Category Archives: Consulting

Interns and shared learning

When I attended the Indiana Horticulture Congress recently a conversation and discussion came up that wasn’t on the intended schedule but it should have been. Internship, interns and the ups and downs of them.

This topic came up while discussing organic pest management and the study with biochar. The biochar discussion quickly turned over to interns and the benefits. This carried over into the organic pest management and came back up in a later discussion. The majority of small farms speaking indicated that they had previously steered clear of interns and internship believing that they would spend more time having to “babysit” the interns and their involvement with the school would micromanage their normal operations and be more geared to academic study vs growing. This perception was smashed when all the farms involved in the study met monthly and discussed lessons learned, tools, and how to optimize resources. All the farms stated that interns were a valuable asset to their operations. Surveys of both farmers and interns showed for the most part a positive perception change and positive educational experience on both parts as a result of the interns working with the farmers. Some interns have never been on a farm and didn’t know how their food got to the plate. The internships get more people excited and hands on into farming. It also give the farmers a way to pass on their knowledge, and assistance for regular farm chores or the extra set of hands to complete projects that otherwise have been put off for lack of time or manpower.

While we have not looked into the option of an intern we are not at a  production level that we could support that type of involvement. This is why we do have tours. It exposes people to some of the farm operation without a huge time commitment.

Speaking from experience, I somewhat interned at a friends farm who needed some extra help, and in turn I got an education. Interns typically are paid but not always. Sometimes it is a share of crops/products, sometimes it is a wage but lower than a farm had as the education is part of the payment. I personally had never been around a animal based farm production model. I spent about 3 years helping and sometimes working while the owners were otherwise engaged at Simpson Family Farm in Martinsville, IN run by Darby Simpson, and his Family. This experience was extremely valuable in the little things that were learned. What works, what doesn’t, little tricks that aren’t taught in school, but farmers take for granted. I asked a bunch of “dumb” questions that Darby took as just farm life and the way things are done. There isn’t a one size fits all model of what to duplicate. Each situation, each farm, each individual is different and systems that work on one farm for one reason or another may not work on your farm. The key is to learn, and experience what other people are doing and adapt it for your own situation. As an example, Darby is a full time farmer, and income is based on production, so many things going on at once, and volume. 500 meat birds in each cycle, and five cycles is a lot of birds. That is a lot of feed, lot of chicken tractors, having to have a processor lined up, way to transport birds to processing, being able to store the birds after processing, timing of when to get chicks, when to start the next batch. It has taken him years to get a system that works for him. Would this system work for the newbie? Maybe, but his land has been developed over years, his land can support that number of chickens, he has the bugs in the pasture, he has the forage growing.  He has a large flat level area of pasture and cows rotated with the birds, water is already set up, tractors are already build, tractor designs have gone through several rounds. LOTS of stuff I learned by working beside him. Darby, also has a consulting site where if you feel you are ready to go the commercial route he can help advise at DarbySimpson.com. Spending time with him made me realize we needed to work our land for three to five years before we were even to start looking at commercial meat production as an option. I learned a lot from Darby, some things I really liked, some things I liked but modify for our own situation, some things I would stay away from as they were just not right for our operation. The things that we determined were not right, we would have tried on our own farm if we had not experienced them first on theirs. Not that they were bad, but just didn’t fit into our operations. An example would be all his farm operations are geared around single adult operator, say moving chicken tractors. While Brandie can and did move them successfully, Wee One could not, but his system wasn’t designed to have a 5 year old move them nor perform the operations, it was designed with an average adult with enough strength to do the jobs at hand (lifting 5 gallon buckets of grain and water). This is also where I learned a HUGE and valuable lesson, scaling up is NOT just adding more of X, being animals or plants. There usually is a tipping point where the current size system will no longer support more X. You have to have a new system to get bigger. And the same goes true for scaling down, what works on his level of operation, may NOT work for a homesteading model.

Brambleberry Farm down in Paoli had an opportunity for interns and their situation was 16 hrs/week work in exchange for free housing, and access to sections of land to do with as you wanted. Read all about it at the link. It was a separate living space, and the land use had to be approved with their overall farm policy. In past years the interns grew market vegetables and sold at the farm stand and farmers market booth, some grew their own food and had an outside job for income. I have toured Brambleberry several times and incorporated portions of things I learned there into our own operations. It was a tremendous learning experience. Completely different from my experience with Darby who is a meat based operation, Brambleberry was more a plant based operation with animals adding inputs to the farm. Animals were there as meat/protein but not the focus. A more let the land show you what to farm/grow vs change the land to what you are growing. Changing the land isn’t necessarily a bad operation, as an example Darby took a historically GMO traditional crop field and turned it into a lush organic pasture feeding cows, ducks, chickens and turkeys. It’s working with nature, BUT needed man to change it in the right direction for the intended purpose.

Joel Salatin of Polyface Farms one of my mentors and a farming icon has a completely different model of “Fiefdoms” on his farms. He also has internships and apprenticeships, as well as books, tours, videos, documentaries, presentations, speeches, and interviews While not directly intern related, it does allow someone with a specialized knowledge get further into farming without some of the issues on starting from scratch. And I am not even going to summarize, but you can watch a presentation he gave about it.

 

From speaking with other farmers I have heard positive and negative on both sides of internships. There are bad farm managers who don’t know how to manage interns appropriately, and interns who don’t want to work or won’t follow directions and are disastrous for the farmer. My best advise whichever side of the equation you are on is to talk with people who have had real experience with interning, and if possible people who have directly interned in the situation you are looking to get into. If you are a farm, go to markets and talk to other farmers who have had interns before. Go to conferences where other farmers can share their experiences. Learn how to weed out bad interns. One lesson I heard about at the Horticulture Congress, was application, letter about why farming important to them, references, and a 1 day trial period before committing by either side. A try before you buy. Could they do one day labor, could they follow direction, could they put their phones down long enough to work, are you ready to manage an intern, how bad does it mess with daily operations.  Same holds true for interning on a farm. I know of a intern program where the interns have to pay for their internship, and are encouraged to “beg” from friends and family, even GoFundMe pages to get more money pumped into the educational opportunity. They are worked hard for having to pay for education. Just not something I can support. I know of another “internship” where interns are treated like slave labor because they are required a set number of credit hours of working to offset  a regular school education.  Hours are stretched and approval signature is dangled like a carrot. No signature and either tuition is due or kicked out of program.  How do you find interns and intern opportunities. There are programs like Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms, USA (WWOOF-USA) and Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms. I do not have any experience with either one so cannot speak to them. I think we need a better local database/website of connecting local farms, interns, and opportunities. Purdue said they were working on something. But, best way to find opportunities is get out there and start talking to people, farmers, and get connected into your local farming communities.

I highly encourage you to tour as many farms as you can. Do not try to duplicate 100% of what you see and expect identical results Sometimes variables (soil, light, temperature, wind, lifestyle etc.) are not the same on your farm and you may not get the same result. But do experiment, and never stop experimenting, even after you are successful. Do not risk your whole operation on an experiment, but the only way to improve is to continue to evolve. If you are running 200 meat birds at a time, and want to try a 100% pasture/forage type bird try 20 or 40 alongside your regular 200. If it doesn’t work, try to figure out why, and improve. Rather than risk your whole operation failing, you learn one way that did’t exactly work for your operation.

Tours on our farm should begin this spring. If you want an individual/family tour please use the Contact Us page and we will try and work something out.

Aquatic Design Open House

Here is a great chance to meet new like minded people, ask questions, get some deals, get great ideas, and generally have a fun time. I will be presenting a class, have Q&A, so ask about aquaponics, ask about permaculture. ask just about anything. it is FREE

Aquatic Design and Supply

August 8th 10:30 AM -7PM

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Presenting at the Harrison Center Food Con

We will be presenting at the Harrison Center Food Con on Friday July the 3rd in Indianapolis. We will have a table and be talking about Permaculture aka Sustainable Agriculture aka Food Forests.

Have Permaculture questions, want to lean more, stop on by, it is free to the public.

Food Con

Free Q&A

Projects and Opportunities

Throughout my travels and networking I learn of opportunities and various projects that some may find interesting or a right fit for their skills or situation. This will be an ever-changing page as new opportunities are found and existing ones are filled.

The page is here that list current and future opportunities

If you are interested use the Contact Us page.

Medicinal Herb Class Preview

I wanted people to get a feel for what to expect in the Medicinal Herb Class Preview, with handouts from the class. This is just one page, and is only the text. There are 56 other plants and bonus materials. We will be discussing in more details during the tour. What we have experienced, and touring through all what is growing while on site.  We will also have live plants for sale, fresh you pick cuttings, dried plants,  and more. Touch,  and smell some different preparations, ask questions, get answers. Disclaimer, we are not medical practitioners, and we are only conveying information we have learned, and have been using as a family.  Seek your own information before using any medicinal herbs.

Calendula– We will also have a chart in the handout of actual pictures of plants from out place.

RSVP – please use this link to RSVP so we know how many packets to put together. You can also prepay online.

Part 2 of Trees in the Midwest is live

Part two of the trees special with Nathan Hill is now live. We will definitely be having Nathan back on in the future to talk about more topics like grafting trees, root-stock, genetics, when is it time to cut the tree down,  and more.

Part 2 Trees in the Midwest

New way to save! Refer a friend

Due to the majority of people utilizing the first 30 min free consulting time and NOT providing ANY feedback, that offering for the free consulting has been eliminated. Instead we are now offering a way to save for you and your friends.

The initial first 30 min of consulting time is at ½ price rather than the free as it was previously.

Past and current clients – When you refer a friend who books time based on your referral both they and you get 1 hr at ½ price. $50 savings! You get an additional 1 hr at $25 and the friend gets their 1st hour for $25. This is good for future clients as well. Thinking about booking, do so and use the 30 min price break. Then refer someone who you think can benefit for what I have to offer.

What do you get in 1hr? A lot. Don’t take my word for it.

“We are just so overwhelmed with information. There is just so much to process. We never thought that much was possible with our property. You have definitely given us so much to think about.”

MJ – Indianapolis

That was after only 1 hr walking the property with the owners.

“I would have never thought that was possible on my property”

CW – Indiana

Property was almost 100% shaded with trees.

“We never thought we could have our property earning money FOR us living in a suburban neighborhood”

MW – Indianapolis

“We didn’t think of that we could do as much with our 0.2 acre lot, and it really didn’t cost us much out of pocket with the ideas you gave us”

NF – Greenwood.

The Anti-Chicken Tractor

Most people who raise chickens are familiar with the chicken tractor. If you are not it is a mobile coop that allows the chickens to get fresh grass and other greens, exposure to other parts of your property, while remaining safe from predators and remaining contained. We have a six foot privacy fence and pretty much let the birds roam free. That is until they destroyed our gardens. So we put up a small poultry netting fence around our gardens. That worked for a while until the birds started eating the grass in the yard. So we seeded with clover, alfalfa, and grasses. But noting ever came up. We seeded again. Same thing, nothing. It wasn’t until I noticed one day the chickens were eating both seeds and new sprouts. So I came up with the Anti-chicken tractor. At the time we didn’t have money for paddock shift fencing to allow one area to be seeded. I did have some leftover chicken wire, and some misc. boards. It is basically a box with chicken wire around it. This is version 2.0. Version 1.0 was just wire with no sides. The Chickens discovered they could land on the top and push it down far though to get to the good stuff. Boom! Now I can seed a small area and allow the plants to take root and establish before the ravenous hoard get to them. It is amusing that there is no foliage around the inner edge where they can get their heads and beaks into it. The anti-chicken tractor also serves as a mobile rabbit tractor. When the rabbits need to be out for one reason or another we can put them on the lawn and mow it down. We USED to be able to put them in the front yard until our neighbors started spraying and the drift went into our space as well.

another anti-chicken tractor
another anti-chicken tractor
Anti-chicken tractor
Anti-chicken tractor
2 weeks using anti-chicken tractor
2 weeks using anti-chicken tractor

Soft launch of new Podcast 2MidwestGuys

podcast

The podcast is finally here. I have been giving hints and updates well it is finally live. We are having a soft launch of the 1st introduction podcast. We are still waiting on logo and intro/exit music but we wanted to get something out there. It will be refined as we go along and we hope to have 2-3 podcasts a week on various topics. There will be some humorous segments such as Rick’s Rules where I explain the lengthy amount of rules my wife has set in place for me and why. There is always a reason for a rule. We would really like feedback for anyone listening as to what you want to hear, the good the bad and the ugly. The website is www.2midwestguys.com and you can download or listen to the 1st episode there. It is about 40 min long. We are going to try and keep them about that length. It is waiting on I-Tunes to approve for publication, but you can download from the site now. The site is a little empty at the moment, but we are working to get it filled up.

You can listen directly at the site, right click on the “Download” link and save to your computer, mp3 player, or other podcast device, and once I-Tunes is up there will be another option.

We are looking for advertisers for not only the website but also the podcast. We want to feature locally own businesses we know or have worked with. Both of us have been in the area for a while and there are so many to choose from. Lots of different options to choose from, 15 sec to 2 min spots are available and at the beginning and the end of the show. We also want to have feature interviews with our businesses as well. So look forward to great things to come. People ask “Do you know where to get….” or, “Who do you know that does….” We want to be able to fill in the gaps for people.

Take a listen and come take a ride with us. It may be bumpy at first as neither one of us have ever done a podcast before, but both have the “gift of gab” as our spouses tell us.