “Wanted” and “Opportunities.”
A great resource for young, passionate cultivator-types, but most leads are in the Northeast and West.
Second, one has to come to terms with the sober reality of farm work. Not only is it dirty and physically strenuous, the pay can be infinitesimal, especially to start out. Of course, there are in-kind perks, such as a bounty of fresh eggs. But anyone who goes to work for an organic farm thinking he or she will soon become rich should have his or her head checked. Without a doubt, the commitment demands a sacrifice of dollars and time.
One more thing to keep in mind, you’ll probably work as an independent contractor, which means you’ll fill out a 1099 tax form and keep up with your expenses and write-offs. Make sure the farmer has, at the very least, some kind of on-farm liability policy. Lots of things can go wrong on the farm (I’ve got gruesome examples, but I’ll spare the reader.) The farmer should provide some kind of minimum insurance in case of an accident.
Also, perform your due diligence investigating your employer as much as he or she investigates you. Ask for references. Don’t be afraid to request a look at farm receipts or see the business plan. Possibly invest in a background check.
Finally, as obvious as it sounds, go to the farm, meet the owners, spend a night there. Nothing means as much as gut feel, particularly when something’s wrong. The good news is most small farmers and people in the organic industry don’t have enough time to rip anyone off. Besides, for most, there isn’t enough money in the business to make it worth the trouble.
Remember, be bold. Follow your bliss. Believe in what you’re doing. Bust your ass. And everything will be OK.
Or, you will realize that you don’t want to work on an organic farm.
Addendum: Of course, the typical advice for anyone on a job hunt still holds true: Network, network, network. Conferences and similar events are great ways to find, and sometimes create, new opportunities.