FARM INTERNSHIPS WIN-WIN
Apprenticeship Program Promotes Farm Life
By Jaine Treadwell
have been around for ages, but not many of them are offered here in
South Alabama. Not many except at Red Root Herb and Vegetable Farm in
rural Pike County.
Gary Weil, owner of Red Root Farm, apprenticeships or internships are a
can get ‘affordable’ farm workers and they can get the knowledge and
experience of hands-on farm work," Weil said. "We all
the past several years, Weil has offered internships to a score of young
men who have farming in their blood or loose screws in their heads.
"Internships work very well on the farm," he said. "You
get young people who are interested in farming. They
Whit Able, foreground, an
intern at Red Root Farms at Banks, and Gary Weil, owner of the
Community Support Agriculture farm, were busy bunching onions to include in the boxes for their
CSA customers. The boxes included cabbage, Japanese turnips,
broccoli, spinach, lettuce and
want to pursue a
career in farming so they strive to do a better job and they work hard
in an effort to produce a good crop and to learn all that they can
because what they learn will benefit them when they are out on their
Red meat radishes that look like tie-dyed shirts are a popular item at Red Root Farm. Gary Weil, farm owner, said the radishes have a taste that is almost sweet and add color and flavor to any salad.
internships also benefit the farmer. "I can’t do all of the work
by myself and I really can’t afford to hire help," Weil said.
"And, if I could, there is a real lack of folks who want to do this
kind of work."
kind of work" is not work that many people want to do. Farmers make
up less than two percent of the nation’s population and only a small
percentage of those are young farmers. So, what’s the attraction of a
few young men and women to the farm internships?
guess they are like me, they just love farming," Weil said.
"This is the best life there is. At least to me it is." And,
undoubtedly it is to about 20 young men and women who have found their
way to Red Root Herb and Vegetable Farm to work and learn more about
organic farming and Community Supported Agriculture.
those who have done internships here, three of them have gone on to
their own farming operations," Weil said. "One is in
Massachusetts, one in Kentucky and the other is in Comer. When Whit
(Abel) and Sam (Combs) complete their internships in about a month, they
plan to farm together in the Atlanta area."
and Combs have been interning at Red Root Farm for about six months.
Abel, who is from the Atlanta area, said the experience that he has
gained will be invaluable as he begins farming on his own.
his experiences have not been limited to South Alabama. He has done
internships all across the country. "I interned in Colorado where I
worked at fruit orchards that had 32 different varieties of
fruits," he said. "I also worked on an organic
farm in California where they grew tomatoes and cucumbers and many other
kinds of vegetables. When you work on farms in different areas of the
country you learn about different varieties of fruits and vegetables and
different methods of farming. It’s good experience and will help me to
one day become self-sufficient on the farm."
didn’t grow up on a farm and he can’t really explain the origin of
his interest in farming. "I just wanted to know where my food came
from," he said. "And, I like the idea of being able to take
care of myself. That’s real freedom when you know that you can be
self-sufficient if the time comes."
said it was not too many years ago that people were self-sufficient.
They grew the food they needed. As individuals, they were
self-sufficient but they were also a part of a collective community that
was in itself self-sufficient.
might come a time when we will have to be self-sufficient again,"
he said. "And, few people would have any idea what to do or how to
Red Root Farm, Abel is learning how to farm on small plots of land yet
produce large quantities of different types of vegetables.
I would like to do when I complete my internship here is go back to
Atlanta and open a community garden," he said. "I like the
concept of a community garden.
Kelly Johnson was busy washing Japanese turnips to include in boxes to be delivered, fresh from the farm, to CSA customers in Pike and surrounding counties. Seeds for Japanese turnips are $10 an ounce, putting them in the “gourmet” vegetable group.
| They are beneficial in many ways but
especially in that people have an opportunity to learn how to garden and
to grow their own food."
Gary Weil is up to his chin in cover crops. Weil, owner and operator of Red Root Herb and Vegetable Farm at Banks in Pike County, purchases the seeds for his cover crops at Goshen Farmers Co-op. Weil said that cover crops such as oats and winter peas are “our fertility.”
explained that community gardens are becoming increasingly popular in
different areas of the United States, especially in California and the
Northeast. "In large cities, there is no land for farming or even
for small garden plots," he said. "So, community gardens are
the only opportunities people have to try their hands at farming."
community garden is a large area of city land that is divided into
plots, maybe 20×20 feet. Each ‘gardener’ is allotted a plot. An
implement shed is centrally located and gardeners can check out the
garden tools they need to farm their plot.
community gardens allow people to learn about gardening as they manage
their own plots and grow their own food," Abel said. "There is
a huge community garden in Birmingham – Jones Valley Farm – and it
is working really well."
and Abel both believe that the interest in community gardens will
continue to grow in cities around the country and that will be good for
those who choose farming as their careers and for the general population
in rural south Alabama, most people have a good idea about where their
food comes from, many of them have home gardens and farming is still a
big part of our economy," Weil said. However, the masses probably
have little or no knowledge of what it takes to put food on their
more people become involved in community gardens and more people become
"customers" of Community Support Agriculture farms, the more
they will know and the more they will appreciate those who put their
hands to the plow in an effort to keep America growing.
offering internships at his Red Root Farm, Weil said he is making an
investment in the future of farming in the United States. "These
interns go out and work on farms with the intention of someday owning a
CSA farm or managing a community garden," he said. "Some of
them go right into farming."
young farmers go to the fields and organically grown products can be
offered at affordable prices, the future of farming is secured and
Treadwell is a freelance writer from Brundidge.