Tips for Agrarian Interns and Apprentices

Caney Fork Farm 

By Piper Atkinson, Intern, Soil Centric 

In the world of regenerative agriculture, real-life work experience is invaluable. But, what if you are new to farming and ranching? How can you gain this foundational experience? An on-farm or on-ranch internship may be what sets you on your path. An internship can provide an opportunity to delve into a prospective career in regeneration. Agrarian internships gather a range of like-minded people for action. Along the way, you’ll gain agricultural knowledge, first-hand experience, and create valuable contacts. However, it can be difficult to know what internship will be right for you. What skills do you need to get started? What will the farm or ranch environment be like? 

On a recent webinar organized by the Savory Institute’s Abbey Smith, Kevin Watt from TomKat Ranch and Alexis Bonogofsky with the Quivira Coalition offered us some practical information to help answer these questions. Both Kevin and Alexis have experience managing interns and internship programs.

What skills do you need for these types of internships? 

To start, you’ll need to be in good health and be comfortable doing physical labor on a daily basis.  

If you are applying for a farming internship, basic farming skills, like how to use a hammer and back up a trailer, are needed so that time can be spent learning more in-depth skills. 

You need to have decent communication skills. It is important that interns can effectively communicate with their advisors and vice versa. Be sure to ask your advisor what they expect from you. And, to make sure you are having an experience that is right for you, also be clear about what you expect to gain from the internship

Nature can be unpredictable so you need to have the resilience to deal with abrupt changes due to unusual weather and other unplanned challenges like a power outage or an escaped goat.

What advice did Alexis and Kevin have for prospective interns?

Now is the season to be applying for summer and fall internships. Some farms and ranches have firm deadlines and others accept applicants on a rolling basis. 

Don’t romanticize a life in regenerative agriculture. While it can be incredibly rewarding it can also be physically and emotionally taxing. 

Don’t assume there is a set way to do things. Each farmer and rancher has their own methods and practices. Ask questions about why things are the way they are. You may have a valuable idea of how to be more efficient that hasn’t been thought of. Don’t be afraid to share your ideas. 

Once you’re in your internship, be sure to practice self-care. If you take care of your health and wellbeing, then it will ultimately make you a more productive and successful intern or apprentice.

Keep a journal to document your experiences, and tips you have learned. Look for patterns of what works and what doesn’t.

If you realize the internship is not right for you, it’s okay to quit. If you stick with an internship that you don’t enjoy, then not only you will suffer, but your advisor and peers will too. 

What are some helpful resources to get you going? 

Tom Kat Ranch where Kevin works is looking for interns and apprentices right now

Quivira Coalition where Alexis works has a New Agrarian Apprenticeship Program in several western states.

For more information about these and other opportunities in regenerative agriculture be sure to check out Soil Centric’s Pathfinder Tool.

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