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CSA Farm Apprentice and Apprenticeship page, Caretaker Farm in Williamstown, MA, Berkshire County, USA
Working in the fields

Caretaker Farm is both a working farm and a training ground for future farmers. Each season we train three or four farm apprentices. Over the last 30 years more than 125 apprentices have learned how to farm at Caretaker Farm, and past apprentices currently manage farms all across the country.

The structure of the apprenticeship consists of assisting with the everyday operation on the farm, weekly on-farm tours, participation in the CRAFT (Collaborative Regional Alliance for Farmer Training) apprentice training program, working alongside the farmer, goal setting, monthly check-ins, specific discussions based on the apprentice's interest, and access to our agricultural library. The education includes full immersion into the inner workings of a small-scale family farm, from soil preparation and greenhouse propagation to weed control and harvesting.

We seek apprentices who take initiative; are reliable and responsible; work well with others and individually; have a good sense of humor and a desire to have fun; appreciate high quality work/ products; are excited about living in community with others; possess a deep respect for others; work hard; and are able to lift 55 lbs.

If you have a demonstrated interest in agriculture and the physical ability to work a demanding farming schedule, then we encourage you to apply for one of our positions.

To apply, please email a resume, cover letter, and three references to Don at don@caretakerfarm.org.

Apprentice Program Details

WHO'S WHO

Don Zasada & Bridget Spann: In the fall of 2004, Don & Bridget were invited by Sam and Elizabeth Smith to become the next farmers at Caretaker Farm. They moved there in December of 2004. Don had been the Director of Agriculture at The Food Project for seven years while Bridget worked as a domestic violence advocate at Massachusetts General Hospital. Don is responsible for production of herbs, flowers, vegetables, and soft fruit, and for building and maintaining soil fertility. He manages the CSA, oversees the farm budget, coordinates the weekly newsletter, and is responsible for all livestock and building maintenance. Bridget has been involved in work related to the farm transition with the land trust and the Campaign for Caretaker Farm. She helps coordinate workshops, events, and celebrations for CSA members and organizes North West Earth Institute discussion courses for the farm.

Sam & Elizabeth Smith: Founders of Caretaker Farm in 1969. Sam & Elizabeth still live on the farm and continue to be important resources.

Jenna: Jenna is a professional baker who has been working at the farm for more than four years. She is incredibly artistic and bakes the best goodies around. Her son Evan often helps out on harvest days.



2010 Apprentices during a farm visit from writer/poet Wendell Berry

2010 Apprentices during a farm visit from writer-poet Wendell Berry

EDUCATIONAL VALUE

Apprentice Program

Our apprentice program is a hands-on working/learning experience designed to move dedicated candidates towards farm management. We accept people from all backgrounds who want to explore agriculture as a career option.

Apprenticeship Goals/Evaluation

As part of our program orientation, apprentices are encouraged to identify in writing what they hope to accomplish from their apprenticeship. After three to four weeks Don will meet with each apprentice to help with the development of realistic goals and to confirm our mutual (farmer and apprentice) expectations for learning. This document will be revisited for periodic evaluation and reviewed in detail in late August/September. We will make every effort to tailor each experience to the expressed needs of each participant.

Group Meeting

We meet on the first Thursday of the month, following lunch, to discuss any issues (farm and community related) that need to be addressed. We use various communication tools to assist us with these meetings.

Weekly Plan and Tour

At the start of each week, Don will go over the big picture of what needs to be done, clarify work assignments, and lead a ½-hour farm walk to look at the fields. Apprentices are encouraged to make observations but lengthy discussions need to be saved for other times.

Daily Meeting

The farm crew convenes immediately after breakfast every morning to clarify the day's program and make alterations due to the weather and other events.

Orientation

During the first week we will conduct an orientation to go over safety policies, farm policies, and the location and names of buildings and equipment. We will review the farm calendar, the dates in the CRAFT schedule, begin to set vacation times, assign job rotations (household, animals, greenhouse, distribution, etc.) and start figuring out how to live in community together.

Study Materials

All apprentices are given written learning materials to increase their understanding of Caretaker Farm in particular and farming in general. These materials include crop plans, seed orders, planting schedules, maps, overall farm plans, and supporting information. In addition there is a small farm library from which apprentices are welcome to borrow books.

CRAFT Program Events

Caretaker Farm is a founding member of the CRAFT Program. Apprentices are encouraged to take part in all CRAFT events during the season. Visits to other farms take place during regular work hours on Monday afternoons or Saturday mornings. If you do attend the events, you are expected to work up until the time for departure to the event (on Saturdays this means harvesting and setting up for distribution before leaving for the CRAFT gathering after breakfast). If you do not attend the event, you are expected to work according to the normal day's schedule.

Career Development

Throughout the apprenticeship, participants are encouraged to develop ideas for their own future farm plans. At your request, Don is available to review these plans and offer feedback. In addition, all possible steps will be taken to help apprentices find job placement or further opportunities if so desired.

RESPONSIBILITIES

The Work Schedule

Monday – Friday: 6:30 AM – 6 PM, with 15 min. mid-morning break; and a lunch break of 1½ hrs. Once distributions begin, apprentices work until 6:05 PM on Tuesdays and Fridays and Distribution Manager oversees distribution area over lunch break.

Saturday 6:30 AM – 12:30 PM, with15 min. mid-morning break.

Every 4th weekend (Saturday afternoon until Sunday night): An apprentice is responsible for animal and greenhouse chores.

General Work

The apprenticeship is, at its core, a working-learning experience. Our primary method for learning how to manage a farm is to perform critical tasks in a timely manner. Every Monday morning an outline of the week's goals is presented and reviewed, and specific tasks are assigned. All assignments are made with the needs of the farm and the specific stated needs of the apprentices in mind.

    Assignments on a weekly rotation:
  1. Goats Feeding, watering, and moving the goats.
  2. Greenhouses/ Hoophouse Watering Includes assisting in care of seedlings and monitoring temperature/moisture conditions.
  3. Livestock Feeding and watering the pigs and chickens. Also collecting and cleaning the eggs, rotating the chickens, and assisting Don if an extra hand is needed for special animal care. Grazing of the cows will be managed as part of the general workday.
  4. Distribution Coordinator Apprentices will learn to make the decisions about what is ready to be harvested and how much to harvest for distribution. This includes maintaining careful records to keep track of inventory and amounts used. The Distribution Coordinator is responsible for all aspects of distribution: attractively displaying the vegetables, signage, organizing the farm store, working with distribution helpers, responding to shareholders' questions and concerns, setting up the cash box, recording the sales and putting vegetables away at the end of distribution.
For CRAFT visits that are on Mondays, Don will take responsibility for the greenhouse and the afternoon animal chores.

TractorsRachel on the tractor.

Don will be the primary operator of the tractors. It is important that all apprentices learn how to drive a tractor. Due to the limited space on the farm and the number of apprentices, everyone will not become experts at using the tractors. Rather, they will be familiar with their use.

Seeding

Apprentices will participate in greenhouse seeding and transplanting out in the field. Later in the season they will also get the opportunity to use the seeder out in the fields.



COMPENSATION/BENEFITS

cabin

Stipend: The stipend is $850/month.

Worker's Compensation: We pay worker's compensation, which covers any work-related injuries.

Health Insurance: All apprentices will be eligible to purchase state-subsidized insurance through Commonwealth Care. Eligibility is dependant on income.

Food: All apprentices are allowed to take vegetables for their own use.

Farm Products: Apprentices can purchase all bakery products and eggs at half price. Honey, Maple Syrup, and other farm products can be purchased at cost.

Housing: Apprentices live in rustic, heated cabins that accommodate two each. The cabins must be kept clean at all times.

The Farmhouse:The first floor of our farmhouse is available to apprentices for bathing and clothes washing. We are all responsible for the care and appearance of this common area. Apprentices are given time out of the workday to help clean this area.

The Meeting Room: There is a room in the barn that the farm uses for various events. During the season, the apprentices are welcome to use this space to use computers, watch movies, talk on the phone etc. There is a TV , VCR, and DVD player available.

Laundry: Apprentices may do their clothes washing in the farmhouse.

Phone/Internet:There are two high-speed Internet lines (along with WIFI) in the meeting room. The farm covers the cost of the Internet and the local/in country long distance charges for the phone.



TIME OFF

The following guidelines on vacation and personal time assume an apprenticeship running from early April through October.

Vacations: Each apprentice is given one week's paid vacation (5½ days), which ideally will be taken at one time between July 1 and September 15. Vacation times will be scheduled at the beginning of the season, trying to take all needs into account.

Personal Time: It is expected that there will be some need during the season for every apprentice to take some personal time, whether for car repairs, doctor's appointments, or other personal needs. Each apprentice may take up to 2 personal days each season. These personal days do not need to be taken as “full days.” It is expected that except for emergencies, a week's notice will be given about the need for personal time.

Sick Time: When you're sick, please don't work. If health circumstances arise that cause you to miss more than 7 days of work during the season due to illness, there will need to be some discussion with Don & Bridget as to whether the apprenticeship is the right situation for you at this time. You do not need to make up work for sick days.



Personnel & General Policies:

Safety Policies: We will review safety policies during the first week of orientation. All apprentices are required to follow safety policies at all times. Failure to do so may result in immediate dismissal.

Drugs and Alcohol: Illegal drugs are not permitted on the farm property at any time (this includes the apprentice cabins). Alcohol is permitted in moderation. It is unacceptable to work while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. One infraction may be cause for immediate dismissal.

onion Visitors: Visitors are welcome for up to 1 week. Family and friends are expected to work at least ½ days along with the farm crew, following our normal schedule. Visits longer than a week are subject to the wishes of other apprentices and the farm family.

Pets: Apprentices must leave their pets at home.

Shareholder Interactions: Caretaker Farm is a public place and we depend on our shareholders (and prospective shareholders) for our livelihood. All apprentices must be professional, polite, and helpful to all people who come to the farm.

General Demeanor: It is expected that all apprentices be prompt, dressed appropriately for work, and professional in their attitude at work. No I-Pods or personal listening devices can be used during your workday at the farm.

Tools and Work Clothes: The farm provides harvest knives and daily hand tools. They must be returned to the tool shed at the end of the day. Apprentices must provide any other desired tools or work clothes (pocket knives, rain boots, rain gear, hats, gloves).

After Hours Work: There will be compensation time given for work that is performed after regular working hours. Don will give you a choice as to whether you want to work after hours in these unexpected situations. In the event of a farm emergency (animals out of fence, etc.) it is expected that apprentices who are on or near the farm will help out until the situation is corrected.



Community Involvement:

Special Activities and Events: Apprentices are encouraged to enjoy our farm community. We welcome you to help with the planning and implementation of at least one of our scheduled seasonal events.

Educational workshops for CSA members: We conduct various educational workshops for shareholders during the season. In past years apprentices have assisted in planning and conducting workshops on lacto-fermentation and canning. We welcome new ideas for workshops that have an educational value for shareholders and focus on some aspect of sustainable living.



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