Sprouting Farms Apprenticeship
The Sprouting Farms Apprenticeship is designed for individuals with a solid foundation of farm knowledge and skills; those who are looking to deepen their experience managing a successful farm business; and those with a goal of running their own farm enterprise. The majority of the apprenticeship will be focused on experiential learning, or learning by doing. Apprentices will be asked to apply diverse agriculture theories and practices, collect and analyze data, and use their findings to adapt and strengthen their final business plan.
The Apprenticeship is best understood when broken down into its three components.
1. Paid “on-the-job training.”
On-the-job training consists of learning the skills, knowledge, and competencies needed for apprentices to perform a specific task on a production site. This experiential skill development uses regular and existing workplace tools, equipment, and tasks to teach apprentices how to effectively observe, plan, evaluate and manage a production farm.
We are excited to offer our apprentices a small, subsidized wage for their on-the-job training. Apprentices will work approximately 20 hours per week at the Sprouting Farms production site and/or on mentor farm sites as the season progresses. Wages are $9/hour for up to 600 hours, or up to $5,400 over the course of the apprenticeship.
2. Related coursework.
In addition to the on-the-job training performed at the Sprouting Farms production farm and on mentor sites, apprentices will spend another 200 hours on related coursework. Related coursework is best understood as time spent in a more formalized, instructional classroom style learning. As an apprentice, your related training will have two main concentrations with additional space for electives that allow you and your cohort to pursue specialty and niche crops and production styles. Think of it this way:
Business courses. Business development courses are at the heart of the apprentice experience. We want to support you as you develop your farming enterprise. A six-module farm business course is taught by Dee Singh-Knights, an Agricultural Economics Specialist with WVU Extension, where you will learn to prepare enterprise budgets, evaluate market demand, and develop a five-page business plan. This course will be supplemented by workshops and presentations covering topics such as risk management, accounting, finance, access to capital for farmers, risk management and insurance, marketing and outreach.
Production courses. This classroom time is intended to augment your on-the-job training. You are expected to attend a carefully designed series of classes facilitated by WVU Extension Services, WVSU Extension Services, Natural Resource Conservation Service, Sprouting Farms staff, and other agricultural service agencies from around the region. Topics may include: soil fertility and integrated pest management; farm and production planning; succession planning, food safety and post-harvest handling; tractor and equipment safety and use; farm carpentry and building infrastructure; and the list goes on.
Elective courses. Apprentices will submit learning goals and a skills map at the beginning of the apprenticeship to be used as a guide for your experience. The Education Coordinator will review these documents alongside you and your cohort, and identify and connect you to experienced farmers and business owners in the area who can support your learning goals. This is a space to explore niche crops and specialty production techniques that you may not otherwise see listed in the syllabus.
3. Agriculture enterprise development.
Please think about this portion of your apprenticeship as personalized farm business support. The Education Coordinator is your advocate and will provide support and connect you to resources as you work through the business planning process. Over the course of the apprenticeship you will have the opportunity to connect with agriculture experts and local business owners in the region as you develop your business concept.
A business coach from the West Virginia HIVE, an initiative of the New River Gorge Regional Development Authority, will meet with you (individually and in group settings) on numerous occasions to mentor, guide, and support you as you develop your business plan. You are encouraged to use these resources to plan your business, develop creative branding techniques, and identify potential markets. At the conclusion of the apprenticeship, you will have the opportunity to present your business plan to a diverse community of your peers, mentors, and agriculture experts for constructive feedback
The Apprenticeship runs for a full farm season,March 1, 2018 and October 31, 2018. You will complete 600 hours of paid on-the-job training over the course of the eight months, and spend another 200 classroom hours on related coursework and business development
Participants will have access to a variety of growing spaces. Depending on your experience and your intention, participants will have access to outdoor growing space and / or a shared on-site high-tunnel. These spaces are meant to be used as a space to explore production techniques, potential marketable products, and any other approved business plans apprentices express interest in pursuing.
Sprouting Farms has land use guidelines to improve the overall quality of the farm and land, and maintain organic and food safety certifications. The farm requires that all apprentices, incubator farmers, and lessees do the same. Apprentices and Incubator farmers will work within the standards set by the National Organic Program (NOP) meaning: no synthetic fertilizers, no Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO), and only OMRI-listed pesticides. Other land use guidelines include use of cover-crops, Integrated Pest Management, and appropriate applications of fertilizers and compost to maintain soil fertility. Several production fields at Sprouting Farms are certified organic at this time, and we intend to expand that certification to other fields in years to come. Our team will assist you along the way.
We want you to be prepared for the rigorous nature of the Sprouting Farms Apprenticeship. While you are learning, you will be working several days each week at the Sprouting Farms production farm and / or mentor farm sites in the area. Farming can be very tedious and repetitive. There is no doubt you will question the educational value of your experience from time to time. You can expect to be challenged physically and mentally. However, with the support and leadership of mentor farmers and Sprouting Farms staff, you can expect to learn valuable farm and business skills to help you develop and launch your own agricultural enterprise.
Sprouting Farms organizes farm tours and hosts educational potluck discussions to bring together friends from across the farming community. You will have the opportunity to meet and network with local farmers, community members, and agricultural professionals in the community.
Apprentices will participate in pre-and post-evaluations with the Education Coordinator in the first and last month of the apprenticeship. These evaluations are useful tools for identifying gaps in your own skills and knowledge, and for tracking your progress. The Education Coordinator will also facilitate evaluations and feedback sessions for the apprentice and mentor farmers to ensure learning and farm skill development goals are being met. In the final weeks of the program, you will be asked to present your business plan to a diverse audience of farmers, mentors, and agriculture enthusiasts in the region. Apprentices may present in a format that fits their learning style with approval from the Education Coordinator.
For any questions or to apply contact Amanda Harris at Amanda (at) sproutingfarms.org