Gettin’ down with the farm



It`s high noon at Frog Belly Farm near Longmont, and the interns are busy tending newly born goats, chasing escaped piglets, checking beehives, picking and washing herbs and vegetables — in addition to all the other daily chores, such as milking cows and goats, mucking out pens, feeding animals and preparing farm products for sale.

Ranging in ages and backgrounds, the four interns are as mixed a lot as their reasons for swapping labor in exchange for, at most, room, board and a small stipend. And education.

In this case, education in farm skills comes mostly from Jim Barausky, resident consultant and regional coordinator for the North American Biodynamic Apprenticeship Program.

Over a recent lunch of Frog Belly products, the interns — Nick Certeza, Amanda Jung, Maggie Mahle and Nigel Wackett — spoke of wanting “to feel connected to the earth,” “being able to grow my own food,” feeling “community with others.” Certeza and Wackett want to be farmers.

Not a single one of these folks is an agriculture major.

The program through NABAP offers certification for skills learned on “mentor farms.” With only four years of experience, Frog Belly owners Mike and Melanie Mackinnon have learned that good intentions don’t always mean good interns.

“I had to learn how to hire people who are good fits,” said Mike Mackinnon. “We’re not yet breaking even, so they can’t expect much pay. They have to face the realities that we can’t always be as environmentally pure as we’d like, and that we kill animals, yes.”

Those who don’t find their fit at Frog Belly can look elsewhere. There are a growing number of organized efforts to match farms with people willing to serve, from short-term volunteer stints to longer apprenticeships (a word that seems to be interchangeable with “internship,” depending on who you talk to).

The National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service has an internships and apprentices database that covers all 50 states. It lists 62 Colorado farms that offer internships, 10 in Boulder County alone.

World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (also known as Willing Workers), a global network of national organizations, also helps find good fits between farms and people. The U.S. website lists 49 Colorado farms.

According to NSAIS, there were more than 2.2 million farms counted in the 2007 Census of Agriculture, 75,810 more farms than in 2002. Business magazine Fast Company last year had farming lead its Top Ten Best Green Jobs for the next decade.

But prior to 2002 there were decades of farmers leaving the land, and the average age of those remaining is 57.1. That means a bumper crop of farmers is needed to meet the current and coming shortage.

With the rising interest in sustainable and organic farming that is heavily dependent on manual labor, more farm hands will be needed, too.

For nore information:

Frog Belly Farm Real Local Food: North American Biodynamic Apprenticeship Program:

www.bdtrainingorg National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service: World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms:

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