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Trying Something New with Apprenticeships

Posts: 9002
Location: Victoria British Columbia-Canada
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Jim LaFrom wrote:For those of you considering the rental/ B and B route of getting around this problem I would caution you that most towns/cities have 'transient taxes' that apply to hotel, motels and B and B's I don't care how far out of town you 'think' you are. This tax is fairly steep because the cities feel like it is 'free' money coming into the community from them outsiders. If you are going 'legit' this is something to at least be aware of if not comply with. Just another cost of doing business. If you call it a rental you can have other headaches of actually having to go through a formal eviction process if there is someone that wanted to outstay their welcome and usefulness. An unwanted tenant could end up on your property 30 days to over 6 mos with the right kinds of shenanigans. So a trip to a lawyer would be money well spent, before establishing your business identity and model you are thinking of following. It's not a problem when everyone is in agreement, It can be a BIG problem for you when you aren't in agreement and the other side knows their rights. It can REALLY get pretty UGLY .

Some very good points. Although this varies quite a bit with location, disposing of bad tenants has been very difficult in every place where I've lived. My dad had many apartments at the lower end. He figured that the rents could have all been about $75 per month cheaper, if not for the cost of dealing with bad tenants. He eventually took steps to eliminate certain demographic groups as tenants and the problem was greatly reduced. I'd rather have the city steal a little slice from each guest, than have to live with people whom I despise. I had an expensive episode with a druggie five years ago. The process was long.

My young brother has acted as an enforcer for several slumlords. Most evictions involve destruction of personal property and/or violence. Most have drug issues that they'd rather not have brought to light, so they go. There have been cases where every belonging is quickly hauled to the dump and the place completely cleaned within just a few hours. It's a shame that we've created a system where this can make any kind of sense.
Posts: 95
Location: Montreal, QC mostly. Developing in Southern New Brunswick, Canada.
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Hi Adam,

I really like this idea - I would take this 'program' as I would call it if it were in my vacinity. I certainly like the concept and would hope to see more like this as well. There are plenty of Agricultural Colleges here in Canada that would cost..well a bit less, but that's due to the fact that they're highly subsidized along with many other educational institutions as part of the 'Community College' system..but they also don't teach anything I want to learn! To give a bit of context, the CC's teach mostly trade oriented skills and award various certificates/ tickets and diplomas recognized in various industries. These acreditations will often be accepted as credits toward a university degree but are Typically HARD skills.

SO there's the rub: Accreditation.
I personally KNOW its mostly BS. I work and have worked within several post-secondary institutions and can see that not everyone that gets the piece of paper deserves it, and therefore it is devalued. Likewise some courses/programs offer accreditation without actually teaching anything. BUT for some reason the world is still really stuck on accreditation to legitimize educational experiences. Maybe its worth looking into what is required to be able to offer accreditation where you live to help mitigate that. Having a status as an educational institution surely comes with some baggage, but would do a lot to clarify what it is you are trying to do. You don't want 'interns' or wwoofers, you want students or at least apprentices. If you could associate yourself with some sort of educational non-profit like the North American Biodynamic Apprentice Program you mentioned you could probably get past that.

Here's an example of someone doing something similar down my way: ACORN Grow a farmer program is administered by a non-profit group (ACORN) and could take place at any farm that wants to host and meets their criteria I think. I have not looked into it quite enough but ACORN itself is interesting in that its trying to encourage people to get into farming. Something I do not like is that I find the labour and curriculum hours to be too far apart, but its also cheaper than what you are considering. More labour, for less education, for less money.

I had a couple big paragraphs written about various types of institutions, having considerable experience being a student in various private colleges and a teacher in colleges, conservatories, and universities... but I decided to cut them out...they only served to show that these models for education have issues, but that in education, particularly private colleges and apprenticeship programs there are little or no limits to the hours a student can work, nor are any grades required, only performance evaluations leading to either continuing on or getting the boot. SO I don't think that a situation like what your describing should be of any less perceived value, than those. Similarly if you are considered an educational institution directly or by association, you shouldn't have to worry about these labour laws I wouldn't think

People want to learn about this stuff, and traditional ag colleges definitely aren't doing it. Likewise, many intern/wwoofing situations are just a form of cheap labour...we've been over this. So perhaps creating and registering as a non-profit educational organization separate from your farm business could allow you to create a viable small scale educational institution. I don't know for certain, but other people are doing similar things elsewhere. The non-profit tag could help with taxes, and of course the 500 man hours issue transforming your worker into a student. I don't know what kind of accreditation this might allow you to give, but it would certainly improve the optics of what your doing. Any 'profit' that might be gained at the hands of students, or lets say a small percentage of the tuition fee could then be reinvested in the 'program' each year either in infrastructure, or having some extra folks come in to host workshops during the program. These 'workshops' within the program could also be offered on a per workshop basis to those not in the program itself to help cover the costs. Again, this is something you could maybe obtain by association with an already existing organization, if you can find one that meets your own criteria.

The fact is that as much as I love open source education, and as much as I think it IS the future not everything can be taught for 'free'. When infrastructure is required for hands on education, its going to cost something. I would happily exchange some work, for some education (if i could trust the exchange) rather than paying outright for all my expenses. I've paid for it all, twice and even managed to pay off my debts somehow since but not having to pay room and board while going away to learn something for a while would be a huge bonus to me and many others. Having the option to work more, and pay less would likewise be a great opportunity for many. Most programs in colleges and universities cost at least 3k a semester (if not considerably more) plus books and all expenses and often (especially in the case of Private Colleges) don't allow the students the time to work at the same time to pay for anything.

So how can you become an educational institution or sorts? How would you word your student contract to ensure it is understood that there will be no abuse, and that the curriculum is clear and able to be met?

I'm quite passionate about education, but unfortunately no longer really believe in what I do and teach and probably (hopefully) won't be doing it by this time next year. Like so many other things in today's world it seems largely irrelevant with all of the obstacles we face as a race and society... and that's what brings me here!

I hope you can make this work and something in my rant was of use.

Posts: 155
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Mark Shepard replied to my question about his intern process here. https://permies.com/t/20629/forest-garden/Mark-Shepard-farm-interns

I like your idea Adam, especially for those folks who have never put their hands in the dirt or held a chicken. This sounds like a great starter for someone who wants to work towards getting their base level skills for starting their own operation or taking on a management role in someone else's operation.
Posts: 44
Location: Vashon Island, Washington, USA
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I recently visited the Bullock Brothers Permaculture farm on Orcas Island. We paid $150 for a several hour tour with Doug Bullock, and it was well worth every penny. Here are my notes from how they work with interns, after many years of trial and error:

Interns and related
This past summer there were 24 interns. They are now down to 10 interns (in September). There are cabins scattered around the property for the interns, with 3-4 beds in some of them. The interns have rotating duties, both individual and group. On a monthly basis, they may have chickens, ducks, sheds or mushrooms, for example. The group duties include some of the large plantings near the parking area, and the farmer’s market. They also have yearly duties, where they will maintain some aspect of the farm for the whole season, like a particular section of hillside.

One of the group projects that interns work on is to prepare and store the foods for next year’s interns.

Once a certain level of income has been reached for the farm, the interns share the profit 50/50 with the Bullock family. This year has been especially profitable, and the interns themselves have said that they don’t think they should receive so much of the income.

Interns sign up for a whole season – 9 months. They pay $150 per month. Some of this goes to pay for their bulk food and propane. Any left over goes into the slush fund. The slush fund is for projects the interns might want to do on the farm. They propose the project, and Doug and his brother decide whether it can go ahead or not. The slush fund is also used to buy books for the farm library. It is important that no one feels like they are being taken advantage of.

Doug Bullock has noticed that over the years the interns from the US have shown up with fewer and fewer practical skills.
Here is their website: http://www.permacultureportal.com/
Posts: 101
Location: Okanogan County, WA
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I'm also in the category of those who are potentially interested in opportunities like this. I have to say, I wouldn't take this one, but I don't think I am exactly the target audience. Since I don't have too much ag experience, I would be open to a break even opportunity - I don't make any wages, but I don't pay any living expenses. But I know my work ethic and my trainability, and I am worth at least room and board.

If you are trying to reach only people who have no experience in farming (and it seems like maybe don't have advanced education as well), the deal is reasonable. They are paying $400 per month for room and board, which is cheaper than paying rent and buying groceries anywhere in the US.

Compared to the costs of a state college, it is also an excellent deal, probably with better education coming from it, at a lower cost, in a shorter period of time.

The problem is that most of the people in your target group (please correct me if I'm making incorrect assumptions about the target) don't have $400 per month. The people who DO have $400 a month to lay into something probably have several years of work experience and equivalent savings to get them through 6 months without earnings. Those people are probably worth paying.

So I think what you are offering is excellent - it gives an opportunity to a group of people who didn't have one before. But don't be surprised if you don't get too many takers. You might think about advertising it, especially in your target groups (nearby high school seniors seem an obvious choice to me). Take the time to do some thorough reference checking before accepting anyone.

And I would encourage you to think about whether the work the apprentice is giving is worth their room and board. In other words, if you have an interested candidate that you feel good about, be open to renegotiating the deal a month or two in. I expect the kind of person who will actually get anything out of this opportunity would be the kind of person who would be worth paying after a month or two of training.
Posts: 946
Location: 6200' westen slope of colorado, zone 6
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Great to see all the ideas, thanks for contributing everyone-

One clarification- the minimum wage exemption is for farms/ranches employing less than 500 man days of labor. Not man-hours. Huge difference.

I just completed my application process with the North America Biodynamic Apprentice Program. Their goals and mine are perfectly in line with one another, so it seems like an excellent fit for me and my farm.

I definitely differentiate between skilled and novice workers. Their value is miles apart. There is a huge misconception that someone who is a 'hard worker' is inherently worth a lot on a farm. I disagree completely. We arent digging ditches and hauling brush, we are doing highly skilled labor, in super diversified contexts. There is a lot more technical finesse than strength and endurance. I do not think that most 'above-average' individuals can come onto a farm, and pull their own weight in the first months. By the six month mark, if the student is serious and industrious, I then believe that they would be in a position to earn money for the farm, and in reciprocation, for themselves. I plan to structure my compensation accordingly.

The first six months are a fee-based educational opportunity. The skills needed, and the time it would take the mentor to teach them, should not be underestimated. Farming is a highly skilled trade, with more diversity of knowledge and technique than most any other profession, IME.

The second six months are an opportunity to live and work part time on the farm at a break-even level, the apprencite could work a part-time job in town during this time, which would correspond with the winter low-season.

After one year, the apprentice would be trained and skilled, and deserving of a paid position on the farm for their second season. I would like nothing more than to have a program that supports and promotes apprentices staying for two years, and walking away from my farm with a deep education and a small amount of net financial gain.
Posts: 278
Location: Southern Indiana zone 5b
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I like the idea and will add a few things:
- I like the idea that a student could actually be awarded 5k or so by a foundation committed to helping tomorrow's farmers. Grants, foundations, charities, etc. The money would only be for the purchase of land or direct farm development. This piece would put your project on very desirable ground and would complete the mission of developing young farmers.

- Since people like paper, just come up with a dang sheet that says hooray! You have a sheet of paper from Adam! Seriously it will make people happy.

- resume writing does involve proof of degrees anyway. A student wouldn't be left with a blank spot onn their resume unless they were dumb or applying for something totally unrelated that would prefer not hiring a person interested in farming, etc.

- Offer a longterm mentorship relationship for free. Simply call me up FAQ, you say.

- Part of the education would involve the real first steps of finding and securing a quality plot of land. Essentially writing and enacting a buisness plan.
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