Farmer Training Program in Alaska

Calypso Farm and Ecology Center (Alaska)  Farmer Training Program 2015

ACCEPTING APPLICATIONS NOW! (4 spaces currently available) Open until filled – if you’re interested, apply now! Spaces are limited. Students are selected based on their level of interest in the program and potential for future application of what they’ve learned. We also strive to select a diverse group of participants. To be considered in our first round of applicants—apply by September 15th! To be part of our second round of applicants (if space allows) - apply by December 1st. Dates: May 4th – October 5th, 2015

Tuition: $3,000 for the season ($600/month).
Tools and Supplies: A materials fee of $250 will be required to cover your personal tools, project materials and educational supplies (including a “Reader” with a large selection of articles and book excerpts), which you can take with you when you leave. This fee will also support your access to specialized tools and supplies (carving tools, spinning wheel, art supplies, etc.) throughout the program.
Housing: Program participants are provided with very rustic sleeping accommodations and a shared kitchen. A $100 cleaning deposit will be required and returned at the end of the season after personal and communal spaces are vacated and clean. Food Provided: Basic food supplies AND vegetables during the production season (early June – September) are provided throughout the program.
College Credit: This is a 6 credit course through the University of Alaska, Fairbanks—Summer Sessions. Please contact us for more details if you are interested in enrolling for credit.
About the Program
Calypso’s Farmer Training Program Calypso’s Farmer Training Program is an intensive experiential education program focused on providing the skills, inspiration and experience necessary for participants to embark on starting their own small farm with confidence. A small group (5-6 people) of aspiring farmers participate in the program each year — allowing for a high level of personalized attention.
Participants learn how to become self-reliant farmers by being immersed in the farm operations—from caring for greenhouse transplants, prepping the field for planting, planting, seeding, harvesting, caring for farm animals, operating a CSA, running a farm stand, selling to local restaurants, working in natural alignment to prevent injury and more. Additionally, participants are introduced to a variety of topics related to becoming a self-sufficient farmer, including: mechanics, construction, graphic design, carving, wool processing, hand and machine sewing, and whole-farm planning. We are proud to include creative arts in our Farmer Training Program and believe that exploring creativity can be a key to growing confident and resilient farmers!
Calypso’s unique setting also provides exposure to and experience with farm-based environmental education, organizing and running community events and a wide range of practical homesteading skills (building, cooking, baking in a wood-fired oven, fiber arts, metal-smithing, woodworking, wild crafting, food preservation and more!). Additionally, participants learn, first-hand about the operation of a non-profit, educational farm.
This training program immerses you in farming and self-sufficiency, therefore the majority of the training is experiential and field and farm based, however the program also includes, topical workshops, a creative farm business planning project, discussion groups, visits to other farms and involvement in farm-based youth education.
The program is tailored to each participant’s needs by allowing the opportunity to take on increasing responsibility in core areas and in areas of special interest.
Educational Methods
Farming Immersion
The majority of the farm production training is experiential and field and farm based. Participants are part of the team that is running the farm for the season. Regular hands-on, field-based trainings will support skill and confidence building. Participants will also take on increasing responsibility in specific areas throughout the season.
Throughout the program, participants will be exposed to a wide range of topics, including: soil science, wool basics, blacksmithing, wood working, graphic design, animal husbandry, mechanics, environmental education, natural dyeing and more. These “intros” will give participants the basic info needed to pursue these areas further.
Intensive Workshop Series
Throughout the program, participants will delve deeper into the subjects covered in the intros. Examples of intensive workshops include (but are not limited to): “raw wool to finished product” projects, blacksmithing, production of value added products and food preservation.
Whole Farm Planning
In order to cover the broad topic of successful farm business planning, participants will meet weekly (20 lessons!) for farm planning and will work step by step to create a whole farm plan. For some, this plan will be directly relevant to their next step as beginning farmers, for others it will be a creative exercise enabling them to create a solid whole farm plan for a future farm. Farm planning sessions are interactive and fun and take place weekly. Over the season, participants build a comprehensive plan starting with personal goal setting, land selection and mapping, marketing, crop planning and rotation, complete budgeting, creating a logo and brand, risk assessment and more!
Group Discussions
Twice a month, participants will work in pairs to lead group discussions on farm and food topics (topics may include: understanding the Farm Bill, food justice, anti-GMO initiatives, creative farm tools, animal husbandry… the skies the limit!). Some group discussions may center around watching a film together. Calypso has a small library of food and farm related films which participants can show with the group.
Craft Skills
Twice a month (at a minimum), evening project sessions will be held – covering an array of hand craft topics including carving, felting, weaving, block printing, book making and more!
Required Reading
Each participant is provided with a “Reader” – a collection of writings from many different authors— to better prepare them for both what’s going on in the field and in workshops. There is a weekly reading assignment and there will be a chance to discuss the readings weekly.
Farm Visits
In order to expose participants to other styles and types of farming operations, we will visit 3-4 other farms in the area throughout the season. Most visits will include a farm tour and several hours of helping out with a project at the host farm. Favorite locations to visit include the local Musk Ox Farm, a beautiful biodynamic farm and a local carrot farm.
Concentration Options
In order to allow participants to create a more individualized experience, participants have the option to choose an area of concentration. Participants will only spend a few hours a week focused specifically on their concentration area, however it will provide a thread of continuity through the season. Keep in mind, as a participant in the Farmer Training Program, you will be involved in all aspects of the farm —choosing a specific area will merely allow you to spend a bit of extra time exploring that subject area.
1) Farm Production & Marketing—this is highly recommended for the person who is seriously interested in starting their own farm. Throughout the season, the person concentrating on farm production will consistently go to the farmers’ market, coordinate with local restaurants and assist with decisions regarding weekly field work.
2) Environmental Education— for those interested in working with youth and farm-based education, this is a great opportunity. Throughout this season, the person concentrating on environmental education will work more in -depth with Calypso’s environmental educators by participating in 1-2 field trips per week throughout the season and helping to train other participants in environmental education.
3) Building & Infrastructure—for those interested in gaining basic building and construction skills, this is a great opportunity. Farm building projects often include simple frame building construction, cement work, small project such as animal feeders and gates and more. The person concentrating on building will spend a minimum of one afternoon per week, throughout the season, working alongside experienced builders on an array of projects.
4) The Generalist – for those who would like to combine several concentration areas, try a little bit of everything or add something unique. We can work with you to create a more broad approach that is specifically tailored to your interests.
Farmer Training Program Instructors:
Susan Willsrud, Farm Director and co-founder of Calypso, has led the farm design and planning since Calypso’s beginning in 2000. She has an extensive science background, with a B.A. in Botany and Zoology and a M.S. in Plant Ecology. Creating a healthy farm ecosystem is her on-going goal. Susan also loves working with the wool provided by Calypso’s beautiful flock of Shetland sheep! Susan leads the Farmer Training Program and often works side-by side with participants throughout the growing season.
Tom Zimmer, Ecology Center Director and co-founder of Calypso, is responsible for the farm infrastructure (buildings, numerous projects, etc) and is responsible for the care of Calypso’s chickens, sheep, goats and other assorted animals. Tom is a skilled environmental educator and is instrumental in all of Calypso’s farm-based education. He is currently building a blacksmith shop and looks forward to integrating blacksmithing and wood-working into the Farmer Training Program. Tom also has a MS in Soil Science and makes sure we are taking good care of our soils! Tom will give regular workshops throughout the season.
Christie Shell, Assistant Director, has been involved with Calypso since 2001. Christie is a skilled farmer and has been involved in all aspects of the organization from educational programming to strategic planning and managing Calypso’s CSA. Christie loves the fast-paced growing season and is excellent at keeping farm production on track and fun! Christie leads farm production and often works side-by-side with participants through the growing season.
Kay Hackney, Yoga and Balance Instructor, has taught yoga since 1997 and is also currently a certified balance instructor. As part of the Farmer Training Program, Kay teaches a six-week Balance course at the farm. Kay is a gifted teacher and has had an incredible impact on the health and well-being of many beginning farmers—including all of us here on the farm!
John Manthei, Woodworking Instructor, is a carpenter, furniture maker and founder of the Folk School Fairbanks. We are so lucky to have John come out to the farm to teach basic carving and woodworking skills as part of the Farmer Training Program.
Mary Calmes and Tim Quintal, Birch Bark Harvesting and Weaving Instructors, join us in early June to share their knowledge of birch trees, bark harvesting and birch bark weaving.
Ruth Ziel, Food Preservation Instructor, is a retired ER nurse with 35 years of gardening and food preservation experience. Ruth and her husband have spent the summers of 2013 and 2014 in Fairbanks and are looking forward to summer number three in 2015. Ruth joins us in the field weekly and teaches food preservation in the fall.
And More…. Additional experts from the community will join us throughout the 2015 summer. Watch for instructor info for topics such as sewing, veterinary tips, mechanics and more!
Who are Calypso’s Training Program Participants?
Participants are individuals who are seriously focused on advancing their personal education in small-scale, ecological agriculture and are interested in doing so in a dynamic, creative and community-based setting. Beyond that shared interest, participants are of a range of ages and have a variety of life experience. Some are focused on getting their own farm off the ground as soon as possible, others are exploring the farming lifestyle, still others are drawn to farm-based environmental education and would like to build their farming skills while also being involved in environmental education, others come to the program for yet different reasons. We welcome all applicants openly! The dynamic nature of Calypso Farm requires that participants be very self-motivated, flexible, and able to work and live well with others. A good sense of humor is also always helpful!
What to expect
Week days begin at 8:30 (8:00 on harvest days) and end at 5:30. You can also expect evening activities at least 1-2 times per week. Each morning starts with a glance at our farm chalk board of the day’s activities. In general, mornings are spent in the fields and afternoons are focused on training topics and farm projects. Group lunches are enjoyed daily at 12:30. Weekends are usually schedule-free, however throughout the season, there are a number of events and activities that you will be involved in and the weekends are also a great time to work on personal projects (fiber arts, wood-working, sewing, reading, farm planning etc.). In addition to the standard challenges of communal living, adjusting to the dynamic, seasonal pace of the farm stands alone as the most challenging factor for most participants.
Alaskan summers are full of light, energy, and fun, but can also be overwhelming at times. You will arrive right at the fast-paced beginning of the growing season. As the fields thaw and drain in the spring (early May), we make a big push to get the beds prepped and plants moved out to the field. This is also when you’ll get familiarized with carving tools and simple woodworking. The early season is usually the most physically demanding time of the season. We do the vast majority of the field work by hand. During May and early June, we often return to the fields in the evening for planting. Our terraced, hillside farm setting provides amazing views of the Alaska Range but also requires substantial hill walking.
Once the fields are planted and first harvesting begins, the morning field work settles into more of a regular rhythm of harvest, cultivation, and field maintenance. Throughout this season, you’ll have the opportunity to take on increasing responsibilities and explore all that the farm and the Farmer Training Program has to offer. Although we strive to have several more relaxed days of the week (weekends), there is always some level of activity on the farm and there will be many weekend activities that you want to be a part of, so plan to truly immerse yourself for this 5 month period!
Living on the Farm
Housing – On-farm housing is rustic. Participants will each have either a large, bug-free tent on a raised wooden platform, an 8’ x 10’ , un-insulated, seasonal cabin for sleeping or a very small shared cabin. A communal kitchen space is available for meals. The farm does not have running water. Clean drinking water is available at all times and a wood-fired sauna is available for bathing. Outhouse facilities are available on-site.
Food – Calypso provides all of the basic food staples needed for a healthy diet (grains, rice, beans, nuts, dried fruit, oils, spices, etc) in addition to vegetables grown on the farm. We do not provide meat—except occasionally at shared meals and events. Monday through Friday,
we eat lunch together – rotating cooking chores with those interested in cooking for the group. Rest assured – you will eat well!
Transportation – Although a vehicle is not required, the farm is located 10 miles from Fairbanks and public transportation is not available in our area. Bringing some mode of transportation, car, bike, scooter, etc. is highly recommended—particularly if you are someone who wants to shop at the grocery store, visit town for any reason or get away for weekend excursions. There are not any vehicles available for lending on the farm. If you are interested in driving to get here – we are happy to offer advice and direct you towards maps and resources.
Come prepared! – Although summers on the farm are often quite warm and sunny, you can also expect some cold and wet weather and even some snow at the beginning and end of the program. Come prepared with a very warm
sleeping bag and other comfortable bedding, layers of warm clothing, rain gear, rain boots and warm and dry outer layers. We will provide you with a detailed “What to Bring” list!
We hope you’ll be interested in immersing yourself in an Alaskan farming season as a stepping stone to launching your own farm! We’re excited to hear from you!
To Apply:
Please email or mail the information listed below to or by US Mail to: Calypso Farm and Ecology Center, PO Box 106, Ester, AK 99725. Please put the “Application – Farmer Training Program” in the subject heading or on the envelope. We will fill the spaces available on a rolling basis, so apply early! To be considered in our first round of applicants—apply by September 15th! To be part of our second round of applicants (if space allows) – apply by December 1st. If space is still available, we will continue taking applications into April.
Include the following in your application:
1) A current resume (does not need to be formal)
2) Three strong references – with current contact info for each (email and phone) – note: your references should be people who know you well and will have an idea about how the program will work for you—they do not need to be work references
3) Answers to the following questions (these are important!…):
Why are you interested in participating in the Farmer Training Program at Calypso?
Describe any relevant experience that will aid you as a program participant.
If you were a vegetable, what would you be and why?
Describe the role that farming plays in your future plans.
Describe any experience that you’ve had with non-traditional forms of education.
What do you hope to gain from spending a season at Calypso?
Is there a concentration area are you are interested in and why? (Farm Production, Environmental Education, Building or Generalist) If you are having a hard time choosing, list your top two AND you are not locked in—you can alter your focus as the program starts.
How did you hear about the Program?
We welcome and encourage questions about the program! To learn more, please contact Susan or Christie at (907) 451-0691. We encourage phone calls and are happy to receive email questions as well. Send email inquiries to with “Farmer Training Program Questions” in the subject heading.
For more information— take a look at our Farmer Training Program blog— and please see the attached list of “Frequently Asked Questions”
Frequently Asked Questions about Calypso’s Farmer Training Program
How is this training program different from a “typical farm internship”?
Calypso’s Farmer Training Program is completely different from a farm internship (we offered an internship at Calypso farm for 11 years—so we speak from experience!). A key difference is in the type and quality of scheduled, focused training that you receive throughout the season. You will have the benefit of being fully integrated into the farm and farm-life and will spend mornings working in the fields, however the majority of your time will be focused on hand-on education to support your future in farming. Your educational experience is backed by a carefully designed curriculum complete with skills training in: ecological growing, farm business planning, metal, wool and wood-working, self sufficiency and more. The overall experience is completely different from just spending a season working on a farm because a majority of the time is carved out specifically for personal educational experience rather than just farm work.
Do you offer any scholarships or financial aid? Currently, we are not able to offer any scholarships or financial aid for the program. However, we are able to offer payment plans and we can work those out with you to meet your needs. Please note, thanks to the support of donors, our current tuition levels are lower than the actual program cost—so the program is already being offered at a reduced rate.
Will I have time to travel around Alaska during the program? Plan any travel around the state for before or after the program. We have many topics scheduled for the entire season, so there isn’t time for extended trips. However, there are many beautiful places nearby and we encourage weekend excursions!
Should I be worried about bears or other wildlife? We rarely see bears on the farm. We are not located in an area with high bear density. However, we do encounter other large wildlife on the farm (mostly moose) and will make sure that you are oriented on what to do when you encounter any wildlife while you are here.
What about the mosquitoes? The farm is located up on a hillside and is “high and dry” which usually means that we are relatively mosquito free. However, we do have periods of time (evenings in June…) or some years (2013) with high mosquito density. We have head nets and natural mosquito repellent available for use. Also—the shared kitchen is mosquito-free and sleeping areas are equipped with mosquito nets. Even on a bad mosquito year, by mid summer they should be gone!
How will I know what to bring? Upon acceptance in the program, we will provide you with a detailed list on what to bring, including suggestions on where to find items.
What type of people participate in the program? All types of people (different ages, life experience and future plans), participate in the program — that’s just one of the elements that makes it so much fun! People choose to do the program for all kinds of reasons and have just as many different ways that they plan on applying what they’ve learned. Check out the profiles of our 2013 Farmer Training Program participants on our website— or our new Farmer Training Program blog:
What if I’m not sure which concentration area to choose? That’s OK! Let us know your top two areas of interest and then during the season if you’d like to switch your concentration area you certainly can!
How can I get a better idea of what it’s like to participate in this program? Sonya Montenegro has recently started a blog about Calypso’s Farmer Training Program! Take a look at the blog to get a better idea of the types of things that go on.
Another option is to talk directly to someone who has participated in the program. Many of the past program participants have offered to talk with prospective participants. We want you to have as much info as possible so that you can decide whether this program is right for you. Please let us know if you’d like to talk to a past participant and we can get you contact information!
THANK YOU for considering participating in Calypso’s Farmer Training Program! We hope you’ll want to spend a dynamic farming season with us. Please contact us with any other questions. We’d love to hear from you!

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