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Three Farms in Three Days: The Hunt For My 2012 Internship

2012 February 27
by Aurora

Continuing to be inspired by one young would-be farmer, who treated her search for a farm internship like grad school applications, I set out in December to find myself a good position for 2012. The basic process I followed was:

    1. Research
    2. Make a short-list
    3. Contact farms on the list
    4. Visit farms
    5. End up with multiple choices and pick the best
one

blue skies

I’d like to write about my process for finding the internship in this post. A following post will describe my new internship.

1. Research

A while ago I found a website that listed farms/ranches that offered apprenticeships on a state-by-state basis, even down to regions within each state. The listings all seemed to be a year or more old, but it was a good place to start.

How to pick? Well, I’m still thinking I want to do animals more than crops, so I looked for farms that listed dairy, raising hogs etc. I tried to find non-cow dairies, so I could get a more diverse understanding of the dairy industry, and of more animals (goats or sheep!). I was also interested in cattle ranches, so those went on the list.

I ended up with a list of 20 farms, all over WA and OR state. I looked in Idaho too but didn’t find any that fit my criteria (and found surprisingly few at all).

2. Make a short-list

Now that I had the list of 20 farms and ranches, I attempted to rank them. I had created a spreadsheet that listed Name, Website, Interest (e.g. beef, sheep dairy, etc.), Room & Board?, Stipend?, Timeframe, Notes, and Address / Contact information. I went through the Interest section and brought the dairy up to the top, and a couple of beef ranches. I went back to each website and tried to get a better feel for each farm.

3. Contact farms on the list

At this point I was ready to contact the farms at the top of my list. Eek! That meant I had to write a cover letter, or what I’ve called my letter of interest. This was basically a cover letter like for any other job: who I was, what my relevant experience was, and why I was interested in them.

I sat down one morning and made myself write to five different farms, customizing the letter for each one, going to each website to pull out things that interested me in particular. Three farms listed an email address to use, but two only had email contact through a form on their website, so I pasted the whole darn letter in the form and sent it that way. Then I waited.

I heard from one farm right away. A small goat dairy up in Northern Washington State was interested in having someone stay for longer than the usual three-month internships they did. Sounded promising on the phone. Then I heard back from another farm — nothing available. Then nothing for two weeks. I upped the ante and called the remaining three I’d emailed and left voicemails. Heard back from one saying they didn’t have any internships at all right now, and from another saying they didn’t have anything that fit what I was looking for.

One month from sending out the original five letters of interest, I decided I wanted more options than one, so I emailed four more places that filtered to the top of my remaining list. This got me more results! I set up interviews with two small sheep dairies, also both up in Northern Washington. A very obvious road-trip took shape. Three farms in three days. I arranged to take a day off work to be able to be gone for three days, and confirmed with the farms. Good to go!

4. Visit the farms

On the morning of February 8th I headed out at 8:45am to drive from Portland, OR to Leavenworth, WA. I had worked the night before and got to bed around 4:00am. I don’t recommend this. I basically ran on adrenaline for three days.

heading up to Leavenworth

heading up to Leavenworth

I love road trips. This one took me to parts of the Northwest I’d never seen before, and I loved it. It was cloudy the entire way but it was soooo beautiful. I got rained on some heading out the Gorge, then crossed the Columbia at Biggs Junction and headed north on Hwy 97 in its various different names and zigzags. Imagine beautiful rolling hills and snow-shaded mountains and valleys. At Wenatchee I headed west toward Leavenworth and arrived at the first farm around 2pm.

The visit went well. I met the couple, was fed some delicious homemade cake and coffee, had a chance to chat, got the tour, and met some of the sheep. A very nice experience. Excited about the smoothness of my first farm visit, I headed in the wrong direction on Hwy 2 before I realized I wasn’t heading toward Wenatchee; I was getting closer to Seattle. Sigh. That set me back by an hour, but it did end up giving me my only daylight view of the picturesque town of Leavenworth, an all-Bavarian town set in the amazing backdrop of some look-alike alps provided by the Cascades and lots of snow.

north toward Tonasket

north to Tonasket

I checked in with the farmers at my second destination up in Tonasket, WA, who said it was ok I was running behind, and that they were holding dinner for me despite my protestations. I had a couple more hours of beautiful countryside running along the Columbia River, past the turn-off for the Grand Coulee Dam, then alongside the Okanagan River in the growing dusk and evening. I arrived at the second farm, a small sheep dairy, around 7:30, where I was to stay the night and do my tour/interview the following day. Dinner and conversation were great, and I was more than happy to fall asleep that night.

In the morning I got a tour of the sheep dairy and was able to appreciate the very different physical beauty of the high desert (compared to the steep river valley of the first farm). They had me help out with a few things — like knotting baling twine to make new collars for the sheep, who were getting sheared the following day — and gave me the full tour. The vibe was great, the people were solid, and they kept feeding me delicious food. After lunch I left to head back down to Wenatchee and west past Leavenworth over the Cascade range to Seattle. I made it around 8pm that night to my cousin’s house in Seattle, where I was fed delicious homemade curry and went to bed exhausted again.

where am I, Middle Earth?

where am I, Middle Earth?

The next morning I headed out to the third farm for an 11 am arrival. An easy hour’s drive away from Seattle, it was a farm tucked into a small city, quite the different setting from the first two farms. I also got to meet lots of friendly goats! They were the largest operation, and very organized, with many interns. The farmer led me all over the farm and explained things and answered my questions, and a few hours later I headed back to Seattle for lunch with my cousin before driving back to Portland in lots and lots of rain.

5. End up with multiple farms and pick the best

All three farms had indicated they were open to me interning there at the conclusion of each visit. Each farm was distinctly different for me, in a goldilocks sort of way. Not too hot, too cold, just right, but more like good but not right, awesome, and vibe not quite a good fit. The second farm was the only farm to formally invite me to intern there (instead of a “we’ll be in touch” sort of thing). It was also the winner, for me.

I took a couple of days to think about it once I arrived back home, and then emailed them to accept the position. They still wanted me! I had done it; I had got myself a good internship offering full room and board, in a beautiful location, where I would learn many new things.

beautiful view from the farm

beautiful view from the farm

Stay tuned for more details about my new internship.

7 Responses Post a comment
  1. Alice permalink*
    February 28, 2012

    I love how you took this big task and broke it down into manageable parts. And I’m dreadfully jealous of that scenery. Can’t wait to hear Part Two of the story!

  2. aiko permalink
    February 28, 2012

    Whoa I looked up where that farm is and it’s up in a pretty remote corner of the state! It would be fun if you were closer to Seattle, but I love the high desert. I’ve never been further north than Spokane. I’m also looking forward to hearing more about how you like it!

    • February 29, 2012

      It is remote! 12 miles from Canada, 250 miles from Seattle, 400 miles from Portland, 300 miles from Bellingham, 200 miles from Coeur d’Alene. You should come visit this summer, check out the sheep.

      • Alice permalink*
        March 1, 2012

        Woah, those distances must be road, rather than as-the-crow-flies. Makes it more like bush Alaska than the parts of Washington I’m used to.

  3. March 30, 2012

    I agree with Alice – that’s totally cool that you came up with a really reasonable to do list, and were able to get what you wanted! I can’t wait to hear all about the farm.

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