Where Are They Now: First Three Organic Dairy Apprenticeship Program Graduates
The first three apprentices who graduated our Organic Dairy Grazing Apprenticeship Program in 2018 remain connected to their Wolfe’s Neck Center roots. Kelly O’Connell, Lauren Robertson, and Josh Harlan recently completed the two year, first-of-its-kind residential training program, offered in partnership with NH-based Stonyfield Organic and the WI-based Dairy Grazing Apprenticeship. This comes at a time when an aging farmer population and loss of small family farms is challenging the sector nationwide.
Last week, we held a celebratory graduation luncheon with these three, which also included our current apprentices, program mentors, and other partners. The graduates gave us a sense of what drew them to the program two years ago and where they are now:
“The dairy grazing apprenticeship has not only taught me how to work with and feed animals,” says Robertson, of Portland, Oregon, “but has also taught me about management, animal health, how to operate equipment, and how to work and make decisions with other farmers.”
Robertson came to Wolfe’s Neck Center after apprenticing at Aldermere Farm in Rockport, Maine and was drawn to the public nature of the program. It gave her the confidence to walk onto any farm and “just pick up where I left off at Wolfe’s Neck.”
As an apprentice, that’s exactly what she did. Since graduating the program in December, Lauren has been living in Leeds, ME where she is beginning her own small farm with a herd of Katahdin sheep, meat rabbits, and pigs. She milks at a local dairy farm both mornings and nights two days a week, as well as completes chores for the farm between milkings.
O’Connell was one of the first apprentices to join after the launch of the program in 2015. Her interest in cows grew while working on a small family farm near her hometown in upstate New York. After earning an undergraduate degree in Ag Business from SUNY Cobleskill, she applied to the program to pursue her interest in dairy farming.
The program gave her a better understanding of how proper grazing management can add nutrients back into the soil, a key educational component of the program. She states, “In addition to basic dairy herd care and management, the Apprenticeship offered many opportunities to learn about other facets within the agricultural and dairy industry. Days spent riding along with professionals within the industry reassured the fact that I wanted to work with farmers.” O’Connell now works as a Projects and Operations Assistant at Casella Organics in Herman, Maine, where she helps farmers improve their soil health while also managing and recycling resources.
Harlan came to Maine from Mexico, Missouri after college. He too completed an apprenticeship at Aldermere Farm and found Wolfe’s Neck Center as the next step in his farming experience.
“Two years ago, I started this journey looking to investigate the potential of organic agriculture and how the dairy industry fits into that realm of production,” says Harlan. “Now I am a full-time employee looking hard at how to begin the transition into a manager or owner. Wolfe’s Neck has been instrumental in furthering my real-world education in the industry.”
Harlan graduated the program in November 2018 and is now a herdsman at Roseberry Farm, an organic dairy in Richmond, Maine.
Two additional apprentices are set to graduate in early 2019. Wolfe’s Neck Center is scheduled to complete construction of a new organic dairy facility in May 2019, designed to be a model training center for current and future farmers to learn from and replicate (learn more in this blog post!)
“We’re so excited to see the apprenticeship program at Wolfe’s Neck Center enter the next phase, as apprentices begin to graduate and become professionals in the organic farming community here in New England,” said Britt Lundgren, Stonyfield’s director of organic and sustainable agriculture. “Stonyfield has a long term commitment to this region and we’re glad we can help to support the next generation of farmers here.”
For additional information about our Organic Dairy Apprenticeship Program, visit https://www.wolfesneck.org/learn/dairy-program/.
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