Apprenticeship and Labor the Coincidence of Wants

Apprenticeships and Labor: the Coincidence of Wants

by Lynn R. Miller of Singing Horse Ranch

So many aspects of human effort now nearly extinct, and most of them more precious than ever: farming as craft, painting as sight, literature as books, music as thought, inspired printed criticism, fresh local foods, learning for learning’s sake, dance as transport, mathematics as mental massage, language as tapestrotic bridge, laid stone as home, love understood as light, and the mind embraced as friend. Each of these human endeavors, and more, have been and are ennobling. But we are watching it all slip from us because we have forgotten there were no guarantees. As our culture and cultured selves slough off today like so much dead skin, we are want to remember that maintenance was required if we were to remain truly humane in the best sense of the word. And central to the best of human endeavor is that social handoff we call education but which we know intimately as learning.

Odd that what seems to be advancing the extinction of the best of human endeavor is the transactional energy of our economy – modern commerce. And odder still that commerce would be called upon today to redefine and realign education.

At its core this is a discussion about people wanting to learn how to farm, and farmers converting a labor need to an educational opportunity, a coincidence of wants. A subject worthy of a wider look.

The first definition of commerce in my big old Webster’s reads as thus; social intercourse: dealings between individuals or groups in society: interchange of ideas, opinions, or sentiments… interrelationship, connection, or communication between our intellectual … interests and the nature of experience.

The second definition includes; the exchange or buying and selling of commodities esp. on a large scale and involving transportation from place to place.

Wikipedia, the free on-line encyclopedia which many feel is a gauge of modern society and culture, has but one definition of commerce and it wraps itself in staggered, numbing, underlined limiting stink.

Commerce is a division of trade or production which deals with the exchange of goods and services from producer to final consumer. It comprises the trading of something of economic value such as goods, services, information, or money between two or more entities. Commerce functions as the central mechanism which drives capitalism and certain other economic systems (but compare command economy, for example).

That latter definition is as if to say “that’s it, all of it. You are hereby dared to think of the word in any other fashion, you filthy socialist luddite* plebe.”

* We are, these days, straying from the original meaning. Today luddite has spread to encompass even those standing in the way of all “progress,” a word which in itself has morphed to be synonymous with commerce.

In but a few years the beauty of the old word, originating from the latin commercium, has been shed to make way for the dead zone of standardized encouraged greed. We are asked to believe that the major advantage of absolute commerce lies in the overcoming of that ‘double coincidence of wants’ necessary for barter. I have eggs and want shoes, therefore I must find a cobbler who wants eggs. And because I MUST wouldn’t everyone be better off if we simply agreed upon a form of currency (and paid the banker for its convenience)? Dare we say no? It is only because the architects of greed’s formalized construct lack the imagination to see that ‘double, treble and quadruple coincidence of wants’ contain within them the hope of mankind rather than some inconvenience to overcome.

I, a woodcutter, need to learn to play the piano and the piano player needs wood. The music and the heat grow within the equation. And even more so if it is the piano player’s instrument tuner who needs the wood. And an even wider four-way trade becomes a larger dance of intoxicating proportions.

Interesting how these things seem to stand back to back. On the one hand we have a need to discover ways to reinvigorate and redistribute knowledge and the tool we know as working experience; we need to return education to its rightful mantel as the fertilization of human purpose. On the other hand, or back side, we are invited by our very hopes to revisit the coincidence of wants; to barter our need for appropriate and applicable knowledge – for working experience – because the systems of currency lack the dignity of true valuation. And that barter requires we find someone who need something we have to offer in lieu of cash. We strive to be all that we might be, better people, fully involved in a vocation we can love and take pride in. We know this requires education. And out there are thousands of farmers who know what we want to learn and need help with their farming and wish an opportunity to share what they know and love. Back to back.

If we are to lay the ground work for a self-sustaining growth of small independent farm numbers, we must look to education even before we concern ourselves with capital. No amount of money will replace the magic strengths derived from an immersion in the mysteries and craft of farming. To understand that a vegetable’s flavor and value can be affected by the temperature at which it is picked, or that humane harvest of animals for meat can affect the same aspects, these things brand into the soul of the new farmer through blood stains and soil particles rubbed deep into cracked hands. And to feel how the climate of a valley is as much that valley as the mineral content of her soil. A row of monitored test tubes, or computer read outs, must of course rule out the intangibles, the verities of purpose and hum, the colorations of diverse biological companionships, all those things which artists have long understood make the thing the thing. This empirical stuff comes with the book learning. Those other less tangible or intangible aspects must come from experience.

We need people WITH the land and IN a gardening spirit to farm the world to new magnificent levels of fertility, diversity and health. No one who wants to eat should ever starve. No one who wants to care for the land should ever be without land to care for. In so far as we are able, if we give the land our assurance of its health it will return to us its assurance of our health. We need songs of pride for the craft of good farming.

So we come to the notion of apprenticeships and internships as a best way for folks to learn farming. But what are these things? Are they governed in some way which results in any usable consistency? First, let’s start with commonly held definitions:


An intern is one who works in a temporary position with an emphasis on on-the-job training rather than merely employment, making it similar to an apprenticeship. Interns are usually college or university students, but they can also be high school students or post graduate adults seeking skills for a new career. Student internships provide opportunities for students to gain experience in their field, determine if they have an interest in a particular career, create a network of contacts, or gain school credit. Internships provide the employers with cheap or free labor for (typically) low-level tasks (stereotypically including fetching coffee for the office), and also the prospect of interns returning to the company after completing their education and requiring little or no training.

An internship may be either paid, unpaid or partially paid (in the form of a stipend). Paid internships are most common in the medical, architecture, science, engineering, law, business (especially accounting and finance), technology and advertising fields. Internships in non-profit organizations such as charities and think tanks are often unpaid, volunteer positions.

Internships may be part-time or full-time; typically they are part-time during the university year and full-time in the summer, and they typically last 6-12 weeks, but can be shorter or longer.

The act of job shadowing may also constitute as interning.

Internship positions are available from businesses, government departments, non-profit groups and organizations. Due to strict labor laws, European internships are mostly unpaid, although they are still popular among non-Europeans in order to gain international exposure on one’s résumé and for foreign language improvement.

Apprenticeship is a system of training a new generation of practitioners of a skill. Apprentices (or in early modern usage “prentices”) or protégés build their careers from apprenticeships. Most of their training is done on the job while working for an employer who helps the apprentices learn their trade, in exchange for their continuing labour for an agreed period after they become skilled. Theoretical education may also be involved, informally via the workplace and/or by attending vocational schools while still being paid by the employer.


Intern \ 1a: an advanced student or recent graduate in a professional field (as teaching) who is getting practical experience under the supervision of an experienced worker. b: one who after completion of an undergraduate medial curriculum serves in residence at a hospital 2: one trained in a profession allied to medicine (as nursing or dentistry) who undergoes a period of practical clinical experience prior to practicing his profession

Ap-pren-tice 1a: one who is bound by indentures or by legal agreement to serve another person for a certain time with a view to learning an art or trade in consideration of instruction therein and formerly uºu. of maintenance by the master b: one who is learning by practical experience under skilled workers a trade, art, or calling uºu. for a prescribed period of time and at a prescribed rate of pay (~bricklayer) (actor’s~) (~teacher) 2a English law, archaic: a barrister-at- law of less than 16 years’ standing and ranking below a sergeant-at-law b: an enlisted man in the U.S. Navy who has completed recruit training at a training center ashore but who has not been promoted to seaman or airman c: a jockey who has yet to win 40 races or has ridden less than a year d: the lowest rank in the exploring program of the Boy Scouts of America 3: one not well versed in a subject : an inexperienced person.

Ap-pren-tice-ship 1: service or status as an apprentice or novice 2: the time during which an apprentice or novice serves (the customary three years of ~)

Within and without these definitions of apprenticeship and internship we must add the questioning aspect of motivation. Learning for learning’s sake as cultural clarification. And what of those motivations for teaching – or providing orchestrated environs for learning – what of sharing for sharing’s sake? It has a sacredness that deserves to be protected.


“I’m thinking about doing a farm apprenticeship. What does that entail? What does that mean for me? Does it cost money or will I be paid something? Do I have to actually work? Do I have to commit for a precise period of time? Do I fit the criteria for what a farmer is looking for? Am I expected to have previous experience or knowledge? When I complete the apprenticeship what will it be worth to me? Will I be ready to start my own farm? Will that time result in college credits? Will I be expected to do more apprenticeships elsewhere? If one farm pays me something and another charges a tuition and at a third no money changes hands, are these situations each indicative of relative worth? For example, might I expect that the apprenticeship with tuition will be hands-down the best for me and the stipend-based program basically underpaid farm labor? Wouldn’t the most honorable and useful relationship be the one where no money changes hands?”

“We are thinking about trying to get apprentices to help us with our seasonal labor needs here on the farm but not sure how to go about it all. Talked with someone who said she tried it and it didn’t work because the apprentices were so demanding of her time and seldom willing and able to put in good useful work. But on the other side we hear of programs like those in Massachusetts and Maine where the relationships are outstanding and have resulted in good things all around. How are we to know what to do? Do we just offer room and board and instruction for labor and not worry so much about formal instruction? Or do we try to design some sort of curriculum and ask that they pay us a tuition? And of course there is that third option of actually paying out an hourly wage, adjusted of course for the fact that most of these people don’t know what they are doing and will be less useful than experienced farm help. Bottom line is that we need help and are interested in trading what we know for some hours in the field.”

These conditions, observations and questions are nearly impossible to respond to today because the universe of apprenticeships and internships (let alone workshops and such) is so vast and varied. According to our combined demographic analysis, today there are almost 1500 farms offering apprenticeships across the US. And those farms result in approximately 2,750 openings per year. Depending on your perspective, those numbers are either large or small. Regardless, we believe there should be and will be more in the near future. (In one state alone, New York, we are told of 1,200 young people looking to learn and get a farm of their own.)

In the work we are doing within the Small Farms Conservancy we have arrived at tentative conclusions regarding on-farm education. And those conclusions are informed in no small part by what we hear and have heard here at Small Farmer’s Journal. Mindful that any effort we move forward with must respect, honor and protect all those similar efforts which preceded ours, we have a lot of work to do in research and analysis. But we do feel there is some constructive value in sharing these first inklings if only as fodder for the grist mill of expanded discussion.

First, it would be helpful if:

a. – there could be some agreement countrywide (and perhaps even internationally) as to what constitutes farm apprenticeships and internships; what comes first, what second and what are the relative merits of each?

b. – there could be consensus as to the value(s) of any and all educational components on farms (i.e. workshops, demonstrations, clinics, presentations etc.)

c. – without violating the critically important independence of each operation, there could be some move towards standardization and suggested models for contracts, and separately for ‘length of contract’, valuation of experience as per possible accreditation, evaluation of students, evaluation of learning experience, etc..

d. – a data pool could be gathered of farms with educational components, candidate apprentices, graduate apprentices, and candidate farms.

e. – there could be an intelligent and humane way to address the often unspeakable subjects of toxic impatience on both sides and the ridiculous notions that there could ever be any such thing as free education or free labor.

Second, we need to explore how to:

a. – create a broad-based legal non-profit umbrella, or clearinghouse, for these on-farm educational relationships. The goal of such an umbrella would be to provide contractual cover for labor issues, suitable arbitration when essential, legal tests of various state labor laws in basic opposition to apprenticeships, and a repository for all of background and performance data allowing universal access.

b. – to establish a basic set of criteria which might translate into generally accepted transferable education credits?

There is astounding variety in apprenticeship offerings; a variety which, though it may prove frustrating for all involved, does represent well the vitality and diversity of our alternative farming culture. I for one do not want to see that diversity lessened, but it sure would be helpful to find some commonality of application since we have such a firm and outstanding commonality of purpose already in place.

At its core this continues as a discussion about people wanting to learn how to farm, and farmers converting a labor need to an educational opportunity, a coincidence of wants. How do we make it work as well as we suspect it might? How do we protect its future? How do we SEE its future in the future of our farms? We find ourselves at the bridge between dreams and hope. LRM