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inspiring apprenticeship model on common hands farm philmont, ny

Posted: February 6 2017

We share the following apprenticeship program as much for the potential apprentices as we do for all the farms out there who either run or would someday like to host apprenticeship programs. Common Hands Farm, a 150-acre biodynamic CSA farm in New York's Hudson Valley, has a unique three-part internship broken up by Spring, Summer, and Fall seasons. The uncompensated spring block leans heavily on classroom and practical instruction in biodynamic farming; the stipended summer block focuses on practical work experience on the farm; and the fall specialization program allows apprentices to take on responsibility and projects of their own direction around the farm with the potential to transition into paid staff.
Full program description is included below the break. Application information is available at the very bottom of the page.
Common Hands Farm/Philmont Cooperative Apprentice Program
We are a 6 year old biodynamic farm which has recently relocated to 150 beautiful acres in Philmont NY. Our farm community supports itself through a CSA (community supported agriculture) and our main focus is on growing and delivering many annual, and some perennial, vegetables and herbs to 300 or more customers on a weekly basis.

Working on our farm is a great opportunity to learn many aspects of how small organic farms and local food systems work. We work hard and feel proud of the abundance we create within and for our community. This coming summer we hope to integrate cows and eventually some small livestock as well into our farm organism.
At the peak of the season our farm is defined by a profusion of harvests, farmers markets, CSA member distribution, as well as interfacing with many chefs, retailers, and restaurants in the area to get our food to the tables where it is eaten.  We grow over 100 different varieties of produce throughout the season. Volunteers on our farm have the opportunity to learn how to grow, harvest, and prepare produce of many shapes and sizes, as well as to work with chefs and producers in our local farmer cooperative kitchen and market.
The 2017 apprentice program includes building soil and compost, whole property management and farm development, planting, maintaining, and harvesting crops, distributing and marketing produce to customers, and participating in a cooperative of local farms and producers in our local cooperative store which our farm has newly partnered with in 2017. Our goal goes beyond producing tasty, healthy food. We also wish to inspire people with our farming methods, sharing them with the community in a variety of ways.
Apprentices are expected to work long days in all types of weather, often harvesting heavy loads of produce. All work is done together as a team, and we rotate responsibilities within the group, including produce deliveries, farmers markets, coop kitchen shifts, community meal prep, and other aspects of community life.  We all live together in our farm house and other surrounding structures to be erected this year include yurts, tents, and other seasonal structures.  We share kitchen spaces for meals on the farm with farmers, our friends and members of the local community.
The apprenticeship is a full time commitment to community life and the production of food for the people of our region. With this in mind, we ask that each applicant dedicates his or her time here to the experience of living and operating a farm together with other farm staff as an interdependent group. We rely on the dedication of our apprentices to the learning process at all times, including the sometimes long days of harvesting and picking produce in the sun.
There are many opportunities in the area to explore and experience our rich local culture.  The Hudson Valley and Columbia County offer a diverse array of beautiful hikes, great music, good food, and a plethora of local events, opportunities for activism, and many community gatherings.   Each apprentice has time off each week to engage in the local and extended community, either together with other farm staff or through their own means.
The year is broken up into three apprentice/intern blocks or segments:
April 15th - May-15th:

Farm Apprentice Spring Learning Module:

This first period offers an unpaid position, where we provide education, housing and food in exchange for hands on help in the garden. Farming at this time of year is less intensive than during the summer months. The work days are shorter, and during this time we offer both practical and classroom based biodynamic farming education. As we are currently establishing ourselves on new farmland, a central theme will be farm creation, applying permaculture design to long term farm planning, and initializing a farm-to-table food system.
During this period of time interns will be planting spring crops during approximately 30-35 hours per week and spending 15 hands-on learning hours with the head farmer and any other educators who come to supplement our program.
May 15th - September 1st:
Summer Apprentice Program:
Season long participants may also commit to the more intensive summer months in which the experience of farming becomes the core educational experience. The summer program is a farm to table apprenticeship which focuses on growing and selling produce, with the addition of working in collaboration with the Philmont Cooperative, a market and kitchen that we are launching together with other farmers, organizations and entrepreneurs in the community.  Apprentices will also work in all areas of farming, facilitating volunteer youth internships, cooking, preparing value added foods, and distributing produce to the wider local community.
During the summer months on the farm, apprentices learn the challenges and solutions that arise in everyday farming life. For instance, there is the experience of  working early mornings and managing one’s sleep rhythms to maintain the stamina needed to get through a summer of farming, while building a strong community together as we do this.
The summer months afford the longest days, and each week is very full with a diversity of experiences from building soil, planting, cultivating, irrigating, weeding, and harvesting, among many other farm tasks that may arise at any given time.  Time must also be allotted for caring for the home space, and keeping ourselves and each other well fed. Apprentices rotate between the field and different tasks within the Philmont Cooperative throughout the week, as well as working at farmers’ markets and helping with CSA distribution.  Apprentices must have good organizational and customer service skills for working farmers’ markets, in the kitchen, or in the cooperative market and distribution.
Our farm has a strong focus this year on the development of our local cooperative model and seeks to offer learning opportunities in new groundbreaking community food systems and alternative economic models for farmers. Our goal is to create food distribution systems in our communities that make good organic and sustainably raised food more accessible to a wide range of consumers, while at the same time providing farmers with the best price possible for their goods.  We seek to do this through working cooperatively to sell more of our products directly to consumers or consumer outlets, minimizing wholesale price losses which would otherwise make it difficult for small farms to get a fair price for their produce.  This cooperative model is a relatively new idea that draws upon an emerging social/economic model which we hope will spread and benefit other communities as well as our own.
Summer apprentices receive a $600 monthly stipend in addition to room and board


September 1st - November 20th:

Apprentice Specialization Program:

The final 3 months of the apprenticeship program represents the culmination of the learning process. Apprentices who participated in the earlier program now may choose a specialization within the farm business or Co-op and develop a focus in a particular area. They are eligible for a transitional phase towards full time employment in their particular choice of work. Apprentices who engage in the third phase of the program are eligible for higher pay during this last phase, in exchange for their increased dedication and higher level of responsibility with the work they are doing. Apprentices in the third phase of the year will be considered member owners of the cooperative, earning them a place in the future core team if they would like to follow that path.
The overall goal of the apprenticeship program is for graduates to have the option to continue with our farm and cooperative as full time employees in the future, or to take the skills that have been developed and find comparable jobs in the field of agriculture or local food with the highest recommendation from our program.


Applicant criteria: Priority will be given to:

•Individuals who firmly believe in the emergence of of a new social/economic model as an urgent need in today’s world. They hope to bring about stronger more resilient communities.
•Individuals who have at least a basic, first hand experience of life on a farm. We prefer that applicants have either been employed by a production/market farm before or have volunteered on one.
•Individuals who are interested in living closely in a community of their peers.  The apprentice program is also a life-sharing experience where we live closely together in a house or small surrounding structures.  We cook together, care for the home together, support one another in friendship, and are ready for challenges that can arise when living and working in community. The wellbeing of everyone in the group is everyone’s concern.
•Individuals who are able to engage in everyday work life, caring for the success of the farm.We ask that apprentices are aspiring to the same level of skill and responsibility as their farmers and teachers. One might experience situations where quick decision making is necessary.
•Individuals who aspire to eventually farm or have a food business of their own, valuing the learning process and daily business operations as supporting this goal.
•Individuals who wish to challenge themselves. Physical and mental challenge is inevitable when farming during the summer months.
• Individuals with the health and ability to lift 50 lbs., work long days in all types of weather, and maintain their health and stamina by prioritizing sleep and a healthy lifestyle.

We look forward to hearing from a wide array of people and putting together a team that is diverse, cohesive, and is dedicated to growing both our community and themselves as future farmers or developers of local food models.
To apply for the Common Hands Farm/Philmont Cooperative Apprentice Program, please contact Dan McManus at [email protected]