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How to find good seasonal jobs in agriculture, nurseries, landscaping etc.?

 
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Hello, permies community, perhaps your collective wisdom and experience can assist me today.

I am a young person who has been socialized to rely on institutions to find me employment for most of my life. The common-sense idea in my upper-middle-class family is that whatever career you want, first you go to university and get a degree in it, then you find a prestigious internship, bla bla bla... all pretty useless for someone who wishes to learn how to actually DO something that someone will pay you for without checking your degree first (such as growing valuable food and timber).

I have lived enough outside the reality-tunnel that I was born into, to realize that the really good jobs out there are not found by applying online. I am looking for real-world experience in real-world rural ecnomies. I want to know how business is really done in enterprises like farms, and nurseries. More than happy to be the guy counting crates of produce all day in the warehouse, or the guy out laying irrigation, or whatever. Just as long as its a real business and I can gain some experience. I have a part-time online job in the evenings to take care of a lot of my income (SAT tutoring), so low pay is not an issue. What I do need is a high-quality job. The kind of job that I can do for a year or a season and be working outdoors and learning how business gets taken care of in rural economies.

My question for you all today is, am I correct in thinking that the internet is a very poor substitute for going to the right places and meeting the right people in real life? How can I quickly find a job like that. I've been considering spending some days going to the local Home Depot to find day-labor landscaping jobs, just to get started and talking to people... but I know thats probably mostly a waste of time too. I can think of all the obvious online solutions, like WWOOF and craigslist and agriculture-related job boards. But my gut says what you see on there is a small fraction of the opportunities out there. Remember an opportunity for me doesn't have to pay a lot, just offer a way to quickly gain experience in the real world.

Obviously my plan is to use that experience in the future to do real world stuff that is much more permaculture and planet-friendly than the business I'm looking to work for right now, which will be more conventional. Like in jazz music, I feel I need to learn the rules before I can break them.

I'm not looking for specific opportunities, but rather strategic advice from those with more first-hand knowledge of the rural job field. Organic type stuff is nice, but it has to be "real" - actually turning a profit by selling regular commodities on the regular market. And I really don't care what my role is. I'm sure I'm smart and strong enough to learn to do anything if given the chance.

As you can see I'm a little fuzzy on what field would be the best for me to experience working in. So I would also appreciate any advice you might have to the tune of where my time could best (and worst) be spent trying to learn something useful. If you think I shouldn't consider landscaping jobs (or whatever) because I won't learn anything useful, I want to know.

By the way, I am currently limited to looking in the mid-Atlantic and New England, especially upstate NY, Pennsylvania and Western MA. I can stretch that radius a little if the opportunity is really perfect.

So permies, I thank you in advance for you most clever and creative solutions!
 
garden master
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I don't know much on this area, as I am kind of in the same boat, but you are correct that the Internet is a poor substitute. For getting into fields or areas or just getting accepted into something, from my experience, the social network of who you know is one of the most important ways for getting somewhere. I have gotten lab positions and some jobs simply because I knew the right people who have a standing in a particular community and their word vouching for me means that much. The other noted from my experiences is that if I am new to an area/field and nobody knows me, working my butt off and doing good work speaks for itself and gets me accepted into that network fast and gets people trusting me. So, when social connections are lacking, you hardwork will get you those social connections and lead you into new opportunities. (At the moment, I volunteering on Mondays to learn about gardening, food production, and developing that network myself and getting into that network)
 
Jim Patalano
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Great firs response from Dave, who basically (if I read you right) recommends just trying to meet people in general, such as through local volunteering, especially if you can show people you're a hard worker in the process (such as with volunteering).

But I have a feeling there are specific places and people to visit to find non-advertised rural job. How do ranch hands get hooked up with their jobs, for example? Surely not through the internet (most of the time).

Also Dave, your methods require hunkering down in one community and looking for connections. I don't want to be limited in that way to a single community or area right now; i want to leverage my advantage seeing that

-A, I already have a home community for social occupation (the urban area where I live)
-B, I currently have access to a car, which is rare, and I can take it all around the local countryside in like 7 hours in any direction from home
-C, I have the privilege of flexibility

So I'll rephrase the question. Imagine you can drive around a huge rural area for many days, see many towns, visit whatever regional sources you need to. How do you hook up with legit farmers who might need a hand - someone who is cheap, smart, engaging, hardworking, has a car, and can start now? How do you do this over the winter? NOT LIMITED TO ORGANIC/PERMACULTURE FARMS, how do I find a simple job even on a big-ag farm or big conventional nursery or garden center or something?

Do I head to the local bar & grill and chat up anyone I see with a pickup truck? hahah how do I do this. I'm FROM OUT OF TOWN... that's the point. How do I do this specifically as an out-of-towner. Even just find somone who needs apples picked for a week and pays under the table. Surely there's a way in for outsiders.

Just plain and simple experience in running a business.

Hm...

 
Jim Patalano
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I have plenty of time to kill... I can hang around somewhere and get to know it... I just don't have a home base in the area to start with. And have many places to choose from.
 
pioneer
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I was interested in learning more about the building trades, and my regular job was swing shift, 4 to midnight.  I drove around until I found a job site and asked if they needed any laborers.  Some of the jobs were short term, just a week or two, one I stayed at nearly a year.  Most of the time I was hired and worked for cash for 10 or 15 dollars an hour.  A couple times, I said I would work for free if they didn't mind me asking questions.  It always worked.  I learned about framing, cement work, painting, fence building, and blisters :)  If you did this at harvest time for any particular crop, it should be very easy to be hired on the spot, at least for harvest.  There are many more of those jobs than there are workers willing to work hard.  You could go to any nursery and ask if you could work in exchange for them teaching you a few things.  If you see a landscaping crew, stop and ask if you can help.  I guarantee if I lost my job today I would have another one by Monday doing exactly these things.  
 
master steward
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There is no substitute for stopping by local nurseries and asking if they need help.  

This time of year there will be people looking for help at the Christmas Tree Farms and Christmas Tree Lots where trees will be sold.

If you have a local newspaper, check the ads for help wanted.  People still place ads there.  Craigslist would be another place to find ads for people looking for help.  With Craigslist you would only want to look for reputable business.
 
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Another option is to find the local Feed store/ co-op / dinner and leave an index card saying what it is you want to do work in. My sister did that and she had a job in just days. so long as you are upfront with what it is that you want to get out of the job most of the people that call you will be ready for you to leave. that being said it is a bit late in the year to be looking for seasonal work, horse farm's(there is always poop) and dairy's need some work all year but most of the other places are winding down now. so maybe you can get something set up for over the whole summer.
Also on a side note, 7 hrs is TOOOO far to drive home from a harvesting job. Try really hard to find something no more that 45 min drive from where you will be sleeping, alternatively try to find a cheep apartment/couch close to the farm.

best of luck,
William
 
gardener
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You've had some similar responses since I began my reply... Some repetition will be below.

I have never attempted to find a job in this field. However, I have been a retail store manager. While I do not wish to rain on your parade, the beginning of the off season is not the easiest time to find a job. I had to reduce the hours of everyone to attempt to keep my best employees. The less knowledgeable the employee, the fewer hours were allotted to them. Knowledge of the field can also gain points over those with a better disposition.

As to how to find a job… Maybe the following suggestions may help.  

Drive around the suburbs and look where there are brand new homes being built. Call the contractors; ask where they purchase their plants, ask who does their landscaping? Try there for a job. Find the nurseries that supply the landscapers. Apply there.

Find a town that is surrounded by fields. Find a café, or gas station that sells breakfast and has a sit down area. If the parking lot is packed an hour before sunrise, this is the place to start. Look for folk that are dressed for hard work, or in not too new hunting clothes. You want the farmers, not the city folk who have purchased hunting rights.

I now live in a smallish town, about 30 miles from a large city. An additional 30 miles into the country is an awesome little unassuming farm supply store. This is a locally family owned place. This is NOT a chain store like Tractor Supply. The small farm supply is where the local farmers buy their stuff. You go to the counter, tell them what you want, and pay for it. Before you walk the 30 feet to your car, a person is standing beside your car with your order. This does not seem to change, no matter how busy they are. Or what cars you may have shown up driving in the past. I show up at the most, twice in a year. They take checks. If I forget a check, they will mail an invoice while I leave with the merchandise that day.
This is the place to develop a relationship with. Perhaps volunteer for a week’s free labor. Though with the current labor laws, I wouldn’t take a chance on a stranger. Maybe you can find an intern type agreement online that would make them comfortable. What you are trying to do is impress the owner into recommending you for a job. By recommending you, they are putting their own reputation on the line.

Remember that you are a stranger, your qualities unknown. You are competing against generational farmers, and the entirety of extended relatives. You’d better be able to throw around a 50 pound bag of feed, lime, etc. Perhaps purchase a big bag of dog food, and throw that bag around, until you are comfortable with it.
 
Jim Patalano
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Excellent and very helpful replies so far. Implementing these ideas will take months. I'm up to the challenge
 
pollinator
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If you have an area in mind I would recommend stopping by the farmers markets and talking to the farmers. Many of them will likely be hurtin for willing and able workers at least a couple times a year and you can see what sort of things they produce and meet a whole bunch at once. Otherwise it seems you just sort of have to hang around, maybe volunteer at a community garden, maybe find out if there is a functional grange you can post a flyer in.
 
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