During the interview and decision-making process, it is sometimes difficult to think of all the situations that might come up during an internship, especially if you have never worked on a farm before. Please read and carefully consider the following ideas before filling out your application. Read over these again before an interview or farm visit, and consult them again during your first week of placement to help you and your host farmer establish a clear set of mutual expectations.
- How many hours a day? Week? Month?
- Amount of time off? During the day? Per week.
- How regular/irregular and flexible/inflexible is the work schedule? Which times/days/hours is work almost always expected? Which times/days/hours are more open to scheduling of another part-time job, doctor’s appointments, recreational opportunities, social events, visits?
- Seasonal activities which may affect time off, such as lambing, haying, etc.
- Usual quitting and rising times, breaks during the day, etc.
- Recreational facilities (on and off farm) that are available to you. Local opportunities to meet and socialize with your own friends or peers in the area?
- Do you have any commitments (wedding, family vacation, part-time job) that will take you off the farm and out of work during the internship? Clarify these at the beginning.
- What do you, the intern, want to learn from this experience? (It is highly recommended that you make a detailed list, before or after your on-farm interview, and certainly no later than the first week of the experience.)
- What is the farmer able to teach? (Ask the farmer to make a detailed list and share this with you, or else tell you while you take notes. Ask for time to discuss your respective lists and develop a plan to meet them, no later than the first week of the experience.)
- What books, magazines, or on-line resources on sustainable agriculture are available for you to read and discuss with the farmer during non-work hours? Will there be regularly scheduled reading, discussion or other educational times during the week?
- What other resources (field trips to other farms, businesses, seminars or workshops etc.) can be arranged to meet your educational goals, particularly in areas of your interest where the farmer lacks personal expertise? Transportation to these?
Compensation and Record-Keeping
- Is an hourly, weekly, or monthly stipend being offered? Are state and federal taxes being withheld? How often or at what intervals will payment be made?
- Will the intern be reimbursed for gas or expenses for making deliveries, running errands, etc. in his/her own vehicle?
- Is workers compensation insurance provided? (This is mandatory under Ohio law, and a notice of coverage should be posted in a visible place on the farm.)
- Record-keeping: A system (such as a log book) needs to be set up where you can record your "on-duty" work hours on a daily basis, so that there is a clear distinction between your work hours and off-duty hours. This log is necessary for workers' compensation insurance and probably also for your stipend payment.
Workings of the Farm
- Will you be working with livestock? Do you have any philosophical, ethical, health, or safety concerns about that? Does the farmer have any routine expectations of you during your time off or in case he/she is absent from the farm (monitoring livestock or greenhouse, etc.)
- Private family times or space and level of apprentice involvement.
- Work clothing and equipment needed (boots, rain gear, etc.)
- Teaching techniques and farming philosophies. Is there a good match between you and farmer here?
- Will you be properly instructed in use of equipment and other safety/health issues? Are you physically able to handle the labor and lifting required? (Note: A current tetanus vaccination is highly recommended for all farm work. Check your medical records and update, if needed, before you start your internship.)
- Does this opportunity offer on-farm housing? Are the quarters satisfactorily private? Comfortable? Have adequate storage? What are the temperature control methods? Should or could you bring your own fan, musical instruments or personal music players? What common areas are there for you to use for relaxing, entertainment, etc?
- Even if on-farm housing is not provided, is there a space to relax during breaks? Can some of your work-related clothing and gear be stored on the farm?
- Are either you or the farmer vegetarian? Vegan?
- Cooking and clean up responsibilities?
- Meal and cooking arrangements, food purchasing, special dietary needs. What meals are offered by the farmer? Will you be expected to prepare some meals on your own or with other interns? If so, are there designated food storage areas, and kitchen privileges for you? Who shops and pays for this food?
- Routine house cleaning - to what extent is your help expected? (At minimum, for a live-in opportunity you should expect to keep your own private quarters reasonably clean, contribute to kitchen clean-up after meals, and take care of your own laundry. Ask about any other expectations regarding routine cleaning of public areas.)
- Bedding and towels -Who provides? Who changes and cleans?
- Privacy issues for all parties involved. Noise?
- Apprentice use of host property: phone, computers, musical instruments, stereo, television, car, etc. (Note: Don’t forget to ask the farmer if you are able to use his/her computer for internet access to check e-mail, etc. and if there will be any rules or time restrictions for this. What about long-distance phone calls? )
- Is childcare an issue?
- car? Is it insured? Where would you park it? Would you be expected to use it for any farm-related business? Reimbursement for this? Would you have access to the farmer’s vehicle for farm-related use? If you don’t have a car, can you use one of the farmer’s vehicles occasionally for personal or recreational reasons?
- Do you have allergies?
- Do you have any chronic health problems that may affect your work performance?
- Smoking, drug and alcohol issues?
- Health insurance. Do you have it? (Most farmers are not able to cover you.)
- Your phobias, fantasies, pet peeves, and personal quirks. Share these and ask the farmer to do the same!
- Visitation of friends, during the day or overnight. Any restrictions or requests? What sleeping arrangements are available and/or acceptable for overnight guests?
- Do you have pets? Are they permitted? Are the farmer's pets welcome in your quarters? Will you have any obligations with regard to the farmer’s pets?
Go over this checklist at your on-farm interview or no later than the beginning of the internship to make sure a strong agreement has been reached between you and the farmer. Do all you can to create an atmosphere of easy communication so that problems, misunderstandings, or unmet needs can be discussed and dealt with quickly and amicably, rather than allowing these to simmer and build. Don’t be afraid to ask questions about what you see on the farm and to make constructive suggestions to the farmer about how he or she can enhance your educational experience. Seek out feedback often about your progress and try to react constructively, without defensiveness, to complaints or criticism received.
Special Note on Interviews:
If invited for a on-site interview, you need to both interview the farmer and find out more about him/her, as well as let him/her know about you.
Checking references: You should offer a list of work references that the farmer can call or e-mail to verify your reliability, work ethic, etc. You should also ask the farmer for contact information from former interns (if there are any). If not, ask for contact information for neighbors or other farmers who can vouch for the trustworthiness, competence, and character of your potential host farmer. Remember that OEFFA does not screen or evaluate either farmer or intern applicants. You need to take full responsibility for this.
Be clear about what you hope to learn and gain from the internship. For example: specific information about livestock care and disease management, medicinal herbs, crop rotation and soil fertility management, vegetable or fruit growing, farmers market or csa sales and public relations, cut flower production and arranging, beekeeping, homesteading skills, community living, etc. Be clear about what experiences, training or education you've already received in sustainable agriculture and how these might contribute to your work on the farm.
Specify how you think you learn best. Reading, demonstrations, working side by side, repetitive practice, and independent work can all be learning approaches. How much responsibility do you expect to be able to handle at first? After a month? By the end of the experience?
Why are you interested in sustainable agriculture? What are your long-term personal and career goals in this area? Let the farmer know. Do you have specific religious, political, ethical, or food related issues that may affect your interests or work activities on this farm? Specify them up front.
What prior commitments or personal limitations may impact your work on the farm? For example, an upcoming wedding, difficulties lifting heavy weights, lack of transportation, academic responsibilities, or other issues seriously affect your interaction with the farmer. Clarify them before you commit.
Farm life is full of surprises. You and the farmer should expect the unexpected. How would you and the farmer handle emergency or unforeseen situations? For example, what if either you or the farmer gets sick or is hospitalized, or is called out of town for a few days on urgent business? What if an equipment breakdown, last-minute order, or weather emergency changes your work schedule and interferes with your planned time off? What if you’ve been charged with a special farm project and a family emergency calls you out of town before it’s completed? You need to establish a good working relationship where problems like this that arise can be solved.