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By Audrey Hill, Feature Contributor, Valley Ag Voice

Sydney Knudsen, graduate apprentice from Full Belly Farm, participating in a Beginning Farmer Training tractor class at the Western Center for Agricultural Equipment on the University of California – Davis campus. June 2018 (Maureen Thompson)

As more and more farmers and farm managers head into retirement, there is an increased need for young people to step in and fill their shoes. To sustain not only this way of life, but our crops and our society too, we must also work to sustain our laborers. Luckily, organizations like the Center for Land-Based Learning have taken notice to these needs and are creating opportunities like the Beginning Farm and Ranch Management Apprenticeship program to help mend the gap.

The Center for Land-Based Learning is a nonprofit organization funded by grants and donations, whose goal is “to inspire, educate and cultivate future generations of farmers, agricultural leaders and national resource stewards. And we work with youth and adults to get them connected to agriculture in lots of different ways.”

In “Visit Sacramento Podcast: Center for Land-Based Learning’s Marisa Alcorta on Training New Farmers,” Marisa Alcorta stated they mainly work to engage our youth in agriculture but have also branched out to create programs such as the Beginning Farm and Ranch Management Apprenticeship. This program is a two-year apprenticeship that specializes in providing individuals with “on-the-job” training and introducing them to universal and specialized farm management practices.

Bobby Ragan, Navy Veteran and recent graduate, washing lettuce at Soil Born Farm in Rancho Cordova. Aug. 2020. (Brianne Grosskopf)

This program is one of the few programs that the Center for Land-Based Learning provides to connect farmers in need of dedicated and hardworking laborers with eager people looking for opportunities for growth and stable income in agriculture. Individuals apply to the program, are sorted, and eventually matched with a farmer. This process is entirely taken care of by the Center for Land-Based Learning; however, the farmers ultimately choose who they want as their apprentice. Once accepted into the program, apprentices spend two years learning the ins and outs of that specific farm and its management, while the farmer gains a dedicated laborer whom they can invest in. Over the course of the two-year program, apprentices complete 3,000 hours of paid, on-site training as well as 250 hours of free online coursework paid for by the Center of Land-Based Learning. These courses cover fundamental agriculture production, management, and leadership skills as well as other necessary skills for management. Aside from coursework, the full-time training consists of a wide variety of skills such as sales and marketing, soil management, tractor skills and much more. Brianne Grosskopf, Center for Land-Based Learning apprentice outreach coordinator, states that this program is unique because of its focus “to ensure a fundamental understanding of the operation” through diversity and a “variety of work experiences.” In this program, students not only receive a completely covered education and a hands-on apprenticeship on working farms, but also learn about every aspect of the farm. This opportunity is not just management coursework while working full time on a farm doing one specific role or watching someone else do all of these things. This apprentice program takes a much more holistic approach to learning by making sure individuals get training in every aspect of working and running the farm. In the process, gaining a very wide view of the farm, which is crucial to management, but also a very detailed view which is crucial to managing well.

Alex Thorton-Dunwoody, current apprentice, with Antonio Garza, farm manager at Riverhill Farm in Nevada City. August 2020. (Brianne Grosskopf)

This program does not just benefit the students. As the apprentices gain an understanding of the farm, farmers gain labor and an investment. Not only is this individual hand chosen to fit the farm and has shown immense dedication and passion to agriculture by committing to a two-year full-time position with added coursework on top, but they also spend this time learning everything about the management of one farm. Essentially this program gives current farm managers the opportunity to find and train great individuals to take over for them before they retire.

Bryce Wilson, Army Veteran and current apprentice at Soil Born Farm in Rancho Cordova, picking persimmons. November 2020. (Brianne Grosskopf)

There are many reasons to get involved with this program: whether someone with a passion for agriculture looking to move into a career in management and gain steady employment, a farmer or farm manager looking to recommend individuals for the program, or to train an apprentice. Or even just looking to donate to the Center for Land-Based Learning, their website can provide guidance for all of these needs. Visit https://landbasedlearning.org/ to learn more!