Training Future Food Systems Leaders in 2021

Training Future Food Systems Leaders in 2021

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As the growing season came to an end at Wolfe’s Neck Center, we asked the apprentices in our Fruit and Vegetable Production Farmer Training Program to reflect on their experiences here. This six month, on-farm training program covers all aspects of organic fruit and vegetable crop production with a focus on regenerative agriculture techniques and includes classroom time and site visits to other farms.

Educating and inspiring the next generation of leaders to shape our local and global food system is at the heart of our mission, and this year’s crew has left with renewed commitment, hands on experience and a passion for agriculture. Take a look at what they shared:

Aditi, Colby College student and Fruit and Vegetable Production Intern

What path brought you to WNC?

I was a junior in college and looking to gain more experience and learn about the environment outside of the classroom. After learning about Wolfe’s neck and their efforts toward regenerative agriculture and organic produce, I applied for the opportunity!

What was the most important thing you learned here?

I learned about the amount of effort that goes into producing a single crop and the importance of a strong team. Farming is challenging and plans change by the minute because of weather, pests, and other things. But, when we work together, we overcome those challenges and hold each other up.

How will you take what you have learned/experienced here forward in life?

Farming has been affected by climate change and its consequences like changing weather, more pests, heat waves, and more. Food is the basis of our livelihoods and it is under threat due to rising temperature. I want to take this on-the-field experience and work with environmental justice and advocacy to bring change to our policies to reduce the effects of climate change.

Luke, Fruit and Vegetable Production Apprentice

What path brought you to WNC?

I’ve always been passionate about the outdoors and the environment, and while I had a smattering of volunteer experiences and loved to get outside, I didn’t decide to make it part of my career path until later in life. After graduating from the University of Wisconsin with a degree in English and working in digital marketing for a few years, I was yearning for a change. My desire to work with plants crystallized while I was on a vacation in Colombia, and when I got home I went down to part-time at my job and enrolled in an environmental science class at the University of Minnesota. Little did I know, a few volunteering opportunities later (including a summer and fall at Wolfe’s Neck) and I would be working with plants but as a farming apprentice. I didn’t expect that my urge to shift gears would lead me to agriculture, but I’ve loved every second of it and am fully sucked into the agriculture vortex. Whether it’s regenerative agriculture, low-till and no-till, chemical-free, organic, different CSA models, composting, intercropping — there are SO many fascinating challenges and solutions that agriculture is facing right now, and that “systems” aspect of farming really appealed to the problem-solving, detail-oriented side of my brain.

What was the most important thing you learned here?

I think two things stand out to me — I learned how to be a better team player, and I also gained an immense amount of respect for anyone who has committed themselves to a career as a farmer.

I’ve always thought of myself as being a good communicator, a collaborator, and someone who’s fun to work with. I still think all of those things, but a full season of farming really challenged me in a unique way. It’s face-paced, physical and mental work that really requires a team to have excellent communication, high spirits, a lack of ego, and a seemingly inextinguishable shared work ethic. There’s lots of different kinds of teamwork, but I think that farming is just an extremely demanding and rewarding type of teamwork that was a very unique and lovely (shout out Fruit and Veg squad!) experience.

As far as farming goes, it’s shocking how complex it is. It’s really a daunting task, something that I’d wager many people take for granted. Weeds are absolutely trying to take over the planet. Groundhogs are eating our peas. And insects are doing everything in their power to eat every single square foot of food that’s being grown. After a full season of farming, I’m impressed and amazed at our food system, while recognizing the ways in which it needs to change. I don’t mean to romanticize farming — it’s HARD. It’s also fun, with the right mindset, but I really admire all of the amazing diversified fruit and vegetable farms in Maine and the incredible work they do.

How will you take what you have learned/experienced here forward in your life?

I’m not quite sure what the future holds for me professionally, but I’m hopeful that it involves agriculture and the food system in some capacity. I’m interested in attending graduate school, but I’m not ready yet to commit to a program or location. For now, I’m going to cherish all of the memories, knowledge, and friendships that were formed in the fields this season, and I hope to bring everything I learned to another farm next growing season. Regardless, this season has only deepened my interest in food and agriculture and I’m sure that interest will last for the rest of my life.

Spencer, All Farm Apprentice

What path brought you to WNC?

I worked in the lobstering industry and developed some skills in the trades before I came here. I like working outside and I think we need a more resilient food system if we’re going to survive the 21st century. 

What was the most important thing you learned here?

I learned how you can strike a balance between what you need to get done, and what you can get done, and how to take time for yourself in the process. 

How will you take what you have learned/experienced here forward in your life?

I’ve taken a lot of leadership skills from this apprenticeship, and I’ve become more comfortable taking leaps of faith and trusting myself.

Tali, Fruit and Vegetable Production Apprentice

What path brought you to WNC?

I was tired of working in solar and missing working with my hands and with the earth. So I started looking at regenerative agriculture programs on the east coast and WNC popped up. I applied and the rest is history!

What was the most important thing you learned here?

That the most powerful thing is mother nature and that we are just here to learn from her. Every time we had a storm, a flood event in the greenhouses, wind gusts that blew down pepper plants, it was all just a reminder to adjust our strategy so that we can become more resilient as farmers and as global citizens.

How will you take what you have learned/experienced here forward in your life?

Moving forward I’m going to strive to continue working jobs that prioritize my well-being, work-life balance, and have values that align with mine as a land steward.

The success of this year’s season leads back to Eliza Baker-Wacks, our Fruit and Vegetable Production Manager.  This is her third season at WNC, where she started as an apprentice. She has been a rock star leader and educator, and not a day goes by where her staff is not enjoying themselves and smiling – Eliza makes the hard work of raising produce fun and meaningful,  and inspires others to care about the future of food and farming.  

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