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Apprenticeships Offer Training, Education - On The Farm

Published Tuesday, March 17, 2020
by Rachel Wagoner/
Apprenticeships Offer Training, Education - On The Farm

(BELLEVILLE, PENNSYLVANIA) - Jessica Matthews wasn’t raised on a farm.  Until she started working on Hameau Farm, she’d never even been around dairy cows.  She grew up in Delaware County, Pennsylvania, just outside of Philadelphia - one of the largest cities in the U.S. She got a degree in psychology and worked in that field.  A growing interest in the food system led her to a field of a different kind, one sprinkled with red and white dairy cows in Central Pennsylvania.

Matthews began a Dairy Grazing Apprenticeship in 2017 through the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture.  When she’s done, she’ll be a Certified Journey Dairy Grazier and that qualifies her to work as a Herd Manager on another farm.

“I ‘wouldn’t have been able to get into dairy at all without’ the Dairy Grazing Apprenticeship,” Matthews said. “You ‘could put a couple chickens in your backyard or grow a small garden, but dairy isn’t something you can step gently into.’”

The Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture, or PASA, administers two formal Apprenticeship Programs: Dairy Grazing and Diversified Vegetable.

The national Dairy Grazing Apprenticeship is registered with the U.S. Department of Labor’s Employment and Training Administration. 

The Vegetable Program is the only Agriculture Apprenticeship registered with the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry.

The idea was to take the Apprenticeship model the way it has been applied to traditional Skilled Trades and apply it to agriculture, said Aaron deLong, who serves as the Coordinator for PASA’s Dairy Apprenticeship.

The Apprenticeships have been called a win for everyone involved.

Farmer mentors, called Masters, get committed Workers who want to learn the job and the industry.  The Apprentices get paid to learn a new trade through a combination of hands-on work and technical training and a training manual lays out the skills and core competencies the Apprentice needs to learn, deLong said.

More than 90% of the Apprenticeship consists of on-farm work with their mentor, but each program has required and formal technical training as well.

The training can take the form of classes, workshops, seminars or conferences.

Combine all those things together and what do you get?

“You’ve got a ‘powerful’ education system ‘that isn’t deliverable in any other way,’” deLong said.

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