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Agricultural internships provide a first look at farming

Agricultural internships provide a first look at farming

When Dorothy Caserta enrolled at James Madison University, she intended to complete an undergraduate degree in nursing. But, as with many college students, her plans quickly changed.

After discovering JMU’s School of Integrated Sciences and Technology, Caserta became interested in sustainable agriculture. Inspired by her professors to accept an internship at Season’s Bounty Farm and CSA in Harrisonburg, she was quickly hooked.

“Immediately, I was like, ‘Yep, this is what I want to do,’” Caserta said. “[The internship]’s helped me realize that I want to do something with local and small-scale sustainable farming and agriculture.” Now she’s pursuing a degree in environmental sciences.

At Season’s Bounty, internships are focused on participants contributing to the growth of 5 acres of produce. Most participants lack farming backgrounds or access to farmland, so the internships are intended as practical guides for those interested in pursuing a future in small-plot farming.

Lessons include learning every step of the process—starting the plants, weeding, pruning, harvesting and prepping crops for selling at farmers markets.

“It’s a bit of a crash course, but you can get up to speed real fast,” said Radell Schrock, owner of Season’s Bounty. “It’s not a long process of learning high-level skills. There’s a ton of hands-on tasks that most anyone can learn if they’re willing to work hard and get dirty—like the people that don’t have the backgrounds but have interest. That’s why internships are so popular on produce farms, because how else are you going to learn that sort of thing?”

In Hanover County, Agriberry Farm was founded with a goal to employ and engage as many first-time agricultural workers as possible. The farm’s owners want to reconnect younger generations to their food systems.

Most of Agriberry’s educational outreach is done through summer work programs with high school and college students farming for the first time.

Participants learn useful skills working in the farm’s berry patches and orchards. They also are encouraged to learn about crop production and maintenance, and agribusiness.

“There’s a societal value of increasing awareness about food systems,” said Pierson Geyer, Agriberry director of operations. “While it’s hard to quantify the value, we definitely think that it’s a strong educational core value that we maintain to make sure people understand that food systems take a lot of work, and that there’s value in shopping local at farmers markets, buying direct and supporting farmers in general.”