2016 Farm Apprenticeship in Oregon

Mahonia Gardens 5-month 2016 Farm Apprenticeship in Sisters, Oregon


Compensation: $400/month stipend, food and rustic accommodation (see info for details)

Term: May through September 2016

Hours: 25 hours/week

Application deadline: March 1

Thank you for your interest in apprenticing at Mahonia Gardens. Please take the following agreement into consideration. If you would like to apply, please provide a resume and a written description of your interest and experience in farming and why you want to apprentice with us.

About Mahonia Gardens

Mahonia Gardens is an intensive market garden in Sisters, Oregon, dedicated to growing quality produce.  The project began in the spring of 2013 and it has been growing slowly since. They lease a ¾ acre plot on a friend’s property and live in town, only about ½ mile away.

At Mahonia Gardens, they primarily cultivate in 4’-wide intensive, permanent beds resembling the French-Intensive or Bio-Intensive styles of Alan Chadwick or John Jeavons. Most labor on the farm is done by hand, using broadforks and digging forks to create and maintain beds. Though they occasionally use a small rototiller, they are gradually working toward a no-till system. While they are not certified organic, they use absolutely no harmful chemicals in their production—no pesticides, herbicides, or chemical fertilizers. To amend their sandy soil, they utilize the abundantly available horse manure from local ranches, and some steer manure. They also make compost and buy it when necessary, and employ some bagged organic amendments. They have education in Permaculture and consider the whole system design in all their decision-making. They are not purists of any particular method or style- they’re always learning, always trying new things, always questioning themselves and being open to the unknown.

2016 will be their fourth season as a market farm. Last year they sold at two farmers markets and provided 20 members with CSA shares. This year they plan to double the CSA program and open a farm stand at their house, which is in downtown Sisters. They grow around 40 vegetable crops—all the usual suspects for market and CSA. They also grow an abundance of herbs, perennials and flowers for pollinator habitat and medicine. They have two beehives and intend to grow their bee operation.

Some of their other visions include expanding our compost production, growing more seed crops, growing mushrooms, and producing more value-added products.

About Sisters

Sisters is a small town, serving a community of about 5,000 people. It is situated at the eastern base of the Cascade Mountains, 20 miles from Bend (pop. ~90,000), 30 miles from Smith Rock, and 3 hours from Portland. The Sisters community is rich with music and art, with a budding food culture. Central Oregon is a paradise for the outdoors person. Mountain biking and hiking, climbing, lakes and rivers abound, all within a short distance from Sisters.

Tourism drives the local economy, and summertime gets really busy for everyone. If you are interested in part-time work outside of the farm, there is plenty of seasonal hiring for summer at restaurants, etc.

The climate in Central Oregon is unique and challenging. This is not the lush Oregon that so many people expect—but a high-desert climate. It is DRY. The frost-free period is extremely short, and nighttime temperatures can dip into the 30’s at any time during the summer, while the daytime temps can get into the 100’s. They utilize a great deal of frost-protection cloth from April through June, and again usually in September. Tomatoes, peppers, eggplants and other long-season tender crops are grown exclusively in their hoophouse.

About the Farmers

About the Farmers

Carys and Benji, now each 28 years old, met in college in Southern Oregon. Having already established a love for organic gardening and permaculture, they bonded quickly and began gardening together and working on various farms. After completing apprenticeships in 2012 in Sonoma County, California, the two decided to move back to Benji’s hometown of Sisters to start Mahonia Gardens.

Aside from farming, the two love to hike, swim, practice yoga and enjoy live music in the evenings. Carys teaches yoga and is a skilled carpenter, and Benji works as a semi-professional musician throughout the year.

Apprentice Responsibilities

Your apprenticing period will begin May 2nd and end September 30th 2016. During these months, you will be asked to do a variety of tasks that may include greenhouse, field work, nursery work, farmer’s market and CSA help etc. Based on your interests there are many areas where you can have more responsibility. Expect the work to be physically and mentally demanding and the conditions to vary. They work in a very hot and dry environment with temperatures up to 105 and generally in direct sun. They work with headaches, colds, and body aches. While you will not be pushed beyond your physical ability, they hope that you enter this experience in good overall health and understand the physical trials of farming. The first two weeks will be considered a trial period and any specific needs or disabilities should be disclosed at this time.

They are looking for someone who has the following qualities:

  • Mindfulness: of self, the people around you, the environment, your actions and reactions.
  • Practiced communication skills: confrontation is necessary in this close-contact working environment- they need to be able to talk openly about how they want things to be done, and they need you to tell them when something is not working for you.
  • Self-motivation and work ethic: they will expect you to be observant, notice what needs to be done and do it without being told.
  • Flexibility: plans change, based on weather, opportunities, or mishaps, and you all just gotta roll with it.

Some of your learning opportunities/responsibilities may include:

  • Propagation: seeding/planting/transplanting/cuttings
  • Weed management
  • Harvesting
  • Farm maintenance
  • Cultivation
  • Irrigation
  • Marketing: either our CSA program, our farmer’s market, or our restaurants sales
  • Care of chickens
  • Seed saving
  • Processing value added product: herbal tea blends, sauerkraut and other pickling, canned or dried tomatoes, etc.

As an apprentice, you will be asked to work 25 hours per week, from May through September. You will be asked to participate 5 days a week, for approximately 5 hours per day. Changes may occur depending on weather, harvest urgency, etc. During the week you will begin at 7 am and finish around 12 pm. Arrive 10 minutes late = work 10 minutes later. During the heat of the summer you will appreciate the cool morning hours and early finish. Also, this schedule gives you the ability to find more work if that is needed. There may be additional opportunities for extra paid work with Mahonia Gardens, such as working farmer’s market when Benji and Carys can’t. (Important note: they are planning one or two weeks of vacation this summer and need you to commit to taking extra responsibility for the farm- this does not necessarily mean extra hours.)

This season you will be the only apprentice working at Mahonia. Most often you all will be working on tasks together, but sometimes you will be working alone. For Friday harvests they generally have volunteers come help in exchange for food.

Every Monday morning you all will meet together and review the activities of the previous week. This is a time when you will do a walk about the farm; lay out the work schedule/goals for the upcoming week. Your input will be a big part of this conversation. Tuesday’s, starting in May, they harvest for CSA. Friday’s, starting in June, they harvest for farmer’s markets. Brief snack and water breaks are encouraged, but given the short workday you won’t take a lunch break. Evenings and weekends are yours.

Working on the farm is all about balancing skills; the balancing of speed vs. quality control; the balance of each of our standards for how things should look and get done; the balance of health and care for our bodies and minds.

During your time working with there you may take some personal time off, provided it does not conflict with the greater needs of the farm schedule. Two weeks of advance notice are required.

Farmer Responsibilities

In exchange for your help, they are committed to providing you with a dynamic, hands-on experience that will allow you to explore farming as a profession and lifestyle. Much of your learning will happen while you all work on tasks together and they explain to you how and why they do their tasks the way they do. They will be completely open with the behind-the-scenes of the farm. Any questions you have they will answer honestly and help you to understand what it really takes to start a small farm. Additional projects and training are always available based on your interests. As well, there is a growing community of farms and other farm interns in the area—they will actively help introduce you to them.

They hope that the work schedule they are providing is functional and flexible, leaving plenty of time for you to enjoy the summer. They work hard and play hard—they strive to make work enjoyable so that they can continue to love doing it and not burn themselves out.

Accommodation/Location/Amenities for the 2016 Farm Apprenticeship

You will be residing at their home property in downtown Sisters. The commute is only ½ mile to the farm—easy by bicycle. They have an old bike that you may use but you may want to bring a bike of your own.

— Housing arrangements —

They have a “homestead-in-process”! Benji’s dad, Jack occupies the main house on the property. They live in the renovated garage apartment.

They will provide you with a large tent. You will need your own bedding.

Electricity – yes, via extension cord

Kitchen – you will have an outdoor kitchen with sink and running water, hot plate, counter, shelving (if you have a good knife bring it!)

Shower – There is a shared outdoor shower that is built off of the house. Hot water!

Toilet – They have a composting toilet.

Laundry – They have a washer and dryer that are available to you.

Computer access – They have wifi that will reach your space and the public library is right around the corner.

Pay – you will receive a stipend of $400 per month; paid at the end of each month.

Food – any veggies you want from the farm- preferably seconds, depends what it is. As well, they will provide organic, raw bulk goods: beans, rice, chickpeas, oats, flour, olive oil, vinegar, salt, etc. They can provide a small amount of meat each week. During farmers market season they will share leftover bread from various bakeries and there are more opportunities to trade for cheese, meat, etc. Applying for food stamps is not a bad idea if you want coffee, chocolate, or other extra goodies.

Vices – They don’t have a problem with drinking or smoking as long as it does not interfere with your work ethic or work hours. They do not want you high at work and they do not smoke weed themselves so it’s not a part of their farm lifestyle. As marijuana is legal to grow in Oregon, they are considering growing a few plants but that is not part of their focus.

Guests – Guests are welcome but they must fit in with the farm work schedule. During off hours party lightly.

Gatherings – There are many times to gather in the summer: lots of live music and they make fires and dinner with friends often which you will be welcome to join.

Last Words

For Carys and Benji, farming is not about making money beyond their needs—it is about creating and maintaining a certain lifestyle. That lifestyle includes cooking and eating well, swimming every day in the heat of summer, yoga, art, personal practice, and quality time with friends and family. They work hard and play hard. They love the work involved at the farm and would trade it for nothing. They try hard not to be stereotypical workaholic farmers and make space during the farm season for their other interests.

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