Desperately seeking host farms for the organic apprenticeship scheme

22 September 2010

The Soil Association is calling for more host farms to come forward to support the growers of the future.

The Soil Association’s Organic Apprenticeship Scheme provides an alternative to the formal education route into agriculture. Now entering its fourth year, the scheme continues to attract people from around the country who are looking to gain first-hand experience on farms. But this year’s apprentices are desperately seeking more farms to support their placements.

“We have eight apprentices registered for 2010-12, but we are still looking for two farms,” says Lisa Nunn, Soil Association project officer. “It is therefore critical that more farms come forward to find out what's involved in supporting these growers of the future.”

Keith Denning, head grower at Abbey Home Farm in Cirencester, is playing host to apprentices for a third year in a row and is a keen supporter of the scheme:

“The future of farming and growing in this country depends on finding and motivating young people to work on the land and giving them the practical skills to succeed. Here at Abbey Home Farm, we have been involved in the apprenticeship scheme from the outset and we are now entering our third year of apprenticeships. As the farm’s senior grower, I’m responsible for providing our apprentices with practical and mentoring support while they are on the farm.

“An apprentice is just like any other full-time employee. Over the two years, the apprentices work full time and are paid the national minimum wage. The host farm is under no obligation to provide accommodation as apprentices, although many apprentices live on-site or find local accommodation.

“Apprentices require initial support and guidance – just like any new member of staff – but they quickly gain experience and confidence, and are soon able to work on their own. And as they are dedicated and driven by their passion for organic farming and growing, we find that they quickly become acutely attentive to their work.

“As a host grower, I have certain commitments to the apprentices. For example, I must set aside a dedicated one-to-one period each week to discuss a particular topic with each apprentice. But their questions often force me to think about why we do things in a particular way and this has helped us to become more effective and efficient on the farm.

“Do not be put off by the idea that you need to have strong teaching skills. Having an apprentice is about sharing your wealth of skills and experiences. And the Soil Association provides excellent support to both work experience providers and the apprentices along the way.

“Finally, don’t underestimate the potential benefits of having an apprentice. The rewards – in terms of personal satisfaction and to your business – really are significant.”

The Organic Apprenticeship Scheme requires a high level of commitment from the apprentice who, in addition to working full-time at a farm, attends 16 seminars run by expert growers which take place between November and February in each of the two years. The scheme costs £1,600 a year, £300 of which is a non-refundable deposit. The Soil Association is researching funding options to help with any financial constraint imposed by these fees.

If you are a grower or producer and you are interested in finding out more about taking on an apprentice contact Lisa Nunn on 0117 914 2453 or

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