BISMARCK, N.D. — Several North Dakota small farmers will teach their trade to those without a farm of their own.
An education-focused agricultural nonprofit organization called Foundation for Agricultural and Rural Resource Management is taking applications for its new farm internship program.
FARRMS is hoping to attract five to 15 interns to live and work full time on a farm for a growing season, said marketing and outreach coordinator Sue Balcom.
Interns will be paid a stipend for their work on the farm, Balcom said. They will keep a journal about what they do, to be turned in at the end of the season. They also will do classroom work, covering topics like soil science and fertility, irrigation systems, weed management and an introduction to business and marketing, and they will tour farms where other interns are working.
"FARRMS is an educational organization so we have an entire list of educators," Balcom said. "They'll be getting well-rounded exposure."
The only requirements for participating are a valid driver's license and a clean driving record. Balcom said interns should also be 18 or older to meet labor law requirements.
"The idea is to give the intern a foundation for running a whole operation," said Brian McGinness, who grows vegetables on 10 acres and has 20 acres of pastureland south of Mandan.
McGinness helped organize the curriculum for the internship program and plans to have an intern on his own farm.
"Two, hopefully," he said. "It's a way to have someone excited about farming to work for you. That's what I want. You need someone committed because it's hard work and long hours."
On his farm, McGinness said, interns will repair and operate equipment, weed gardens, pot plants in the greenhouse, transplant vegetables, work with horses and help with harvesting.
McGinness said pre-conceived notions typically don't match up with reality. The interns will be able to try the farming business before investing in property and equipment.
"It's a great way to figure out if it's something they want to do," he said.
McGinness lived in Vermont, and both he and his wife worked on several different farms before coming back to North Dakota to start their own. He did an apprenticeship in California when he was getting started.
"It was an invaluable experience if you're thinking about going into farming of any kind," he said.
He also worked as a teacher and loves sharing his knowledge with others.
Balcom said to her knowledge, there are no programs that allow new or beginning farmers the opportunity to actually experience what farming is like and get advice on it.
"North Dakota has land, we have a wealth of knowledge about farming and animal husbandry in this state, and a program like this will help to pass that along to the next generation," she said.
Paul Brown, who raises grass-fed beef, turkeys, ducks, chicken, sheep and some vegetables north of Bismarck, said he plans to take on an intern in the 2014 growing season. He developed a partnership with his father and has been involved with farming from a young age.
Brown, who attended college to study agriculture, said school is a good thing but a lot more can be gained from hands-on experience. He said the FARRMS program offers experiences not taught in a university. He teaches classes at Bismarck State College, and he tries to take students on field trips.
Having the interns provides farmers with much-needed labor that is hard to find. On Brown's farm, interns will sell food at the local farmers' market, move livestock, collect eggs and help with seeding.
"They're laboring for us and learning how to farm and ranch," he said.
Both McGinness and Brown want people to know that small farms like theirs can be a successful career path. Small farms are a good way to break into the business, and people don't need huge farms to make a living, Balcom said. The locally grown and all-natural food markets are expanding, providing small farmers with more opportunities.
"We need more food farmers," Balcom said. "North Dakota exports many of its top commodities but we can't eat them until they are processed and shipped back ... It is more economically feasible to grow them here than to ship them 1,500 miles or more, or even import them from another county."