Farm Apprentice Merrifield Farm
- Date Posted January 21, 2019
- Location Cornish, ME
- Category Agriculture
- Job type Internship/Apprentice
Two generations of farmers working together in beautiful south western Maine. About 30 acres of mixed veggies, as well as a blueberry crop, and small cut flower operation. Marketing methods include a farm stand, local restaurants, wholesale accounts, and Portland farmers’ market. Opportunities to learn how to drive a tractor, work with local food banks and a prescription food program, and explore your own projects. Great family to live with! You’ll learn everything about a small business and farming, and end the season ready to take over!
The home farm in Cornish: Paradise - like the Ponderosa in Bonanza! Log house with 3 porches overlooking a 14 acre field of intervale land - great, rock free soil. Another 60 acres of woods. Nice brook on one side, ridge on the other - a small valley (just us in it) surrounded by wooded hills and miles of old tote roads to explore. Barn and outbuildings, art studio, cell phone reception for most carriers, washer, dryer, shower, full kitchen etc. 5 miles from town with a population of about 1,300. 50 minutes to Portland and the coast. Many lakes and rivers nearby - swimming hole at farm for naked nudeliness. 2 canoes and 3 kayaks. Free four day pass to local music festival in July (our apprentices decorate the stage, and help with setup). We’re in the foothills of New Hampshire’s White Mountains, about 30 miles west. We get together often to attend MOFGA workshops, tube the river, roller skate, or go to the drive-in movies. Beautiful and happy place to be!
The farm stand and fields in Porter: The acreage and farm stand are on the corner of Cross Rd and Route 25 in Porter, Maine, a fifteen-minute drive from the home in Cornish (the awesome place you will be living with the family and other farm apprentices). The farm stand is right next to the Ossipee River. The area is full of lakes, rivers, beautiful woods, and towns with character. We cultivate about fifteen acres here, sometimes more. It took us a while to get used to farming right along a main road in the public eye, but we enjoy being able to show the customers how and where everything happens. The farming community in the area is a close group - we share a lot of our equipment, labor, and expertise. Great neighbors and friends.
The Farm and Farmers:
Apprentices will live on the farm in Cornish, and work on both the land in Cornish and on the leased land 15 minutes away in Porter:
Molly and John - the parents - run the home farm in Cornish. This land has been in the family for hundreds of years and is extremely fertile, beautiful soil! They are experimenting with simplifying their operation as Johnny ages (he’s a buff 76 year old and going strong). Their main crops this year will be pumpkins and blueberries. Mol used to run a big sunflower business, but is now going to focus on a lot of tractor work and sometimes helping John with the rest when she is feeling nice. They sell mostly to local farm stands and orchards wholesale.
Grace - the daughter - runs the farm stand and land in Porter. She free leases the land from a nice family up the road (the farm stand was passed on to her sister and her when they were in college by a local guy who had been farming there since the '80s. The sister, Ruby, now has her own operation, Pine Root Farm and Market in Steep Falls, a few towns away, and still works very closely with the family during the growing season.). The farm land in Porter produces most of what we will need for the farm stand, Portland Farmers’ Market, wholesale, and restaurant accounts, but we do buy in some produce for the farm stand from other local farmers who grow different things then us, like strawberries and garlic. Our main crops are tomatoes, cucumbers, sweet corn, lettuce, summer squash/zucchini, beets, carrots, broccoli, kale, winter squash, etc.- classic roadside stand veggies - but we also grow funky stuff like cut flowers, herbs, eggplant, and swiss chard.
Noah - Grace's partner- lives on the farm, but works off farm. He has worked in the past as a wildland firefighter out West, and is interested in forestry and sustainable land management. He also likes to help out on nights and weekends with work on the farm, and may lead some projects with tree planting and orchard work.
On both farms, we will plant and cultivate with a tractor, but most of our work can be accomplished by hand at this scale. Most of our crops are started early from seed in our greenhouse, while some things are direct seeded into the ground later in the season. Most of our field is set up with black plastic mulch and drip irrigation, which saves on water use and weeding.
We are not organic, but we recognize the benefits, and try to minimize the amount of non-organic methods used. We use organic and non-organic spray sparingly on vine crops and corn. The stuff we use isn’t real heavy duty because we would need a license for that. We use commercial fertilizers along with tons of cow manure, make our own compost, and plant a cover crop to be tilled in each spring as a green manure. We try to buy in certified organic produce for the farm stand when possible so that our customers have more choices. Currently, our immediate area couldn’t support an all organic farm stand. If we only sold to people in the city and to restaurants we could charge more, and hence be certified organic, but we are interested in serving our immediate community. We’d like to show the community that farming is an economically viable livelihood, and provide local, healthy food that’s accessible to everyone. Most importantly, in our minds, is that we are sustainable, and have actually survived (so far) doing what John’s family has done here since the early 1700’s. We are very open about our practices with our apprentices and our customers, and are happy to explain ingredient lists/timing of application/the choices we make/etc. to anyone who is interested.
Johnny’s family has been farming in the community forever, Mol has been farming every season since she was about ten, and Grace has farmed every season since she was about six (working on the Cornish farm for the parental units until she could lease her own land). In the winter we usually all go our separate ways to pursue our other interests. Johnny does some logging (small skidder and a saw- no snippy chippy, clear cut stuff) on our woodlot across the river and occasionally for others. Mol is writing a book about raccoons, her dad, and death/grieving (she is a death doula). Grace is in school to be a midwife, and likes to travel when she is not on call. All three of us love the lifestyle farming provides us and want to pass on our ways of finding balance in the occupation. A job on the farm is truly a great opportunity to learn about the realities of small scale farming and the good life. It’s our livelihood and we love it!
Ideally, we would like to have two full season apprentices and three summer apprentices. Full season would be from May to October, summer would be from June to September. We can be flexible with start and end dates. No minimum length of stay is required, but we would prefer at least a two month commitment.
(Additionally, we are interested in hiring a field manager and a store manager. These positions would have more responsibilities and therefor be compensated more. Please inquire if you are ready to take your farming knowledge to the next level!)
Spring starts with greenhouse work and preparing the ground for planting. Most of the planting happens in late May, but there will be successions of crops to plant though June and early July. We plant by hand and with a tractor. A lot of hand weeding and cultivation with the tractors happens early in the summer. We open the stand and start going to farmers market in Portland in June as soon as strawberries are ripe, picking them at a neighboring farm, or buying them in already picked (we may even be planting some of our own this season!). Pretty soon most of the crops have come in, and we split our days between harvesting, weeding, pruning, running the stand, making deliveries and going to farmers market twice a week. We also set aside time to make some value added products, like jam and pickles, for the house. In August, things get very busy with the arrival of corn and tomatoes; everything is popping in the fields, the farm stand is full of customers, and we need three people in market for the lines! This is when we rely on our apprentices the most and will ask a lot of you physically and mentally! September slows down as everyone heads back to school, but we still have some busy weekends with pumpkins. Fall can be cold or hot and people can be burned out from the marathon of August, so we try to cut down on the working hours (this season we will try closing the stand during the week and only be open on the weekends, so that there will be more time for side projects, vacations, and getting together for dinner). We close up the stand and stop going to farmers market by Halloween once pumpkin season is over. Our goal is that you will end the season knowing how to run the stand by yourself having learned what it takes to care for and market the vegetables, and feeling comfortable operating machinery, maintaining irrigation, dealing with pests and disease, etc. If you have the desire to farm in the future, you’ll be well on your way.
We do not require any specific certifications or skills, but a drivers’ license and past experience with physically and mentally arduous tasks are always a plus (e.g. other farm work, restaurant work, cross-country running, etc.) Farming is physically demanding, but even more so mentally. Cultivating and picking in the hot sun require stamina and rhythm. To keep the pace going, you have to be physically and mentally fit. If you are the mood swing type, an active addict, or suffer from occasional bouts of mental health stuff, farming will definitely trigger these symptoms. The economy of this farm has been heavily compromised by this in the past, and we ask that you take an honest look within and only apply if you have none of these, or feel open to discussing them with us in the interview. No judgement, just truth. We’ve all been there ourselves. A strong work ethic and love for physical labor is ideal, and a desire to farm in the future can help keep people motivated and focused. Equally important is a good attitude and a ridiculous sense of humor! Farming is hard, but very satisfying work.
The farm stand is open seven days a week, 9am-6pm. We often start work a couple of hours earlier in the morning, especially during the busy month of August. If we need to work extra hours in the morning or after closing we'll make sure to pace ourselves, or take extra time at lunch to regroup. Apprentices get one day off a week, and full season apprentices get a week long vacation to be used all at once, or split up over the season.
Non-farm work that might be asked of apprentices include help with community events during the summer (a wedding, a music festival, a community farm day, perhaps some work with local food banks) - these should all be fun and tie back into the farm experience in some way or another.Educational Opportunities:
We don't require any past experience farming, so we will patiently teach any new skills needed for a job. We enjoy passing on all the skills and information we can, and encourage apprentices to pursue their own interests and passions and share them with us - learning is a two-way street. Grace works alongside apprentices, demonstrating by doing, but will also be doing the majority of the tractor work and marketing/driving around/bookkeeping. John and Mol usually show apprentices how to do a task and then leave them to it. A lot of our work will be done together, but apprentices should feel comfortable working on their own for a day, for example while Grace is out delivering to restaurants. One of our main goals is to make sure you are getting what you need out of the apprenticeship, so we will try our best to explain as much as we can about the way we do things as we go.
We try to involve apprentices in every aspect of work on the farm, and take into account their interests (if you really want to learn how to operate the old antique tractor, we’ll set some time aside for lessons). We act like one big family farm, and not separate ones. We share equipment and labor, so some days you will be part of a larger crew, some days a smaller crew, some days you’ll go to farmers’ market with Grace, or run register at the stand. Things can get crazy around here during harvest, but we will always try to make it fun and educational.
A bit about our different styles of teaching/working: Most of your time will be spent with Grace as your farm boss, but you will have days where you work with Mol and John. Although Grace is a relatively young boss at age 26, at this point she has had over seven years of experience managing apprentices, and has learned a lot from this. She is patient and a good communicator and teacher, but can get stressed out some days in August. Mol is the most fun to work with because she is silly, but she also keeps it real and doesn’t deal with any bullshit. Johnny is a sweetheart, but a terrible communicator, partially deaf, and can be a tough cookie to work for. If you can understand his thick Maine accent, you can learn a lot from this dude. Everyone loves him, while simultaneously wanting to strangle him. It’s a strange and beautiful thing!
Our apprentices receive free room and board on the farm and $225/week. We want everyone to be able to afford to do an apprenticeship and learn how to farm, so that is why we offer the $225/week; we hope it is enough to pay student loans, car payments, or other bills and not have to worry about draining your savings. Your housing and all meals are included, as well as all the veggies from the farm you want to eat! At the end of the season we will give a small bonus based on how the season went and what we can afford - this will hopefully allow apprentices to have an easier transition onto their next adventure after the farm. Just to be fully transparent about money things, we also hire local help when we need it, and they will be paid by the hour based on experience level. It could be frustrating as an apprentice to see a high school kid making more money per hour then you when you are doing the same work, but they are not getting room and board, or the attention to education that apprentices get.
You will have a cabin or school bus to yourself, and full run of the kitchen, living area, washer and dryer, and bathroom in the big family house. Some of the cabins have heat and electricity, and they are for full season apprentices. Some cabins are small and simple without electricity, and these are for summer apprentices. We ask that apprentices be out of the family house by 8:30 each night, and we like to ring a big bell as a reminder. Apprentices are welcome in the family house anytime in mornings - this is a good time to do personal laundry and carry out daily chores like running the dishwasher, etc. Eating habits vary from season to season depending on the crew; usually breakfast is a fend-for-yourself affair, we eat lunch at the farm stand, and dinner is when most of the communal cooking happens. All food is provided and volunteering to grocery shop has definite advantages. Grace was a vegetarian for 15 years, but now eats some meat; Mol doesn’t eat any sugar, gluten, or dairy; John only eats meat and potatoes and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches…any other diets are easy to accommodate. We have a pond stocked with trout that we fish out and cook over a fire pit when we feel like having a party. The rules about substances are: mild partying in your spaces is okay, but not at the big house, or with bosses, and not to interfere with work. If using substances is a daily part of your life, you need to find a different match. In terms of the household duties, we usually meet as a group in the beginning, figure out which system will work best for everyone, and stick to it. The apprentices should organize the cleaning/chore schedule and police themselves, which requires a certain level of maturity and communication (basically, we ain’t your mama!).
Process of Hiring and Evaluation:
We would love it if you could visit the farm, as much for your benefit as our own, but it's not a requirement. We can hold an interview over the phone, or we can use Skype.
We do not require a trial period, but it is always a good idea to keep open communication about the fit and be honest, especially early on. The biggest things we have learned is to keep communication as open as possible, to check in often, and to deal with issues as soon as they come up.
We have a written Farm Employee manual, and are happy to send this to applicants to look over. We want you to succeed on the farm, and will try to work with you to make this happen. If things are going well, we will tell you. If they are not going well, we will do the same and try to figure out what would work best to improve things. We will try to check in often, and make it clear what we need you to improve (for example, your speed in the field, your participation in house chores, your attitude towards customers at farmer’s market). Depending on the situation, we will try to give ample warnings before any firing happens. Hopefully, you will let us know if there are any problems so we can all be happy.Compensation this position is : stipend / non-monetary compensation