There are a lot of young people interested in sustainable agriculture. One of the best ways to get started in sustainable agriculture is to complete a farming or ranching internship with a successful practitioner. Many people jump of the first opportunity they can find, and might find themselves disappointed. I have personally completed two internships and I will be starting my third in October in South Africa. Here are some tips that I can give you if your interested in completing an farming/ranching internship.
Define what you want
If you hate working with cattle, don’t sign on with a ranch. If you love sheep, work with the best sheep producer you can find. If you are crazy about sugar-snap peas, find the best sugar-snap pea producer in the world! If you are very serious about becoming a farmer/rancher, work with one who is successful and dedicated to their business. If, on the other hand you have only a casual interest about the profession, sign on with someone who shares the same attitude.
Once you’ve defined what you want, do some research. Where do you want to go to complete your internship? If you are considering international internships, be sure to research the visa and entrance requirements of each country. After you’ve figured that out, pick 3-5 farms/ranches in the area you want to be and find out everything you can about them. Frequently look at their websites. Call the farmer/rancher and ask them questions about their operation. What can you expect to learn? Is there a stipend? Is there somewhere to live? What is your biggest strength as a farm/ranch? What are the hours and expectations of me should I intern with you? Is there internet service? Do you provide any food? Who else will be working/interning there?
Some farms and ranches will require a formal application. Some of them require a lot of thought. Take your time with the application process. Others will require no application and will invite you to start working whenever you want. Generally speaking, you can expect to have a more serious role from the places that require an application. That means that they are selective and serious about interns. However, I’m doing an internship right now where I’m learning a great deal, and all arrangements were made via phone conversations. Apply only to the places you would enjoy working, based on your research. I would apply for at least three internships to give yourself some options.
I treat my internships seriously. Prepare to commit yourself fully to the internship. If you know that you have to work 6 days a week, don’t make plans for a long weekend away from the farm. You future success will be dependent upon what you learn and the impressions you make during your internship. If you are moving far from home, make sure you have things like health insurance, clothing (gloves, boot, etc), cell phone, transportation, and mailing addresses are all taken care of. Update your information with companies who may be sending you bills or other important information.
Once you’ve been accepted somewhere (don’t worry, you will be!) enjoy your time there and learn everything you can. I’m a completely different person than I was before I completed my internship with Greg Judy. I grew personally and professionally. Learn everything that you can from the people who were kind enough to invite you onto their farm or ranch. Work hard, stick with it and remember that tomorrow is another day. There were many days that I missed my wife and home so badly that I considered jumping the first flight home! But, my dedication has already paid off. I’ve gained a lot of respect from my friends, family and the farmers and ranchers that I’ve worked with.