Farmer Training Program students gain most of their hands-on experience at the Catamount Educational Farm. They also farm alongside experienced farmers at the Intervale Community Farm, Adam’s Berry Farm and Bread and Butter Farm. On top of all the experiential learning, students also have lectures that deepen their production, marketing, and business planning knowledge.
Just like on a working farm, a week in the life of a student can be varied and diverse. As a student at the Farmer Training Program a typical week could look like this:
To start off the week you have a crop class in the field to learn about the individual growing considerations and harvesting techniques of various crops. Then you meet your fellow students and program staff to do a field walk where you will assess the needs of the farm for that week. Students observe crop health, weed pressure, harvest needs, etc. to help create a list of tasks and priorities that need to be done. This weekly activity of the farm walk helps you hone your skills at “thinking like a farmer” and helps you develop a critical eye for what the pressing needs are on a farm.
After the farm walk, the group has a meeting detailing the logistics and learning goals of the upcoming week. Then students will work on the priority farm tasks in the fields until lunch. After lunch a fellow student will lead us in an “inspire”, a weekly tradition where one student facilitates an activity meant to foster a sense of community and fun on the farm. The rest of the day you will continue to work on the priority farm tasks with your fellow students and staff.
All day Tuesday, you are on-site at Catamount Farm experiencing hands-on learning alongside the whole group, while completing tasks designated as priorities in the field that week. It is a harvest day, half of the students will work on harvesting, washing and packing produce that will be sold by in the afternoon at the farm stand and delivered to CSA members. In the afternoon some students will setup and person the farm stand and CSA pickup spots on campus. The other students will work in the field weeding, doing tractor work and tending to farm chores.
You have class together, or are on field trip. One classroom day might look like this: In the morning a UVM professor comes to teach a class on soil fertility management and you will have a plant pathology field walk with an agricultural extension agent. In the afternoon, a business-savvy farmer comes to discuss the importance of business planning. Other Wednesdays will involve a field trip to one or two farms in the area where you will learn their farming practices. Every Wednesday you will an hour to work in your personal garden plot.
The cohort divides into five rotation groups. Two groups remain at Catamount Farm and three groups go off site to learn alongside one of our rotation farmers. Whatever site you are at, you finish your day there knowing your fellow students have been busy at the other rotation sites harvesting, planting, weeding, and marketing.
You meet the other students at Catamount Farm for a check-in about the previous day on rotation. Every other week is an assessment on competency/understanding of those two weeks’ skills and objectives. The remainder of the day students will develop their field work skills – operating tractors, seeding in the greenhouse, or hoeing in the squash field.