You might say that our 2011 season began back in the mid-fall when Rebecca started fielding apprentice inquiries, but with the approach of winter the pace has begun picking up. And if the past is prologue, we’ll get well over 100 serious applicants for our four openings this year. (Thank you George W. Bush for cratering the economy, so eight months of living in a yurt and pulling weeds on a Puget Sound microfarm looks like a good alternative to applying at Goldman Sachs.)
Depending on how you gauge these things, you also could say our four apprentice slots are more sought-after than a spot in next year’s freshman class at Harvard. But who’s keeping score, right?
Rebecca has just started wading into this year’s pool of apprentice queries. The emails are piling up and they’re coming in at the rate of one or two a day. (Don’t let the Harvard thing scare you off. We don’t pick our apprenti by GPA. We’re looking for wanna-be farmers who are willing to work hard and eager to learn. Some applicants have farming experience and are looking for a chance to polish skills gained from previous apprenticeships before heading out on their own. Some are total newbies. It is always an interesting mix. In the past we’ve had inquiries from a longtime golf pro–we picked him– and a guy serving time in prison in Texas–nope. Join the pile by writing Rebecca at www.persephonefarm.com )
Who knows how Rebecca’s mind works in these things, but she’s very good at picking winners. Over the years, she’s chosen a personal chef, a gay bartender, a librarian, and a woman living in her car with her dog. They all turned out to be good farmers.
Our applicants come from all over–many find us on the National Sustainable Information Service’s ATTRA website or a similar site for prospective apprentices at Growfood.org. We’ve been listed on these sites for years and have found many of our apprentices by way of them. The sites are a terrific resource and worth checking out.
As a rule, Rebecca starts winnowing the list around mid-December. We lose some very good applicants right off because we insist on a couple of basic criteria: We don’t take smokers–in addition to the obvious health concerns, tobacco leaf virus, which sometimes shows up in cigarette butts, can be very destructive to many of the crops we grow.
You will also need a licensed and insured vehicle. That may seem harsh but we often use our cars and trucks during the season to transport produce to the farmers market and to our alternate CSA pickup site on Bainbridge Island. Plus we have found it is just a good idea to be able to get around on your own–you can see the lights of Seattle across Puget Sound from here, but in fact we’re in a very small town in a somewhat isolated spot, with limited access to mass transit.
On the other hand, we’re not too picky about vehicles around here. Our farm truck, Sunny, is bordering on antiquedom. One recent year a pair of our apprentices drove their VW van here from Denver. They made it as far as the farm’s front gate, where the van wheezed and quit. They arrived on foot. (We eventually got the van moving and it made it through the season. For all we know, it is still running.)
Finally, we require our apprentices to start March 1 and continue through the season, which ends Oct. 31. True, that is a long haul, but there is a lot to learn, from late-winter greenhouse planting in March to buttoning up the farm for winter in late October and we’ve found it is worth the effort.
We’d also strongly urge any prospective apprentice to spend a little time reading back in this blog to get a sense of life around here during a season. It changes every year, of course–this past season we seemed to spend more time on animals and weather than some years in the past. Next year–who knows?
In addition to sending us a resume and starting to collect a few references, you’ll spend a little time on the phone with Rebecca, if it gets to that. We’ve also found that a visit to the farm really helps us choose good candidates. That won’t work, of course, for those people who live far away but it gives those who can make it here a chance to get to know us a bit better as well as scope out the place. Eight months is a long time.
All in all, we’ve been remarkably fortunate when it comes to our apprenti. They’ve coped and laughed and learned and grown, and nearly everyone agrees that spending a season on the farm is life-altering. We’ve seen some dramatic shifts in perspective. One year, an apprentice showed up right from his graduation, with big plans for a career as an anthropologist. He’s doing pretty well raising cows and making cheese in Vermont now.
Hard to say what your measure of success is, but if you pay attention you’ll probably see that this whole microfarming thing can actually work as a business. Meanwhile, you’ll be amazed at how much stronger you’ll get, emotionally as well as physically, after a season here. Forking beds in the spring rain builds both character and muscles.
The point is, growth is what this whole season thing is about. Everybody learns, everybody grows–us too. No wonder we’re more popular than Harvard.