New Morning Farm, one of the top farmers’ market producers in the region, started out very small. In fact, the owners, Jim and Moie Crawford, began in 1972 by just selling vegetables from local farms to Washington D.C. farmers markets. They were good at it.
The next year, they decided to grow some vegetables themselves by leasing farmland in the area. They soon realized that they could plant many more vegetables than they could weed and harvest. “Don’t start something that you can’t finish,” is one of Jim’s mantras. They needed help.
They hired a high school student to help with the farm work. The next season, they hired two workers. That was better, but weeds still got out of hand and they did not have enough hands for the harvest. For several years, they recruited summer workers from colleges. However, each year, they had to start over and train new workers.
In 1976, they took the leap and bought a farm in Pennsylvania with many more acres of production capacity. They started to realize that they needed more than just day laborers. They needed workers who could think and wanted to have a career in agriculture. They wanted apprentices. On Tuesday, October 16th, Jim held a PASA field day to explain how he how has been training apprentices over the last 30+ years.
As Jim describes the role, apprentices are workers who want to learn the trade and can be given management responsibilities under the farm’s management plan. By 1980, they had an apprentice who wished to stay a second year, which was a great benefit for the continuity of farm work. Jim began giving titles to apprentice responsibilities (such as field manager, drip-irrigation operator, produce manager). He also began giving crop assignments (e.g. celeriac, brussel sprouts, potatoes). In their assignments, they have full responsibility for the success of the operation. They don’t receive a great deal of instruction. Jim says that farmers always have to learn how to do things themselves as it is part of the business. He gives them manuals and guides and expects them to learn. If they have questions, he and others are around for advice.
They now have 12 apprentices and a number hourly workers, depending on the season and workload. For the twelve apprentices, they provide room and board plus a monthly salary. If they stay another year, they get a significant bonus. They work 9.5 hours a work day and 8 hours every other Saturday. Sundays are off. If they work overtime, they get 10% of their total monthly income for each overtime day. On Wednesdays they have a potluck dinner and the farm provides free beer.
Jim selects new apprentices over the winter months and assigns management responsibilities in early May. There is no trading of responsibility. Apprentices stay a whole season. They keep a folder on each of the crops. Each morning, the apprentices gather to discuss the work of the day and develop work assignments. Crop managers inspect their crops and maintain a crop cost worksheet. They are crew leaders to workers assigned to weed or harvest their crops.
Two of the apprentices talked with us after Jim completed his presentation on Tuesday. They explained why they chose to apprentice on New Morning Farm and their career aspirations in agriculture. “Happy” was a word that both used to describe their experience working there.
Jim mentioned that he is 69 years old. This is the first year that he has not been actively involved in production, yet the farm had another very successful year. He was quick to point out the farming can be a profitable business venture. He noted that many of his apprentices have gone on to be successful in many types of careers in agriculture. After touring the farm and listening to Jim and the apprentices, I’d have to say that New Morning Farm has a effective approach that benefits both the farm and the apprentices.