Finding the Right People
Here is what has happened since 2000, when our "Retirement Plan" was first written.
Our favorite and most effective method for finding the right person seems to have been to rely
on "scientific serendipity". Serendipity, because people find us seemingly out of nowhere, involving no
plan or program we are signed up with. Scientific, because we know this is how things often work in the real
world, and we have to be ready to recognize an opportunity when it knocks. We have been signed up with MOFGA's
apprenticeship program in the past, and found that too often it offered us summer interns only, not true
apprentices in the original sense of the word. We are also signed up with OrganicVolunteers.org, a program of WWOOF, Willing Workers On Organic Farms, yet we have had
few folks contact us from there. Maine Farm Link is
another program we are signed up with, which is supposed to link up young farmers with retiring farmers, but we
have had no leads from them either. Although our experience is that none of these programs has presented us with
our next generation of farmers, they are nevertheless probably good places to keep your name in if you are
Another good place to keep look for potential people either work on the farm or to potentially become "your replacements" is to put up notices at
college bulletin boards, especially outside the employment office. Altho undergrads may be a bit inexperienced to be serious candidates for succession,
they can make very good summer workers, and who knows, they may be back in a few years looking for a life like yours.
In other words it is important to cultivate all potential candidates, regardless of how soon you can expect a return on your effort.
Finding the right people is the trickiest part of this whole plan. In the winter of 2001 we thought we had a
good prospect, a young man in his early 20's. We worked together in the woods for several weeks and we drew up plans for a cabin for him to live in, even
began construction on it. However, it was not to be, since his parents demanded that he get a "real job" to pay off school loans they had
A few years later, we had the good fortune to get a summer intern fall into our lap, but she, although a great worker and very
responsible, was in the process of apprenticing at many farms and moved on at the end of the summer.
In 2006, Tom was asked to be a mentor for a MOFGA journeyperson in Troy. At the end of the year, he left there and worked with us for a
few weeks, when we mutually agreed he could be an apprentice here. However by mid summer it was obvious to both of us it was not working out, and he left
in mid August.
During this time we also had several wonderful (as well as several not-so-wonderful) people who came to work at the farm during our busy
season. The best of these folks, though good workers, were not looking to become farmers; rather they were looking to work on a farm while
continuing to lead lives on their own quite apart from a focus on farming.
This repeated discouragment over the span of six years should make it clear that it is important to begin your search for the
"right person" years earlier than you'd expect would be necessary. Not everyone is cut out for farming, or for farming at our scale, or who has a
personality and work style compatible with ours.
How we “Found” Our Apprentices/Partners
We did eventually luck onto folks who seem—so far, at least—to be "the right people". In late fall of 2006 while the Journeyperson
from Troy was working here, he asked if he could bring a friend to help out. That was Jack Cozart. After working with him all morning, I asked if he wanted
to return to work here regularly, and he seemed interested. By January, we asked if he wanted to become a real apprentice, and after reading our
"Retirement Plan", he agreed. Jack had but little experience farming, and what he did have was nothing like what we were doing. However he had an
enviromental degree from Unity College, so I suspected from the start he would be good material. And he seemed genuinely enthused about every experience he
had on the farm.
During Jack's first summer, one of his farm jobs was to attend the brand new Waterville Farmers' Market for Snakeroot. While there, he
met Courtney Page (Coco) who was attending the market as an apprentice for another small homestead-type farm. Over the summer they got to know each other,
and when Coco's term at her farm was done in the fall, she and Jack asked if she could apprentice with us.
You can see photos of Jack and Coco—and read their own words about what finding us was like for them—at Our Apprentices Page.
Training . . . and Watching
For Jack's first season here, aside from all his other chores, we came to the agreement that he would be in charge of bean and peas family and the onions
and leeks family. Coco's first season saw her agreeing to be in charge of the cukes, summer squash and winter squash. Each of these management duties
included looking through the seed catalogs to select the seeds, scheduling the planting and/or transplanting them, weeding, and finally harvesting the
crop. Each of them were in charge of crop categories some of which needed constant harvesting several times a week, and others that required a shorter
one-time harvest. Their second year they came to understand the value of succession plantings and are planning several plantings of their crops to asure a
continuous uninterupted harvest.
At each step of the way we explained our thinking concerning variety choices, cell size for transplants, planting dates, weed pressure
and weed control scheduling, proper crop size for harvest, and care of the harvested crop. To our delight, they both were hungry for these details and
internalized the greater part of what we shared with them. We can see now in the beginning of Jack's third year and Coco's second, that they are utilizing
the information they learned in the past seasons to be pro-active in making decisions before we have to remind them.
These are the "tests" we put our apprentices through: teaching them how we do things, see how well they do it, and then see if
in the following season they remember all the details. This takes time, of course, not only the time to do the actual explaining, but the passage of time
from one season to the next to see if the teaching "stuck".
One important thing to remember is that the level of detail, the intricacy of thinking, and the agricultural art that goes into making farm management
decisions simply cannot be communicated to an apprentice during their first year. They have no experiential ba