Farm Internships and Finding Land

Research at Penn State University on Farm Internships and Finding Land

Penn State News published a story in late December 2013 about research on on-farm internships and land-link programs, two important tools for beginning farmers. The story featured two graduate students in the rural sociology program who did research on these topics. Read an excerpt from the story below. Click on the link above to read the full story. Also, coincidentally, we updated our jobs and internships page and our finding farmland page (which includes information about land-link programs) in mid-December. Check them out! Excerpt: On-farm internships and land-link programs are two important models for increasing the number of farmers in the sustainable-agriculture movement, according to researchers in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences. The majority of newcomers to sustainable agriculture do not enter farming through a family enterprise -- the traditional succession process of learning skills and inheriting property is not common among these first-generation farmers. … For these aspiring farmers, learning to farm often comes through a relationship with an experienced farmer, and gaining access to land occurs through an agreement between land seeker and landowner. … Wood focused on the role farm internships play for curious or aspiring farmers to gain hands-on farming skills. She found that the emphasis these internships place on labor imparts practical skills to interns. However, the model leaves gaps in knowledge provided to participants if work is not supplemented with instruction from a farm mentor. …

Although most farm interns were given alternate remuneration for their labor, they were more motivated by skills learned and the value of their work, noted Wood. Many of them wished that their employers had spent more time training them in areas of management or farm planning in addition to labor. …

Organizations and individuals that offer their land to farmland seekers through land-link programs see it put to good use and support the growing of food on the local level.

Nevertheless, according to Pillen’s research, these landowners mainly look for credibility among potential lessees when deciding to lease their land. 

“Owners may look for prior farm management experience before they trust land seekers to lease their land,” said Pillen. “In my research, I found that over a third of the seekers did not have experience in farm management.”

Land-link programs — often motivated by supporting beginning farmers and local agriculture — manage databases of farmland to help beginning farmers locate properties to cultivate. However, it is less common that they support farmers and landowners in establishing clear expectations of the partnership in a lease agreement, Pillen pointed out. …

The need for new farmers is evident, the researchers agreed. But there is also a need for farmers and landowners who are prepared to teach aspiring farmers proper farm management and to provide them access to land.

“Without addressing the challenges present in internships and land-link programs within current sustainable agriculture systems, the future sustainability of these efforts to support beginning farmers will remain in question,” Wood said.

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