[Snakeroot Organic Farm logo]
 • What's New Here
 • Snakeroot Poultry

 • About Our Farm
 • Annual Farm Tour
 • Community Supported
    Agriculture Plan (CSA)
Directions to our Farm
 • From a Run Out Hayfield to
    a Prosperous Organic Farm
    in Ten Easy Years

 • Get Real. Get Organic!
 • History of Our Farm
 • Pictures of the Farm
 • Where We Buy
 • Where We Sell
 • Our Yearly Work Schedule
 • Just Pretty
 • Subscribe to our e-newsletter.
 • Newsletter Archive.
 • What We Will & Won't Ship

 • Working Here
 • Our Apprentices
 • Our Farm Workers
 • Pictures of Us at Market

 • Fresh Vegetables
 • Fresh Fruit
 • Fresh Herbs
 • Perennials
 • Aloe - a magical plant
 • Our Bird Houses
 • Lupines
 • Rosemary Plants
 • Lovage, Tansy & Yarrow
 • Our Product Brochures
 • Dried Vegetables
 • Dried Culinary Herbs
 • Maple Syrup
 • Maple Syrup, p.2
 • Sugarin' Is Like Ice Fishin'
 • Our New Sugarhouse
 • Tomato Seedlings
 • Tomato Seeds We Offer
 • Tomato Seed Production
 • Paste Tomatoes
 • About Garlic
 • Garlic for Sale
 • Garlic Year Round
 • Mulching Garlic
 • Growing Rounds from Bulbils
 • Whole Bulbil Cluster Method
 • Planting Garlic

 • Using Mulches
 • Combatting Quackgrass
    with Mulch

 • We Want Your Leaves!
 • In Praise of Chips

 • Buying in Bulk for
    Storage, Canning & Freezing

 • Winter Storage Tips
 • How to Freeze Our Veggies
 • Building Techniques
 • Our Outbuildings
 • Evolution of the Farm Table
 • The Story of Our Cooler
 • Prepping Veggies for Market
 • Crop Rotations
 • Drip Irrigation
 • Low Pressure Water
 • Planting with Spreadsheets
 • Greenhouse Vegetable

 • Let-tuce Begin
 • Recipe Favorites
 • Our "Remay Roller"
 • Gardening Class Notes
 • Your Most Expensive Crop

 • Being Green
 • Digging Potatoes by Hand
 • Farmers' Markets in 2012
 • History of Pittsfield
 • Hybrids or Open Pollinated?
 • Making Websites
 • Open Source Software

    Our Retirement Plan
 • How Should a Farmer Retire?
 • Impediments to the want-to-be     farmer
 • Reducing the Value
    of the Land

 • Who Will Farm Here When
    We're Gone?

 • Apprentice Terms and Stages
 • From Apprentices to Partners
 • Transferring Farm Ownership

…and now for something completely different…

At dawn
Canoe bow waves are quickly lost
    on the shoreside
But go on out of sight
    on the lake side.


The constant swish-swish of skis
    On a day long ski.
The constant swish-swish of wiper blades
    On a day long drive.


My dog, trotting barefoot
Steps on a garden slug
And thinks
Nothing of it.


Word spreads quickly
as I approach the pond.
All becomes quiet.


Hidden in the vines
a large warted cucumber
jumps out of reach.
A toad!


Delicate puffs
of marshmallow snow
carefully perched
on a branch,
await the trigger of my hat
to melt their way down my back.

Deep in the tomato jungle
Fruits of yellow, purple and red
Tell of their readiness
To go to market.

Sugarin' Chores
Snowflakes hurry through my flashlight beam,
As my boots knead new snow with spring mud,
On my nightly Hajj to keep the boil alive,
For as long as possible until the dawn,
To match the power of the flowing sap,
With my meager evaporator and will.
The prize at the finish line are jars of syrup
And Spring.


This document was begun in 2000 with major revisions and expansions made in 2008.

Snakeroot Organic Farm

Farmers' Retirement Plan
Thinking about farm succession . . .

(A work in progress: 2008 addendum)

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 looking.

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.

False Starts
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 co-signed for.

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 background with which to absorb it or give it meaning. This only comes with time. From one season to the next, notice how well your candidates absorb ever higher levels of understanding and develop their own farming intuition. This is the best way to access their viability as future farmers.

27 Organic Farm Road, Pittsfield Maine 04967
owned and operated by
Tom Roberts & Lois Labbe
Tom: Tom@snakeroot.net (cell) 207-416-5417
Lois: Lois@snakeroot.net (cell) 207-416-5418

Gardening for the public since 1995.

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