By Ash Bruxvoort
Six months ago I quit my full-time job to work on an organic farm in Iowa. Since then I’ve gone on to work at farms in California and New York, taking epic road trips in between jobs. I dreamed of doing this when I was in college and live my dream every day. If you’re interested in food, agriculture, and social change, working on an organic farm is an awesome experience. But it’s not always idyllic frolicking through the fields and singing kumbaya around the campfire. You’ll work harder than you ever thought, eat better food than you’ve ever had, and make friends with amazing people around the world. Ready to set off on this adventure? Here’s what to expect.
The Awesome Stuff
The number one benefit of working on an organic farm is getting to eat tons and tons of fresh produce. No matter what time of year there’s always leftover food for interns. The variety of food depends on the season (I spent most of the winter up to my ears in squash soup) but it’s always delicious and local. Cooking and trying new foods is a humongous part of the job, so even if you’re not a chef you’ll improve your cooking skills. While you’re eating healthy food you’re doing lots of manual labor. This means bigger biceps and a smaller waistline, a nice benefit of the job!
As you’re getting healthier you’re getting happier thanks to lots of time outside. Most days are pretty nice, in my experience, and you’ll get to observe lots of critters while you’re out weeding, planting, and harvesting. I’ve found that spending this time outdoors is amazing for healing depression and creating a more positive outlook on life. And you’ll probably earn a sweet farmer’s tan.
I’ve met more amazing people in six months of organic farming than I did in four years of college. Interesting, cool, and smart people are drawn to this kind of work, whether they work on the farm with you, visit the farmer’s market you sell at, or are activists supporting the work you’re doing. You work side by side every day and really get to know and care for each other. And that’s when you go sing kumbaya around the campfire. Okay, not really. Just sometimes.
So Do I Like, Get Paid?
Maybe. It depends on what kind of farming internship you’re looking for. Small farms just starting out often look for volunteers. Sometimes this means you don’t work as many hours and this can be a good place to get your feet wet. You can expect to earn anywhere from no money to $2,000 a month plus room and board. Like any job, more experience means more money.
Any worthwhile farm internship will at least offer you food from the farm. If you’re putting in the work to make it grow you should at least get to eat some of it. There is a lot of food waste in organic farming and farm interns are the dumpsters. In addition to fresh produce, a lot of farm internships will offer you housing on the farm. This can range from sleeping in a tent to having your own small cabin. If room and board are not offered, typically the interns are paid. Your hard work should be recognized in some way, usually in a combination of these three forms of payment.
Prepare for This
You should expect to be dirty, wet, hot, and uncomfortable. Rain boots and rain jackets are a must, as well as a hat to keep the sun out of your face. You can also expect to get angry and frustrated, especially with the people you’re working with. Some people are easy going while others are hotheads; you can expect a mix on any farm crew. At the end of the day you’ll usually work things out and be laughing over an after work beer.
Depending on how long you work on an organic farm, you can also expect to have moments where you question why you’re doing this. You’ll think of your warm bed at home or your easy office job and wonder if you made the right choice. You’ll spend a lot of time working by yourself, and I can tell you there are demons in those sweet corn fields. You can let them drive you crazy, or you can come away from your farming internship stronger and more self-aware than ever.
How Do I Get Started?
If you’re looking for a short term, volunteer position, or if you want to work on an organic farm outside of the United States, Worldwide Opportunities for Organic Farms (WWOOF) is your best bet. WWOOF is a member based organization that requires a $40 membership fee per country you join. If you’re in it for the long haul and willing to work on a farm in the good ol’ United States, the ATTRA database is your best bet for finding work. You can expect to make a six month commitment for an internship, although sometimes farms will take you on for a shorter amount of time. Once you find an internship that interests you, apply, interview, and hopefully start your first farming adventure!
About the Writer
Ash Bruxvoort grew up on a farm in Iowa. She’s worked in conservation and organic agriculture for three years and holds a BA in English. She’s an avid reader, trail runner, birdwatcher, and traveler.
Farm photo via Shutterstock