Fields of Farmers

Fields of FarmersThere are two attitudes toward farm internships prevalent in America today. The first is that of stubborn individualism, the rugged “gonna do it my way” philosophy commonly associated with farmers. The second is best described as, “What I need is some interns to get this place in shape!”

In Fields of Farmers: Interning, Mentoring, Partnering, Germinating, Joel Salatin tackles both mistaken viewpoints head-on. Salatin views internships as a ministry, an investment in the next generation—not an opportunity for cheap labor.

This book was clearly written for both the mentor and the mentored. After an overview of education and how it works, particularly in a real-world context, Salatin proceeds to urge both groups of people to give and to serve. Experienced farmers are counseled to put time and effort into guiding young people, even when it isn’t easy, while aspiring land stewards are admonished to put their best into their work and forego the “I’m owed” mentality.

But Fields of Farmers is about far more than the philosophy that should go into an internship program, as foundational as that is. It is also about the mechanics necessary for making things work—the process of selecting, housing, training, and setting mutually respectful boundaries for interns. It seeks to find equitable answers to prickly questions about whether interns should be paid and what to do when a new intern is doing the farm more harm than good.

Rounding out the book is a fascinating look at the history of apprenticeship written by a Polyface apprentice.

If you are casually considering adding an internship program to your farm, Fields of Farmers may very well scare you off. But for those who are determined to play a role in training the next generation of farmers, it is an essential manual to navigating some dangerous waters in a way that enables both parties involved to succeed.