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US (PA): Formal apprenticeship for vegetable growers

The Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture (PASA) is developing the first formal apprenticeship in the region for vegetable farmers: Diversified Vegetable Apprenticeship. The program launches this fall, when they’ll begin accepting applications for the 2019 season.

Plowshare Produce apprentice Jess Hermanofski

Formal apprenticeships are training programs for an occupation that are registered with either the state or federal government. Through on-the-job training and related coursework, formal apprenticeships have successfully prepared skilled workers—such as carpenters and electricians—in the trades for more than a century. Yet, surprisingly, none were available to farmers.

This changed in 2010 when a group of dairy graziers in Wisconsin banded together to address the aging population of U.S. farmers and the rapid decline of dairy farms across the country. These graziers founded Dairy Grazing Apprenticeship—the first federally recognized apprenticeship for farmers—to help stem the tide of farmland loss and introduce a new generation to dairy grazing.

Responding to the proven results of this learning model, as well as feedback from our members, PASA developed Diversified Vegetable Apprenticeship to meet the needs of aspiring and experienced vegetable growers. They began piloting the program earlier this 2018 season at Plowshare Produce, a three-acre, certified-organic CSA farm in Huntingdon County, PA. Owners Bethany and Micah Spicher-Schonberg agreed to pilot the program because they knew “an aspiring vegetable grower would engage in the daily work here on a deeper level than someone with just a passing interest.”

Also, while they’ve been fortunate to find good help in the past, they thought that participating in the program would be a reliable way to connect them with a dependable, motivated employee. PASA matched Bethany and Micah with aspiring farmer Jess Hermanofski, who they enjoy having working with them because she “really wants to understand why we do things the way we do,” and is constantly surprising them as they discover her competencies.

“I really enjoy that every day is different, and that I’m learning something new every day. I enjoy seeing everything come together for the beautiful CSA shares, and the members’ reactions when they see their shares. I also love seeing the farm transition from empty beds, to small transplants, to larger plants, and then getting to harvest the beautiful crops, and knowing I helped make that happen!” said Jess Hermanofski, Apprentice.

Plus, Bethany and Micah said they “benefited tremendously” from their own experiences as apprentices on other farms, so they wanted to share that experience with others. While in their role as master growers, they’ve found it challenging to “distill this kind of work into a tidy list of skills,” they nonetheless have been pleased with their experience so far. “We highly recommend the Diversified Vegetable Apprenticeship program!” said Micah. “PASA not only helped us locate an employee; they’ve been gently guiding us through the season, ensuring that our apprentice receives a well-rounded education.”

Interested in becoming an apprentice or master grower? Learn more here.

Source: PASA (Melissa Cipollone)

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