Black Robin Farm and Orchard in Montana Seeks Volunteers

black robin farm

Black Robin Farm is a four acre Farm and Orchard right on the edge of Bozeman, along Sourdough Creek. We’re 8 minutes by bicycle to downtown, 7 minutes to the University, 5 minutes to the Bozeman Public Library, 4 minutes to two parks, 3 minutes to the Farmers Market, and just seconds (very literally, just across the street!) to miles of biking, hiking and cross-country ski trails.

WE ARE CURRENTLY looking for volunteers to join us to the entire 2018 season or for volunteers for one or more of the following five week sessions:  25 May to 31 June, 1 July to 6 August, 15 August to 21 September. We will, however, also occasionally consider shorter term help.

WE ARE also looking for someone who might take over primary responsibility (and most profit :-)) for our annuals, perennials, and orchard fruits.  We would like potential candidates to volunteer with us for a few sessions and then decide whether they might be interested in staying with us permanently, either living on-site and renting one of our studios or living off-site.

We are currently working mostly on outbuilding, cabin, and road construction and on landscaping. We may also be working on installing new permaculture elements, potential tiny house building, curriculum development, additional trees, lavender, hops, grapes and other edibles, possibly raising fish, surely weeding, planting cover crops, grains, and gardens, perhaps fine-tuning the root cellar, terracing berms, installing solar power (when we can afford it), designing a grey water system, landscaping pond and wetland, timber-framing and masonry, restoring a stream bank, mulching and composting. Oh, and we are always always weeding!

Black Robin Farm

Black Robin Farm is located on four acres just on the eastern edge of Bozeman, Montana. It is bordered by Sourdough Creek, and includes a pond, greenhouse, classroom and studios, farmhouse, cabin, campers for volunteers, outdoor eating and hang-out area, a newly-planted orchard, several garden plots, tiny house construction site, grape arbor, hugelkultur berms, and pasture/open space for our livestock. Black Robin is a couple minutes by bike from downtown Bozeman, the public library, Montana State University, the farmers market, a stop for the free bus line, and a few seconds away from miles of biking, hiking, and cross-country skiing trails. Bozeman, in turn, is a few hours away from Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks, dozens of hot springs, many Indian Reservations, and numerous National and State Forests and recreation areas.

Black Robin’s Mission

At Black Robin Farm we strive to use the land wisely, grow organic, work toward sustainability and self-sufficiency, eat healthy, experiment with efficient permaculture, agriculture, animal husbandry, and homesteading skills and then demonstrate those skills to kids, families and young adults.

We are

Black Robin Farm is made up of volunteers, interns, local volunteers, and farm partners. We generally have between two and five (though perhaps as many as ten) volunteers at the farm at any given time.

Work

At Black Robin Farm we generally work three nine-hour or four seven-hour days a week. In addition we work three hours per week on chores and individual farm projects. We work efficiently and intensely with only one break for lunch so that we can finish our work in this very short amount of time. Much of the work at Black Robin is physically demanding (digging, sawing, using a pick-ax), plenty is tedious (weeding, path making, hand digging and cultivation of gardens), and some requires skill-development and careful attention to detail (construction, milking goats, bottle-feeding lambs and goats).

A typical communal work day at Black Robin has us waking up quite early for chores and meal preparation, eating breakfast on our own, then meeting for an overview of the day’s plan. We might do a warm up stretching and motivation session then begin to work. We may weed gardens or pull seed heads from pasture weeds for an hour or more, then begin individual or small group projects such as hauling wood chips for paths, adding compost to gardens, sanding rough cut boards for construction, building a wall, pouring a concrete footing, mucking out livestock quarters, etcetera. In the middle of the work day we eat lunch together. After work (in the afternoon and evening and on our days off) we do our chores and farm projects.

This year we will be experimenting with three five-week sessions and two one-week volunteer vacations dividing up the sessions. We will be encouraging our volunteers to work a full session and then take a week-long vacation (partially funded by Black Robin) to a national park or other area of interest in Montana. We will also be encouraging our volunteers to work the entire three session season (25 May to 21 September or perhaps a bit later) and take two mini-vacations with the group.

Our season

Bozeman has approximately 90 frost-free days (from 15 June to 15 September). March through May we are starting seeds, preparing garden beds, organizing for the Bozeman Seed Exchange, helping goats and sheep to have babies, bottle feeding babies, and working on construction projects. In May and June we are planting our gardens, tending trees, getting our irrigation system fixed-up and running, still bottle feeding babies and working on construction and landscaping projects. In July and August we are tending gardens, taking care of animals, weeding, removing seed heads from weeds, planting cover crops and green manure crops, working on construction and landscaping projects. September through November we are harvesting, saving seeds, preserving vegetables for the winter, still weeding and removing seed heads, planting more perennials, preparing gardens for spring, and still working on construction and landscaping projects. October through May we can finally relax and are hoping to begin taking it easy.

What sort of volunteer does well at Black Robin Farm

Black Robin has had many great volunteers. Some have come to us with skills and experience with farming and construction and many have not. We are constantly trying to figure out who does well here and who does not. This is important to us because volunteers who are ill-suited to Black Robin may leave with a bad feeling about farming, about our farm, and about permaculture. Also, when volunteers leave before completing their agreed-upon stint this leaves Black Robin in a bad position and may hurt group morale. So, we want all our volunteers to be enriched and satisfied with their experience at Black Robin.

The following seem to be characteristics of volunteers who are happy with their Black Robin experience: they come to Black Robin prepared to really work (not only, for instance, to see Montana or get a free place to stay for a few months); they enjoy hard work; they know what farm and homesteading work entails; perhaps they have worked on a farm or at a very demanding job before; they are not afraid to get dirty, to sweat, to have their muscles ache after work; they are willing to ask their supervisor for special accommodations in case they are feeling overworked; they are generally positive people; they understand and accept that there might be a better, more efficient, quicker way to do chores and they strive to find that way; they are willing to try anything; they want to learn as much as possible; they realize a certain amount of drudgery and repetition may be required at a farm; they are willing to do monotonous tasks such as hauling wood-chips or weeding for (occasionally) several hours a day; they are flexible enough to accept when conditions are not as they expected them to be; they can deal with working very quickly and efficiently for eight hours, three days a week, and then to do their relaxing after chores and work.

What we don’t do

We try to make Black Robin a healthy place and a model for our visiting children and families. We do not allow smoking, alcohol, or drug use on the farm. Any parties end at dusk.  We also went to insure our safety by not having any fires, candles or incense in campers, and to never leave appliances – except the refrigerator – plugged in in our outdoor kitchen.

Progress so far

Black Robin Farm began in 2013. Since then we have built a greenhouse, chicken coop, livestock quarters, outdoor pavilion for volunteers, grape arbor, and pond, erected grain bins, set-up campers for volunteers, built a classroom and studio building, installed a septic system, renovated a cabin, constructed a farmhouse, planted an orchard, several gardens, raised beds, and herb gardens, planted 1500+ perennial edibles, restored 300 feet of stream bank, built-up several hugelkultur berms, raised many great goats, sheep, chickens, rabbits, and pigs, designed and constructed a masonry heater, eradicated numerous noxious weeds, taught groups of children about permaculture and homesteading, and started the Bozeman Seed Exchange.

Progress Still to come

Black Robin has many projects still in the works. We would like to erect one or more tiny houses, a straw-bale livestock house, improve our pavilion and outdoor eating area, plant more perennial crops such as grapes, lavender, and more fruits and berries, eradicate more weeds, build more paths, erect two or three more grain bins, build another greenhouse, construct a second masonry heater, finish construction of the bathroom/kitchen addition to the cabin, raise more animals, expand our permaculture and homesteading classes for kids and families, create an atmosphere conducive to hard work on the one hand and artistic endeavors on the other, and perhaps to establish an international component where we can bring our labor and skills to other countries.

What you should bring to Black Robin Farm

Though we have some of these items for you to use, it is best if you bring the following with you to the Farm: work gloves (one pair for every two weeks you will be here), sun hat, clothing appropriate for the season, work boots, a bicycle, medications, sunscreen, bedding, toiletries, enough clothes so that you only need to do laundry once or twice a month.

Challenges

There are many challenges to working on a farm in general, farming in Montana, and specifically volunteering at Black Robin Farm. You may have to work in cold, rainy, snowy, and muddy weather; you will have lots of hard work; you will share housing in small campers; there will be limited shower availability; there is no laundry facility; we have neighbors who are sometimes ornery; you will be supervised by a bit of a workaholic micro-manager 😉 ; you will face “best practices” established by previous volunteers so that you will be expected to do each task faster, smarter, safer, more responsibly, and more efficiently than you would expect; you will need to come to Black Robin ready to create a community with other volunteers and to plan activities for your days and evenings off; and there will likely be other challenges as well.

What you will learn

When you stay long enough at Black Robin Farm you will learn some or most of the following: a new meaning of “hard work”, construction skills, how to use power tools, how to measure and plan for a construction job, how to pour concrete, weeding and weed management, general labor skills, gardening, orchard care, beekeeping skills, basic homesteading, animal care, cheese making, goat milking, sausage making, animal slaughtering, landscaping basics, pond management, tree planting and care, minor veterinary, and other skills.

Food

Black Robin Farm will provide you with staple foods from which you will prepare meals for yourself and the group. We do not generally provide snack or junk foods but instead provide the healthy basics such as dried beans, oats, rice, meat – including meat from our farm animals, cheese, vegetables, bread, milk, yogurt, nuts, vegetables, and fruits. We eat lunch together each communal work day (3x per week). Breakfast is on your own and extremely basic (oats, eggs, bread, fruit) but lunch is more elaborate. We encourage each volunteer to cook a few lunches a week for the crew. Dinner is on your own, with staples and other basic ingredients we provide.

Pay/Stipend

Black Robin Farm does not pay its interns or volunteers. However, in order to help longer term volunteers to pay for their living expenses (laundry, snacks, other foods we don’t provide, toiletries, personal items, gas for driving or being driven to events, travel, admission fees into National Parks and hot springs, etcetera) we may (depending on funding) provide a very small stipend. Volunteers must complete a full five week session  before being eligible for the stipend. In addition, interns (full season volunteers) may be given a slightly larger stipend as they work more hours. Volunteers may elect to use their stipend instead to fund the mini-vacation.

First full session (150 hours): $50

Second full session: $50 + $25 bonus*

Third full session: $50 + $50 bonus

Additional work: (before 25 May, during mini-vacations, after 21 September, $50 + $50 bonus)

*Bonuses will be given to volunteer at the conclusion of their agreed-upon time commitment at Black Robin Farm.

A few notes:

1) Our outdoor showers are only warm if you fill the solar shower container in the morning and let it sit in the sun until the afternoon, (We do have an indoor shower as well but we try hard to use it sparingly, only for short showers and only once a week per Volunteer), 2) our accommodations are small campers which are almost always shared (2 to 3 volunteers per camper), or hammock spots, 3) we work hard and try to work efficiently – even if it’s only for 30 hours a week (it can be exhausting for those days we work! ((I am, ahem, a micromanager and task-master when it comes to farm and construction work. I also get a bit tunnel visioned during the work-day and concentrate primarily on how we can get as much quality work done as possible. Fair warning!) 4) we are constantly changing and (hopefully) improving our farm; sometimes things are messy, in transition, rough, etcetera!, 5) we are not experts and are learning right alongside our volunteers! 6) Winter, spring, and fall work can be cold and miserable sometimes and we can only afford to heat the campers or other accommodations when people are in them and using them (Plus, we are also trying to encourage permaculture practices such as sustainability and a near zero carbon footprint)… We do not heat campers in the summer, though nights can get cold. 7) If you volunteer with us in the winter you will definitely be cold at times and you will need lots of blankets and sleeping bags and winter clothing in order to keep somewhat warm, 8) We do not have laundry facilities or WIFI in the accommodations or on the farm, 9) We take commitments seriously so if you commit to come to the farm for a month, for instance, we really need you to stay the entire time (otherwise we will be short-handed and unable to find a replacement volunteer), 10) If you commit, start working, then have any issues with the work or the farm, we ask that you not quit early but instead bring those up to us right away so we can work with you on them. 11) If you understand these notes and still are interested in volunteering here, then great! If some of these notes worry you then that is fine also and Black Robin might be a better fit once we are past our growing pains and have more amenities! 12) Many of the educational opportunities at Black Robin are after-hours and do not count as work hours. So, to get the most out of your experience you should plan to spend many more than 30 hours per week engaged with Black Robin activities 🙂 Thanks!

TO APPLY FOR A VOLUNTEER POSITION AT BLACK ROBIN FARM: Please fill out the following Black Robin Questionnaire and send it on to us at brockalbin@gmail.com!

Black Robin Farm Volunteer Questionnaire:

Personal Information

Full Name

Date of Birth

Phone #

Permanent Mailing Address

Email address

Emergency Contact Information

Full Name

Relationship to Applicant

Phone #

Email address

 

1. Why are you interested in Black Robin and the work we will be doing this coming season?

2. What are you hoping to learn and do during your stay on our farm?

3. What dates are you applying for?

4. Do you have any transportation needs for arrival/departure?

5. Do you have any health issues or physical injuries (e.g. back or knee problems, a hernia), that will affect your ability to perform strenuous tasks?

6. Do you smoke?

7. We occasionally process chickens, goats, sheep, and rabbits on-farm. Are you comfortable with humane slaughter and meat consumption, even if you are not yourself a meat-eater?

8. Do you have any questions or additional needs that you would like to have answered or addressed during the application process?

9. What skills do you have?

10. What have you done at previous jobs?

11. What are your hobbies?

12. Have you ever lived communally before, somewhat ‘off the grid’, in a small camper, for an extended period?

13. What else would you like us to know about you?

14. Do you have any special dietary restrictions?

15. Have you read our entire profile?

16. Have you read all the references we have on our wwoofusa.org profile? (You should! They are all instructive, both the good ones and the bad…)

17. If an intern/volunteer leaves the farm before their agreed-upon time is up it can be traumatic for the farm and for you and for the morale of the team. After reading our profile and references, why do you think you will be able to stick it out for the dates you suggested above? If things are not as you hoped they would be are you willing to discuss the issue with us so that we may help solve the problem(s)?

18. Please provide at least one reference (but preferably three) who can vouch for the quality of your work and the strength of your character.

 

To post a farm job or internship on beginningfarmers.org go to: http://www.beginningfarmers.org/how-to-post-a-farm-job-or-internship/

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