Being a CSA Apprentice at Genesis Farm: Who Chooses Whom?
By Judy von Handorf
Over the past year or so, I've had my nose in the novels of Wendell Berry. In “That Distant Land,” there is a very thoughtful conversation between a lawyer, Wheeler, and his client, Elton. They are discussing the farm Elton has just inherited. Wheeler leans forward in his chair and tells Elton, “The farm chose you.”
The farm chooses us. It struck a chord with me because I always felt this but, coming from Wendell Berry, I knew it was real. He goes on to say that we make the decision whether to embrace the offer or not.
Every year around this time, we at the Community Supported Garden at Genesis Farm select candidates for our Apprentice Program. We interview people from all over the country. When all is said and done and our team is formed, I look at each one of these people and know that they are on this land for a reason. The fact that our paths crossed at this time and in this place is sacred. The responsibility that that goes with this is immense, and we do not take it lightly.
We know our apprentices are here at Genesis Farm to get a taste of agriculture and we want to give them our best taste! We want to send them off knowing how to love the land, to have respect for the work, to have reverence for the food they eat, and to know community.
Our Apprentice Program began in 1998, when we felt ready to take on an educational component. We started out with one apprentice and gradually expanded our program to four apprentices and a second-year apprenticeship.
Each year, we gain more clarity on what we look for in a potential apprentice. We look for a good work ethic, someone who knows how not to stand around. We look for enthusiasm, for the ability to take ownership. A positive attitude and sense of humor can go a long way when we’re digging potatoes for five straight days!
The selection process begins with a resume and a letter outlining the candidate’s goals in agriculture. The farm visit is a must! We can get a good sense of a person by how they work, how they help out at lunch, and how they interact with others.
When our Apprentice Program began 15 years ago, our early apprentices came with a commitment to farm. Today, we see people looking for an experience of farming before they go off to pursue other types of agricultural ventures, such as teaching gardening or cooking professionally with seasonal vegetables. The important thing is: The opportunity is here for all. People can take a small window of time out of their lives and have an experience on the farm that will affect them for the rest of their lives.
It’s such an honor to witness the change in people who come to us. Some of them don’t even know how to use a shovel when they start in April and, by the end of the season, they are happily digging a one-foot deep trench to anchor plastic for a portable hoop house. But it’s more than muscles I see. I see a deeper understanding of the work and respect for it.
In Wendell Berry’s story, Wheeler, the lawyer, goes on to say, “We start out expecting things of the land. And then some of us, if we stay put and pay attention, see that expectations are going the other way, too. Demands are being made of us, whether we know it or know what they are or not. The place is crying out to us to do better, to be worthy of it.”
Judy von Handorf has been a farmer at the Community Supported Garden at Genesis Farm for 25 years. One of the first to adopt the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) model, the Community Supported Garden at Genesis Farm has more than 300 member families and is celebrating its 25th year. For more information on its apprentice program, including how to apply, go to www.CSGatGenesisFarm.com or call 908-362-7486.