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.
Saralee Lawrence and Ashanti Samuels are Rainshadow Organics, a burgeoning, certified organic operation which fully embraces the tenets of mixed crop and livestock farming. At its core is a full-force market garden. The entire farm comprises one hundred and eighty acres situated in the magnificent, high desert region of central Oregon and subject to a painfully short growing season (some years just slightly over 2 months).
Rainshadow Organics in Central Oregon is a really big small farm. As part of their mission to produce and promote good food, they participate in the Rogue Farm Corps internship program. This season they have 7 interns who made time during their lunch break to speak to us about the program.
Farming and ranching internships seem to be the twenty-first century’s answer to the need for hands-on, person-to-person education on the art, science and business of sustainable farming and ranching. Well-designed internships can provide interns with basic skills and experiences necessary to make a start in farming as a profession. For established farmers, internships can provide an opportunity to foster and inspire a new generation of producers.
The age-old model of mentorship in exchange for a place to stay and food from the farm was about to be upended. The first sign of trouble arrived in 2009 when a farmer in the Willamette Valley found herself subject to a wage claim violation by a disgruntled former intern. In 2010, one of Rogue Farm Corps host farms was sued in court for wage violations. There were reports of farms in California where labor officials were interviewing work crews in the fields to determine their employment status. This confluence of events sent shock waves throughout the farming community. Rogue Farm Corps found itself in the uncomfortable position of facilitating illegal farm internships and putting host farmers at great risk. Despite the wide spread practice of farmers offering housing, food and experience in exchange for some help on the farm, the reality of labor law meant that these informal arrangements were in great jeopardy.