If you enjoy mentoring and sharing your knowledge of farming, you may enjoy hosting interns. Annie Warmke, owner of Blue Rock Station, a farm and educational center in Philo, Ohio, presented “Success with Interns on Your Farm or Homestead” as a recent webinar hosted by Food Animal Concerns Trust, a national nonprofit humane farming advocate organization. Larissa McKenna, humane farming program director, moderated.
“I’m passionate about interns and investing in young people,” Warmke said.
She begins screening interns with an online application and survey.
“I’m looking for follow-through from the start,” she said.
Through a series of phone calls and, if possible, visits, they discuss rules, guidelines and philosophy. She confirms or denies their application through email.
“If you really want to have an effective internship program, you have to look at it as a partnership,” Warmke said.
She added that the farmer has as much invested in the outcome as the intern. That’s why they need affirming guidance often, with regular check-ins and feedback.
“Be honest and upfront,” Warmke said.
She’s a big advocate of solving problems together, as it can be a good learning experience for interns.
It’s also important to set high expectations: what’s in it for the intern and what’s the farmer’s responsibility?
“This helps us a lot when there are challenges or things don’t go right,” Warmke said. “It’s rare we have a problem but when we do, we have this to fall back on.”
She tries to help interns develop a sense of independence. As part of that, mistakes are no big deal. In fact, they’re considered positive learning experiences.
“We make room for mistakes,” Warmke said. “If there aren’t any, we say, you’re not working hard enough.”
By instilling a sense of security, interns can feel safe enough to make mistakes. Warmke said that building confidence starts with early responsibility.
“Explain how things work and step back,” she said. “Observe for a sense of accomplishment.”
She also takes time for interns to share their skills.
“Each person starts to feel more confident about their own skill sets,” Warmke said.
In addition to farming, interns also learn cooking, making cheese and construction from Warmke.
“One of the things that makes us so successful is we’re trying to build a sense of community,” Warmke said.
She learned the importance of this aspect of the internship from an exit survey, which revealed that’s what interns valued the most.
Warmke calls it “creating a tribe” by generating a sense of connection.
Interns are welcome to have their families visit the farm. But they’ve also created a sense of family on the farm.
“There’s lots of reminiscing and we make things like tie-dye so we have things to remember once they go,” Warmke said.
When it’s time to part ways, the farm hosts a weekend-long party. The interns’ families often stay overnight. The next morning, Warmke shares the farm’s plans for the next year and welcomes feedback.
“There’s a sense of something lasting and they see what they’ve done is lasting,” Warmke said. “They’ve done something of value.
“We hope they will share how they feel good and how they made a difference.”
She also writes letters of recommendation that have helped some interns gain scholarships and get into programs.
“Interning brings people together in new ways,” Warmke said. “Those of us who have land, expertise and resources, this is the best way we can prepare the next generation. It gives a sense of hope and encouragement about the world.”